Live Review: Outbreak Festival @ BEC Arena, Manchester

Outbreak Festival’s tenth anniversary took place on the weekend of the 24-26th of June, so Jake Longhurst took a coach and headed to the BEC Arena in Manchester on the final day to review the event.

Walking into an arena to see a band like Zulu decimating the main stage of an event is a truly awesome experience. I’ve never been to an event quite like Outbreak, mixing talks and podcasts with skateboarding, vegan food stalls, art exhibits, and most importantly music. This is a festival for the modern music fan, showing off how deeply embroiled the different mediums of art and culture are with one another, and not least also how important they are in helping us move forward as a society. Zulu themselves are one of the best and most obvious examples of where these separate waves crash together, being an all-black band in hardcore which is almost exclusively white, and doing their damnedest to help stamp out racism, create a community of black and minority hardcore fans, and simultaneously creating phenomenal music. This was their first ever UK appearance and it was a brilliant display of their socially conscious brand of music, letting them live up to their reputation as live firebrands to the full.

I managed to catch up with a friend before the next act, the Connecticut-based pop-punk band anxious (without a capital A!) who have been touring with British pop-punk heavyweights Boston Manor and Trash Boat in the USA recently. I wasn’t sure what to expect as Outbreak is traditionally much heavier than the music I’ve heard of theirs on record, but the guitar tone they used was far grittier thanks expected, and the lead vocalist played the crowd excellently with some very deft use of growls and screams interspersed within the setlist. I really enjoyed their set, and if the opportunity arose I would absolutely see them again!

Afterwards, we grabbed some food then went to watch the doom-punk quartet Witch Fever, whose live sound was somewhat reminiscent of a crossover between Black Sabbath, Nirvana, and Lacuna Coil. They had a massive stage presence, especially lead singer Amy Walpole, who despite her diminutive stature can grab the attention of an audience and keep it on her for the duration of the entire set without a moments lapse. The crowd at the second stage parted ways for her to delve deep into the mass of people that had come to watch them, and as we walked away I felt quite lucky to have seen the band before the release of their debut album, as I have a sneaking suspicion they won’t stay this small for long. Watch out for the release of Congregation on October 21st, it’s bound to be a good one.

Upon the finale of their set, we walked back to the main stage to watch Show Me The Body ahead of my interview with Witch Fever, and whilst we were stood towards the back the energy was very much palpable. I’d never listened to the band and didn’t know what to expect at all, other than judging the sound of their name. They are primarily a hardcore band, but with elements of hip-hop, sludge, and noise rock too, making for a different listening experience to many of the other bands on the main stage. Next up was Superheaven, playing a brand of shoegaze with plenty of hardcore influence, bringing the energy of punk to the wavey atmosphere of dream pop. They also have an excellent showing for themselves as another band I’d barely heard of, and I thoroughly enjoyed watching their set. Unfortunately I had to leave a little early to do my interview with Witch Fever, but hopefully I’ll be able to watch them again soon!

"At the rate this group is growing, they will headline Outbreak in a few years, and it will be well and truly deserved."

Once the interview was complete the big name bands started to role onto the main stage, starting with Nothing. The post-metal/shoegaze group were phenomenal, and after having heard Witch Fever say how much they wanted to see them live I was somehow even more excited. I loved their set, not only were the visuals brilliant but the musicianship and song choice was on point. However, with rising Liverpudlian stars Loathe on immediately afterwards, Nothing did have a difficult job on their hands. Credit where it is due, they excelled themselves and from what I could see I am far from alone in that opinion. It must be said though, Loathe were one of the best bands of the entire day, third to two bands coming up later, at least in my humble opinion. The searingly beautiful soundscapes the band create are unbelievably good at crafting emotional depths where there were none mere moments before, and also at doing exactly the same with moshpits. There were stagedivers aplenty during this set, and it is hard to see how the band didn’t end up joining in. At the rate this group is growing, they will headline Outbreak in a few years, and it will be well and truly deserved.

As I mentioned just previously, Loathe were the third best band of the day for me. The second best were up next in the form of the incendiary To say I left this set bruised would be an understatement, the moshpits were incessant and I may have undertaken a stagedive too many. With the caustic aggression so prevalent on their most recent record, this set was poised to be a powerful one, but the band blew all expectations to smithereens and decimated the main stage with ease. The crowd was in tatters, physically and vocally, by the end of their short show and yet even after the battering that had occurred everyone looked thoroughly elated to have watched such a strong set.

"The band blew all expectations to smithereens and decimated the main stage with ease."

The Californian group Ceremony were on next, and admittedly I didn’t watch quite as much of their set as I should’ve done, but everything I saw was totally brilliant. The band have slightly eased off since their debut, going from a powerviolence band and evolving into a more mellow hardcore band, but still with plenty of spunk and attitude. Nowhere was this shown better than on set closer Kersed, the minute long screamer off their 2006 album Violence Violence. The stage became one massive moshpit around the singer as possibly as many as thirty stage invaders jumped on and surrounded him, bouncing up and down and yelling along.

The next act was not only the best of the day by far, but one of the single greatest sets I’ve ever seen. The perennially brilliant Deafheaven played a set that I described at the time as “one of the most beautiful heavy, emotionally devastating, yet almightily uplifting, sets of music I have ever been privileged enough to witness” and I completely stand by those words exactly. With a five song set, the band did not have much to go on, but they took the entire crowd on a rollercoaster of emotions, taking everyone through wretched anguish, heart-wrenching sadness, soaring grace, and back again, and still had two songs left to go. There’s not much point in saying my highlights because the entire set was the highlight, comprising the songs Black Brick, Honeycomb, Worthless Animal, Brought To The Water and Dream House. I stagedived like a madman, screamed lyrics, and somehow managed to get hold of the microphone to blurt the final word of the second verse of Dream House, and to complete the emotional high of their show I even managed to get a guitar pic from guitarist Shiv Mehra. As the last band in my top ten of all time that I hadn’t seen, I had been looking forward to this set from the moment it was announced, and to have it go off in such exquisite fashion truly made the festival for me.

After such an incredible show, Touché Amoré had the bittersweet luck to go after Deafheaven as the final act of the weekend. I was too tired to spend their set at the front, and after the first song devolved into an onstage moshpit I was very glad I made that decision! However, that should tell you plenty about the energy of the band, and how much power and poise they brought with them to their headline set. Much as I don’t envy the fact they had to follow such a ridiculous set, they pulled out a masterclass and did an excellent job of closing the weekend. As I am terribly biased towards Deafheaven, I will always say that it was without doubt the best set of the weekend, but Touché did a phenomenal job of clearing up any last vestiges of energy still left in the Manchester crowd, and their rousing, cathartic set left very little to be desired with plenty of riffs, pits, stagedivers and singalongs.

All in all Outbreak Festival’s tenth anniversary was not only a success, but a triumph of live music and culture. Long may Outbreak continue to bless the shores of Britain with more excellent bands, thought provoking artwork, and memory making opportunities.

Jake Longhurst


Edited by: Jake Longhurst

Featured images and cover image courtesy of Ed Mason. Videos courtesy of YouTube.