Live Review: Outbreak Festival (June 23-25, 2023)

By Harry Hodgson
By July 5, 2023 Live, Reviews

Outbreak Festival 2023 took place in Manchester at the Mayfield Depot home to the famous Warehouse Project events. This was an upgrade in capacity from last year’s Bowlers Exhibition Centre. The 2023 line-up saw more of a welcoming of a wide array of hip-hop acts including headliner Denzel Curry as well as notable names such as Earl Sweatshirt and Lil Ugly Mane. The line-up however still stuck to its hardcore roots with one of the most stacked lineups of this year’s festival season with newly reunited Bane, metallic hardcore legends Converge and Code Orange (pictured) amongst many more playing across the weekend.

Friday started for me on the main stage with Sunami who delivered an explosive opening to the weekend. Backed by a large cartoon of Bruce Willis, the LA hardcore band hammered through their set of songs with bodies flying on the stage and the crowd not stopping for a second. Their track ‘Dirty Work’ was a fan favourite and somehow generated even more energy out of the crowd who had been giving in their all from minute one. It was a perfect way to set the mood for what the rest of the festival would have in stock.

After Sunami, sticking to the main stage, Fleshwater were up next. Fleshwater consists of members of hardcore band along with singer/guitarist Marisa Shirar. Their set had a nice contrast to the majority of the bands on day 1 as they manage to mix hardcore with a blend of shoegaze, alternative metal, and grunge. The crowd was mesmerised by the band with singalongs being echoed throughout the venue multiple times during the set.

Next up I made my way over to the second stage to catch Glaswegian hardcore band Demonstration of Power. They weren’t a band I was particularly familiar with before seeing them however, upon catching them live they certainly made a striking impression on me. Their frontman launched upon the stage in a ski mask and commanded the crowd effortlessly throughout the set. The set was unlike anything I’d ever seen before live. It was non-stop mayhem. It was at this point in the day when I realised how happy and excited not only the audience were, but the artists were too. Everyone playing at the festival seemed to be giving it their all and seemed so appreciative to be playing there. Demonstration of Power’s set was completely relentless from beginning to end and was absolutely a highlight of the weekend.

Following on from Demonstration Of Power was the pop-punk band No Pressure on the main stage. Their set whilst keeping the energy, felt bouncier and more melodic. The band themselves were incredibly tight with a bellowing crowd who responded to their beck and call with each song. The band fronted by The Story So Far’s Parker Cannon called for a mosh pit at one point towards the back end of the set and within seconds, there was a massive pit in the middle of the crowd. This amongst many other moments in the set stood out as examples of the band having the audience in the palm of their hand. The set felt even cathartic at moments with just how connected the audience and the band were together during the duration of their time on stage.

Up next on the main stage was Militarie Gun whose new album ‘Life Under The Gun’ was released on the same day. They provided a feel-good set that had no room for energy to falter at all. The crowd was passionate and truly gave it their all. Bassist Max Epstein was wearing a Happy Mondays t-shirt which felt appropriate with the festival being held in Manchester. Militarie Gun really showed themselves as a band with an assured, tight sound who seemed like they were having a blast on stage which definitely rubbed off onto the audience. It was a set that oozed solidarity and community.

One Step Closer was up next on the main stage. They were back once again at Outbreak Festival after playing a blinding set last year. They seemed truly ecstatic to be back. Much like the previous bands, they brought a massive amount of passion and electricity to the festival with frontman Ryan Savitski commanding stage dives and mosh pits. The band absolutely stormed through their set, whipping the audience up into a frenzy. It was a set of pure euphoria from start to finish.

London post-punkers High Vis are a band I’ve been told by multiple people I need to see live, so I was very excited for their set at Outbreak Festival. As the band graced the stage they stormed right into a crushing cover of Oasis ‘Morning Glory’. The emotion in frontman Graham Sayle was beautiful to see as he spoke about the importance of the hardcore scene during songs and gave mention to how playing the festival was “hard to take in”. It goes back to my earlier point of how all the bands on the lineup seemed so full of pride to be playing. The High Vis set was all killer, no filler with the band going through songs from their 2019 debut ‘No Sense No Feeling’ and their 2022 follow-up ‘Blending’, with the singalong chorus of ‘Talk For Hours’ being a standout moment not only of the set but of the entire festival for me. The set ended with bodies from the crowd huddling around Graham to sing the final words of the set together. It was truly a sight to behold. After the show the band took to Instagram to say, “Didn’t think it was possible to top last year’s Outbreak set, but you lot made this one incredible.” The band had previously stated that their 2022 slot at the festival was probably the best show they’ve ever played.

