MMC Weekender - Day 1
Light, the effervescent fucker, stabs through the darkness of my room, peaking through the gaps between the blind and the wall. Clothes are scattered across the floor, my head pounding like a wandering elephant and coupling itself with the sticky, barren dryness that is my mouth. I groan, turn over and feel my neck click, its muscles burning. I know I’m not alone on feeling like death on this Monday morning, and I know I’m not alone in finding the pain, the regret that tinges blurry memories and the laughter that echoes through them also, beyond worth it.
Things had started as cacophonously and raucously; that unique blend of silly and spellbinding that the Manchester is able to concoct prickling the venue, thunderous vibrations shaking an otherwise placid afternoon on Deansgate. Mower are smashing through their set to a massive crowd as I make my way to the bar – the beginning of my descent. Led by the topless, hilarious and wonderfully engaging JJ Tuck, he slaps his gut as he growls in your face; it wobbles like jelly to their assaulting decibels. Martin Aspinall’s guitar tone is perfection, low down and dirty enough to more than make up for their lack of bassist, but clear enough for any melodic intricacies to bleed through. A genuinely awe-inspiring band who will only improve yet still.
Blind Haze then delivered a little rock n’ roll swagger to proceedings. With more than a nod to Motörhead – including a killer romp through Overkill and an excellent No Class – they have the grooves to get the hips swinging and, in Robert Conan, a frontman with a great sense of humour which adds to their already sizzling appeal.
Over on the make-shift second stage – which boasted a killer sound – trio Not Above Evil regurgitated a blackened take on thrash and groove. Like Lamb of God arm wrestling with early Opeth at points, they are nothing short of viscous. At times the guitar tone doesn’t quite have that much-needed, clinical finish to it, but it’s a set that keeps the momentum burning.
As rain continues to cry down from the heavens and the sun dips behind Deansgate Locks, its last remaining rays flickering off the great glass shard of The Hilton, Bisonhammer take to stage for one of the weekend’s most anticipated sets. I’m not entirely sure what to say here, other than that my jaw became gravity’s bitch as a result of watching them – tasting Rebellion’s floor in the process. These guys are heavy, charismatic and downright virulent. Riffs fly at you like debris caught in a hurricane; the volume, intensity and atmosphere shifting up a serious number of gears here, this is one extremely classy band.
For me, as I began to lose track of the number of Newcastle Browns that had slithered down my gullet, catching Under on the second stage was a moment to saviour. I love what their slightly off-kilter, progressive approach to doom metal gruff and in the flesh they deliver with a serious gusto. Three-part vocal harmonies ice their set but it’s their overall power and presence, hitting you like a sucker punch that truly impresses. They play the Progathon in March, and for good reason.
Birmingham’s Conjurer are a band who, having recently played Bolton’s Alma Inn, have stunned a large portion of the scene. People have been raving about them and it takes sod all time for why that is to become abundantly clear. Grinding out sludge riffs with savage intent, it all sounds so bastardised with their myriad of time signature shifts, so imposing with their sense of gravity. They’re bloody noisy and they’re bloody good.
Indeed, my memory starts to blur as I soak up some of the atmosphere (read debauchery) out in the smoking area. From Rob Wellock’s [Void drummer] phallic pipe, to homegrown shrooms and beyond, the it’s all very rock n’ roll. The comradery and generally positive vibes that here emanates from under a veil of cigarette smoke epitomises everything special about this scene. It isn’t so much a Manchester Metal Collective as it is a family gathering, and it’s that sense of unity that crowns the entire weekend.
Back inside and Bolton/Wigan thrash quartet Derision are rattling through their set. Yet, alongside some blinding other sets, marred by a muddy guitar tone and vocals which get lost within its bogginess, it’s hard to get properly into their set. It’s just flat and a little disappointing. When every other band is so characterful, it all falls by the wayside a little bit. I know they can do better.
