A few bands at Carefully Planned Festival this year compared it to SWN festival, and it really rubbed me the wrong way. “It’s basically Cardiff’s version of SWN,” one band remarked from the stage in the basement of the Soup Kitchen at about twenty past two on Sunday afternoon…

I mean, they had literally just come from playing SWN, and the festivals are the same in that they are multi-venue setups spread across a city centre á la SXSW, rather than the traditional camping affair we British folk love so dearly. But to compare the two seems a little unfair to the principles upon which Carefully Planned has always run.

Y’see, SWN pretty much appeared out of nowhere in 2007 on the whim of a well regarded BBC radio presenter, gets big features in the NME and, despite booking an awesome range of smaller bands, is a fairly slick and Tuborg-affiliated event. Carefully Planned, though, is an entirely different beast. Do not mistake it for an event that PR companies, corporate sponsors or chart-attacking buzzbands are allowed to get near with a fucking ten mile stick, because it is D.I.Y. as hell. It’s been around in some shape or form since 2007 too, but has crawled out of the tiny venue in Huddersfield where I first encountered it five years ago and limped to Manchester, snowballing in size through endless gigs, fifteen or so all day shows and, now in it’s third year, the festival, a mammoth undertaking that swallows up most of the Northern Quarter and gives it over to more completely obscure bands than you can imagine, challenging you to run from bar to bar to see as many as you can before you collapse from a combination of exhaustion and overpriced Amstel because for some fucking reason that is the cheapest pint that half of the places in NQ seem to sell.

Cleft are the first band of the festival for many, and it’s telling of the hometown buzz around the Manchester duo, as the Castle’s back room is claustrophobically full and sweaty considering that it’s only 2PM. Their crunchy brand of math rock isn’t too unique, but it’s played with such flair and big smiles that it’s easy to get caught up. A few songs in and all of the lights in the venue go out, so they do a couple by the light of a dozen mobile phones held aloft, and Carefully Planned #3 is already off to a typically bizarre start.

The Soup Kitchen is a new one to me, and My First Tooth are playing in the basement of it. It looks like a bomb shelter, and their raucous indie-folk echoes bounces off the walls like the UK’s Okkervil River. For those who remember when Tooth was just an acoustic guitar and violin duo, the band that exist with the name today are an entirely different beast – five members, not an acoustic guitar in sight, pounding floor toms, just a massive racket. Excellent stuff, though their first record is unfortunately neglected in the setlist.

As soon as MFT down tools, it’s a mad rush over to catch Dublin’s September Girls. Their lo-fi shoegazey punk comes off a little subdued – Kraak’s sound system doesn’t allow them to create quite such a wall of noise as when they were on tour with PINS the week before, but it does mean the synths come to the fore a bit more to show the poppy tendencies buried beneath the fuzzy punk.

Wax Futures are the first band I’ve seen at Gullivers since the place stopped being a total dive. The red curtains are a nice touch, and the Telford trio hammer out some mathy post-hardcore like a happy-go-lucky Blakfish with less apparent worries. The vocals let them down a bit but they make up for it with sheer enthusiasm and are clearly having an ace time – easily the best discovery of the day. Their last song is called “Stone Cold Jane Austen”. Make of that what you will.

Back at Soup Kitchen, Suffer Like G Did have drawn in a fairly respectable crowd – it’s half five and more people are starting to descend on the Northern Quarter. I know there’s a lot of love for these guys in the scene, and they are a spectacular band from a technical point of view, but I have to admit that I’m getting pretty bored of the type of twiddly showoff math rock that they specialise in. A lot of build up for not a lot of payoff at times, the best parts of their set are the more direct and to-the-point earlier songs.

Bakerie Wine Store is another new one. It’s a bit fancy and looks like it would usually be full of people with a lot more money than me. Mat Riviere, a Carefully Planned regular, sets up his laptop, pedals, and various other toys on the floor and huddles over the lot to create a noise that is equal parts one-man Kid A, equal parts electronic Xiu Xiu. It is intense and noisy, with occasional moments of beauty rising out of the cacophony – a musical endurance test that mostly pays off.

No band has ever looked as awkward as ONSIND in a wine bar – these guys have played all over the world and this is probably the first time they’ve ever been truly out of place. But they give it their all, because they’re ONSIND, and I’m not sure if they know how to do anything else, and a dedicated crop of fans squeeze in to yell every fucking word right back at them. Just like every ONSIND show ever – awesome, passionate, life-affirming – just in a place where you can spend too much money on olives. Again, Carefully Planned keeps it weird.

Back at the Soup Kitchen, The Physics House Band delight the crowd with their slick and spacey keys and loops-heavy math, kinda like if Tall Ships were from the future. Again, though, these guys are technically stunning but often fail to deliver on the build ups they put so much effort in to. Technical issues means their set very much ends with a whimper rather than a bang, too. Bit of a let down in some respects, but flawless in others.

