Outbreak Festival [Day Three] - Live in Manchester (Cover Artwork)

Outbreak Festival [Day Three]

Live in Manchester (2023)


So with heavy legs but a good dose of excitement, I made my way back to the venue for the final day of Outbreak 2023. There were a lot of bands responsible for that excitement and for me, the first run of three bands were chief among them; the Flatspot Records power trio of Zulu, Buggin and Speed.

Zulu could easily have played higher on the bill having released one of the standout hardcore records of the year so far, but that’s probably what made the such a perfect opener. The combination of hardcore, powerviolence, soul and a diversity of influences that I’m frankly ill-equipped to comment on makes for an occasionally dizzying, frequently fascinating and perpetually engrossing show. Immediately after Zulu, a big chunk of the crowd ran over to the second stage to catch Buggin, who had released Concrete Cowboys only weeks beforehand. It’s their debut LP and knocks through 12 songs in 19 minutes of street-level, but not utterly chaotic hardcore. This means that the band have time to play a good portion of their entire catalogue at this point and the Chicago-based four piece do so, making sure that they finish early to allow people to make it back to the main stage for labelmates Speed. A big shout to vocalist Bryanna Bennett who is something of a focal point as the rest of the band are not enormously animated, but this may be a conscious decision as Bryanna can carry that focus with no problem whatsoever. A ball of energy and charisma. We’ll be hearing a lot more about Buggin in coming years I think.

So to Speed. You’re likely aware of the band, but if not, they’re a Sydney-based, hyper-aggro beatdown hardcore band. There is a real thugged-out vibe to their music and delivery, but an overt love for hardcore and the community it generates the world over runs through everything they do. The band switch up vocal and instrument duties a few times, there are shout outs to more marginalised groups, toprocking, some of the craziest crowdkilling of the weekend and a sincerely thankful vibe that gives a really cool counterpoint to the performance of the songs themselves which would frankly terrify the casual observer. And let’s be honest. That’s kind of cool to admit about our favourite bands from time to time.

Next on the main stage was an act I knew literally nothing about about. PlayThatBoiZay, a Florida rapper who favours aggression, trap beats and short song lengths. Again, I have to shout out the bookers because what started out as a small, curious crowd, ended up being a bouncing group of converts and pre-existing fans intermingled with each other. PTBZ seemed to go down better than Mike or Armandhammer the day before, or so was my perception as a neutral observer. But then I’m no longer neutral and more a straight-up fan, to be honest. Unfortunately, I missed a big chunk of Lil’ Ugly Mane whip was up next as I was getting something to eat and then after that it became clear I needed a brief break. I’m not as young as I once was, ok?

When I came back to the main arena, it was to catch Loathe. I was a little bit lukewarm about this set as I’ve seen Loathe a lot, the last proper record was coming up on 3.5 years ago and as excellent a band as they are, they also played this festival last year in possession of all the same material. What I maybe hadn’t accounted for was the quality of that material and the increasing star power of Kadeem and Erik. The gulf between their hazy dream-pop melancholy and their bludgeoning hardcore continues to be honed and hit me vastly harder than I’d expected. The set has just made me utterly desperate for new music. It’s coming soon, I’m sure of that much. Next in a run that somewhat typifies Outbreak in 2023 were hardcore heroes Trapped Under Ice. Having last released music in 2017, and before that 2011, there was more than a little excitement about this. When you also consider Brendan Yates of Turnstile fame is their drummer, then you have a potent mix of legacy and buzz. It also helps that TUI have a whole heap of big hardcore songs and an army of fans that were more than ready to hear them. Last year’s Outbreak had a decent portion of TUI’s members in other capacities in attendance and so when the ‘Special Guest’ slot appeared on the Saturday in 2022, some people speculated about a TUI reunion. As it turns out it was Malevolence, but it was laid bare how keenly people wanted a TUI show at Outbreak and it didn’t disappoint. A happy band and happy crowd rattled through the last conventional hardcore set on the main stage of the festival.

Again on the main stage, next up was Turnover. A band who have been through a variety of guises in their lifetime, but are likely most known to the typical Outbreak-goer for their 2015 classic album Peripheral Vision. The record is an immaculate, woozy, emo, slacker, alt-rock magnum opus. Yet somehow lives in the hardcore world more than anywhere else. Since that record, Turnover have moved even further away from the more Outbreak-adjacent sounds and have involved themselves with electronic/lounge sounds and they do exhibit some of that throughout their set. It’s superbly performed and though clearly excellent is not liable to elicit the same response as the material from PV. When the opening notes of “Cutting My Fingers Off” ring out, they are met with a cheer that is so infectious that it’s hard not to be moved. Turnover do dip in and out of their records, but closing with “Take My Head” does suggest that with this crowd at least, they do know which side their bread is buttered.

The penultimate act on the main stage for the weekend was Earl Sweatshirt, someone who I had been a fan of for many years. I was eagerly anticipating Earl’s arrival and I was very clearly not alone. A huge crowd had gathered and when Earl appeared his fans made themselves known. Most of the set came from 2022’s SICK!and 2018’s Some Rap Songs understandably, though as a huge fan of both Doris and 2015’s I Don’t Like Shit I Don’t Go Outside, I was very slightly disappointed though that’s simply a personal preference and that was reflected in the crowd’s reaction as there was a lot of people clearly having a very good time. Ultimately it wasn’t what one would call an incendiary set, but it was completely true to Earl’s languid style and there is doubtless star power in Earl, too. Good stuff.

The privilege of closing the weekend’s proceedings was granted to Denzel Curry. When you consider that Converge (arguably the biggest hardcore band of the weekend) have c.156k monthly listeners and Denzel has c.7.4m then you can see why this is a significant move for Outbreak. It’s less a move towards the mainstream, but a statement of intent in terms of the scale and nature of artist they’re looking to bring in. As a long-time fan of hardcore and an occasional hip-hop fan, then I predictably would prefer that Outbreak don’t stray too much further from the scene they’ve built their reputation on, but then you could also argue that to continue progressing, they need to keep a close eye on their demographic and their interests. And I think this is one of the places that Outbreak excels. But ultimately the proof is in the pudding. And Denzel Curry served up a doozy. His lyrical abilities, ear for an anthem, showmanship and ever-present dotted line into the hardcore scene means it was unlikely this was ever going to be much less than a triumph, but the energy and diversity of the set (including guest feature from Lil’ Ugly Mane) kept the crowd engaged and hyped from start to finish. And when it did finish, it was with a jubilant and all-encompassing stage invasion by the crowd. Outbreak 2023 was in the books. Another year of ambition, growth and good times successfully achieved. 2024 has been set a high bar.