Now widely known as Manchester Pals Fest, MPF 2018 has been even more of a blinder than previous years. I guess we knew that it would be from the moment the line-up was first announced, with Propagandhi topping it. In a landslide of Facebook posts, messages and hugs once the weekend was over, the word out there is that it’s the best festival in the UK. The three-day weekender in the Rainy City is drawing like-minded punk rock fans from all around the world.
The festival is special both as a personal and a collective experience. If you attended, you would have been amazed by the number of familiar faces in crowd. I barely had time to chat to someone properly before running into the next person. With that many dedicated, creative and intelligent people surrounding you, it’s easy to see that the UK scene is thriving at the moment. Although it felt like we were all sharing this one great, special experience, as the weekend is split between five venues around town, it’s possible that you could have had a completely different experience to a friend who also attended.
With that in mind, these are my personal Top 10 experiences of the weekend. What were yours?
Ducking Punches closing Thursday’s show with Smoking Spot
“This is about how punk has taught us all our ethics; this is for all of you,” Dan Allen says between songs, instantly capturing the spirit of the festival. While most of my friends were queueing to get into Random Hand and getting turned away, I opted to catch Ducking Punches at Rebellion on Thursday night and I really don’t regret it.
Earlier in the day, Danny from Fair Do’s had said, “Look around you. This is what a beautiful, intelligent and ethical punk community looks like.” Both are examples of how appreciative the bands are of the event they’re attending. Far from being a big fest where you turn up, play and fuck off, Ducking Punches were around for the whole weekend, partying and enjoying the music like the rest of us. I had a transcendent moment during somewhere between Sobriety and Big Brown Pills from Lynn where I remembered that all my friends in the world are in this city with me, enjoying an incredible time. There is an overwhelming sense of community that I’ve not felt elsewhere – partly from the punk scene and partly from Manchester, a city with a strong sense of identity.
Closing on Smoking Spot was the perfect move from Ducking Punches, who’ve really grown with their new album Alamort. “This is a song about having the best time with your best friends,” Dan says. Perfect.
Watching my friends’ bands playing to sold out rooms
For many bands it’s their first time at the festival (and their first time in Manchester), but every act played to a huge crowd. Through general gigging and through this website I’ve become friends with some of my favourite bands, so I’m absolutely bubbling with pride when I see them getting an enthusiastic reaction from a big audience.
On Thursday, No Matter opened the festival to an almost full room at Rebellion. Following them were Captain Trips, a skate-punk group from the South Coast that I have a massive soft-spot for. I’ve been trying to get as many people to hear about them as possible, so to see Rebellion full for their set was incredible. Not only was the venue rammed – the crowd were dancing, moshing and generally enthusiastic about seeing them. It made my heart melt a little bit.
Aerial Salad played to 400 people on Friday, and there was an enormous queue to get into see their Greenday covers set at the afterparty. When I first got to know Jamie last year Aerial were so fresh that they were playing to crowds of 30, and I’ve seen them play to 20 people in Manchester earlier this year. I love them, I’ve shouted about them a lot and it looks like people are seriously getting excited for them.
There are also bands who you would expect big crowds for that smashed it out the park. I love all the guys in Darko, Beat The Red Light and PMX and it’s such a pleasure to watch them play to massive, full rooms. Getting to see your friends doing well, and being happy for them, is almost as heartwarming as the music itself.
Falling In Love With Waterweed
One of the standout sets of the weekend was Waterweed, who I bet you hadn’t heard of before they were announced for the festival. Coming all the way over from Japan, you could see on their faces that they were living out their dreams, by playing to a huge crowd so far from home.
We interviewed the band and reviewed their new album Brightest earlier in the year to help promote their tour, so it’s been a regular soundtrack in my house for the past few months. I would kill to see more Japanese bands touring here in the UK, especially if they’re going to play this calibre of intricate, moody melodic hardcore, so I was personally really invested in this set.
After so much build up, Waterweed did not disappoint. There were a lot of familiar faces in the crowd, all of them grinning and looking pleasantly surprised, babbling about how great they were afterwards. The band played an absolutely stunning, fast melodic punk set with zero nonsense. I don’t even know what to tell you: it was everything you want from a punk rock show. Flawless. The crowd went wild – I got a shoe full of lager and heap of bruises. It was fantastic.
Watching The 90’s Ska Punk Crew Go Nuts For Lightyear
Manchester Punk Festival has kick-started the 2018 ska-punk revival, which will no doubt come to a climax at Level Up Festival later this year. There was some incredible throwback shows on the bill: Stand Out Riot, Random Hand, Beat The Red Light, Chewing On Tinfoil. This biggest of these was clearly Lightyear making a comeback, headlining Gorilla on Friday.
The venue was completely full by the time they started and I found myself watching from side of stage. From there, as well as having a great view of the show, I had the perfect view of the crowd… at which point I clocked that I knew everyone in the front row. Although clearly the set was incredible, the best part of it for me was watching the faces of Paul (Be Sharp), Jason (El Topo) and Pook (BTRL) as they went completely insane for the whole show. It’s heartening to watch your friends having the time of their lives.
While we’re at it, Lightyear played one of the best sets of the festival. Bloody hell it’s good to have them back.
Chaos at Friday night’s afterparty
I got smashed enough on Friday that this is all a bit of a haze, but I know I had the best time in the world. I started by catching Aerial Salad doing a Green Day covers set at The Zombie Shack. The room was absolutely heaving with people shouting the words back at Jamie Munro doing his best Billy Joe impression. Leaning over the balcony outside we watched the queue grow and grow, shouting at people that the venue was full. My heart swelled watching all these people waiting to see these tiny bands.
