Freedom News

Manchester’s Persons Unknown Festival blasts back into action

From May 13th to 16th the Persons Unknown Festival returned, after a three-year break, to the same venue used for its inauguration back in 2019. For three days the disused swimming baths and leisure centre in Chorlton, Manchester, was transformed once again into a hub of art, activity and anarchism that is rapidly rising to become a serious contender to take Temporary Autonomous Arts‘ crown as the most ambitious event in the UK squat scene calendar.

PuF was facilitated by the Manchester squat community and ran in partnership with grassroots activist organisations from across the country, with the aim to support and promote a diverse range of campaigns through workshops, art, and live music.

Organisers chose to focus on workshops and an inclusive, friendly atmosphere rather than all-night parties and hedonism, with a no smoking policy being respected up until 8pm, and music and performances finishing at a very civilised 2am. A cafe space complete with busker’s wagon supplied seemingly infinite amounts of tea, cake, curry, pie and more throughout the weekend, and packs of multi-generational dogs scampered and frolicked around the expansive sports hall between the legs of the assembled crusties and curious passers-by who populated the event.

Friday night opened with a queer clown cabaret of poetry and performance on the swimming pool stage, and although a late outbreak of Covid prevented a few of the slated bands performing, the weekend featured performances from Greek anarcho-punks Lepetka, hardcore rave style balkan ska political madness from NFA Queer Punx, live jungle from Amen Sage plus turns from local artists including soulful hip-hop stylings from Renee Stormz and visceral poetic noise from Gurnal Gaddafi.

Workshops were well attended, including a Practical Squatter’s talk, a discussion on the implications of class in activism, the development of mycotopias using the patterns of fungal growth as a model for organisation and community building, and art without borders to discuss how art has been sanitised and infantilised and often form has been made to be the priority over substance …

The venue was a rotten shit-hole when they opened it on Monday, but by Friday the space was clean, welcoming and well-prepared for guests. The walls were decorated, meals were on time, and the toilets always had paper in them. Manchester’s squat scene and the organisers behind PuFestival absolutely smashed the weekend, facilitating a conscious, accessible, community-minded event that stayed true to their DiY roots and radically inclusive unpretentiousness. If you missed it, you missed out, so be sure to watch this space for more events organised by the PuF crew. Big up the Northern squat massive.

~ George F