Independent and inclusive, the third installment of Manchester Punk Festival spread its reach across multiple venues, with a multitude of musical acts and other cultural performances and premieres.

The Tuts

The Tuts

We interviewed eight bands over the weekend, and spoke on the importance of using such a platform to reach audiences on important movements.

It’s been just over a month (who doesn’t like a bit of slow journalism?) since Manchester Punk Festival graced the streets and ears of the North’s rainy city (not so accurate a nickname here as the sun beat down heavily on us for all of the three days), and taking a look back on the event realized the inclusive, communal nature only festivals of this sort can offer. In a world of lineups with, upon removal of all-male acts, you’re left with a blank page and – if you’re lucky – a couple of scattered women and non-binary performers, often clustered together in keeping with a “female-fronted genre” (what is that?).

Not only did we catch highlights of the weekend, but sat down with eight bands from the festival’s close-to-100 to chat about the importance of diversity, respect in a DIY music community, and using platforms as musicians to overcome inevitable prejudice faced as someone who lacks representation in this world.

It’s the same story across a wide array of situations: a sense of condescension, whether it be overt or subconscious, pushing these people down. Countless have no doubt been discouraged from continuing the pursuit of music, as a musician or behind the scenes, because of words said or attitudes directed towards them that make them feel less than another for no reasons other than gender, sexuality, race, and so on. In a film premiered on the festival’s Saturday date, Suzy Harrison’s So, which band is your boyfriend in? showcases the impact of such treatment in simply the title, but goes even deeper in analyzing the effects and how we can move forward to improve this. These bands are, at various levels in both their songwriting and their actions outside of this, facing it head-on and taking action to execute change in their industry.

Fresh

London four-piece (a recent development; Me Rex’s Myles McCabe recently joined as guitarist number two) Fresh played to a packed house at quintessential Mancunian bar Rebellion the first night of MPF ’18, to an enthusiastic crowd eagerly awaiting their “scrappy,” “bubblegum-grunge” sound, a diverse combination cobbled together to execute their short and punchy songs about mental health and sexual identity. A couple of new songs are played, as well as old favorites, including “Get Bent,” a song about dickhead men, and “Fuck My Life.” It’s a heart-warming sight to see smiles spread wide across each member’s face as the entire room erupts on the first chords, screaming back the lyrics in unison – even at the band’s first show in Manchester to date.

Being a songwriter, especially as a young woman, can be quite daunting, as what Kathryn thinks is often considers a “gatekeeper” of the ideas she presents in her songs, even though some songs might be about absolutely ordinary, mundane experiences that should be accessible for any to listen to. “Whether I want to or not,” she admits, “if you’re a woman playing punk, everything you do is going to be political, so might as well make it your own politics and roll with it.”

Fresh

Fresh

It’s good, then, that Fresh’s goal is to inspire those watching and listening to them play. “I want other people, especially other women and nonbinary and queer people, to just know that being in a band, anybody can do it,” Kathryn explains. “You don’t need to have some kind of innate talent even; you just need to have a bit of confidence.” Just as many bands in this DIY scene do, she has other, older people within the scene to thank for where she is now, and hopes to take a place in encouraging others to pursue this rewarding path.

They reference Ducking Punches, a Norwich band that played just after Fresh, who spoke about looking after younger people within the crowd. Too often it seems that older fans in a punk crowd will look down on newer additions to the scene, but it’s in a punk attitude to protect impressionable younger people looking to fit in.

Other highlights: Ducking Punches also spoke about the ideas of toxic masculinity and a detrimental patriarchal society in reference to their song “Six Years,” a song they dedicate to those who aren’t there who should be. Sharing the statistic that suicide is the biggest killer of men under 45, they condemn those who believe it shouldn’t be a feminist issue because of its roots in the patriarchal society that tells boys to “man up” instead of finding help for them.

Ducking Punches

Ducking Punches

Dream Nails

Dream Nails, a four-piece riot grrl band out of London, are enthusiastically DIY and self-proclaimed “punk witches,” at each show putting a hex on misogynistic figures and conservatives politicians with their deeply infectious riff-heavy tune “Deep Heat.” Even early in the day, they’ve drawn a crowd to The Bread Shed for one of their famously riotous live sets, where they mix chunky basslines and sparkling harmonies that are reminiscent of “The Ramones meet Bikini Kill.” For their song about “hating your job,” they recall an event at their Leeds show opening for Cherry Glazerr (where we met and fell in love with Dream Nails for the first time ngl) where a member of the crowd dropped to his knees, raised his arms to the sky, and exclaimed, “THAT’S MY LIFE!!!!” Three months later, he messaged the band to say that he was inspired to quit his job, and then at Christmas time informed them that he now runs a pet-sitting business and it’s the best decision he’s made in his life. It’s this kind of deeper change that Dream Nails are working to inspire in everyone, from quitting a corporate job, to hexing horrible politicians, to creating a safer space for women and nonbinary people.

