Manchester Academy/Academy 2/Club Academy
This past spring bank holiday saw music fans from all over the North West make a pilgrimage to the University of Manchester Students’ Union, as a whole host of veteran alternative artists commandeered its music venues for the second annual Gigantic Indie All Dayer festival. Whilst the first incarnation in 2014 was a fun experiment in getting several big name acts together in the name of nostalgia, the 2015 edition expanded on the formula of the original—with the addition of two extra stages full of bands and DJs—and in the process seems to have transformed the event into a legitimate and much anticipated addition to the UK festival calendar.
The day’s festivities were kicked off by Coventry indie pop outfit The Primitives, though judging by the crowd’s reaction their set was something of a false start; only their signature hit ‘Crash’ seemed to illicit any discernible excitement, and a reliance on new material, as well as Tracy Tracy’s ropey vocal performance, meant the band ostensibly failed to make many new fans out of the festival’s early arrivals.
Luckily, the reformed Hurricane #1 managed to swiftly pick things up—after a short technical difficulty due to a blown amplifier—with their raucous take on Britpop. Even without key member and Oasis alumni Andy Bell at the helm, the band (now comprised of Alex Lowe and a host of younger musicians) managed an engaging and energetic set full of songs that, for better or worse, sound exactly like a snapshot of 1997—a bunch of lost Be Here Now b-sides, minus the heroic amount of cocaine. Lowe’s younger bandmates almost outshone him at times, all showing impressive technical ability and a genuine enthusiasm for the songs, a portion of which were from their upcoming, as-yet-untitled new record. Unsurprisingly, though, the highlight of their set came from their signature tune ‘Step Into My World’, which Lowe delivered towards the end of their performance after a touching story about its creation.
By mid-afternoon, the other stages in Academy 2 and Club Academy had come to life, boasting appearances from acts such as the Miltown Brothers, BOB, and Diesel Park West, the latter of which played their much loved Shakespeare Alabama record in full to a small but massively receptive crowd. Most people’s attention, though, was fixed squarely on the main stage, where Leeds post-punk legends Gang of Four delivered their unique mix of abrasive, angular punk, and avant-garde noise rock, featuring trade-off vocals between mainstay guitarist Andy Gill and newcomer frontman John Sterry, alongside Thomas McNiece’s hectic bass work on seminal tracks like ‘Damaged Goods’. Inspiral Carpets, meanwhile, received a rapturous homecoming welcome—amid the persistent, now-obligatory “Boon Army” chants—and led the crowd through sing-along classics such as ‘This Is How It Feels’ and ‘Two Worlds Collide’, turning what was otherwise a rock show into a baggy discotheque for an hour or so.
As impressive as the rest of the lineup were, however, there was only ever one band on everyone’s minds—the iconic, much-anticipated headliners Echo & The Bunnymen. The band, fronted (and embodied) by their effortlessly charismatic, larger-than-life figurehead Ian McCulloch—who, for someone known for their characteristic surliness, was in a fairly playful and cheerful mood throughout—played a blistering, career-spanning set, focusing on their most revered records like Ocean Rain and Crocodiles.
Veterans of over thirty years in the business, the Bunnymen excelled in a live setting, with a repertoire full of dreamy, anthemic crowd pleasers such as the majestic ‘The Killing Moon’, the urgent ‘The Cutter’, and the hazy synthpop of ‘Bring on the Dancing Horses’; McCulloch remarked of the latter that he’d never heard a crowd sing it so powerfully. Whether that was true or not, it was certainly noticeable just how much the audience and band alike enjoyed their celebratory headline set, which was capped off with a snippet of Lou Reed’s ‘Walk on the Wild Side’ followed by their standard closer, the gentle lullaby ‘Ocean Rain’.
In a world where dance music increasingly reigns supreme and “nostalgia” is seen as a dirty word, it was heartwarming to see so many great and influential indie bands in one place acknowledging and commemorating their pasts—and a packed out crowd still ready to embrace them—in what has, essentially, fast become guitar pop’s answer to Pangaea festival. With such a stellar lineup on offer this year, the only question remaining is whether the next edition will be able to top it.