The big review: Outbreak Fest 2024

Okay cowards, let’s party! As Europe’s finest hardcore gathering blasted into the great outdoors, we headed back to Manchester to bust guts with every chaotic pit and lung-exploding sing-along of Outbreak 2024…

The big review: Outbreak Fest 2024
Sam Law
Anna Swiechowska, Nat Wood

For a minute there, it looked like Outbreak might become a victim of its own success. 2022 saw the rowdy Northerners bounce back from COVID with a line-up that felt like an authentic who’s-who of modern hardcore: Knocked Loose, Turnstile, ZULU, Scowl… Then in 2023 they somehow topped it, branching out with edgy hip-hop superstars Death Grips and Denzel Curry alongside hardcore legends Converge and Bane. This wasn’t just a sweaty festival anymore. It had become an event.

Operating at the absolute cutting edge of alternative, though, there’s a limited pool of bands to fill out a three-day event without overloading on repeat bookings. It’s to the Manchester-based collective’s enormous credit, then, that they deliver a 2024 edition that feels fresh while also finding time to experiment with established formats. The move back to Bowlers Exhibition Centre and erection of a huge outdoor stage – 2022’s main room relegated to secondary status – proves to be a big success despite grey skies. Friday’s ring-fencing of hip-hop acts is a little less convincing.

It’s the willingness to take those creative and logistical gambles that makes the festival so essential, though. Sure, this year’s choice of headliners (Action Bronson, Basement, American Football) deliver substantially fewer violent delights than the Outbreak fanbase have grown accustomed to, but they’re embraced with riotous energy anyway. And an undercard packing all manner of meanies – Harm's Way and Have Heart, JPEGMAFIA and Jivebomb – ensures there’s still plenty of opportunity to get kicked in the face. Plus, if you spend over £100 on official festival merch, you get a free gumshield! We bit down hard on ours to dive into the weekend’s wildest moments…

Flatbush ZombiesSecond Stage

Flatbush Zombies love a gunshot sample. The notorious New Yorkers’ raucous Friday evening set feels like two parts East Coast hip-hop showcase to to one of drive-by shooting at points, with fast spat bangers AmeriKKKan Pie and Headstone broken up by the constant sound of blasting. Rather than getting on anyone’s nerves, though, it’s exactly the kind of blunt force call to arms that many attendees have been waiting for. And though some nuggets of their more out-there wisdom (“Open your fucking mind!”) gets lost on this crowd, their ever-escalating set is living proof of their main mantra: “The more energy you give, the more energy you get!”


How much carnage can one man and a laptop kick up? Quite a lot, as it turns out. Barrington DeVaughn Hendricks (aka JPEGMAFIA) may not be Friday night’s official headliner, but the huge crowd kicking off in Bowlers’ main hall don’t give a shit. Even with non-existent onstage production, songs like Jesus Forgive Me, I Am A Thot and Baby I’m Bleeding demand a certain level of mayhem. And though the decision to crop some tracks down for time while also taking long breathers saps momentum a little, the preview of a concrete hard, untitled new track and closing cover of Denzel Curry’s VENGEANCE | VENGEANCE underlines JPEG’s heavyweight pedigree.

The GardenThird Stage

The Garden are weirdo outliers for a few reasons. They’re a rock band in a bill stacked with rap, for one thing, with experimental tendencies that veer as often into prog and psychedelia as often as hip-hop. Many of their vociferous fanbase are roaming around Bowlers in the kind of face-paint that you’d expect to find at an Insane Clown Posse convention, too. And apparent travel difficulties see them go on late, inadvertently tasked with opening the festival’s third stage – the only band to play there on Friday. Away from their faithful, the reception is mixed, with as many of those watching on convinced twin brothers Wyatt and Fletcher Shears are pretty boy pretenders as there are those declaring them musical messiahs. Whatever your take, the sheer audacity of What Else Could I Be But A Jester and Filthy Rabbit Hole ensures it’s a set to remember.