They advocate for a “girls to the front” initiative, taking time in their set to invite women and non-binary to approach the front of the crowd, and sending men to the back, in order to encourage a safer and more fun atmosphere, in the setting of a punk show where the weight of a patriarchal society is often emphasized. Bassist Mimi Jasson notes that creating that safer space at the front of the crowd is for the band as well: “When you see the women and nonbinary people coming to the front, it actually is so mutual, because I feel a lot safer with them being there as well. This is our space!”

Dream Nails

Dream Nails

“Our whole approach to feminism is a lifelong journey of learning and listening,” Janey explains, and she wants the people listening to them to partake alongside them. “I want people to learn about this stuff and to think about things that they haven’t considered before, and to understand the scale of violence against women and the diverse oppressions that women are facing.” For now, they’ll continue pushing for the safe spaces and the breathable spaces, while calling out people who treat them wrongly (shout out to mansplaining sound engineers).

“You have to be a lot stronger,” Mimi points out, “and you have to deal with a lot more shit, and so it’s just like walking through mud or something, whereas the guys just have a nice paved road.” But they’ll keep slogging, and fighting the good fight, because that’s what it takes to be a woman in the music industry. For now, we have a new album to look forward to, which they can promise will be “all killer, no filler.”

Dream Nails

Dream Nails

WITCH FEVER

There are few bands who can stand up to the unapologetically fierce energy that Manchester four-piece WITCH FEVER. The riff-driven punk group are a staple of the local punk scene, despite only having two songs recorded and released to date (one of which, a pummeling intensity called “Toothless,” was premiered the day before their set). As a live band, they are infamous for their raw, thrilling honesty and entrancing performances full of punchy in-your-face riffs and shrieking vocals. Lead singer Amy Walpole jumped into the crowd on many an occasion, and bassist Alex Thompson ended up sprawled on the floor at the end of the set after jumping into a small mosh pit that had started, all members with smiles across their faces. Their shows, as you can guess, always seem to offer a rush of empowerment, which is exactly what they aim for.

They use their platform to talk about these experiences, amongst others in the same vein, but do feel the pressure from their peers and audience. “I feel like we’re scrutinized, like people are waiting for us to call something out or something, and they just want us to be a hypocrite,” Alex explains. Amy goes on: “Someone commented on one of our posts saying that we were the maidenhead for the ship of feminism. And as much as that’s really lovely and really nice, I read it and was like, oh god! I don’t want this kind of responsibility, because sometimes it’s difficult because you’re trying to please every kind of feminist, every kind of woman or nonbinary person.” While using a platform is important for many, it’s also incredibly important to remember that music is what these bands are doing, and they can’t be expected to cover everything, without any mistakes; they are human, too, after all.

Recently, though, the band did use their platform to call out behavior at an all-dayer in Bristol. It seemed like classic behavior for men towards women in a band, only to a whole greater extent – quizzing them on whether or not they knew how to use their equipment, asking them to take off their shirts and give the crowd members lap dances, saying they were going to wank off at their set – but what was so shocking to them was how “it was such a large amount in such a short space of time,” explains Amy. “Usually, it’s just one incident a gig, but it was so many all at the same time. It just seems that as soon as women onstage show any part of their body, they’re considered a sexual object in some light, or people immediately start to think about shagging them.” Many have shown their support for the band during this time, despite a few disrespectful comments on the post they made about the incident, but it’s occurrences like these that prove there’s far to go for women in the industry facing these wrongdoings.

WITCH FEVER

WITCH FEVER

WITCH FEVER are far from scared off from performing, however, and have a string of live dates lined up through the summer, attempting to hit as many cities as possible before they reenter the studio. An EP is in the works, Amy confirms, along with videos to go along with the songs, and an album within the next year.

