For a festival dedicated by name to the confines of one sub-genre, an attendee could be forgiven without question for the anxieties provoked by a line-up lacking in eclecticism or an audience exclusive and ostracising of the outsider. Manchester Psych Fest 2018 annihilated these fears.
Alternative by definition, the festival manifested a colourful commercial for artistic diversity, showcasing acts both local and of the nations in its heterogeneous selection of sounds from the murky grunge dwellings of Baba Naga, Mold and the Wytches to the twisted pop of Pearl City and Caro. Embracing such eclectics with a line-up of majority female-led/all-female artists, this year Manchester Psych Fest challenged the patriarchal typicality of indie music showcase.
Near sold-out, audience numbers were high from the off, as the youthful acts of the early hours took to the stage before busy rooms of passionate punters, many clad in band shirts and plaid, as cultural identities of Northern Quarter psychedelia hit the fore.
Slow Knife and Mold thereby set a tone of shadows and quirks for the rest of the day at Soup Kitchen and Night & Day Café respectively, together exposing the dark corners of young creative thought; Slow Knife a suited sextet of cinematic jazz, punk and poetry, and Mold an extremist addition to the abrasive visuals of contemporary prog-punk, engaging their war-painted faces as though the witches of Macbeth took up psych-rock ‘upon the heath.’
Despite some early acts of noticeable aesthetic incoherence and lack of on-stage bite, stand-out sets of soaring contrast from female-fronted the Cosmics and Saba Lou at Soup Kitchen once again championed the variety of the genre, as Birmingham’s answer to False Advertising, the Cosmics engaged a riff-driven performance to rest long in the memory of the audience packed tight in the basement venue of intangible charm.
Where German quartet Saba Lou told tales of revenge and alien abduction along to shuffling soft-rock, the Cosmics unleashed an adolescent anger against the irritations of a job in retail. Art, eh.
One fizzing set of DIY sensibility and snarl at Band On The Wall from London garage punks, Abjects, and an inexpressibly delicious chole masala wrap later (courtesy of Chiit Chaat – Indian Street Food, stationed at the Peer Hat’s upstairs bar – Band On The Wall and Soup Kitchen also offered street food outlets throughout the day), attention had to be turned to the Peer Hat’s venue itself. Another basement – dingy, sweating, and not inappropriately comparable to Dostoevsky’s …Underground – the four venues collectively reflected the diversity of not only this alternative genre’s offerings but the Manchester scene as a whole.
London’s Creatures took the room time-travelling, transporting the swathes of shakers to the West Coast 60s with vintage rhythm tumble and vocals warm enough to warrant a Moore Bond theme, before Caro uncaged an erratic art-pop animal on the snug stage, initiating pedalboard mad-science and syncopated jerk for a humbly numbered young crowd lost in the Leeds trio’s surrealist lyrical reverie – listen to ‘Closet Lunatic;’ not a chance they don’t read books.
Exhibiting an opportunity for a toe-dip in another fresh unknown, Baba Naga and the Wytches captured a darkened escape from the quintessentially colourful offerings of the rest of the festival, continuing the early work of Mold to flag-fly all that grunge can do for ambience, as they added to the day’s collaged display of guitar culture. Riffs, wails, and face-hiding fringes; would it still be psych without them?
But it was Honeyblood who brought it all together. It is arguable that the Glasgow duo was, despite headlining the festival, ironically the least exemplary of psych on the list, however the crowd’s response would beg to differ, with a number (myself, I confess, included) passing on the chance to catch the final moments of She Drew The Gun or Toy (that one hurt) to instead watch the Scottish garage rockers set the stage.
Singing of childhood and friendship with enough grit and heck to shake at Band On The Wall’s traditional histories, there was something in Honeyblood and their music for all at the festival, as they caught Club Skunk liberation-pop and punkish nostalgia in one graceful ambience of storytelling sweetness to conclude the festival with a feel-good that was transcendent of all the boxes.
Photo Credit: Annie Feng