Barbarian Hermit frontman Si, a man who comes from an art rock background, may look like a hipster with his besuited visage and slick moustache, but looks can be deceiving. Anyone who’s been to Thailand knows that. The reality of the situation is that he is one of the most mystifying singers around; his whit, charm and deftly delivered, rasping vocals resonating with everyone within the room. The towering riffs of Widowmaker shake the floor beneath a crowd lapping up their humongous doomy sludge. Heads bang frivolously, the air itself seems to shake and, in all, they walk off stage having played, not only one of the most forceful and memorable sets of the weekend, but of their entire lives, you feel.
With Boss Keloid sadly dropping out of the festival, one of the weekend’s main attractions left a gaping hole in the line-up. Step forward Voodoo Blood who, having impressed organiser Eytan after catching them support RavenEye a week beforehand, injected a thrilling and encapsulating sense of diversity to the event. Kimberley Jennett, the band’s small but deadly tour de force had approached me before the set, looking a little nervous.
“Do you think people will like us? We’re not as heavy as everyone else,” she queried – or something along those lines at least. I assured both Kimberley and the rest of the band that, while their sound is much bluesier and oftentimes softer that the rest of the line-up, they can still bring it. I told them that their difference was far from a weakness, but in fact their secret weapon (probably not put quite as eloquently though, I was hammered lest we forget) and, with their crosshairs poised, they shot to kill. A sense of pride bubbled within me as Jennet prowled the stage, getting up in people’s faces and letting her siren scream falsettos do the talking, alongside beefy fuzz guitars and swinging drum work. Not everyone in the room will have been sold, but the fact they were so different, rather than Eytan drawing in a like-for-like replacement for Keloid, for me at least, worked an absolute charm. It’s a sentiment that, toking on a cigarette outside, Eytan repeats.
“The people here are fans of music, not just of doom and sludge, I think people appreciated the variety.” It typifies, not only the broad range of musical styles and mantras the bands from Manchester and beyond call their own, but the scene’s all-inclusiveness also resonates within their presence here tonight.
And for those who wanted something more along the lines of Keloid, Bury’s filthy riff bastards Pist, as ever hellbent on out-drinking everyone ever, worked their intrinsic inebriated stoner rock brilliance. Their grunting grooves hit you like the Hammer of Thor before burying you with Fred West’s shovel. The room is packed and in constant movement of flailing hair, split beers and pumping fists. The thing with Pist is that, no matter how many times you see them live they never fail to entertain you and slap a smile across your face. The stage invasion that marks the finale of their set is one visual permanently imprinted upon my mind every time I think about the weekend. Another tremendous outing from one of the city’s biggest bands.
"The towering riffs of Widowmaker shake the floor beneath a crowd lapping up their humongous doomy sludge." - Barbarian Hermit
By this point my head is a vertiginous mess; I feel like I’m within a tumble drier, spinning and spinning. I stumble up the steps by the sound desk, following the tumultuous racket rocketing its way across the venue. Eysaw are in full flow as I shimmy into the crowd, Gaz Manning hammering at his drumkit with a palpable ferocity and the veins in Nicholas O'Brien’s neck pulsating, looking fit to burst through the passion he pours into every sandpaper scream. The Psilocybin that entered my system some hours beforehand is now taking hold and my whole memory of their set is filtered in black and white. It’s all very dark, very shadowy and very, very apt. Their set as a whole is caped in a loftiness, from where I stand in my own grayscale existence, they are lauded like champions.
It’s odd then that, by comparison, Deified’s set, fresh from releasing their debut album, seems so relaxed. Colour has not only returned to my retinas but they’re making up for lost time, making everything sparkle vividly. The crowd has depleted in size somewhat, many too destroyed to continue it seems, but the Saint Helens troupe end the night with slabs of metallic grit. I’m in my own world by now though, and it’s hard to get sucked into what they do.
Sambuca, Jager bombs and flashes of falling over, head banging, dancing, hugging, piggy backing and more swim and lurk in the depths of the events which follow but details are sketchier than a meth dealer. All that’s clear is that everything went spectacularly. The sense of family and community, the amount of heart and integrity each band played with, capped by the MMC’s painstaking organisation, made for a night the rest of the year will struggle to top.
…but there was day two to come yet.
Words: Phil Weller | Photos: Rachel Bywater
See the full gallery of Rachel's photos here: http://www.rachelbywaterphotography.com/mmcweekender2016/