The veteran photographer revisits the last decade-plus chronicling Outbreak Festival and explains how her work is a way of giving back to a community that offers continued inspiration.
Over the course of the last decade, Outbreak Festival has organically become an important global destination in the landscape of contemporary hardcore. Operating with a clear focus from the very start, the festival first held court at Bromhall Centre in Sheffield, eventually growing into the Canal Mills in Leeds.
As the scope of the annual event further increased, as did the fest’s reputation for becoming an indicator of the health of culture. Outbreak’s yearly line-ups, became a barometer of relevance in addition to a forecast of who was on deck – if a band was playing Outbreak, either they were among the top of the hardcore heap, or on course to be.
Last year, Outbreak marked their tenth anniversary with their most ambitious event to date, in the biggest space thus far. Moving into Bowlers Exhibition Centre in Manchester, organizers assembled a bill spanning generation and subgenre that saw more than 5,000 people come together for as a community – a feat that put the greater heavy music world on notice.
Throughout the course of Outbreak’s evolution, photographer Nat Wood has served an integral role as the festival’s photographer. Equally passionate about punk, hardcore and photography, Wood’s images capture and convey the kind of kinetic transaction that is fundamental to hardcore. Wood’s understanding of the culture ensures a vantage point that results in images that not only showcase the action onstage, but how the floor is responding – a vital component of the no-barricade ethos of the music.
The veteran documentarian spoke with Knotfest about her tenure with Outbreak, framing the significance of festival from behind the camera. Wood shared her early punk education that would pave her creative path, revisited some of her earliest days learning her craft (all while keeping her camera safe in the pit) and explained how she views her work as a way to give back to a scene that continues to offer her inspiration.
I read that your introduction to hardcore and metal music was at all of 13 when you first found bands like Hatebreed and Terror. Looking back, do you think you can articulate what intrigued you about music that existed on the heavier end of the spectrum?
Wood – All my life I’ve been around punk music thanks to my parents, so I think it was just natural progression to keep searching for music on the heavier end of the spectrum as I grew up. Once I found bands like Hatebreed and Terror, I was finally old enough to start going to hardcore shows with my friends, being at a show and witnessing that energy and atmosphere firsthand had me hooked even more.
You have been passionate about photography for likely longer than hardcore music. If you had to recall the one show that compelled you to grab you camera – could you remember it? Could you paint a picture from memory?
Wood – There’s a couple shows that come to mind, my parents took me to my first ever ‘big’ shows, one was Goldfinger for my 9th birthday and one was Rancid a year or two after and I just remember thinking like ‘how do I show other people the feeling of being here’. Ever since then I’ve had some kind of camera at all shows with me, as I never wanted to miss anything.
Take us back to early in your career. What were some of those first shows like, learning the etiquette of being a photographer, being onstage, in the photo pit – learning how to capture the moment.
Wood – I didn’t go in a real photo pit for quite a while once I started shooting shows, that’s a later thing for me. At the beginning I was so scared to ever photograph from a stage, I would just get right up on the front row and hope for the best. I’m just so thankful to my friends for literally picking me up and putting me on their stages, as that’s where I learnt my stage etiquette from, those early hardcore shows and having to watch out for people moshing on stage, I never wanted my camera to get broken so I learnt how to get in and out pretty quickly, (laughs).
When it comes to figuring out how to capture the moment, I feel like that just comes from knowing the music. You know when the big cymbal hits are. You know when the ring outs are. You know what to look out for.
You have talked about how you don’t really like to editing your images too much. Given that, how do you feel like your style has evolved throughout your career. What do you try and prioritize when it comes to snapping an interesting photo?
Wood – I feel like my style has massively evolved and changed over time, I’m still not a big fan of heavily editing my live images, but I am way more open to experimenting with that side of things now. I’m not sure how to articulate it properly when it comes to what I prioritize but the atmosphere will always be up there for me personally, I just want to capture the whole energy of the room in my photos.
When it comes to hardcore, you have been immersed in the scene long enough to see it thrive in the underground and now, really have the sort of renaissance in contemporary culture now. What about the hardcore community have you known this whole time that the world just now seems to be coming around to?
Wood – That it exists, that it isn’t just one singular thing and it isn’t just a load of dudes wearing Carhartt (laughs).
Documenting Outbreak Fest, your work frames an important account of how that festival has grown from a regional sensation to an international destination. Can you recall any instances where you had to put the camera down for a second and just watch the show? Were there any instances where you knew the band you were watching or the moment you were witnessing was almost too big to watch through the lens?
Wood – I mean there’s been some very special sets for me at Outbreak Fest over the years, Higher Power’s first ever secret set, Trapped Under Ice’s UK return, Dirty Money’s reunion to name just a few that pop to mind, but any that have ever felt like too big have only made me want to capture it more, so that I can have a tangible piece of that atmosphere forever. This past year’s fest, 2022, there were quite a few moments over the weekend where I remember having to pause for a second to just take the whole thing in, as going from photographing one of those first Outbreak Fest’s back at The Well in Leeds, to being at Bowlers with over 5000 people singing along was just something very special.
Hardcore is very much a communal experience. What is happening on the floor and in the pit is almost as important as what is happening onstage. How close to the action do you need to get to ensure you get the proper vantage point to best capture that?
Wood – Personally I’m a complete sucker for getting the most involved I can. I’m there to enjoy the show first and foremost so I wanna be all up in the thick of it.
How do you avoid having your work become redundant? What about the music, the culture, the community continues to pique your interest both as a fan and as a documentarian?
Wood – I don’t really think about my work on a wider level like that, I just have always wanted to give back to a scene that means a lot to me and the only way I knew how was to photograph what was going on around me. The community itself keeps me inspired massively as I’m surrounded by so many talented friends doing so much cool shit, that I just want to keep on documenting it.
Who are you most excited to photograph for Outbreak 2023?
Wood – Trapped Under Ice are always and forever one of my favourite bands to photograph so I love that I get to see them again. I’m also excited to photograph Fleshwater, High-Vis as always, Koyo and Scowl again. I’m working on a project with Outbreak too that I’m super excited about for this years fest!
What is the narrative you hope that people take from your images? If every picture tells a story – how would you summarize yours?
Wood – What a hard question. I want my photos to sum up the friendships, the fun, the craziness and the energy of the shows themselves. I just want everyone to be able to see and feel a tiny bit of the joy I feel about the music itself.
Outbreak Festival 2023 is set for June 23rd – 25th at The Depot Field in Manchester. The most recent line-up can be viewed below.
Get tickets – HERE