By Von Goloka, Journalist and Desh Kapur, Photographer-Rock At Night Manchester, UK
Event: Manchester Psych Fest 2019-August 30, 2019
Putting aside my important explorations into advanced carbon capture and alchemy for the night I headed into the bright lights of Mega city one, leaving my “dark skies reserve” Zodiac Strasse observatory in the hands of Klaus my faithful hound, looking forward to testing the pulse of all things psychedelic at the Manchester Psych Fest 2019. (Work hard, play hard). Here punters could find what looked like an eclectic although (it has to be said) not altogether psychedelic bunch of 30 or so bands spread over three venues (The O2 Ritz, Gorilla and Yes). Now we all know that psychedelia, pretty much by definition, is a term that defies tethering and a lot of what was billed on offer was kinda difficult to shoehorn into that most opaque of pigeon holes no matter how you sliced it. I had my work cut out.
But staying positive I took comfort in the fact that whichever way things panned out everything was all staged within a couple of city blocks so I could at least be confident that my carbon footprint would be minimal. So having prepared a plan of attack, based upon a time lapse study of some seriously long and sluggish queues snaking out of the largest venue on the night, The O2 Ritz, operating on a one in one out basis (hmmm) I set off amidst the streets thronged with enthusiastic, chattering, wrist band festooned attendees to cover as much ground as possible and actually find some “Psych stuff”.
On the strength that there is precious little psychedelic music to enjoy queuing in the street, hitting the O2 meant pretty well sacrificing access to Gorilla mere feet away and Yes close by to assure continued occupancy of the auditorium meaning casualty number one was the O2 Ritz. I mean nobody can be in three places at the same time, right? Though I did meet a space cadet in a green room in Berlin once who would disagree!
Now Gorilla, on the other hand, looked a far more exciting prospect where at last some real promise of psychedelic music was scheduled. So that’s where I headed. First up, make way for up tempo, urban racket warriors and be-costumed London combo Snapped Ankles who were certainly on the right track early on. Weird? yes, very. Engaging? check. Psych? arguably. Next up Canadian vamp Tess Parks took to the stage. Accompanied by a four piece band, and including Mellotron, a capable sound guy expertly crafted a big, tremolo drenched sound full of fuzz and droning harmonics which clearly resonated with those gathered to watch. Playing short, punchy and frankly moody songs from her last couple of LP releases Tess Parks evoked a previous era of Warhol-esq cool with suitable authenticity. The band dressed in what appeared to be clockwork orange type garb added a suitable dissonance. The place was a sweltering melting crush of head nodding and approval though no moshing thankfully. That would have been potentially lethal and in no way psychedelic!
Having been invigorated by a stint in Gorilla and forced to evacuate to avoid heat stroke I was struck by a moment of guilt and so in the pursuit of balanced reporting I strode purposely over the road and pulled all my press accreditation strings to snapping point and sneaked into O2 Ritz just in time to catch a glimpse of Temples who were bucking the “no psych” trend playing out there and delivering their polished pastiche of Psych as predicted. Well and good. The crowd seemed onside but it felt immediately mainstream somehow. The show had no edge and was by no means challenging nor innovative. As for the other “headliners” the O2 was hosting Goat Girl, The Lovely Eggs and Courtney Barnett. All accomplished acts that my sources tell me did not falter or implode or deviate from their expected sets but weren’t really psych.
And so on to Yes, a very cosy venue, where non-stop street level DJ’s cranked out psych classics on repeat. Spread over a few floors Babe Rainbow headlined the Pink Room, top floor, main stage. Expectations from these well hyped Australian pop dudes were high and their summer sunshine retro sound had drawn a fan-based crowd who were determined to enjoy what turned out to be a laboured affair of a set lacking in energy, charisma or originality. Fundamentally Babe Rainbow were in the wrong place and looked like fish out of water far away from their natural “factor 50 surf and beach” comfort zone and it did affect their show. They actually looked nervous at times.
Meanwhile down in the bowels of the Yes basement co-headliners The Cult of Dom Keller had other ideas. Squeezed onto an implausibly small stage (and quite at home there) a crush of shadowy figures excitedly proposed that this was where the magic was going to happen and they weren’t wrong. Amidst a sprawling urban festival with thousands of people attending it was no more than 300 people who were, in the end, subjected to that particular, blistering onslaught of colossal space rock. Wave upon wave of thunderous riffing built and collapsed and ricocheted unforgivingly around the room as The Cult of Dom Keller fulfilled their self proclaimed mission of sounding “like a volcano giving birth to an atomic bomb” (their words, not mine) and delivering a set that was so heavy and dark that, like a black hole, they literally sucked the light out of the room. Finally, having spent all night searching for a really happening gig I’d unearthed gold.
Manchester Psych Fest 2019 was not perfect. The line ups and staging weren’t perfect. The portfolio of venues weren’t perfect. Perfection, in the context of an urban festival grappling to provide a platform for all that the feral and ever morphing beast that is psychedelia has to say for itself, is never going to be found. But what do I know. Take the word of everyone there. I couldn’t find a living soul on the night who wasn’t loving it and we’d be very pleased to have it all again next year. Von Goloka 1/9/2019
Snapped Ankles – Drink and Glide
Tess Parks – Some Days
Temples – Hot Motion
Babe Rainbow – Many Moons Of Love
The Cult Of Dom Keller – Swamp Heron Blues