The Spook School

Edinburgh power pop heroes The Spook School (who we caught on their album tour last week in Leeds) took on a full-to-the-brim Zombie Shack as the last band to play the stage that night (save for the greatly-awaited Green Day and Oasis cover bands, who the crowd formed a line down the street for). With trains rumbling overhead – Zombie is located just below the train line leading to Manchester Oxford Road station – and the floor rumbling beneath the crowd’s feet as they jump and sing along to their upbeat and glittering songs about mental health, the spectrum of gender that is far from binary, and celebrating the sadness that comes with life. Something that will never go amiss at a Spook School show is the comedic banter between the band and the crowd (not surprising considering three of the four members met at a comedy course at university in Edinburgh), and was gleefully apparent when sitting down with them for an interview at the bar in Gorilla, another venue in the festival’s lineup.

Entertainment is one of their greatest goals in performing live, as guitarist Adam Todd describes. Especially considering the heavy topics covered by their songs, things that the crowd might be going through themselves and finding it tough to get through, it’s important to them to offer not quite an escape from them, but a celebration in spite of them. “We really like making sure that the people coming to the show know that they can celebrate and be joyous and that kind of stuff,” drummer Niall McCamley adds; “It’s easy to wallow, when it’s really fun to fire tiny party glitter things on yourself and roll about on the floor.”

In addition to that, they write songs for people to relate to and feel less alone when they hear them, and then take the next step to make the space feel safer for everyone involved. Diet Cig, who they toured around the UK, Europe and the states with for a good couple of months last year and at the start of this one, are well-known for being one of the many bands now requesting gender-neutral toilets to be made available for attendees, and it’s there that The Spook School learned just how far they can take control of not only the show but the venue they play it in. “Trying to do things at our live shows, even if it’s not a part of the actual show,” guitarist Nye Todd says, “to just make the space welcoming for people, is quite important.” Niall agrees, and links back to Adam’s point on taking what would make them feel comfortable to implement in to the entire atmosphere of a show.

The Spook School

The Spook School

For now, though, the band are just hoping to continue to write and continue to tour, though whereabouts after their album tour might well be unknown. “We tend to be a band that says yes to a lot of things,” Adam explains (which is how they ended up continuing their tour with Diet Cig, only meant to be in the UK originally), “so a lot of the time, we’ve not particularly planned what we’re doing that far in advance, but someone will say, do you want to do this thing? And we’ll be like, oh yep!” No matter what they do, though, no doubt it’s going to be just as fun as the band always are.

The Baby Seals

The Baby Seals are all about making genres to call themselves; for their first and only EP to date, they call themselves “empower/pop/punk,” which sounds a lot like “Spinal Tap with tits” (a compliment in many minds, and quite accurate). Above all, it’s in the band’s greatest interest to stick with just “dicking around” as they did when they started, not giving a fuck and having a good time, as well as embracing your body as it is; “Don’t worry if you’ve got hairy nipples or lopsided labias,” Kerry explains; “It’s fine. Embrace it.” And if you don’t find yourself singing along (na-na-na-nipple hair) to the related songs, you might need to extra embrace it.

“Porn has got really shit over the last ten years,” Kerry says to a tittering crowd before launching into “Yawn Porn.” “It’s really formulaic. We know how it’s going to end: he’s gonna come in her face. Let’s make it more female! Come on her elbow!” It’s like this a lot of their songs are introduced, before moving into a grinning crowd singing along to lyrics celebrating the carefree attitude in which many of their songs are written on observations made as women. The band were searching for songs that were “joke-y, not man hate-y songs,” as Kerry says, when they decided to come together as The Baby Seals. Now, though, they’re looking to move forward to something perhaps not serious, but something you can more get your anger out to, as is exemplified in “It’s Not About the Money Honey,” something described as “an-femme-ic” by drummer Amy Devine. “It has quite a heavy feel, and it allows me to kind of express myself in other ways as well onstage,” Kerry continues. “It’s evolved as still having a message, but just playing with the sound a bit more.”

On a deeper level, when writing about heavy political topics like The Baby Seals hope to do, it’s hard to be sensitive and appropriate when your sound goes along those lines. “This year, there’s been some really big political things in the news that we wanted to reflect on, and doing that in a poppy way can sometimes undermine what you’re trying to say,” Kerry explains. “We’ve written about the Harvey Weistein thing, and that’s definitely got more of a dangerous sound.” Conveying humor and a fun atmosphere through their songs about below-average porn and body hair seems to be working well for them, though.

