You wanted a no barrier show. We got it over the line. But this is the only way we were able to do it.
These were the first words people saw as they arrived at Outbreak Fest this weekend. The words that launched a thousand stage dives, waivers signed, and let us know exactly what sort of weekend we were in for. This year’s Outbreak, the first since 2019, hasn’t just hopped over the M62 from Leeds’s Canal Mills to Manchester’s Bowlers Exhibition Centre, it’s also jumped from a capacity of 1500 to a capacity of quadruple that, with a second stage added for the first time too. So what we saw before our eyes was hardcore history being made, at the first and best large scale event of its kind in the UK.
With a Thursday pre-show for those who wanted to ease in, Outbreak share a taster of what’s on offer, and a taster of how delicious that no barrier vibe is. Legends Counterparts are heading up tonight, making it an unmissable event, and the energy of the pits leaves you wondering where everyone will get their energy from tomorrow – and at the same time, promises it’s only going to get bigger from here. Counterparts are preceded by the likes of Static Dress, for their first unforgettable set of the weekend, and SeeYouSpaceCowboy, who join Static Dress in the ranks of artists who you watch with the tangible feeling they’re going to be massive. We also get a bit of a musical branch out, with Modern Error adding their post-hardcore flavour to the mix.
Thursday was a good start, but the atmosphere as Friday kicks off is unmatched. All the tantalising tents we saw last night have opened up – beer is flowing, the all-vegan food stands are selling fast, and the full Outbreak gang has arrived. There’s an immediate sense of the magnitude of today’s festival that even the organisers couldn’t have predicted – evidenced by the popularity of the food stands, which sell out in hours. This is a festival that’s put on by people who know their audience, without a doubt, and to be fair it’s evidence even better than in the food choices in the bands we see today. The main stage starts strong with Year of the Knife, an immediate storm of people putting those gold wristbands to good use – and the same quickly goes for the second stage, putting on the moodier vibes of Oversize.
Though there’s definitely a distinct hype hanging around for the acts on later (a mysterious Special Guest, Terror, and Knocked Loose), no one is treating the day like a warm up. Static Dress get the raucous response they’re used to with their vicious, vivid sound and magnetic performance, turning their theatricality into something that both suits and subverts the no-fuss expectations here. And over on the second stage, Puppy rip through a set that straddles relaxed and intense, making for a brilliant, agonizing slow-burn of noise.
“The worst kept secret ever…” Malevolence say as they hit the stage. They’re our special guests, and yes, they’ve filled the room so it looks like everyone knows it. The front section is at capacity, and the excitement for Malev mingles with a bit of envy, because it’s so clear that this is a crowd not to be missed up close and personal. And yet they make the whole, concrete and metal space feel just as intimate and intense as it does down there, whilst also making the room feel five times the size with their massive energy – helped along by Knocked Loose frontman Bryan Garris, who nips out for a runaround of Keep Your Distance.
When Knocked Loose later appear for their headline slot tonight, things reach their first fever pitch. It didn’t seem like it could get bigger earlier, but the room is full to bursting – a stark jump up from their O2 Academy Islington show just a couple of nights before, and definitely very, very warranted. The fierce magic of A Tear In The Fabric Of Life hasn’t worn off yet, and cuts from the 2021 EP inject their riotous set with a dose of piercing intensity that somehow surpasses the usual energy to great effect. This is a historic hardcore headline set, helped along by the new guard too as Malevolence’s Alex Taylor comes on for All My Friends, to return earlier’s favour . There’s barely a pause throughout the set but to firstly, make sure that the infinite stream of stage divers are OK when they get knocked down, and secondly, to acknowledge how wild and brilliant this is. “They don’t have events like this anywhere,” Garris says half smiling, half reverently. After day one, it’s obvious he’s right.
— Outbreak Fest (@OutbreakFest) June 24, 2022
After punters taking in the alternative sights of Manchester over Friday night (Satan’s Hollow descended upon by the masses), you could be excused for sleeping off the hangover a little and not going too hard until you’re a few beers and a burger deeper. But no, that’s not how Outbreak goers do things – we’ve not signed that waiver for nothing, and we’re going to make the most of it.
There’s actually a real sense of second wind running through the crowd today, even early on – the second room remains more or less packed out for every band – and about as sweaty as you can imagine a windowless room overfilled with hardcore fans would be. The main stage is a little breezier, but not by far, as Chubby and the Gang rip through a set energetic enough to get anyone pumped. Fiddlehead dial it back slightly for a set that’s more emotionally focussed, but the packed room respond aptly to the supergroup’s show, delivering equal parts nostalgia, tight performance, and mega catharsis.
