Review: Manchester Psych Fest

By Matthew Prudham

4pm on a Friday – it’s not yet officially the weekend but the O2 Ritz is getting busy already with people piling in to watch Brighton’s Our Girl. As the resonant tones of lo-fi rock, ever progressing in vivacity and snarl, fill the former bingo hall, we start to realise that Manchester Psych Fest would serve up a whole box of treats for the next eight hours. Our Girl were truly a great way to begin, nonetheless, with highlights including “I really like you”, the standout track from their debut album “Stranger Today”, being stretched out into a experimental rock cut; and set closer “Boring”, with its multitude of crunchy guitar solos.

Maidavale undoubtedly picked up a legion of new Manchester fans with their music reminiscent of early Pink Floyd.

After a short reprieve, we crossed the road to Gorilla for Swedish heavy psychedelic quartet Maidavale. The all-female band packed out the 500-cap venue with their dense guitar work, wide use of vocal effects and guitar pedals, and lead singer Matilda Roth’s Björk-esque stage presence. They undoubtedly picked up a legion of new Manchester fans with their music reminiscent of early Pink Floyd. Then, back over to the Ritz it was for Goat Girl, and what a privilege it was to see these girls, who crammed full the considerably larger John Peel tent at Glastonbury, in a relatively intimate space. The witty, unnerving post-punk tinged with trippy keys and harmonies of which HAIM would be jealous truly glistened. Here, the first pits of the evening opened. Both young and old were bouncing.

Goat Girl’s Clottie Cream providing the grooves for the day’s first pits in the Ritz. Photo credit: Tom Hutchinson.

Before the headline sets began, we took the chance to venture downstairs for a blistering set by London’s Indian Queens in the basement. Both fans and curious onlookers came down; they left delighted with a set reminiscent of Wolf Alice and Savages. Powered by the intense drumming of Matt Dudan-Bick, the trio impressed with catchy harmonised vocal hooks and electronic-powered guitar work. The crowd were in no rush, either, given the lack of many leaving to get a front spot for Temples.

Both fans and curious onlookers came down to the basement for Indian Queens; they left delighted with a set reminiscent of Wolf Alice and Savages

Temples’ time came, however, and the main room was rammed full for the sub-headliners who arguably should have been headlining this festival on the basis of their rapturous set conclusion. Though, the Kettering lads started slowly, building up with a selection from their less well-received second album, “Volcano”. After the debut of the title track from their upcoming third LP, “Hot Motion”, Temples took the crowd by the scruff of the neck: fan favourites “Shelter Song” and “Sun Structures” from their debut had the pits flowing and the sprung dancefloor trembling as they concluded on a definite high.

Temples’ set reached a rapturous conclusion, paired beautifully with the Fest’s trippy visuals. Photo credit: Tom Hutchinson

Half an hour quickly passed waiting for the festival’s standout booking, Australian singer-songwriter Courtney Barnett. Ahead of headlining the c.20k capacity End of the Road Festival two days later, Barnett demonstrated exactly why she was a step up from the festival’s previous) headliners in star power. Filling the Ritz to bursting point (security had to disappoint latecomers), she thrilled the crowd with cuts from her two highly acclaimed records.

Starting off with the landmark track from “Sometimes I Sit And Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit”, “Avant Gardener”, a rather sultry, laidback atmosphere was immediately installed. “City Looks Pretty” incited a deafening singalong, and then the transformation into rock goddess began. “Nameless Faceless” and “I’m Not Your Mother, I’m Not Your Bitch”, a vicious pairing, incited raucous affairs, the sticky Ritz floor being attacked like an air-raid. There were moments of light relief – “Depreston”, probably her most lyrically witty track, gave everyone a chance for a breather – before the set ended after over an hour in a maenadic manner. Barnett was on inspired form, her voice incisive yet clear, and her backing band fuelling her wanderings between folk and post-punk.

Courtney Barnett’s renditions of “Nameless Faceless” and “I’m Not Your Mother, I’m Not Your Bitch”, a vicious pairing, incited raucous affairs, the sticky Ritz floor being attacked like an air-raid.

The festival didn’t end there, though; and this is when a few issues arose. Organisers might have been hoping some attendees would go home after the closure of the O2 Ritz after Barnett, but seemingly few did, with long queues facing everyone outside Gorilla and YES. The long queue outside Gorilla was explainable, though, with Working Men’s Club up next – the band who have sold out YES’ main room despite only releasing two singles. A short but sweet set followed, starting out with B-sides and an unreleased track, before being treated to “Bad Blood”. The song fired with punchy, punk spirit. The quartet ended on crowd-pleaser “Teeth”, frontman Sid creating madness within the crowd. They were notably versatile – members switched from guitars to drums, from drum machines to lead vocals, and this made it an ever more engrossing experience. No-nonsense, but all-party.

Working Men’s Club Sydney Minsky-Sargeant constantly went between vocal, keys and drum machine duties in their impressive set at Gorilla. Photo credit: Tom Hutchinson.

We finally made it to YES for the last act of our festival, Penelope Isles. The foursome, combining funky keys, lush vocal harmonies and shredding guitars, appeared maestros at increasing the bite and ferocity of their tracks until the very last moment. Treating the crowd to a taste of their debut, “Until the Tide Creeps In”, they found that elusive anthemic sound. An epic high to finish.

Overall, the festival was brilliant from start to finish. The diversity of the psychedelic community glistened. Despite a few organisational mishaps, especially the numbers versus capacity struggle after the Ritz closed, the step up for the festival worked a treat with every venue seemingly buzzing. A festival truly for all generations, who knows what Manchester Psych Fest will have up their sleeve for next year. An air of anticipation remains.

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