Action BronsonSecond Stage

When we’re told that New York icon Action Bronson will be headlining the main stage accompanied by a full band, it’s easy to imagine that he’s really buying into Outbreak’s large-and-loud tradition. To the contrary, the excellent jazz collective he brings along deliver one of the most chilled sets in the festival’s history. It’s absolutely not for everyone and the room visibly empties as the spaced-out drawl of Nourish A Thug, Picasso’s Ear, White Bronco and Live From The Moon rattle out over the PA. With a fug of sticky sweet smoke filling the air and a couple of thousand punters still hugging the stage, however, it’s easy to understand how Bronson has become one of alternative hip-hop’s most respected names.

Higher PowerMain Stage

“Who wants to be the first person ever to stagedive off Outbreak’s brand-new outdoor stage?!” grins Jimmy Wizard as festival favourites Higher Power get Saturday properly started. That honour may already have been claimed, but the Leeds lads’ magic has always been more about enthusiasm than accuracy. Early doors lethargy means that it takes a few songs for the assembled “freaks and weirdos” to get up to speed, but with recent single Absolute Bloom smashing against proven hits Rewire (101) and Low Season, it’s impossible to resist getting in on the action.


There’s a darkness at the heart of Philadelphian shoegaze supremos NOTHING that doesn’t quite feel at home in the afternoon sunshine. Fortunately, 2014’s Guilty Of Everything (performed pretty much in full here) has a mirror-surfaced sheen and aesthetic lightness of touch that could captivate even on the surface of the sun. Devoid of mosh calls and meaty beatdowns as they may be, everything from bleached-out opener Hymn To The Pillory to the woozy title-track comes with a weight of lived-in trauma that few others on this bill could hope to match.

Poison The WellMain Stage

Outbreak has been a lot of fun up until Poison The Well’s arrival, but this is where the festival truly kicks into gear. With a big, big crowd spilling out of the festival’s patented mosh-zone (signed waiver again required for entry) and thousands more metalcore veterans screaming along from the sidelines, the resurgent Floridians justify their breathlessly anticipated hype as 2024’s big undercard booking with the same muscularity and oddball imagination that always stood out. Yes, Friday night’s warm-up show at London’s New Cross Inn – their return after 15 years away – stole a little of today’s thunder. Sure, their sub-40-minute set leaves most of those in attendance hungry for more. But the stage-swamping, show-stopping chaos that meets Artist’s Rendering Of Me and Nerdy suggests it mightn’t take another decade-and-a-half for them to return.

Touché AmoréMain Stage

Nobody mixes bittersweetness and euphoria better than Touché Amoré. Tears are shed unashamedly from the moment the Los Angeles screamo kings pile onstage and into a grief-drenched opening salvo of Flowers & You and New Halloween. It’s not long before the skies open, though, to wash us into the most cathartic, liberating set of the weekend. Headliners in 2022, the quality and variety of songs like Come Heroine, Limelight and unreleased new song Nobody’s suggests they could easily have filled that slot again this year. With frontman Jeremy Bolm roaming around site and soaking up the atmosphere for the best part of the weekend, though, it’s clear they’re having far too much fun to worry about where they are on the bill, enlivened instead to let the raw joy and heartache of Reminders and Honest Sleep to speak for themselves. Awesome.

Have HeartMain Stage

Integrity is everything in hardcore. And Have Heart’s outstanding Saturday evening co-headline is a thought-provoking, adrenaline-spiking reminder of why we all got into this genre in the first place. With frontman Patrick Flynn leading from the front, the Massachusetts legends come equipped with classic anthems like Watch Me Rise and Unbreakable, and all the uncompromising attitude that carried them from the underground bunkers and crusty VFW halls to massive stages like this in the first place. The name of Palestinian doctor and peace activist Izzeldin Abuelaish is displayed on the video screens for the duration of the performance and Patrick’s impassioned condemnation of the killing of civilians in the Middle East puts many younger outfits’ abashed “Free Palestine” shoutouts to shame. Beyond that, it lights a fire in the crowd that sees sheer bedlam unfold amongst those Armed With A Mind.