The Babe Seals

The Babe Seals

It’s refreshing for a crowd to hear songs about these observations, especially when they themselves have perceived them and felt alone in their self-judgment. After a show in Peterborough, a woman approached the band to express her gratitude: “She was nearly crying, saying she’d been worried about her body and nipple hair, and hearing us play that song made her feel better,” Kerry says, “and I said to the girl, that’s why we’re doing it. That’s the whole thing.” It seems taboo, talking about things like body hair and the shapes of genitals in public because of how society has perceived these topics for so long, but when people do begin to talk, just as The Baby Seals have, it opens the floodgates, encouraging conversation and acceptance.

The beautiful thing about delivering such messages in a fun manner, then, is reaching an audience in an accessible manner that doesn’t come across as “teaching” them anything. “You have to remember the audience you’re delivering that message to probably already know that message,” Kerry explains. “It’s like me sending a message on Facebook saying ‘racism is bad’. Everybody who I’m friend with knows that it’s bad.” Instead, they’re reaching out to the people who are also searching for that validation, and pursuing an attempt at reevaluating their own internal misogyny.

Happy Accidents

Nestled amongst a plethora of house plants, Happy Accidents took the stage at Rebellion on yet another sunny afternoon. On the tail end of a UK tour in celebration of their sophomore album, Everything but the Here and Now, released earlier this year, the summery indie-pop band out of London-via-Southampton are on the way to something great with stunning growth into themselves and expanse into a new place sonically.

Originally formed by brothers by Rich (guitarist) and Neil (bassist/keyboardist) Mandell and Phoebe Cross (drummer) four years ago, they’ve now added a new live member, Dean Smithers from Doe, sharing keyboard and guitar duties. This is not to take away from their three-piece noisy punk from years past. They still offer up the same smashing cymbals and bass-driven urgency on fuzzed-up tracks like “Wait It Out” with jangly guitars and sugary-sweet vocal harmonies, which are only emphasized by the floating layered synths on songs like “Text Me When You’re Home.”

Happy Accidents aren’t outwardly political, at least in songwriting content compared to other bands playing the festival, but that doesn’t mean they can’t take their platform for good use in the industry. “I feel like it’s important to, not send a message straight-up, but to lead by example,” Rich says, “live what you want; rather than say ‘this is the message’, show people.” For Phoebe, it’s the same; by playing drums, onstage, as a woman, it’s hard to avoid politics by simply that, and by pursuing this in a world where she faces prejudice, she’s setting an example of empowerment for other women watching her.

Happy Accidents

Happy Accidents

Phoebe encourages overcoming the double-whammy of stage fright and sour looks from sour men who think non-male performers can’t do their part for the others like her in the crowd watching. “You think maybe there’s a kid or a girl in the crowd who is also scared to play, and then if I’m scared to play and not showing them that it’s fine to play, then there’s no hope,” she says. “So sometimes, just being there and me playing, as a woman, I guess it’s good for me to be doing it.”

Phoebe encourages overcoming the double-whammy of stage fright and sour looks from sour men who think non-male performers can’t do their part for the others like her in the crowd watching. “You think maybe there’s a kid or a girl in the crowd who is also scared to play, and then if I’m scared to play and not showing them that it’s fine to play, then there’s no hope,” she says. “So sometimes, just being there and me playing, as a woman, I guess it’s good for me to be doing it.”

Happy Accidents

Happy Accidents

Crumbs

Leeds/York poppy post-punk quartet Crumbs doesn’t quite fit in with any one genre, with influences from a variety of different sources. With the fractioned-yet-intertwined scenes that exist in Leeds, between various venues hosting their own respective styles of music, Crumbs are one of the few bands within the city actively achieving cross-pollinating. They have had a longstanding hold in the Leeds music scene, with drummer Gem Prout putting on DIY gigs in the city for over a decade and the rest of the band being equally as involved in both Leeds and Manchester for the course of their music careers. With a bass-driven, funky and fuzzy grab-bag of rhythmic unique sounds, complete with just enough cowbell and energetic snarling vocals, they easily win your heats and ears with toe-tapping goodness.

They aren’t governed by what others want to hear, which might be partly because of their long-standing relationship with the music scene, amongst many other reasons. “It’s like that with any kind of creative thing,” bassist Jamie Wilson says, “if you’re not going to be happy with what you’re doing, then what’s the point? I think that’s why, a lot of the times, we end up being the ‘weirdest’ band on the bill; not a conscious thing, but as in, we don’t fit with the same structure.” That means they’re invited to play a load of shows and get involved with a variety of scenes, playing with punk bands at this festival, but delving into more and different scenes in other circumstances.