Following High Vis on the main stage was the melodic hardcore outfit Defeater. The Massachusetts band performed a set of insanely tight grooves to one of the best crowds of the weekend. The audience all day was bringing the energy but somehow during Defeater’s set, it felt even more intense than before. The audience was completely under their spell bringing non-stop moshing and stage diving throughout their 30-minute set run time. The sound coming from the band felt so incredibly full and massive, it was really a force of music pummelling the audience.

Metallic hardcore legends Converge graced the main stage after Defeater and delivered one of the craziest live shows I’ve ever seen. For a band that formed over 20 years ago, they still have all of the power and all of the intensity of a band half their age. The band themselves and in particular frontman Jacob Bannon were having the time of their lives on stage with Bannon delivering the most animated and melodramatic facial expressions and poses which fit the music perfectly and added to the theatrics of the set. I also think this set had the most stage dives I have ever seen before with at one point feeling genuinely concerned for the front left side of the audience with how many bodies were launching themselves into the same area one after another. The set was relentless from beginning to end. The setlist was filled with crowd pleasers with special mention for ‘Hell To Pay’ from their 2001 classic album ‘Jane Doe’ and closer to the set and fan favourite ‘The Saddest Day’.

Closing day 1 of Outbreak Festival was hardcore band Bane. Bane announced their reunion earlier this year with the legendary hardcore outfit originally playing what was set to be their last show in 2016. The band made a surprise appearance at a benefit show on July 2n2, 2021, in tribute to former band member Brendan “Stu” Maguire who died of pancreatic cancer the month prior. Their set at Outbreak Festival is their third show since the tribute gig in 2021 and you could not tell for a second with how tight the band sounded. They erupted onto the stage with intro ‘Some Came Running’ sparing absolutely no time in introducing the band or acknowledging the crowd, they knew what the audience wanted from them and gave it to them right off the bat. Somehow the crowd showed absolutely no signs of a loss of energy with Bane being the final act of the night, it was truly pure insanity from start to finish. Frontman Aaron Bedard took a moment to acknowledge the legendary Manchester bands from the past including Joy Division, The Smiths, Buzzcocks, and The Stone Roses which was a nice moment between the no-holds barred setlist. It was truly an epic end to the first day.

Upon arriving on Day 2, two things were clear to me. Firstly, it was much hotter than the day before yet the venue itself remained breezy and cool which was truly a godsend secondly, the festival seemed better laid out than the day prior with chairs being added around the merch area to add more seating for people.

Day 2 started with the Southern California hardcore band Fury gracing the main stage. Much like Day 1 headliners Bane, Fury spent no time introducing the band and just opened their set with pure power. They provided a wall of sound that was truly crushing to the crowd however it didn’t stop the plenty of two stepping from the audience on stage during the set. The band explained that it was the biggest thing they’ve ever played yet if they didn’t mention that, you truly wouldn’t’ve known as they played with such confidence and precision going from song to song with no signs of letting up at all. They absolutely blasted through their set; it was a party from start to finish.

Changing the vibe almost completely was the next act up, American hip-hop duo hailing from New York City, Armand Hammer. Armand Hammer consists of underground legends Elucid and Billy Woods. It was the duo’s first show in Manchester and was eagerly awaited by fans online and even by people I spoke to at the festival itself. The set consisted of not only songs by the duo but also solo material from both artists. As the duo came on stage, Billy Woods immediately asked to turn the lights as dark as possible on stage which fit the dark and murky atmosphere of a lot of the tracks in the set. It felt more like poetry than hip hop at some parts during the show in particular the cold and claustrophobic ‘Asylum’, a Billy Woods solo track that details his life as a child in Zimbabwe backed over an eerie, drum-less instrumental. The set seemed to get more positive towards the back section with them playing fan favourite ‘Falling Out The Sky’ which got the best crowd reaction of the set. They closed the set with ‘Soft Landing’, a cut from Billy Woods 2023 critically acclaimed album ‘Maps’ whose chorus was echoed by the invested audience and remained in my head for the rest of the day.