BasementMain Stage

Basement love Outbreak. Playing only their second show since 2019 – the other being a deafening sub-headline here in 2022 – there’s a real sense of occasion tonight. After the raw emotion of Touché and Have Heart, the Suffolk rockers’ far softer stylings could have been something of a comedown. Rather than undermining the gravitas of what’s come before, this main stage closing performance hits a sweet pivot, changing lane to get the party started for the long night yet to come. Lesser-heard as they may be, the gleeful grunginess of songs like Pine, Promise Everything and woozy mega-hit Covet is more than enough to convince everyone to sing and sway along. Brilliantly, we get a tease of new music, too. Here’s to even bigger shows just over the horizon.

Show Me The BodySecond Stage

Show Me The Body aren’t the obvious band to push that party atmosphere into overdrive as the masses spill away for a night on the town, but the swaggering, nihilistic, synth-enhanced post-hardcore of Boils Up and Badge Grabber proves to be the perfect fuel to keep everyone moving after a long day of being bruised, bloodied and utterly exhausted. It doesn’t hurt that they’re quite brilliant, too. Indeed, this is the New Yorkers’ third year on the bounce, and as they finish off Saturday night in the chaotic spin of their cover of Beastie Boys’ Sabotage and a climactic mash of USA Lullaby / Body War, everyone here would have them back for the next three, or more...

Balance And ComposureMain Stage

“It’s so hard to rock at 11:50am!” frowns Jon Simmons shortly after doors. The Balance And Composure frontman and his bandmates make a fair fist of it all the same. Victims of a slew of flight cancellations, the Pennsylvanian alt. crew had to swap a prime Saturday slot for going on before the first scheduled bands the following day, but big numbers have shaken off their hangovers to turn out anyway. Tiny Raindrop and Body Language delight the faithful, but it’s the melancholic excellence of new single cross to bear which is really tantalising, promising something special from upcoming fourth LP With You In Spirit: their first in eight years.

KUTEThird Stage

Glasgow’s Northern Unrest collective are given free reign over the third stage and absolutely knock it out of the park with a line-up every bit as bruising as a big night out in Scotland’s lairiest city: Killing Me Softly, Hellbound, Nothin’ But Enemies, Impunity, Despize and the mighty Demonstration Of Power. Most striking, however, are noisy newcomers KUTE who mash noise-rock, hardcore, grunge and a ton of riot grrrl attitude into acerbic nuggets Man On The Street and Take It Off. There’s only that two-track demo to their name right now, but given the strength of Sunday afternoon’s most caustic set we can’t wait to hit play on what’s next.

Mannequin PussyMain Stage

“Our band’s name is not ‘Mannequin P’” scowls Marisa ‘Missy’ Dabice to a sprawling main stage crowd. “It is Mannequin Pussy!” Apparently irked by the double standards shown by the BBC recently censoring the Philadelphian firebrands, where a band like Buzzcocks get away without such interference – though their name is displayed in full on the Glastonbury footage we see at home – they are fantastically fired-up, skirting absurdity with Missy’s outrageously sultry between-song chat and insistence that every man in the audience chant ‘PUSSY!’ before burning the place down with a pit-detonating climactic run of OK? OK! OK? OK!, Pigs Is Pigs and Romantic. A sonic slap in the face that few will be in any hurry to forget.

Teenage WristSecond Stage

Perennially underrated, it’s hard not to feel a hint of dread as Teenage Wrist step onto Outbreak’s cavernous second stage, while Californian heavyweights Movements are still 15 minutes from finishing up outside, with hardly anyone here. They’re undaunted, though, and mainman Marshall Gallagher immediately hits high gear, pulling punters into their orbit as he wrings the grungy shoegaze of Humbug and Black Flamingo from his mangled six-string. Sunnier cuts like Yellowbelly are eschewed in favour of darker, heavier material, but titanic closer Earth Is A Black Hole strikes an ideal balance between their chunkiest riffs and remarkable pop-rock sensibility.

