Manchester Punk Festival at Various Venues

Manchester Punk Festival
Various Venues
29th March 2024 – 31st March 2024

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Wythenshawe’s Slaughter & The Dogs were in the vanguard when punk began a sustained assault upon British culture in the mid-nineteen seventies. Probably Manchester’s first punk band, they supported The Sex Pistols on their second of two dates at The Lesser Free Trade Hall in the summer of 1976. At the first on June 4, often dubbed ‘the gig that changed the world’, were founding members of soon-to-be bands The Buzzcocks, The Smiths, and Joy Division. At the second on July 26, were Ian Curtis, Mark E. Smith, and Tony Wilson who would book The Sex Pistols for his television show, So It Goes, helping shoot punk into the mainstream and lighting the fire on the city’s endlessly celebrated music scene. 

Nearly fifty years on since Slaughter & The Dogs formed, there’s something of a punk revival happening here in Manchester. “Over the last ten years, the scene here has gone from strength to strength” enthuses Kieran Kelly, one of the organisers of Manchester Punk Festival which returns to venues around Oxford Road over the Easter weekend. Kelly’s been putting on gigs since he was sixteen, and it was over a pint with a couple of fellow promoters when the idea for Punk Fest came about. “We were each doing slightly different things, separate all-dayers with separate audiences. So, we decided to mash them all together and force everyone to mix.” 

In 2015, Manchester Punk Festival was born and has been a staple of Oxford Road’s frantic music calendar ever since. Starting out in the now-demolished Soundcontrol, Punk Fest would add Gorilla, Zombie Shack, Thirsty Scholar, Breadshed, Rebellion, Sandbar, YES, and The Union to its changing roster of venues as its audience grew. Recent editions have sold out months in advance, and at the time of writing, this year has less than ten percent of tickets left. “It’s gone so well. It’s got more diverse and inclusive. The scene has grown with Manchester, and I can’t think of a better city for music in the world.”  

It’s the diversity that has made Punk Fest such a hit. The snarling first wave of British punk, itself an offshoot of sixties proto-punk, gave way to a handful of sub-genres which each birthed their own sub-genres. “At Punk Fest you’ll see the entire spectrum. It’s a bit of cliche, but these days punk is more of an ethos than a specific genre” says Kelly.

This is evident throughout the line-up. He cites headliners Hot Water Music and Marther as an example. The former is a seasoned Floridian post-hardcore outfit, the latter a pop punk band from County Durham. “They sound nothing like each other, but fans will love them both” he insists.  

The gamble of blending separate nights into one massive weekender has paid off. “We provide an environment where people want to watch bands they’ve never heard of alongside bands they love. Where bands play in front of their best friends and complete strangers.” 

Still, much of the line-up will not be familiar, even to regular gig-goers. “A lot of these bands tour in their own circles which only punk fans are familiar with, so it’s not easy to appeal to a wider audience” admits Kelly.  

So, what advice to a newcomer to Manchester Punk Fest? 

“Go with the flow!” 

“Talk to people about the bands they want to see and go see them. The venues are all a two to ten-minute walk, so it’s easy to check out sets and follow recommendations.” 

This is the key. While punk classification has splintered into countless subcultures, they have a common ancestor. For all the negatives, streaming has made music more accessible to the listener making tastes more diverse than ever. The days of Jonny Rotten wearing an ‘I Hate Pink Floyd’ t-shirt are well behind us, as are the spitting and nosebleeds associated with the early days of punk.  

“The vibe is awesome!”  

“The bouncer at YES after the first year we used them was like ‘This is insane! Everyone is so nice, please come back again!'”  

“The thing that comes up in our post-festival surveys is the atmosphere. People come to Punk Festival on their own and make lifelong friends. We’re very proud of what’s been cultivated.” 

The annual pilgrimage of punks who come here to see a diverse line-up that includes bands from Peru and Japan is a welcome sight on Oxford Road. “It’s a great space for culture in the city,” says Kelly. “So many venues in such a small area. I love walking down Oxford Road and spotting all the festivalgoers.” 

So, while Manchester remains an important battlefield in the history of punk music, the war is well and truly over.  

“For us. It’s about treating each other right, having a good community, doing things yourselves and helping each other out.” 

This article was originally published in the new Oxford Road Corridor zine. The Spring Edition is available to pick up for free from spaces around Oxford Road. You can view it online here too.

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