Sticking to the hip-hop feel we had rapper MIKE up next on the main stage. He opened his set with a warm, infectious nature that totally rubbed off on the audience. He spent time giving out lots of shout-outs to different people including the sound people, the security, and the photographers. It was truly high spirits from the get-go. MIKE rapped over sleek, jazzy backings that fit perfectly for the scorching sun that was leaking into the back portion of the venue. In-between songs MIKE commanded fans to repeat lines and even wiggle their hips, he was really a master in getting the crowd on his side and on the same wavelength as himself. The set ended with stage dives and dap-ups from fans. It was certainly a change of pace from the furiocity and intensity of day 1, but it worked really well and went down a storm with the audience. I saw multiple people leaving the set with beaming smiles on their faces.

After MIKE was one of my most anticipated acts on the lineup, the incredible Soul Glo. Their 2022 album ‘Diaspora Problems’ was one of my favourite albums of the year and I couldn’t wait to see how the songs translated in a live show. They absolutely did not disappoint at all. I’ve spoken a lot about energy at this festival, yet it still bears mentioning, Soul Glo were pure, unfiltered energy for the full duration of their set. Frontman Pierce Jones is one of the most impressive vocalists I have ever seen live, howling, and screaming in a way unlike anyone else on the line up. The closer to the set ‘Gold Chain Punk (whogonbeatmyass?)’ made the crowd go absolutely ballistic resulting in a massive stage invasion with what seemed like over a hundred members of the audience being on stage with guitarist GG Guerra towering above them. Honestly, Soul Glo played like they were headlining the entire festival.

American metalcore band Jesus Piece was the next act on the main stage and was a band I wasn’t completely familiar with. I can define their set in one word: brutal. It was another no-introduction situation, just pure chaos from the first moment. The set was ferocious and relentless with the band seeming just as hype as the crowd. Jesus Piece was possibly the craziest band I saw of the whole weekend which is saying something when you’re sharing a line up with so many great hardcore and heavy acts. It was intense throughout however, never once did the music become remotely stale. The force and power Jesus Piece brought to Outbreak Festival is hard to put into words, it’s truly something you need to experience first-hand to fully understand. Absolutely a highlight set of the weekend for sure.

Next was one of the more unique bands on the lineup, Machine Girl. Categorised as digital hardcore and breakcore, Machine Girl provided one of the most fast-paced and in-your-face sets on the weekend. Paired with a blasting drummer, there was really no room to breathe in Machine Girl’s set. The bass was vibrating the media standing area so hard that I could feel my teeth shaking in my mouth. It was a fast-paced wild ride however, for me I felt some of the songs felt like there was just so much going on that it was hard to lock in or pay attention to specific parts, and the sound kind of just jumbled all together. I can totally see why people loved the set but for me, it was just a bit too crazy without necessarily resulting in a great overall finished product.

I wandered down quickly to the second stage to catch alternative, punky hip-hop artist Wu-Lu. Much like Machine Girl, Wu-Lu brought something different to the festival. It wasn’t hardcore and it wasn’t hip hop in the traditional sense of beats and bars, yet it went down extremely well. ‘Scrambled Tricks’ from his debut album ‘Loggerhead’ released on Warp Records was a personal highlight of the set with it being my favourite song from said album. As the set continued the crowd got more and more invested with mosh pits erupting throughout.

After Wu-Lu I quickly made my way back to the main stage to catch Code Orange, a band so big they would be justified as headliners. Right from the get-go the tone was set with vocalist Jami Morgan smashing his microphone into his head repeatedly. You could just tell how much their fan base love them with their reactions to every song played. They didn’t let up for a second. It was the first time Code Orange had played Manchester since 2018 and you could tell how happy not only the crowd were, but how happy the band were to be back. The audience was enthralled with every moment from the band. The track ‘Bleeding In The Blur’ was placed perfectly in the set to add variation to the chaos however it was set closer ‘Forever’ which was the highlight of the show for me with frontman Jami stating “shits about to get scary, shits about to get real” before unleashing into it. An absolutely electrifying performance.

