Words by Anastasia Connor // Photos by Wes Foster
“Hello, we are The Jesus and Mary Chain,” announces Jim Reid in a dry, deadpan manner, stepping to the front of a vast main stage in Victoria Warehouse. Did this actually happen or was it all a strange dream? Only in its third year of existence, Cosmosis crept up on the festival scene without much of a warning. The first two events took place in Antwerp Mansion, which to an untrained eye looked more like a squat than a performance space. Last year’s Cosmosis may have had the legendary Black Ryder as one of its headliners, but serious sound issues and major delays meant it was still regarded as more of a rough-round-the-edges DIY party than a major contender.
Whatever happened in the months after the 2015 event brought about major changes that meant the organisers were able to book a line-up so bold and imaginative that it attracted punters not just from all over the UK, but Europe and even North America. Now, that’s what I call a triumph.
This year’s tenfold leap in capacity necessarily meant a change of venue. Victoria Warehouse in Salford, an industrial space previously associated with The Warehouse Project, is not an obvious spot for an alternative festival. The main Air stage hosted the big guns like The Brian Jonestown Massacre, The Raveonettes and The Jesus and Mary Chain. Up above, on the balcony, lucky VIP ticket holders could watch the bands and the ocean of people down below. Further back, on the ground floor Water and Earth stages nestled together. Despite miraculously minimal sound bleed, at times those stages were much too small to accommodate those eager to see cult heroes like Wire or Esben and The Witch. And since neither of the stages was raised, anyone under six-foot simply didn’t stand a chance of seeing any stage action at all.
The higher level also presented an arts area filled with phantasmagoric psychedelic installations and workshop activities rarely glimpsed at other indoor festivals. Further still, you could find the Aether stage that offered such unusual delights as The Longcut’s industrial grunge and Baba Naga’s psychotropic shamanism. And if all this wasn’t enough, there was an option of deserting the main site in favour of the Fire stage at the nearly hotel.
Although the organisers clearly went to a lot of trouble avoiding nasty clashes, the sheer numbers of must-see acts meant there was little down time. Cloaked in smoke, The Raveonettes were timelessly cool. Predictably, The Brian Jonestown Massacre attracted a huge gathering, drawing most of the 6,000-strong crowd toward the Air stage’s centre of gravity. Despite some slight technical issues at the start of the set, the ultimate psych band delivered an awesome show infused by the guest appearance of Tess Parks, who took the lead on ‘Anemone’.
Predictably, The Jesus and Mary Chain was the most anticipated band of the night and they certainly didn’t disappoint. Starting with ‘Darklands’ and culminating in the majestic shoegaze masterpiece ‘Just Like Honey’, it was an unnerving testimony to the fact that some older bands sound as fresh now as they did 30 years ago. Gulp.
But there was more to this year’s Cosmosis that simply psych and its affiliated feedback-drenched disciplines. Two of the standout performances of the day come from artists bearing little resemblance to those haunting sounds. Sleaford Mods’ agitator grit hop – the brazen and fierce howl of austerity Britain – was delivered with such intense conviction that the entire room felt like it was about to explode with rage. Brutal. Necessary. Immediate. And completely against the grain of the prevailing psychedelic tide.
Deafheaven were in no doubt about their somewhat incongruous status, proclaiming themselves to be “the weirdos on the bill”. From the onset they unleashed an ear-splitting tsunami of black metal hypnotism that kept the crowd mesmerised till the end. Another genius booking that didn’t fit the parameters of your usual psych event.
Despite some issues with over-zealous security (there really is no need to be so aggressively obnoxious to people simply enjoying a night out) and outrageously high drinks prices (£5 for a small can of Heineken – really?), Cosmosis 2016 rose up to the challenge and proved that a festival can grow bigger without compromising its artistic vision or causing bankruptcy to the organisers. It took a ballsy step and won. It’s moved on from its psychedelic beginning and entered a brave new world of more diverse alternative sounds. Most importantly, at last Manchester has its own credible independent festival of international significance.
Cosmosis Festival 2016 took place on Saturday 12 March at Victoria Warehouse.