Live Review: Outbreak Festival [Bowlers Exhibition Centre, Manchester] June 24-26, 2022

By July 7, 2022 Live, Reviews

FRIDAY

The energy in the crowd shifts dramatically, as Xibalba bring their riff-centric set just before 3pm. The following half an hour is a good taste of things to come from the remainder of Friday, with the band’s set indulging in everything from straight-up thrash, to doom-tinged breakdowns.

Over on the second stage, Glasgow’s Despize get a pit opened up immediately. As it grows in size, the first few bright, chiming chords ringing out almost offer a false sense of security. This is the calm before the storm. The beat kicks in, and this is where the show really gets underway. The chaos only intensifies, and by the end of the opening song, those spectating on the edge of the pit have taken another ten steps back, allowing the throw downs to become completely unrestrained. Audience members are soon on stage, grabbing the mic and screaming along. Several songs conclude without the energy dropping for a moment, before a brief introduction of the band. So brief, in fact, that once the frontman delivers those three words so synonymous with hardcore “keep it moving”, you would think they hadn’t stopped for one second.

Back to the main stage, for a band that are carrying a well-deserved buzz. Static Dress just kept me guessing for a straight thirty minutes. For all their screaming and buzz-saw guitar riffs, there’s genuine melody and charm to every number. Every song a slightly different flavour of 00s post-hardcore revival. A song halfway into the set was a perfect example of this; carried along by an impressive vocal and a mid-tempo melody, there’s a false stop before an unexpected barrage of intense, tight riffing for just a few more seconds. The stage show is equally impressive. Frontman Olli Appleyard moves swiftly with the ever-changing tempos and volume, whilst masked guitarist Contrast adds an almost unnerving aspect to the performance. Being masters of multiple disciplines, it’s easy to see why this set was a highlight for many attendants.

Pest Control are a band really making waves on the UK DIY circuit. Their 5pm slot on the second stage is surely something of a landmark gig for them. They win the crowd over immediately, with thrash built for head-banging, breakdowns made for two-stepping and masterful, gradual tempo shifts that pull audience members like puppets on string. Frontwoman, Leah has an unrelenting, gritty vocal, perfectly complemented by guitars tinged with pinch harmonics and frantic solos. There’s an eruption of applause during a break in the final song, before a final throw-down wraps up a flawless set.

London’s Last Witness drafted in guest vocalists, as their own was struck with Covid. Members of Your Demise, Splitknuckle and Despize shared the vocal duties, over some of the heaviest breakdowns of the day so far. Formed in 2006, the band brought many of the usual metalcore tropes to the set, but all done extremely well. Working the crowd into lively pits, the sudden drops to half-time were always at the perfect moment.

The Flex are absolute scene veterans when it comes to no-nonsense UK hardcore, and their set reflects this in every way. The riffs are straight-forward and sit well in their place. The shouted vocals are simple and to-the-point. The drum breaks between segments keep an eb and flow to the set. This hits just right for the fans, (many of them being on stage and right in the actions) and makes for a memorable set on the second stage.

Second stage headliners Puppy are a huge change in pace, showing the real beauty of such a diverse festival of guitar-based music. The fans are out in force, raising their hand to the sing-along choruses. But right as you might think you’ve sussed the band’s formula, the songs twist and turn in unexpected places, often venturing to places much heavier than you might expect from such melodic songs. Puppy aren’t afraid to experiment with structure, and recent single “Glacial” from the band’s second album, “Pure Evil” is the epitome of this, and a highlight amidst an all-round enjoyable set.

Excitement is building back at the main stage for the reveal of Friday’s special guests. And special, it sure was. Malevolence take to the stage, and it’s an absolute frenzy. They’re hardly five minutes in and frontman Alex Taylor is commanding the crowd; “get the fuck up here”. These guys make it look easy, delivering sweeping riffs and winding into gradual tempo shifts for some of the chuggiest segments of day one. 2017 single “Slave To Satisfacation” is sludge perfection, and the band performs the genre-blending hit as an unstoppable unit. “It’s a privilege to be here” informs Taylor, adding that Outbreak has “set the bar”. A new song sees super-deep bass drops segue into what is essentially a groove-metal breakdown. “Let’s keep this moving” cries Taylor, and the action doesn’t stop until the band is done. “Holy shit, that was fucking lit!” I think most would agree.

Terror open up their set in standard California-hardcore fashion. “We are Terror from Los Angeles. This is a brand new song”. That song, “Pain Into Power”, kicks into pure D-beat, before flying into blistering speed. Frontman Scott Vogel encourages the crowd: “Come on up. Everybody stage-dive”. I think everybody tried! Such a frantic set from a US band that has been going strong now for 20 years is a reminder of what makes Outbreak so important. Moments like this bring out a special feeling, with an entire community brought together through a united love of hardcore in the many forms that it takes, transcending time and territories.