Hot MulliganMain Stage

Not so long ago, the summery, indie-inflected pop-punk of Hot Mulligan would have felt like a very strange vibe on which to launch into the closing straight at Outbreak. But not only have the Michigan lads seen their stock rise in terms of audience turnout, also in a tangible sense of cool that means even the most bloody-minded moshers are happy to throw their hands up and sing along to sugary, self-aware nuggets Drink Milk And Run or Shhhh! Golf Is On. Frontman Nathan ‘Tades’ Sanville (accurately referred to by one punter as ‘a sexy emo Jesus’) has confidently grown into his role, too, commanding all in attendance and cranking the emotional authenticity on bangers as ostensibly silly as John ‘The Rock’ Cena, Can You Smell What The Undertaker...

Harm's WaySecond Stage

Oh, here we fucking go. Uber-muscular Harm’s Way frontman James Pligge can be spotted wandering around site for much of the afternoon, looking about as wide as a fridge and twice as cold, but nothing short of outright battle can prepare you for the Chicago giants’ full-frontal onslaught. Beefy cuts Become A Machine, Devour, Terrorizer and Human Carrying Capacity explode with so much raw power that the mosh is actually sparser than for some of the weekend’s softer offerings: all but the hardest pit trolls standing back to avoid getting their heads knocked clean off. By the time they pound into a climactic Infestation, few can resist the gravitational pull to get beat the fuck down. A timely reminder of the life-affirming sound of violence.

Soccer MommyMain Stage

Sophia Regina Allison smoulders with star quality. More than that, she is such a mercurial talent that she looks as comfortable rubbing shoulders with Harm’s Way and Have Heart this weekend as she would with acts like Phoebe Bridgers, Billie Eilish and Lana Del Rey on some of the planet’s biggest stages. In truth, the jangly indie-rock of songs like Crawling In My Skin and Circle The Drain is simply too subtle for some in attendance, but for everyone else there’s a genius in how Sophia spills herself into the sunset with the eerie Darkness Forever and a spine-tingling Scorpio Rising. Beautiful proof that swung fists aren’t the only way to get punched in the gut.

ThursdaySecond Stage

Coming up on 30 years since their original formation, post-hardcore icons Thursday are revered by countless bands, but there’s no resting on laurels or falling into nostalgia over the course of their astonishing 40-minute second stage headline. For The Workforce, Drowning. Division St. Signals Over The Air. Autobiography Of A Nation. Confining themselves to songs from the peerless 2001-2003 span between Full Collapse and War All The Time, the decades drop away for a breathless sprint through the songs that started their fire. Bodies hurtle and beers explode. Touché Amoré’s Jeremy Bolm even dives into the fray, adding his considerable pipes to an incendiary Paris In Flames. If Outbreak manage to book the New Jersey legends again, a main stage headline is surely deserved.

American FootballMain Stage

Experimental as this weekend has been, few of the organisers’ leftfield calls have generated as much discussion as having midwestern emo pioneers American Football bring down the curtain with a play-through of their notoriously chilled self-titled 1999 debut. It’s not that that record lacks quality, by any means. The skeletal, mathy, brass-infused melancholy of compositions like The Summer Ends, You Know I Should Be Leaving Soon and I’ll See You When We’re Both Not So Emotional mean an immense amount to many in this corner of alternative. But they were never conceived as the sort of songs to be played at an event with safety waivers and a platform for jumping off the stage.

What a delight, then, that the boys from Urbana, Illinois manage to scale things up for the huge outdoor space, translating the magic of the melodies into motion and emotion, sending these worn-out masses off into the midnight hum with arrhythmic beats in brains and hearts. Bolstering the setlist with slow-build opener Five Silent Miles actually throws the other tracks into relief, emphasising their underlying courage and complexity. And shifting the record’s instantly-recognisable opening track Never Meant to the end of the set is a masterstroke, inspiring a wild stage invasion that would have seemed improbable beforehand, but which makes so much sense in the spellbinding moment. Here’s to hurling ourselves into a whole load more mind-blowing moments when Outbreak returns this time next year. Don’t forget the gumshield!

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