Following that was an Oasis covers set featuring Revenge Of, Tree and Danny Do’s. While they were setting up I had a great time drunkenly babbling to assembled friends (Ben Hannah, I owe you a pint), shouting over the music and sweating in the cramped space. Blowasis did one hilarious song before guitar problems basically threw the set, but Matt Woods saved the day with a charming solo cover (has anyone described Matt Woods as charming before, I wonder? There’s a first for everything).
Following that we all dashed over to the Bread Shed to catch Pizzatramp. I was looking forward to seeing a famously drunken band hurl through a messy thrash set, but by this stage I was a bit too spannered myself to really notice. It was crowded and loud and great fun, and I remember being surrounded by a host of fantastic friends. We had a messy after-after party that left me passing out on a bus and missing my stop, only to get up and do it all again in 3 hours time.
Walking in just as Antillectual played my favourite song
Soundtrack off Perspectives & Objectives has been one of the most central songs in my life since I got the album in 2014. I was volunteering just before Antillectual’s set, so had to run over to catch them and managed to stumble into the room just as they kicked into it. Hearing those opening bars plastered the biggest grin onto my face as I ran right to the front of the crowd.
“When was the last time you did something for the first time? You’ll only regret things you didn’t do,” the chorus belted out by everyone around me. My friend Leo spots me, picks me up and spins me round in the air. Everywhere I look there are familiar faces. I’m screaming the words back at the top of my lungs and every single shred of my being is happy in this perfect moment.
Antillectual go on to play a wonderfully tight, melodic punk set to an enthralled crowd, but it’s that one moment that’s going to stick in my memory for years to come.
Propagandhi. Full stop.
When MPF announced that they were putting on Propagandhi it was a huge moment. It’s a massive name for a DIY festival to pull. So, on Saturday night at Gorilla, it felt like this was what every single part of the festival had been leading up to.
I caught Revenge of The Psychotronic Man’s incredible last MPF set over at The Bread Shed, then cycled over to catch the end of Mobina Galore. Over an hour before Propagandhi were due on, there was an enormous queue wrapping right around the venue: it was one-in-one-out long before the music started. Inside the venue it was heaving: so humid from the weight of people crammed into the black, windowless cavern. As I’d been volunteering at the festival and I was fortunate enough to be helping with the stage changeover, so I had the privilege of waiting for the show from the wings where I could breathe.
As soon as the lights came up and Propagandhi walked on stage the audience came alive. I watched the crush at the front, the stage diving, the lyrics screamed, the steam rising from the shoulders of the band. Every single word was sung back, every single riff was air-guitared. And all the while, you know the same is happening just down the road for Iron Chic, The Stupids and Culture Shock. It was incredible. What a stunning achievement for the best-organised festival in the country.
Beat The Red Light Returning From The Dead
In the years before their last show in 2015, I had the privilege of going to many of Beat The Red Light’s last shows. Combining ska, metal and thrash in a way that no one else has ever managed, they’ve been one of my favourite bands for one of the last 8 years.
After the band imploded and played a blinding final show 3 years ago, I’d not thought that we’d see them back together for a long time. They reunited to open the Saturday night after party at The Bread Shed, to full room packed with ska-core fans. Before the show there were a lot of nerves backstage, but the second they burst into action it was complete chaos: one of the best shows I have ever seen them play.
The audience went completely and utterly mental for the entire set. Vocalist, Pook, screamed himself hoarse and crowdsurfed right out, still howling into the mic. At the end of the set, Jona and Bill did their classic double guitar solo (familiar to anyone who’s seen the video of the last gig). It was sweaty, stunning and so exciting to see.
Uniforms Closing The Weekend
Before MPF, I was keen to tell everyone I knew about Uniforms. Lasting until the final band of the festival is no mean feat: you’re tired, you’ve been on your feet for three days and you’re probably half-cut or half-dead or both. I deliberately stayed sober to ensure I made the most of Uniforms’ set and I’m bloody glad I did.
Uniforms have recently reformed – they’re gritty Scottish pop-punk without a shred of the commercialism that people associate with that genre nowadays. Their closing half-hour was easily one of my top 3 sets of the weekend, another euphoric moment. The best bit was watching frontman Derrick Johnston do a gnarly crowdsurf with the mic, scrabbling on top of the enthusiastic assemblance during a cover of Nirvana’s Territorial Pissings. By this time of night the room’s no longer as rammed as it was (I’d watched quite a few festival casualties carried out by friends…) but the people left are having the time of their lives: there so much energy and excitement the air is buzzing. It’s over. We made it. You can see the relief washing over the organisers. As Derrick said in my interview with him two weeks ago, “Nae messin’.”
Being Part of The Crew
This is the most personal experience on a list of very personal experiences, but it was the best part of the weekend for me. The festival is organised by a collective of promoters: Anarchistic Undertones, TNS Records and Moving North, however they are supported by a team of volunteers who generously give their time over the weekend. Whether it’s managing the stages, wristbanding, selling merch, carrying boxes, making sure the bands are okay or generally running around being helpful, it wouldn’t work without the wonderful crew of individuals helping out.
I got to be a part of that this year, so I saw firsthand the stress, effort and thought that went into creating the best weekend in the world. Whether it was embracing my mates as they came to collect their wristbands, breaking up scuffles with bouncers, looking after a guy who’d just thrown up on himself, making sure bands had their passes or just holding a ladder… working was the best part of my whole weekend. It was great to feel like part of the team and I have the greatest respect for every single one of the organisers for the time and personal sacrifice they have given to the festival. Long may it continue.
Manchester Punk Festival for me was an emotional experience. I’m sure many would agree with me that it’s not simply about the music: it’s about the community, spending time with your friends and enjoying being a part of something greater than yourself.
God knows how the organisers are going to top it next year, but I can’t wait to see them try.