Knocked Loose close out what has been a fantastic opening day. Bryan Garris sums up the feeling in the air: “This is freedom. This is release. This is anything you want it to be”. The stage invasions are a frenzy that he does nothing but encourage. The riffs, from the seething to the grueling, constantly shake up the vibe without relent. Heavy use of bass drops keep the movement up. Unsurprisingly, the Golden Circle has hit maximum capacity, as everybody wants a piece of the action. There was something for everyone, and it’s easy to see why Knocked Loose were Friday’s headliners.

SATURDAY

The second stage got underway with a dynamic mixture of light and dark, quiet and loud, highly fitting for day two in general. Micromoon seamlessly transition from chilled out shoegazing, to full-blown screamo segments. The set was ambitious, yet highly accomplished.

Over on the main stage, Narrow Head also set today’s vibe straight off the bat, with distortion-drenched guitars full of texture. Singer / guitarist ​​Jacob Duarte is carefully considered. Throughout the set, he would often drop out his guitar for the verses, before crashing back in to elevate powerful, gripping choruses. His vocal, too, can be understated, whilst being equally as powerful when these lifts are needed in the chorus. Those who are unfamiliar with Narrow Head, but here today for Basement will doubtless appreciate this offering. There are hints of classic 90s sounds, akin to Hum and Smashing Pumpkins, but with all the polish of contemporary emo and post-hardcore.

Island of Love stand out in various ways. Contagious riffs are complimented well by lush vocal harmonies, with lead vocal duties often shared between members. A change of pace mid-set bursts into a high-tempo punk eruption. Each song has something fresh to offer, in this roller coaster of intensity, making for a fun ride overall.

There’s a certain flow to the afternoon’s set from Fiddlehead that hasn’t yet been seen this weekend. A certain harmony between the band and audience. Fans even three rows back from the front are climbing those in front just to get a piece of the action on stage. Every subdued moment feels like the calm before the storm. Frontman Patrick Flynn reflects: “Hardcore is growing. This is the real deal. This represents the chaos on the outside, and the attempt to keep it together on the inside.”

Mannequin Pussy grab attention right from the get-go, with fantastic use of quiet / loud dynamics, and guitars that bend and drone for just the right length of time. The most melodic moments are a delicate wash of deep bass, and lead guitars drowning in delay. Angrier tunes wouldn’t go amiss in the Babes In Toyland catalogue. Many punters named this as one of their weekend highlights, and I definitely have to agree.

Drug Church are continually offering variety and innovation. Some tunes chug and groove over a straight beat. Others rip into blurred, power-chord chaos. Guitar effects add just the right amount of weird. “Million Miles of Fun” perfects the formula, but even tunes that were new to me locked me into the riffs before I even realised. “You keep it fucking moving” instructs vocalist Patrick Kindlon. Amongst the various stage invaders, there may have been just a little too much movement, as one guitar seemed to have an issue for a small moment. “We’re experiencing a technical difficulty called ‘being too fucking lit’” joked Kindlon. Though the confidence is well justified.

Being completely unaware of Young Guv before the festival, I was pleasantly surprised to find them comparable to some of my favourite bands. Several tunes could have passed for lost Hüsker Dü tracks, or something by The Replacements. The bright, jangled guitars were pleasant, and the vocals frequently shift into a higher register, contributing nicely to the tone. An acoustic guitar also adds tenderly to the mix. Vocal harmonies dip in and out at just the right moments. Overall, this was a set of finely crafted, anthemic rock ‘n’ roll, leaning heavily into the sounds of early alternative rock.

Angel Du$t deliver an expertly forged set. A blend of punk and emo styles, both old and new. ”On My Way” is positive hardcore turned power pop. Slower tunes creep in with a plodding rhythm section that wouldn’t feel out of place on Fugazi albums, with a vocal to match. “This is family shit”, vocalist Justice Tripp tells the crowd. This is seemingly appropriate, considering Angel Du$t share two members with today’s headliners, Turnstile. Tripp also dedicated one of the band’s more traditional hardcore songs to Drug Chruch, Higher Power and others on the bill over the weekend. Having played Outbreak numerous times over the last decade, there’s no wonder it feels like family now.

“I’d tell you all to move forward, but it’s pretty fuckin’ packed” states High Viz frontman Graham Sayle, as Saturday’s penultimate second stage set begins. If you were to throw down to one band on this stage today, this might well be the one. The action has all kicked in well before Sayle even sings a word. And he’s fully involved, diving in before the band has played for even a minute. Wailing guitars scream relentlessly over pounding, heavy-handed drums. Fists fill the air from enthused supporters. The songs keep on coming, making the set an absolute party, celebrating with pure UK hardcore energy.

