Manchester Psych Fest 2021: The Report
Although hindered by a few COVID-related dropouts and over-capacity venues, Manchester Psych Fest largely succeeds thanks to a massive line-up of exciting acts new and old
While luckily not too greatly plagued by COVID-related dropouts, one of Manchester Psych Fest’s disappointing losses is its original opening act, Kokoroko. Stepping in for them instead is The Goa Express (O2 Ritz, 2pm; The Deaf Institute, 6.15pm; YES 2nd Floor, 2.45am), who end up playing three sets throughout the day, not only opening the festival but closing it too, as they also step in for the festival’s intended secret closing act, The Orielles, who are forced to pull out.
A quick jump over the road takes us to Gorilla for bus-hating, disco-loving Manchester quartet Loose Articles (Gorilla, 2.45pm). The band dedicate their set to local legend John Hall – a well-known Manchester gig-goer, who sadly passed a few weeks prior to the event following a battle with cancer – and it’s safe to say his legacy is well and truly honoured.
Then, it’s back over the road for Porridge Radio (O2 Ritz, 3.15pm). Having released their second album, Every Bad, right before the first lockdown – back in March last year – it’s been a long time coming for fans to be able to witness its tracks performed live. Perhaps a result of it being early in the day or everyone still feeling a bit tentative in big crowds, the mood feels fairly subdued. However, the Brighton four-piece are completely engaging and album standouts like Give/Take and Born Confused take on a whole new life performed live.
Following Porridge Radio are Manchester’s own PINS (O2 Ritz, 4.25pm), whose recent leanings into disco and synth-pop bring the energy levels up. Dressed like a walking disco ball in a pink sequined dress, frontwoman Faith Vern's stage presence is as bright as her outfit would suggest, and their tracks sound clean and sharp. The same can’t be said for Dana Gavanski (Factory 251, 6.45pm), though, whose set is sadly ruined by very poor sound quality and an extremely chatty crowd. These two factors don’t bode well for an artist whose music is incredibly intimate and requires people to actually pay attention.
As the evening sets in, it becomes a case of picking a venue and staying there for the foreseeable. Huge queues to get into the venues themselves – as well as the different rooms within those venues – mean leaving is simply not an option. Having successfully made it into YES in time for Leeds four-piece Yard Act (YES 2nd Floor, 8.30pm) – whose set is the most invigorating of the day so far – we decide to camp out upstairs for the rest of the evening and, fortunately, the stellar line-up of acts happily keeps us here.
Dry Cleaning (YES 2nd Floor, 9.45pm) frontwoman Florence Shaw offers a masterclass in looking as disinterested as possible throughout the band’s set. It’s all part of her shtick, though, and Shaw’s stage presence does wonders to elevate her surrealist lyrics and drab delivery, with the humour in lyrics like 'More espresso, less depresso' and 'What about all the uneaten sausages?' really shining through.
In contrast, Los Bitchos (YES 2nd Floor, 11pm) couldn’t be more upbeat. Passing round a bottle of tequila and sharing jokes with each other throughout, the four-piece make a solid case for being the band everyone wants to be in. From there, the enthusiasm seems to slowly filter away, as Canadian collective Crack Cloud (YES 2nd Floor, 12.15am) appear pretty unimpressed by the crowd’s antics, with multiple crowd surfers and stage invaders; limbs are flying and eyes are rolling.
With a change of scenery desperately needed and flailing limbs making it almost impossible to see any of Crack Cloud during their set, we head over to a near-empty Gorilla for TV Priest (Gorilla, 1.30am). Only added to the line-up for the festival a few days prior, replacing Scalping after they were forced to pull out due to members self-isolating, the band maintain a high level of energy for their late-night set but, by this point, men shouting has somewhat taken its toll.
For many returning to festivals for the first time, Manchester Psych Fest succeeded in bringing a massive line-up of exciting acts new and old to some of the city's best venues, and being able to experience live music again was a truly special experience. However, the disappointment at not being able to see some of these acts, as a result of huge queues and over-capacity venues, was also felt very widely. After a year and a half of no business at all, it would be easy to excuse promoters for selling as many tickets as possible in order to make a profit, but doing so at the expense of audience experience was a mistake that will hopefully be corrected for future events.