Live Review: Outbreak Festival 2023 – Day 1

Pic Credit: Andi Callen Photography

Wow, what can I say about Outbreak Festival? Now right from the start I have to fess up and admit to never having heard of it before this year. Looking at the line-up in advance of the festival, there were only a handful of bands I’d heard of, but I’d been drawn to it due to my teenage son asking if I’d heard of Zulu. No parent likes to seem uncool, so in true “fake it til you make it mode, I said “yes”, and we watched some videos on YouTube together!

I was impressed that he’d found them and brought them to my attention. As I dug deeper, it transpired that they’d be appearing at this years’ Outbreak Festival, smack bang in the heart of Manchester, in a disused railway shed called Mayfield Depot. Now I’m used to punk festivals like Rebellion and Manchester Punk Festival. I even used to attend 2 day Hardcore Festivals at Bradford’s 1 in 12 Club in my student days, but none of that had prepared me for what unfolded that late June weekend.

In the middle of an unseasonal heatwave, the cool dank surroundings of the cavernous Mayfield Depot seemed to be the ideal location for the ultimate “underground” festival. Except that it was far from underground, with vast numbers of music fans attending over the 3 days.

Previous incarnations have seen Outbreak move around since its inception in Sheffield in 2011, and last years was held at Bowlers Exhibition Centre, a good distance out from the City centre. With 2 stages, a skate park, numerous bars, a merch village, copious food outlets and even a barbers giving free haircuts, the DIY indie ethic still colours everything about Outbreak, down to its Green Mission and vegan catering. It’s already been confirmed that next year’s festival will return to Mayfield Depot.

From the off, the crowds in the front section were onstage, dancing, stage diving and crowd surfing. From an outsiders’ perspective it didn’t appear to matter who was playing, these kids were hell bent on having a good time, whilst the security staff stood and surveyed the carnage in front of them, only intervening if someone went down in the ensuing melee. I soon realised why there was no photo-pit in front of the stage and why so few photo-passes were issued. I’m not sure my insurance would have covered either me or my equipment, so mucho respect to the hardy photographers who supplied the images accompanying this review.

The line up was certainly mixed, with many top US hip-hop artists on the bill, but then skater culture has always embraced both hip-hop and hardcore, as can be seen by the threads on display. Now, despite there being two stages, like the majority of the photographers present, I stayed with the main event, partly out of laziness, partly out of protecting my hearing!

First up for me were Fleshwater, the side project of metal core band Vein, who caught me offguard with a cover of the Bjork song ‘Enjoy’. Their melodic grunge works well with Marisa Shirar’a vocals, with an almost shoegaze quality. Despite being scheduled to play a full 30 minutes, they’re done and dusted in little over 20 as they crash through a further 5 songs, comprising of Closet, Linda Claire, The Razor’s Apple, Woohoo and Kiss The Ladder. Object lesson in the principle of “less is more”, and I’m suitably impressed, making a note to catch them again if they ever return.

FleshwaterImages by WondergirlPhoto (All Rights Reserved)

New York’s Koyo up next and they steam straight into 2022’s single ‘Straight North’ and I’m instantly reminded of Taking Back Sunday and early Blink182, with the particular brand of melodic hardcore that North Americans are so good at. Sadly the more melodic strands of their sound seem to get lost in the booming acoustics of the venue, especially on songs like You’re On The List (Minus One). The rest of the set bounces along and the stage divers keep on diving throughout. Anthem and Moriches are the other stand out tracks of what is a far too brief set for me.

Koyo – Images by Anna Swiechowska (All Rights Reserved)

I’ve been wanting to see LA’s Militarie Gun since their first EP All Roads Lead To The Gun dropped in 2021 and with the debut LP Life Under The Gun having only just been released, expectation ishigh. Surprisingly only 3 tracks from the album make it into a set dominate by the two All Roads EPs. Again, on record there’s a lot of light and dark, Quicksand-ish, shades of Fugazi even, which struggle to make their presence known amongst the booming acoustics of the venue. I hear enough to know that they’re good and look forward to catching them in their own right another time.

Militarie Gun Image by @AshleaBeaPhoto (All Rights Reserved)

One of the biggest buzzes on the first day centred around Brits High Vis, if the queues to buy their merch are anything to go by. Starting the show with a surprise cover of Oasis’sMorning Glory“, confuses the stage divers for awhile, but by the time that the tribal drums of ‘Choose To Lose‘ kick in, with it’s The Cult/Joy Division mash-up, normal service is resumed. This is a band that draw from the more melodic moments of 80s/90s hard UK indie sounds like Echo & The Bunnymen, The Mighty Lemondrops or The Cure and as such seem a little out of place on this bill, but they kill it nonetheless.

High Vis – Images by WondergirlPhoto (All Rights Reserved)

Converge and Bane then take the whole day to another level.

From the first second that Ben Koller’s drums announced the arrival of Eagles Become Vultures to the fading sustain of Kurt Ballou’s last chord of The Saddest Day, Converge unleash a brutal exercise in metallic hardcore, 12 songs that could strip paint off a tank in battle and show why they’ve been one of the best around since they formed over 30 years ago.

Converge Images by @AshleaBeaPhoto (All Rights Reserved)

It must be weird for Bane guitarist Aaron Dalbec, to have to follow Converge, a band that he spent 7 years in, before jumping ship to make an honest women of the Bane side project he’d started with Damon Bellorado in 1995. Bane’s set is a little less challenging on my poor hearing after Converge and the previous 7 hours. Set opener Some Came Running is more Agnostic Front does Fugazi, and Count Me Out features a lovely mic hand off between Aaron Bedlard and a roadie mid song as mayhem ensues. He’d already had to wrest it off an over zealous audience member earlier in the song. By the time they’ve crashed through another 12 or so songs, including Backwards Glance, Ali v Frazier, Swansong, I’m quite literally Speechless, like the song. I didn’t know what to expect from these two heavyweights of hardcore noise live, having only listened to them on record before, but I gave the fight to Bane on a points decision, with neither able to land the knockout blow. I predict a rematch very much on the cards.

Bane – Images by Anna Swiechowska (All Rights Reserved)

So Day 1 was a complete success and my Outbreak cherry well and truly popped.

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