Headlining stage two, Belgium’s Slow Crush bring a contrasting energy. This is post-shoegaze to just completely sink into. A dark, yet gorgeous wall of sound fills the room. Super low, driving bass hits hard with every note. Absorbing the set from the back of the room, I can still feel the louder moments physically shake my body. Singer Isa Holliday has an almost haunting quality to her vocal, and her impressive range allows for plenty of additional melody to their compositions. They’re a band where everything just sits right in its place, and I’ll surely be listening again, when the right mood takes me.

After seeing Higher Power at Download Festival this year, I was psyched to see their set at Outbreak. Sure, the Download crowd was receptive; but Outbreak is this band’s audience, through and through. This promised to be something special, from established scene veterans. And from the off, that’s what they delivered. “Staring At The Sun” seemed to have every head in the room nodding. This band doesn’t just rely on speed. They’re masters of subtlety. The energy in the performance was astounding, with Jimmy Wizard climbing the rigs, clambering down as the band exploded into yet another bombardment of noise.

I was filled with anticipation as I made my way forward for Basement, aiming to get a good spot and take part in the action. This was set to be a particularly special event for fans, celebrating the tenth anniversary of their critically acclaimed second album Colourmeinkindness. The lush opening chords of the anthemic “Whole” ring out, (in a kind of extended intro), and a truly magical set gets underway. Frontman Andrew Fisher is an absolute poet. The crowd sings along, and hangs onto every word. The melodies, dynamics, and gorgeous guitar tones are every bit as pleasing as they were when Colourmeinkindness dropped in 2012. Throughout the near hour-long set, there are selections from the rest of Basement’s catalogue. Picks from I Wish I Could Stay Here also still prove as energetic and emotive as ever. “Crickets Throw Their Voice” (featuring the album’s eponymous line “I wish I could stay here”) pulls at the heartstrings, and is a testament to the band’s early material. “Spoiled” and “Control” are each an absolute masterclass in loud / quiet dynamics. Every song feels like a journey of its own. The now legendary “Covet” closes out the triumphant set, with what is quite possibly the biggest sing-along of the weekend so far. This is the spirit of Outbreak Festival utterly epitomised, and a magnificent moment in UK post-hardcore.

Saturday’s headliners Turnstile have shaken up hardcore for over a decade now. With every release, they still break new ground. Although incredibly divisive, it’s undeniable that they are pulling waves of new fans into the hardcore genre, as well as modern rock in general. Playing tonight to 6000 people, before playing Glastonbury Festival’s John Peel stage just the next day, it’s incredible to see just how far this band has come in the past few years. Having seen them play to a crowd closer to one or two thousand at Outbreak 2015, I was already amazed at what they had achieved at that point. If that had been the pinnacle of their career, many would have considered them to be an incredibly successful hardcore band, by modern standards. But they’ve continued to grow. The festival has continued to grow. And the scene, as a whole, is experiencing something of a renaissance. Turnstile find themselves very much at the forefront of this. Their latest album, GLOW ON, has reached heights that even their most loyal and long-term fans were unlikely to predict. Kicking off their set with the album’s opening track and lead single, “MYSTERY”, the pace is set for pogo dancing and stage-diving, and its sing-along chorus hears a gigantic roar from the crowd. With most of the room already won-over, the band erupts into “Real Thing”, followed by “Big Smile”, the first two tracks of 2018’s Time & Space. These two somewhat more traditional up-tempo hardcore throw-downs are book-ended by another GLOW ON track, third single “BLACKOUT”. The outro / breakdown of which shows that Turnstile are just as capable as ever of gripping riffage to fuel the most chaotic of pits. Frontman Brendan Yates, wearing a t-shirt printed with the simple words “THANK YOU”, talks about his experience of the festival, and his gratitude to the scene. “I was walking around today and just observing. The art and the food, and people talking in the sun”. Yates’ inclination to observe is surely a part of his genius. Back in 2015, I recall him perched stage-side for Basement’s set at Outbreak, watching over the performance, and the crowd’s reaction. He is the kind of artist who absorbs everything around him, and reflects in his music. Perhaps this is why the thousands of attendants here today find Turnstile so relatable. This appreciation of the hardcore community is summed up perfectly in the set closer “T.L.C. (TURNSTILE LOVE CONNECTION)”. The closing lines repeat, “I want to thank you for letting me see myself, I want to thank you for letting me be myself”, as something of a mantra, and doubtlessly reflect Yates’ feelings at this stage in his journey. As the stage fills up with crowd members shouting back these lyrics, it’s a beautiful thing to witness. The band and crowd equally thankfully of one another, and the support shared between them. The give-and-take of the hardcore community is what allowed this mammoth undertaking of a 6000 capacity no-barrier show to even occur. And once again, I am left with a feeling of awe. For me, Turnstile have already achieved the unthinkable. The impossible. Just how far can they take this?

