Say Psych: Live Review: Manchester Psych Fest 2023

The UK’s leading psychedelic music and arts festival Manchester Psych Fest was back for its 10th edition, and BSM was privileged to be part of the 15 hour spectacle. The festival announced its biggest and most ambitious line up to date, with venues scattered across the length of Oxford Road. It also added more holistic pursuits such as tote bag workshops, yoga, meet & greets and a pop up cinema.

The opener for the festival were Liverpool’s The Mysterines who took the stage early doors in The Ritz Main Room. The early hour did not deter anyone it seemed as before they were even a quarter of the way through their set, the venue was full to capacity. The alternative rock offering have been a making a stir in these circles and their addition to the line up alongside the benefit of not clashing with anyone was welcome to most. They fire through their set with gusto and panache and perfectly set the tone for what is follow.

The Mysterines – O2 Ritz Main Room

Next its downstairs to the (already very) sweaty Ritz basement stage for Atmos Bloom, a dream pop duo who now based in London have expanded into a four piece. Being originally from these parts and an intriguing proposition so early in the day, the room fills quickly and their delicate sound lulls listeners into submission. They may be new, but they hold their own as well as any other band on the line up and earn themselves plenty of praise to boot.

Warrington’s Pray for Mojo are a fuzz-flavoured psychedelic square who have become known for their eclectic yet relentless live set. Their music has expanded from their previous heavy psych, grunge tinted yet wholly classic rock base in their latest EP Scabby Road, which sees them add more progressive elements as well as world influences. They play in the main room in Canvas, which, as the name suggests is a vast, white space, swathed in psychedelic lights. Their set is high octane from the get-go and they are the first band I’ve seen so far where people are actually dancing and really getting stuck into the music. Their energy is infectious and I hear people talking about how good they were long into the night.

Next its over to the Albert Hall for a band who need no introduction to any of the psych faithful, the Allah-Lahs. Their absence has been notable in previous editions and so their inclusion this year is a bonus to many, so much so the queue to get in before they even start stretches long round the block and the huge space is quickly full. Their jangly California coast sound is unmistakable and the set features classic tracks such as ‘No Werewolf’, ‘Tell Me What’s On Your Mind’, ‘Had It All’ and ‘Catamaran’ which see the whole room dancing and singing along contentedly. They are a pure nostalgia trip for anyone who saw them in their early days and the quality is unmatched. The only downside is the Albert Hall is so scorching hot, people are forced to leave before passing out.

Allah-Lahs – Albert Hall

A leisurely walk down Oxford Road then sees me arrive at the bar stage of The Deaf Institute, also known as The Black Lodge. Local three-piece Farfisa take to the stage curated by label Sour Grapes. They offer up a fuzzy kind of psychedelia yet are tinged by an influence much heavier which makes them the perfect kind of band for this kind of day, especially after something as floaty as the Allah-Lahs. The room is quickly packed and some serious headbanging ensues, their sound flooding the space with ease. Listening to what is being said after, it is clear they have gathered themselves many new fans today.

The problem with a day like today is you really do have to pick your battles, and there is no polite way of saying it, some of the clashes are brutal. That combined with the fact that the festival is sold out and you cannot get into all the sets you want (I had to give up even trying for Takeshi’s Cashew – gutted), you have to either stay in some venues before the last band starts to see the next, or as I have chosen to do, you can only watch half sets. Such is the case for Ulrika Spacek, who deliver sonic spectral soundscapes that stun you into silence. I am able to watch about six songs before I’m on the move again and I’m grateful for every second. They are one of those bands whose sound is so stunningly beautiful you can’t quite work out if its real.

Ulrika Spacek – Man Met Union

Back to The Black Lodge for Grave Goods, who were my band of the day. I knew nothing about them apart from hearing one song on the Spotify playlist put together by the festival, and that was enough to colour me intrigued. The high energy set fronted by Lois of PINS reputation, are blistering from the first note to last. The bouncy punk/garage tracks are incredible, so much so it’s hard to even describe them in a way that does them justice. Without doubt the find of the festival, go and check them out for yourself and if you can see them live – do.  

Grave Goods – The Black Lodge, Deaf Institute

Another half set I’m very happy to catch are Irish shoegaze experimenters Just Mustard who play The Pink Room at YES. When researching this festival I wanted to watch as many new bands as possibly, so I deliberately chose not to go and queue for any of the headliners. This approach is rewarded in bands like this, who I maybe wouldn’t normally go to see. The standout track is without ‘Still’, an ethereal number that jars on your consciousness in all the right ways.

Magick Mountain are a band recently discovered at a festival in Germany, they blew me away then and safe to say they were even better tonight. The three-piece hail from Leeds and bring with them a sound so big you can probably still hear it on the other side of the Pennines. They describe their sound as “incendiary tales of infinite space, otherworldly escapes and weird feelings” and to be honest it’s spot on. Channelling plenty of King Gizzard style energy with a more than healthy drizzle of space rock on top, they create transcendental soundscapes that leave you stunned. Loud as loud can be, yet so much more than that as well. Incredible.

I only catch three of their tracks but Manchester based Maruja are worth an honorary mention. They fill Canvas with a wall of sound so potent it literally smacks you in the face. I will definitely be keeping an eye on them to try and see them again at some point.

As mentioned before with the queuing situation, I am determined to watch Deadletter in the Pink Room, so I hedge my bets and go in for the band before, to stay in and guarantee a place (a tactic well rewarded as it remains one in one out for their entire set). I therefore find Royel Otis, who were not on my radar. The Australian outfit veer towards the pop side of psych, with MGMT/ Tame Impala vibes. They are great to watch, putting on quite the show and given the lateness and the fact everyone has walked too many kilometres, they are lapped up.

London based Deadletter have been causing “quite the uproar” over the last nine months and just looking at their schedule is exhausting. That being said, they are without doubt one of the best live bands around, and they may also be the only band who I have ever heard ask the sound guy to turn it down onstage. They fire through their set at a rapid pace, squeezing in as many songs as they can, including ‘Madge’s Declaration’, ‘Binge’ and ‘The Snitching Hour’ which are all phenomenal. The one everyone is waiting for is, of course, ‘Fit For Work’ with its far too prevalent lyrics, insanely catchy countenance and sing along attitude. It also sees the entire room bounce from front to back, which is quite something in itself. If you haven’t heard about them yet, get on it now while you can still see them in small venues like this, because it won’t be long before they are headlining the biggest festivals.

Deadletter – YES Pink Room

And just like that, the live music is over and the festival descends into DJ sets. I catch parts of Acid Child’s beats in Canvas and The Beat Chics closing session at YES, both of which couldn’t tie things up more neatly.

MPF is over for another year, after its biggest and best. There is no disputing the queues are a problem and the distances involved in some of the venues didn’t help that, that aside its still been an incredibly well organised day which all involved should be incredibly proud of. The only thing left to wonder is where can they go from here? How can MPF2024 possibly top that?!

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