Manchester would struggle to declare itself imperative to DIY music in 2016. Whilst Durham and Leeds continue to birth incredible bands, promoters and venues, things are dishearteningly disparate around these parts - or at least it feels that way for 363 days a year. Carefully Planned Festival, which took over the Northern Quarter for its 6th annual installation earlier this month, reliably transforms the city into a vibrant culmination of everything exciting happening in underground music right now: power-pop, punk, folk, twee, psych rock, pop-punk, ACPF manages to orchestrate a cohesive weekend whilst offering a diverse and seemingly endless program, which in itself is totally admirable. Thankfully, the music on offer is as exciting as the team behind the festival are dedicated.
Playing solo as Two White Cranes, Roxy Brennan (Joanna Gruesome, Grubs, Towel), planted a seed of doubt regarding the rest of the weekend as the first act I caught the entirety of. Squeezing out of the cosy confines of the downstairs of Gullivers, it was hard to fathom enjoying another set quite so much. The interpersonal, engrossingly pedantic prose that the Brighton-based musician casts across a shoulder-to-shoulder packed room demand attention. “This cup of coffee is here/to evoke a feeling of normality” she sings on ‘So Much Water, So Close To Home’, and it’s hard not to get sucked in.
After conceding that another intimate, singer-songwriter-type set would fail to strike such a chord, we head over to the Crown and Kettle, one of many makeshift venues that are near-exclusive to Carefully Planned’s takeover. Inevitably, such a sprawling bill of music means that you can never quite see everything that you’d have liked to - especially since the festival focuses on introducing people to new music, and thus crowds tend to congregate during sets rather than anticipate and wait for them. Sadly, this is the case during London punk’s Suggested Friends set. Even from afar, though, the near-embryonic band’s ear-splitting queer punk sounds impossibly realised for a band who only released their first demo this year. Garden Centre, the oddball brainchild of Max Levy (formerly of King of Cats) follow suit, with their pulsating, erratic pop pastiche proving just as much fun live as it is on their excellent self-titled LP.
Elsewhere, No Ditching’s self-proclaimed ‘radge-pop’ manages to perk up spirits within 57 Thomas Street as news that Joanna Gruesome have pulled out filters through. It just wouldn’t be a DIY weekender without at least one member of Martha at this point (see also: Onsind at Manchfester, Martha at Manchester Punk Fest), and Naomi Stephens ‘other’ band standout as one of Saturday’s best pop bands. Cuts from their duo of EPs, and their split with Tough Tits, make up the bulk of the set, but an assured take on Radiator Hospital’s ‘Your Boyfriend’ proves a highlight. “It’s hard to see the logic in human superiority/when most of the people I meet are shitheads” undeniably wins our fictional ‘Lyric of the Weekend’ award, too.
Joanna Gruesome’s aforementioned cancelled set lead to Cowtown - who were scheduled to play a much smaller venue - stepping in to showcase their hectic-but-immersive riotous pop songs to the audience it deserves. Again, the venue packed up almost instantly which meant we missed out. Cowtown, by all accounts, are an incredibly fun live band. Missing Joanna Gruesome could quite easily have spoiled the day, but it ended up highlighting just how special Carefully Planned really is. Not only was a venue beyond capacity for an oddball DIY pop band, but the atmosphere outside the venue is deep-rooted in compassion and friendliness. Those wanting to get in are disappointed but not aggressive, friendly but not invasive, and impatient in a way that is steeped in genuine excitement rather than entitlement. Masses of people, alcohol and live music has never leant itself - as a combination - to such genuine togetherness.
Saturday night is closed by a trio of excellent bands at Crown and Kettle - a lot less hectic by half nine than it was earlier in the day. Jesus and his Judgemental Father arrive, clad in capes, and tear through a set of outwardly queer, impossibly fun pop-punk songs, just a week after doing so at Ladyfest. Void of the kind of toxic masculinity that too often plagues genres such as theirs, JAHJF are establishing as vital spokespeople for queer issues at a startling speed, all through the medium of innately fun pop-punk anthems. Leeds DIY kingpins Milk Crimes follow with quite feasibly the most enjoyable set of the entire weekend. Fuelled by a deep-rooted love of breakneck speed punk songs and Buckfast, the now-four piece ignite the most sincerely fun atmosphere of the day. Cries of“Real life is bringing me down” are echoed back at the band, an apt refrain for such an otherworldly weekend. Alimony Hustle, as ever, are in fine form as they see out the night with their incredibly fleshed-out collection of emotionally-charged power pop tracks. Undeniably, Alimony Hustle are the most exciting duo in these circles or beyond.
Sunday, perhaps thankfully, offered something of a less FOMO-inducing bill - although that’s not to say that Northern Quarter wasn’t absolutely heaving with exciting sounds that span the genre spectrum. Newcastle-Upon-Tyne's Rice Milk provided one of Sunday’s most exciting sets, churning out infectious post-punk melodies that manifest in the forefront of your brain and refuse to leave anytime soon. Whilst their clash with Liverpool scuzz-punks Queen Zee and the Sasstones was, admittedly, difficult to swallow, it’s not hard to forget about the rest of the world when Rice Milk play.
Sly & The Family Drone vs iAy Carmela! was another sour clash, but iAy Carmela! (FFO: The Tuts, Colour Me Wednesday, No Ditching) validated taking a chance and seeing the band I hadn’t seen by tearing through sweet-toothed queer pop music with a seemingly innate effortlessness.
Freakout Honey’s sprawling, utterly immersive psych rock is an ideal outro to the weekend (well, as far as live music is concerned anyway). Whilst Alimony Hustle played to a tired crowd still full of anticipation for the next day, local reverb-dwellers FH play to a crowd of satisfied, fulfilled but absolutely knackered punters who just want something to get lost in before going for a dance across as Soup Kitchen. That’s absolutely what Freakout Honey spark up, and it’s utterly transformative.
It’s hard to fathom a more fulfilling weekend of live music, or a team more capable of pulling off such an ambitious weekender (165 bands!) than those behind ACPF.
Carefully Planned Forever.
Words by Marty Hill
Photography by Lewis Burton.