SUNDAY

Witnessing Drain on the mainstage for their 2pm slot was something special. If you weren’t there and watched this set afterwards, you’d be forgiven for thinking this was a headline slot. The crowd went nuts. Flying straight into their massive single “Feel The Pressure”, the crossover vibes are strong from the off, and frontman Sammy Ciaramitaro hardly needs the mic for a second. Fans pile onstage to grab whatever mic they can and belt out the words. Ciaramitaro loves to see it. About two songs in he bellows, “Straight up; Thank you Outbreak!” before running the length of the stage to high-five the front row, shouting “Gimme some love!”. His enthusiasm is unparalleled, and is one of many factors that makes their shows such a spectacle. Another factor is the sheer quality of the material on their 2020 debut album California Cursed. They tear through several of the album’s songs, as well as the follow up single “Watch You Burn” released last year on Epitaph Records. This is followed by a dedication of the song “The Process Of Weeding Out”; “For all those who thought that we couldn’t do it. This is for you motherfuckers”. Closing the set with Californina Cursed’s title track, it’s evident why Drain are rising stars on the scene. This was their first Outbreak Festival, and actually their first time in the UK at all. It certainly won’t be their last.

Having seen Nothing at the legendary Brudenell Social Club in Leeds a few months back, I was excited to see them hit a big stage. Immediately, the production itself offers something so much more, as the visual backdrop is a treat for the eyes, to accompany the delightfully shoegazing, blurring mass of melody. Although a relatively recent addition to the band, lead guitarist Doyle Martin is a fundamental part of this journey, with his whirling, experimental guitar lines being some of the most interesting in the field. Throughout the set, Nothing’s sound has nods to everything from Dinosaur Jr. and The Smashing Pumpkins to Placebo and My Bloody Valentine. That’s not to say nothing new is on offer. Far from it. Tracks like the monstrous “Famine Asylum” are an absolute force of nature, with every element combining to deliver a spectacular sonic experience.

Up next is a band that bleeds intensity. Hip-hop beats clash with nu metal and tech metal, yet there is no weak link in the chain that is Liverpool’s Loathe. Frontman Kadeem France instructs: “Outbreak, no fuckin’ about. Open this thing up right now”. This is an almost courteous warning of the brutality about to descend upon the pit. The sheer tenacity is enough to work the crowd into an absolute riot, which continues for the rest of the set. The audience reception is obviously appreciated, as France chimes in: “We are Loathe from Liverpool. Thanks for being here today. Big love”.

If I were to say just one thing about Ceremony, I’d have to point out that they had one of the most unique sounds of the weekend. The song structures and phrases are intentionally janky, as if it’s all falling apart. But it’s a carefully curated chaos, and one that’s easy to get pulled into. The verses plod along, and the big choruses kick in right on que. Later numbers bring more melody, and equally, more theatrics. Everything holds its place in a set that seems as carefree as it is considered. As contradictory as that might sound, Ceremony somehow pull it off.

Deafheaven’s set is surely amongst the most highly anticipated of the weekend. Going from strength to strength for over a decade of pioneering the blackgaze genre, they are doubtlessly influential on many of the bands who have graced Outbreak’s two stages over the weekend. When this band is all-in on what defines them, they’re a blast-beating, thrashing, screamo-fueled powerhouse of dissonance. These segments can be so ferocious, the more subdued moments can feel like a pay-off for sticking with it. Not that any part of this set is truly subdued, other than by comparison to the more relentless onslaughts. Multiple forms of extreme metal are scattered throughout the set, and it’s a testament to the band that each one is performed flawlessly, and that so much ambition and variation is contained within fourty minutes.

For many, Touché Amoré is the perfect closing act for the weekend. A world-class band, daring to do more than most, and do it all to an impeccable standard. No matter what punters came for this weekend, they’ll likely find something for them in this set. Opener “Come Heroine” kicks in with a hardcore beat, but by the time it’s through the song has explored screamo, melodic hardcore and offered enough riffage for pits to start swarming. The audience participation seen across the weekend continues here, and Touché Amoré is a solid centrepoint to whatever may have brought each individual to the festival. The band gives it their all, and the set surely left few dissenters. Given the weekend’s wide range of genres, moods, and volume levels from the diversity of acts, this band is a logical culmination, and they close the festival with a presence that is both graceful and uncompromising.

Words: Casey Stead

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