Manchester Music Festivals: The Alternative Guide

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Manchester is home to a number of music festivals which reflect the rich cultural diversity of the city. Collectively they cover a myriad of different styles, from post-punk to jazz-funk and everything in between. Whether you’re after an inner-city one-dayer or the full-on tent-in-a-field weekender, there’s something here for you.


You’ll find Moovin Festival nestled in the north-west countryside, just a short drive away from Manchester’s city centre. This boutique festival is mainly oriented towards soulful dance music, with some of the biggest names in hip hop, funk, reggae, and house gracing the stage in recent years. Despite having the potential to pull a massive crowd, the organisers limit the capacity to ensure an intimate and friendly experience for attendees. The line-up for 2019 includes the likes of Sister Nancy and Awesome Tapes from Africa as well as local groovemongers So Flute and Bethlehem Casuals.

Manchester International Festival

MIF is a biennial arts festival held across a myriad of venues in Greater Manchester. It showcases forward-thinking new work from around the globe while embracing Manchester’s cultural heritage. In terms of music, MIF presents an eclectic mix of modern and traditional artists. Highlights from 2019 included an ecstatic performance from Sufi musician Abida Parveen and a night of all-female electronic music curated by Mary Anne Hobbs.

Sounds From the Other City

Image: The Orielles by Jody Hartley

Technically not a Manchester festival (sorry Salford) but it shines light on much of Manchester’s underground talent. For the past 15 years, promoters from Manchester and Salford have joined forces to curate this unique, independent festival. SFTOC takes place in a range of unexpected locations in Salford, drawing attention to the off-kilter charm of the often-overlooked city. This year’s lineup featured a number of newcomers from Manchester and further afield, including Black Midi, ILL, and Working Mens Club.

Manchester Psych Fest

Manchester Psych Fest is a celebration of ‘the strange, the far-out and the open-minded’. The inner-city festival is a riotous one-day affair of emerging psych, post-punk, and experimental rock. This year there are 30 diverse acts to choose from, alongside a handful of DJs, art installations and street food vendors. Not to be missed are Babe Rainbow, SNAPPED ANKLES, and Manchester grunge outfit WITCH FEVER.

Dot to Dot

Image: Crystal Fighters by Itsnaomikane

Dot to Dot is a metropolitan music festival which showcases emerging artists from across the UK and beyond. It takes place in Manchester, Bristol, and Nottingham over the course of one weekend, occupying some of the best venues each city has to offer. In the 15 years since its inception it has played host to the likes of SBTRKT, Courtney Barnett, and Caribou. This year’s lineup included Crystal Fighters, Jordan Rakei, and local favourites The Orielles.

Manchester Jazz Festival

Image: Bethlehem Casuals by Lijo Thampy

Founded in 1996, MJF is now Manchester’s longest-running music festival. Each year it plays host to a diverse selection of established and emerging contemporary jazz from the North and beyond. This year the festival’s reach sprawled across the city, from its central hub in St Ann’s Square to well-loved venues like The Deaf Institute, Matt and Phreds, and YES. Two free stages were available from the central hub alongside a host of bars and food vendors. Some of the highlights included performances from Manchester-based producer Werkha and electronic soul quartet Noya Rao.

Manchester Punk Festival

Image: Press Club by Elliot Langhorn

Manchester Punk Festival was born out of the collaborative efforts of local promoters TNSrecords, Moving North and Anarchistic Undertones. It is a festival focused on DIY culture and inclusivity with a zero tolerance approach towards discrimination of any kind. This year MPF offered an extensive lineup across 8 venues, including Gorilla, The Bread Shed and The Thirsty Scholar. Alongside the music there was also a comedy stage, a poetry stage, a pop-up record store and punk film screenings to enjoy.

Subliminal Impulse

Image: CARTER TUTTI by Phil King

Subliminal Impulse is a new two-day electronic music festival spread across a number of venues in Manchester’s Northern Quarter. In its inaugural year the festival offered a variety of free gigs alongside headline shows at Band on The Wall and Soup Kitchen. Headline artists included CARTER TUTTI of Throbbing Gristle fame, and Wrangler, the project of Stephen Mallinder (Cabaret Voltaire) and Phil Winter (Tuung). Other highlights included some off-kilter synthpop from Cynthia’s Periscope and live digital visuals from Izzy Bolt.

Manchester Folk Festival

This four-day festival highlights the diversity of the contemporary folk world, with a programme of English folk, roots, and acoustic music. HOME theatre and cinema acts as the central hub, with other venues like The Ritz and Gorilla just a short walking distance away. This year there are plenty of gigs, workshops, and film screenings to choose from and the BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards will be staged at Bridgewater Hall as part of the festival. Be sure to catch Rising up: Peterloo 2019, a new commission which tells the story of protest and rebellion through dramatic narrative and song.

Artwork: @mdale_art

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