Not yet a year old, Manchester’s best bar-cum-venue, YES, have the self-belief to invite some of indie’s biggest to help throw an all-day party YES FEST.
But this day ‘festival’ YES FEST is not the crowded rager expected. Both gig spaces – the Basement and the Pink Room – are used to stage bands at the same time, but it is business as usual elsewhere. The main bar, terrace bar, kitchen and general décor look as they do every Sunday. Attendees seem to be made up of regulars, hipsters who are well in the know about this place. Numbers are far from overwhelming – the grapevine suggests there are still plenty of tickets left to be sold. On face value, the day party may be a departure from this venue’s trajectory of success.
Could this be an overreach for YES?
Not necessarily. At the end of the day, it’s the music that makes the difference. The bosses at YES, with all their Now Wave experience, have repeatedly shown this year their appetite for good bookings. At YES FEST they pay-off massively as everyone steps up, each act playing to their potential.
The bar is set very high at about 4 pm by Psychedelic Porn Crumpets. One of the world’s best psych rock bands from – you guessed it – Australia storms the Pink Room stage with an unfaltering sense of riff.
Their classic rocking leans more towards Led Zeppelin than the Beatles. The hoard of mopped hair on stage bounces along to the licks of songs like ‘Bill’s Mandolin’ and ‘Cubensis Lenses’. They allow for a take on Lenny Kravitz’s ‘Are You Gonna Go My Way’, one of the biggest, most basic and ballsy riffs ever written, saying more about their philosophy than any amount of interviewing could.
Willie J Healey follows them with a much more laidback approach.
He dons baggy clothes and a bucket hat, an immediate throwback look which is backed up by the boyish guitar music he comes out with. He takes an emotive tangent of indie that Bill Ryder-Jones prevailed with and Car Seat Headrest perfected. Deeper anxiety emerges through the words – he describes himself on ‘Subterraneans’ as “society’s alien”. But Healey is too cool to let any of that show. The band dive down tempos for ‘Somewhere In Between’, leaping into mellow territory as a sax player joins and Healey swaggers in front of his soothing ensemble.
The space to move around in the gig rooms is noticeable, but the semi-emptiness seems to ease the nerves of all the bands. Healey especially revels in it, embracing his frontman-ship. He’s grateful to the YES FEST crowd and great at talking to them. He will surely be a favourite of this stage soon enough.
Things take a more classic sounding turn with Chris Cohen. His band sound glossy and bright, with guitar solos and chorus harmonising grounding them firmly in 1972.
Most people are here for Homeshake however, who draw double the crowd of any other artist. They chill things out further with a series of songs formed from mellow beats, liquid keys and floaty falsetto.
Homeshake is the project of Canadian Peter Sager, who’s broken from the same branch as previous bandmate Mac Demarco and takes aim at a similar audience of slow-moving, hat-wearing youngsters. Despite how relaxed he is, Homeshake’s sound has a sadder, R&B ring to it. Songs like ‘Every Single Thing’ are sure to feature in a fair few Summer playlists, mopey undertones and all.
Something much heavier is going on in the Basement, however. Scalping, a four-piece instrumental outfit, forge industrial, post-punk and trance for the final moments of Yes Fest.
They champion the blend of instrumental sharpness and technology that may be the best part of nu-metal’s legacy. There’s a clear reference to Trent Reznor, as well as Enter Shikari and later-years Prodigy. They have a searing yet studied approach, leaving the audience caught in a sweet spot between raving and moshing.
For Scalping, rhythm is the reason; everyone plays to add density to the song and give it a pounding nature. Their back-drop visuals, like a scary sci-fi acid trip, mean their staging is by far the best of the night. The band shift song into song like an electronic set, relentless and swelling, until they bring the evening to an exhausted end.
In the end, YES FEST hasn’t succeeded for being a far bigger, better event than any other Sunday here. The unique venue space, the charming terrace bar and the £2.95 pints exist as usual. The only thing that’s special about this occasion is the lengthy billing of brilliant new bands that occupy YES’ two gig rooms. But what a difference they make. For performers and punters, it’s been a great Bank Holiday party, because the music was prioritised, marking yet another success for the YES team.
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