Crumbs

Crumbs

They’re currently in the process of writing their second album, in between touring with Cowtown, another Leeds powerhouse, this summer, a slower process than Mind Yr Manners, they tell me. “All the songs we have on our first album are all the songs we wrote since we started,” Jamie explains, “and I guess it’s not really a time pressure thing then. Suddenly, everything that we did became a song, but now it’s more comfortable.” Many of their songs now are about “quite bleak subjects,” Gem says, “but they’re covered by the poppiness;” in the past, they’ve described their debut album Mind Yr Manners as dealing with “the art of coping with not coping” and the anxieties that come along with this. Vocalist Ruth Gillmore is also the lyricist of the group: “I’m just saying things that are really important to me,” she says, “but I like to leave it open to people to listen themselves.”

As with others, Crumbs are more about letting their actions do the talking than their song lyrics. “It’s about not taking shit at shows if something happens, like calling people out,” Jamie points out, something Ruth references as the golden rule: “be the person that you want to see at gigs.” Ambiguity in the songs, while sometimes getting them strange reviews (a song about death being mistaken as a song about turtles?), gives them the flexibility of delving into the more pop side of the songs. “There’s plenty of politics in the songs and in the lyrics. Just, consciously, I wouldn’t describe ourselves as an anarcho-punk band or anything; it’s never been a political thing in that sense,” guitarist Stuart notes, but it’s in other ways that they get involved. “There’s a political element, especially in the scene we’re involved in. It’s more of a DIY thing, the fact that anyone can do it.”

The Tuts

Dressed like TLC/Destiny’s Child (singing “No Scrubs” throughout the course of our short photoshoot), The Tuts capture the room with their signature message on tri-tone activism and intersectional feminism, delivered with a healthy dose of empowering bubblegum pop/indie punk fusion. They’re not just limited to that, however; not only do they play the more obvious punk and indie festivals, but are delving into various crowds.

The Tuts

The Tuts

They’re popular within the ska crowd because of a tour they did with The Selector, and are playing more South Asian events in order to access a demographic that is, sadly, sorely lacking in straight up-and-down punk circles. “As a three-tone band, we also want our audience to look three-tone,” guitarist Nadia Javed says, “because we want to make a movement and send this message out of uniting the races and cultures together from all minority backgrounds.” By bridging the gap here, they’re attracting people – specifically women, and more specifically, women of color – to their shows who, not too long ago, were absent at these shows.

Their greatest goal is to empower people listening to their music, to pick up instruments and play themselves, to become a part of something bigger, to feel safer and more comfortable. “We wanted women in the crowd and people from minority backgrounds to feel empowered,” Nadia says. “We want them to think, look, there’s a brown girl onstage. I’ve never seen a girl like that before playing guitar. I want to do that.”

They’re well aware of the importance of representation in the arts, as well as in wider society, but while we’re seeing an influx of women musicians taking over places that were previously composed of entirely male lineups, it’s still almost entirely white lineups. It’s notable to comment on the fact that, amongst all the bands interviewed over the weekend, Nadia and drummer Beverly Ishmael were the only women of color I encountered and spoke to, and some of the very few involved in the festival.

It has to be something to do with pigeonholing that happens too often within the music industry. Within the genres that see more of a diversity in ethnicity – RnB, hip hop, grime – helps people of color feel less out of place. Subconscious prejudice and institutionalized racism and misogyny is still rampant. “People come up to us and start talking in an Ali G accent,” Bev says, “and that is just… what are you doing? Assuming that’s what we’re into.” Not only do The Tuts fight the battle of being women in music, but have to fight the battle of being women of color as well. “It’s not just about being girls,” Nadia says. “It’s about taking into account our race, our religion, our culture, our class, all that.”

The Tuts

The Tuts

While they are working on new music, though, they’re avoiding the same course and focusing more on the music. “We didn’t want to fall back into bad habits in the anticipation of releasing new stuff,” Harriet says, “and if we do it, we have to go into it with a healthier mindset.” That’s why, where often they say what’s next for them is world domination, this time it’s “world domination, but have mental sanity as well,” as Bev says. “Instead of Update Your Brain,” Nadia confirms, “Take Care of Your Brain.”

Photos & Words by: Francesca Tirpak