Still, I envy no band than plays on the same bill as the god damn almighty Crash Of Rhinos. The Derby emo veterans have upstaged pretty much every band they’ve ever shared a bill with, from Lemuria to Raein, and it takes about thirty seconds of their set to absolutely school every other band on how it fucking should be done. Soup Kitchen is packed wall to wall for these guys, and rightly so – I don’t think they’ve ever actually done their own headline tour of the UK, so a chance to see them play for an extended period for once is one that a lot of people don’t wanna miss. Big Sea brings the biggest singalongs, but everyone’s getting to know the new songs too, and a bit of a pit and some crowdsurfing breaks out for the huge closer, Speed Of Ocean Greyhounds. These guys just absolutely kill it, and in time will rule the scene if they don’t already.

How do you follow Crash Of Rhinos? You don’t. Saturday is done.

Sunday kicks off at Kraak with Axes who, after a couple of lacklustre offerings the day before, prove that instrumental math rock is still worth bothering with. These guys have incredible technical chops but play with the reckless abandon of a ridiculous pop punk band, bounding all over the stage with huge smiles, yelling at each other, dancing around, sending mic stands flying, and getting a guitar stuck in the camouflage net that hangs from the ceiling. It is an absolute joy to watch and it’s impossible not to get swept up in their good spirits. The new songs sound amazing, I just wish that the recorded versions of the old ones sounded as good as they do live.

Among Brothers are the best discovery of the Sunday, playing to about fifteen people in the Soup Kitchen. With trombone, violin, organs and endless synths, their big lavish pop comes off like the evil Los Campesinos! in the classic, moustache twirling villain sense of the word. Or maybe like the good Los Campesinos! In the “going to music lessons” rather than “throwing up by football pitches” sense of the word. It’s post-rock with an indie pop sensibility, or is it the other way round? The echoey sound of a mostly empty basement only adds to their epic sound.

I regrettably have to skip Among Brothers’ last few songs to dash over to Gullivers, but I hope you’ll forgive me, because it was for That Fucking Tank. Surely classed as legends by now, the two piece rock behemoth have been around forever, and the room packs out for them. Jimmy sets the pace on a stripped-down drum kit, and Andrew matches and exceeds it with a clusterfuck of blues/punk/math/metal riffs. No guitar-based stone is left unturned and it comes off like the White Stripes meets Adebisi Shank, as ridiculous as that might sound. No bullshit. Just rock.

Gullivers is playing London Calling between bands and has nice beers on the go, so it seems like a good place to pass the time as Shallows set up. It’s a real shame that only a handful of people turn up to watch them because they blast the ears off the lucky few with their Punch-style powerviolence that just fucking destroys. Good Grief follow with their solid indie-punk and motorway-themed stage banter. It’s pretty standard stuff, but they do it so well.

Now, I hate the Night & Day Café, I think it’s an awful venue. But I will tolerate it for Doctrines, even if there is a massive barrier in front of the massive weird-shaped stage for literally no reason, and you can barely hear the vocals. But yeah, it’s fuckin’ Doctrines, so they’re ace regardless. The weird-as-shit art-punk that their sound has gradually morphed in to sets them up as one of the scene’s more creative bands, and they never disappoint.

Over at Kraak, Your Neighbour The Liar are playing what may or may not be the most understated final show ever – they never once mention that they’re more or less done as a band, and instead just politely play their earnest, midwest-style emo without a on-trend twinkle in sight. Less Kinsella, more Mineral and Boilermaker, it is sad and beautiful with no hint of pretensions, and it’s a real shame that they may or may not be calling it a day. If this really was their last show, they will be missed.

After a failed attempt to squeeze in to the Castle to see Merz, it’s back to Kraak to watch Elk. Elk are one of those bands who’s name is really familiar, but I’ve never listened to or seen. That said, I may just be confusing them with the This Town Needs Guns song of the same name. Are they named after said song? Maybe. They certainly sound a lot like This Town Needs Guns, albeit a little bit mellower – nice and chilled math pop that knows the value of crafting a good song rather than just showing off.

Unfortunately, the festival starts to tail off a little bit at this point. Heading back to Soup Kitchen, It Hugs Back go massively over their set time with tedious prog numbers, meaning Johnny Foreigner hit the stage late. JoFo are usually one of the finest live bands the UK has to offer but tonight they stick mostly to new songs, with only fairly lacklustre versions of Eyes Wide Terrified, Salt Pepa and Spinderella, and one from Vs Everything before I get fed up and go and catch the train home. The new songs sound alright, and definitely make the most of their expanded lineup, but Johnny Foreigner have always been in a weird position. They’ve become so beloved by sticking to what they’re best at and never really changing their sound too much. It does, however, mean they’re constantly one step away from becoming a little bit played out. The new songs unfortunately didn’t inspire too much confidence but, y’know, they usually manage to pull it out in the end.

Despite a disappointing close, though, A Carefully Planned Festival is still absolutely incredible. It’s hard to hit home just how an impressive an achievement it is if you’ve never been yourself – the huge range of bands, the incredible atmosphere, and the fact that it’s all completely D.I.Y., put together by a small group of friends with very little outside input. Every year they continue to keep it going for us is another year that we are truly lucky.