Headliners of day 2 Death Grips were the next set on the main stage and the final act of the day. Death Grips are possibly the only band that can have the drummer walking on stage erupt a similar reaction to a regular band playing their biggest hit song. The band got on stage and opened with experimental hip hop classic ‘Guillotine’; or so we thought. They played around ten seconds of the song and then cut out and walked off. What is obviously now a line check at the time was quite unnerving as people whispered whether or not they’d come back on stage. Chants of “one more song” echoed throughout the venue and after what felt like an eternity but was more likely only a couple of minutes, the band walked back on stage. Opening properly with ‘System Blower’, the band provided a level of sound, unlike anything I had ever experienced live before. They are an absolute force of nature in a live setting. The lyrics of the song “we came to blow your system” seemed incredibly fitting. They then powered through song after song not stopping for second in-between tracks except for around halfway through when security pulled the music and made everyone move backward to prevent a crowd crush. Something that made this set extra exciting was the fact that people were free to get on stage and stage dive, having this layout of a typical hardcore show at a Death Grips concert is something unlikely to be seen ever again and made it feel even more special. Highlights from the set included fan favourites ‘I’ve Seen Footage’ and ‘Hustle Bones’ with special mention to ‘Bottomless Pit’ deep cut ‘BB Poison’ which as a massive fan of the band, I was ecstatic to hear live. After around 45 minutes the music cut, and the band made their way off the stage. Death Grips absolutely brought the house down with their headline set and provided a show that I truly don’t believe anyone else could replicate.

As I entered the venue for Day 3 I was genuinely a bit sad that it was my final day at the festival but also extremely excited as there were so many great bands and acts ahead for the day. First up for me was Meechy Darko. Meechy Darko is a rapper from Brooklyn, New York best known for being a member of hip-hop trio Flatbush Zombies. It was his first-ever solo festival show however he brought all the energy and confidence you’d expect to see from a festival veteran performer. The show felt almost pantomime-esque however I stress this is in a good way. Meechy was full of jokes and audience participation that won the crowd over perfectly. He spent his set not only effortlessly rapping words perfectly but also taking the time to front flip into the crowd and swim back onto the stage through the hands of the adoring fans. I honestly can’t think of a better way I could’ve started Day 3.

Right after Meechy Darko’s set I went down to the second stage to catch singer-songwriter Ekkstacy. It was another act that was unique to the rest of the bill with the set containing mainly post-punk and pop punk however, it went down a storm. People were moshing and two-stepping all around me throughout. It was a real feel-good set and worked so well as it was one of a kind on the line up, a refreshing change of pace. Ekkstacy took time to say how he felt nervous to play his set after seeing other bands on the line-up which you could tell in-between songs however during them, he played with such confidence and star quality you would never have noticed.

It was after this set that the heavens opened, and rain started pouring down. I went down to the main stage to catch Show Me The Body, one of the most talked about and anticipated acts on the bill. This resulted in them having one of the busiest crowds at the festival, especially for how early they were scheduled. I loved the noise elements of the set with countless pads and pedals being used on stage. As well as this special mention to frontman Julian Cashwan Pratt and drummer Jack McDermott who both played excellently. It was a refreshing and unique take on the classic hardcore punk sound that really made the band stand on their own amongst others on the line-up. An example of this was when frontman Julian brought out a banjo for a song.

Following Show Me The Body I went back down to the second stage to catch one of the most exciting rappers in the UK, Jeshi. The London-based rapper had been at Glastonbury for the past three days leaving his voice a bit hoarse however, Jeshi truly gave it his all in his performance on stage. He played tracks off of his socially conscious and critically acclaimed 2022 debut album ‘Universal Credit’ such as ‘Sick’ and ‘Another Cigarette’ yet it was the unreleased, new tracks that went down extremely well some of which had a glitchy electronic style showing a slight change in style for Jeshi. Whilst the unreleased songs went down a treat, it was the final two-song run that got the best crowd response. ‘Protein’ has the infectious singalong chorus from Obongjayar and 3210 has the danceable, head-bobbing instrumental that had everyone in the room moving.  An excellent show.

Keeping with the hip-hop vibe I went to the main stage to catch Lil Ugly Mane. For those who are fans of Lil Ugly Mane you know why this show is so special. Firstly, it is the first time the rapper has ever played in the UK and secondly with what has been going on in his personal life regarding his mental health, fans were unsure the show would go ahead at all. The show itself did not disappoint with Lil Ugly Mane rapping word perfect every line, every word from every song. He seemed comfortable on stage, but I felt he got more into it as the set progressed. Fans in the audience and on stage knew every line and were one of the most devoted crowds I had seen all weekend. The show ended with a massive stage invasion, possibly the biggest one I had seen all weekend.