And catharsis is word of the day. Because cast your eyes over the sets the rest of the day at the main stage has to offer. Blink, and look again, because surely it’s too good to be true. Mannequin Pussy are up next, giving a particularly incendiary performance with a backdrop of a burning American flag days after the overturning of Roe v Wade. It’s compelling, essential, and intense, and reaffirms that Mannequin Pussy are all of the above and more, flying the burning flag for political punk at its best. And then, two standouts in a row with barely a chance to catch your breath, because Drug Church take to the stage accompanied by a legend’s welcome. Still on the stratospheric up, they perform with all the heart they’ve carried their whole career through and get equal heart – and even more stage divers throwing themselves in – back in return.
From here it’s just relentless: Angel Du$t, Movements, and Higher Power take us for a rollercoaster on the main stage, with even Movements’s Daylily, (which has had much humorous speculation about how people will manage to stage dive to it) gets the two-step treatment as predicted, though there are a few more tears present than other pits. But, you know, that’s a fitting warm up, because tonight’s clean sweep last three acts are nothing short of hardcore-emo fantasy: Citizen, Basement, and Turnstile. Citizen are the first of the historical trio to hit the stage, and lead with cuts from latest record Life In Your Glass World to take us on a sprawling, slowburn tour of their newer style, though they puncture it with old favourites met with love.
Now it’s a special one for Basement as they’re playing not one but two anniversary sets, celebrating both 2012’s colourmeinkindness and 2011’s I Wish I Could Stay Here. And what a birthday party they give those records – one of the biggest singalongs of the weekend mixed with a mammoth outpouring of emotion, the room is saturated with memories the thousands watching have made to these records over the years. Control and Grayscale get sung along to by their biggest crowd of all time, played for the first time in ten years, but some of the most familiar songs are the loudest: the songs everyone in the room has had on loop since the first time we heard it, Covet closes the set on a high.
The only band fit to follow that is, of course, Turnstile. This is something of a victory lap for the Baltimore gang who won the world over with last year’s GLOW ON, the crowning jewel in an already excellent discography that traverses the world of hardcore, punk, and newer sounds. Tonight at Outbreak is absolutely an homage to their messy hardcore roots, a 6000-strong DIY house show with a pink cloud of excitement over everyone’s heads. They play almost all of GLOW ON, with choice cuts from their back catalogue serving to elevate the show they’re building. They’re masters of creating an atmosphere that’s intimate and massive – a trend this weekend – and as they jet off to their next engagement (Glastonbury) we’re reminded that the hardcore scene couldn’t have a better band representing it elsewhere.
— Outbreak Fest (@OutbreakFest) June 25, 2022
The last day of a festival is always a bit bittersweet, but obviously Outbreak have the tonic to that – we can’t say saved the best till last because what we’ve had so far has already been in its own league, but it certainly ends things with the hype it’s carried through so far. Starting us off we have the howling promise of a future headliner in Scowl, who tick every box from charisma to intensity in a way that feels brilliantly, vitally new. They’re not perfectly shaped yet, but they emanate a sense of bigger things to come with the same ferocity as their music. Continuing down the same route, the crowd that turns out for Drain and Anxious show no signs of lacking energy, instead seeming to turn it up. The passion isn’t just reflected in the pits while the bands are on, either – where on Friday, we sold out of food, today, it’s merch that disappears almost instantly, snapped up by hungry punters wanting to take a bit of what they saw home and rep it for the foreseeable future.
The second stage, as sweaty and wonderfully overfull as it’s been each other day, proves how instrumental it is in taking the show as far as it can go, with things reaching a Witch Fever pitch as the highly-tipped group push a little at the boundaries of hardcore, but do it so well they have us in awe. Loathe, similarly, give us a slightly differently-tinged taste of heavy, but the crowd react with an intensified awestruckness. For every grinding riff, Loathe have got an ethereal, wicked soundscape to underpin it, giving a set with some of the most depth of the weekend.
There’s no relenting pause or moment to calm down before the weekend comes to a close, just a frenetic feeling all over in the best way, as Vein.fm bring not just depth but red-hot explosiveness to the main stage. It’s impressive that they manage to do so given that the stage is so constantly occupied by ravenous stage-divers, but they manage to squeeze a dizzying set between the waves of bodies they’re pelted with throughout, promising headliner material for future Outbreaks. It’s the challenge of our actual headliners to top that, but one thing we’ll take away from this weekend is that when you think it can’t get better, it will. Deafheaven and Touché Amoré have that in hand. Though Deafheaven only play five songs, they prove the enduring truth of quality over quantity in their simultaneously slow-burning and sizzling performance, that sees the Outbreak crowd rolling out over outstretched arms on a high. As well as Touché being a shining headliner, there’s something extra special about their set, because it’s the last of the event. No one can resist one last stage dive, no one wants to go at any less than 110% because it’s our last chance – and the end of our first chance to do something like this on this scale.
So it’s until next year – because there’s little doubt everyone here will be returning. And we’ll see more besides, too, as Outbreak relocates to Depot Mayfield, otherwise known as the home of Warehouse Project, ready to take 10,000 of us.
— Outbreak Fest (@OutbreakFest) June 26, 2022