Manchester Psych Fest 2019 – Manchester, UK (30th August)

Six years on from its humble beginnings in the city’s vibrant Northern Quarter, the latest edition of Manchester Psych Fest saw it expanding by moving near to Oxford Road train station.

With five performance spaces spread across the O2 Ritz, Gorilla and YES, Manchester’s annual celebration of psychedelia was able to attract bigger names and also larger crowds for this year’s event. 

Besides a handful of acts such as the likes of Babe Rainbow, The Holydrug Couple and Temples, in addition to the trippy visuals provided by Road to Nowhere, there wasn’t a great deal that you could describe as being distinctly psychedelic. However, despite the psychedelic sounds being fairly minimal, the festival did have a great overall vibe and featured some excellent performances with a wide range of female artists leading the way. 

The festival got off to a booming start with Brighton-based Our Girl bringing their blend of fuzz rock and grunge to the O2 Ritz. The Bill Ryder-Jones supported trio (the former Coral man produced their 2018 debut Stranger Today) looked very much at home on main stage as attendees poured through the door to be greeted by their opening set. Already you could tell that it was going to be a very busy night.

Just over the road in Gorilla, Swedish trio Echo Ladies kicked things off with their shoegaze-inspired noise and dream pop sound. Taking their cues from the likes of A Place to Bury Strangers and Cocteau Twins, the Malmö-based outfit’s most potent weapon was the melodic vocals of Matilda Bogren as she led the way performing a number of tracks from their fittingly titled debut Pink Noise.

The performances came thick and fast during the afternoon with The Lovely Eggs at the O2 Ritz up next on the main stage. One of the funniest bands around today, the husband-and-wife garage punk duo were really impressive and sound even better live than they do on record. The highlight of their 45-minute set had to be the brilliant ‘Fuck It’ which was inspired by people telling they couldn’t have a kid and also be in a band.

Queues had started to form outside Gorilla in anticipation of the much-loved Snapped Ankles entering the stage. Once inside we discovered just why the London-based dance-punk quartet have earned a reputation for their utterly ferocious live shows. Performing several tracks from their widely praised 2019 album Stunning Luxury, it was a hot, sweaty, smoke-filled and simply fantastic set.

You often hear people dismiss neo-psychedelic rockers Temples as being unoriginal, late 1960’s imitators but such views normally come from those who haven’t given them a proper listen. They’re certainly unlikely seen them live. The Kettering four-piece have been playing together for the best part of seven years now and are a very tight unit who know how to put in a superb performance. Their set at the O2 Ritz was a prime example of this.

In what was definitely the most fascinating performance of the entire festival, Bristol-based Japanese musician Yama Warashi brought her experimental blend of chamber folk, African music and free jazz to The Pink Room at YES. Perhaps taking a couple of tracks to warm to Warashi and her band, by the end of the set people were dancing along wishing they had more time than the allotted 30 minutes. A truly original artist and a festival highlight.

There are always going to be clashes at festivals, particularly ones with line-ups as good as this, but 9pm brought one of the toughest in recent memory with Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs on at Gorilla, The Cult of Dom Keller on in the YES Basement and Babe Rainbow on in The Pink Room all around the same time as the big name act Courtney Barnett. Curiosity led us to the headliner and it was not a choice we regretted one bit. 

With the large projector screen exchanged for her own personal backdrop, the Grammy-nominated Australian was a little late starting but once on stage she blew everyone away inside the swelteringly hot O2 Ritz. Beginning with her 2013 hit ‘Avant Gardener’, she roamed the stage full of confidence performing tracks from both of her solo albums during an excellent hour long set.

With the O2 Ritz closing its doors after 10pm there were some who expressed fears that other venues might be tough to get into, but it wasn’t quite as bad as some had expected. Many had taken advantage of cheap early bird tickets to see some of the bigger name acts then headed off home. Whereas others were unfortunately caught out the 18’s and over policy which came in after 10:30pm.

There was some disappointment expressed at the popular and much-hyped Working Men’s Club playing after this time in Gorilla. On the strength of their first three singles we were excited to see what they were capable of live, but despite having plenty of energy it feels like there is still work to do for the Yorkshire-based outfit, especially given that Giulia Bonometti announced she is leaving to embark on a solo career.

Another band with a growing fanbase, you’d have expected Penelope Isles to be on a little earlier, but they were given a late slot in the YES Basement instead. Led by talented Manx raised siblings Jack and Lily Wolter, the Brighton-based four-piece performed their beautiful blend of lo-fi dream pop and fuzz rock to an absolutely packed out room.

Liverpool-based drone rock collective Bonnacons of Doom are a band that rarely disappoint and those who stuck around for their very late set in the YES Basement were in for a treat. Led by the fantastic Kate Smith on vocals and flanked by a convex mirror masking wearing band, they ended Manchester Psych Fest with a showstopping performance. A very successful expansion year.