Next, I went back to the second stage to catch UK rapper Sam Wise who sadly had to cancel due to travel disruption. Next was American hardcore punk legends Trapped Under Ice on the main stage. What was possibly the most talked about set on the lineup absolutely lived up to expectations. The crowd was rammed being possibly the biggest crowd I had seen at that time all weekend. Even with everything that was talked about the set online with people anticipating it so much, in my opinion they totally lived up to expectations from what I saw.

The next act for me was back on the main stage, American rock band Turnover. It was easily the feel-good set of the day for me. Paired with a fitting colourful backdrop, the set consisted of dreamy pop rock music with elements of indie and emo. Around me people were holding each other and singing along, and some groups were even locking arms and dancing together. It was a wholesome 50 minutes and a really memorable moment of the festival for me. Lead singer Austin Getz spoke about how they are so happy to still be accepted in the hardcore scene even after changing up their sound to what they are now which the crowd responded with riotous applause. I was a little perplexed in the lack of ‘Dizzy On The Comedown’ but set closer ‘Take My Head’ was more than fitting to end their performance resulting in the best crowd reaction from their set as a whole.

Following Turnover, I headed to the second stage to catch a glimpse of Irish band Enola Gay. Enola Gay is a band I have wanted to see for a while now upon discovering them in 2021 so them getting added last minute to the line-up was a more than welcome surprise. Sadly, due to set times I couldn’t catch the entirety of their set however what I did was truly amazing. They had such an infectious hip hop and punk energy which resulted in a frantic live show with the band and the crowd giving it their all.

I made my way back to the main stage for the final two acts of the festival, the first being rapper Earl Sweatshirt. Earl coming out to his instrumental track ‘Riot!’ was a wonderful way to start the show and genuinely felt rather emotional for myself being such a big fan of the artist. The early inclusion of tracks from his 2018 album ‘Some Rap Songs’ such as ‘The Mint’ and ‘Ontheway!’ stuck out to me as highlights with devoted fans all around me all shouting the lyrics together. About halfway through the set Earl brought out rapper Wiki who was on the lineup playing on the second stage right after Earl. This resulted in a huge crowd reaction with them playing Wiki’s song ‘All I Need’ and Earl’s track ‘AM // Radio’, both tracks where the artists appear on together. A highlight of the set was Earl playing his track ‘EAST’ which has now become a sort of internet meme with it’s somewhat alternative and perplexing instrumental. As soon as the song started mosh pits broke out and people stormed the stage to stage dive. Earl and his DJ were both extremely caught off guard by this and found it genuinely hilarious. For the rest of the set the crowd were going crazy and Earl kept getting shocked by their reactions to his songs. It was a brilliant set.

After Earl it was time for not only the final act of the night, but the final act of the festival, Denzel Curry. He opened his set with the second, more hype, half of his 2022 single ‘Walkin’ which made the crowd go bonkers straight away. Following that track was a set that was pure hype from beginning to end. It felt as if the set was tailor made for the festival with heavier deep cuts such as ‘Hate Government’ being played to my surprise. Also during the set were multiple new songs which all had insane energy and crazy instrumentals. Anyone who thought Denzel would be mellowing out after his last record ‘Melt My Eyez See Your Future’ is completely mistaken. Denzel as a performer is incredible to watch with insane breath control and a commanding presence, he really knows how to put on a show. His Soundcloud classic ‘Ultimate’ which had been used on social media to promote the festival was easily the highlight of the set with Denzel making everyone get low and bounce up for the infamous beat drop. My only complaint with the set would be that the opportunity for him to play his stellar cover of Rage Against The Machine’s ‘Bulls On Parade’ not being taken is baffling to me however, a new song he played did interpolate Drowning Pool’s ‘Bodies’. It was an energetic masterclass in live performance and was truly a perfect way to close the festival.

The tagline for Outbreak Festival 2023 had been ‘A Weekend Of Chaos’ which could not ring more true but for all of the right reasons. An amazing line up, a great venue and one of the best crowds I have ever seen at a music event. Roll on Outbreak Festival 2024.