Words + Photos by Frank Ralph

The Manchester International Festival, held every two years, brings 18 eclectic days of culture, music, world premiers and special events hosted across the city and this year’s kicked off in glorious fashion with an incredible, spellbinding show from the uniquely talented Janelle Monáe at Castlefield Bowl.

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With a feel-good warm-up set from DJ Paulette and Manchester’s own House of Ghetto dancers the scene was set and the wonderfully varied audience was ready for their queen to join them, continuing the Castlefield tradition of cheering and waving at the trams passing over the bowl.

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With the Space Odyssey theme ringing out from the PA the band took their positions before Janelle took her spot at the peak of a pristine white staircase. Crazy, Classic, Life and Screwed were a perfect start to proceedings and the energy was electric.

Split into 4 acts the show was truly astonishing, with excellent musicianship, rhythmical dance routines and costume changes galore. Not to mention Janelle’s incredible voice, which shone throughout.

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She’s by no means your average performer. In the 9 years since I first saw her slay the Academy 2 she has gone on to release 3 amazing albums, perform weekend stealing shows at Glastonbury, starred in several films and become an important voice and activist for LGBT rights. She is an incredible woman.

Act 2 saw a throne positioned at the top of the staircase and Janelle’s regal air was apparent with Q.U.E.E.N. and Electric Lady making an appearance. Primetime segued into a glorious nod to Prince with the lights turning purple and Kellindo Parker’s blazing guitar soaring through Purple Rain.

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As the finger clicks of PYNK introduced the song the now famous ‘vagina pants’ made an appearance and they looked stunning.

The final act was even more upbeat with the stunning Make Me Feel and its heavily Prince-tinged funk getting the crowd dancing. I Got The Juice saw Janelle handpick crowd members to come up on stage and prove they ‘got the juice’ with them performing impromptu dance solos. They all had the juice – especially Alec who left it all out there.

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There was an impassioned speech about celebrating women of all kinds, uniqueness, difference and being proud of who you are – and a plea for any help possible to impeach President Trump before the energetic Tightrope closed the show emphatically.

The encore of Come Alive saw Janelle join her people in the crowd and there couldn’t have been a better ending to the night. A real we’re all in this together moment.

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“Celebrate our uniqueness even if it makes ‘them’ feel uncomfortable” was the message from Janelle and it struck a chord with the crowd. This whole show was a celebration of individualism.

With so much cool stuff happening as part of the MIF over the next few weeks Janelle has set the bar as high as it could possibly go, on day one! Check out mif.co.uk to see what else they have planned.

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See the full photoset from tonight’s gig here.

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