"Oh beloved woman of liberty, come to me, burn away all my impurity," beseeches that preacher of individuality Jaz Coleman on the primal invocation of the awesome new Killing Joke album. No big surprise that he didn't grace Ladyfest Manchester with his presence, busy as he is hailing the Fall of the US Empire, but a lot of women of liberty did. There was no death but at least one resurrection at the show. The organisers, including Heena the librarian, Jo (lynchpin of the Blame the Parents collective) and Lee (of Help Yourself Manchester) did a flawless job of creating an impressive new alternative environment. The only shame was that the carnival could last for just four days, and I only caught the second half.

Manchester, September 6-7, 2003

The music had some fantastic moments but the social scene was perhaps even more interesting. I spent time in the company of a PR plugger who'd make a better sultry rock star, a subtle Canadian guitarist with magic effects, an angelic elfin dancer, a jolly girl convinced of granny mentality, a straight edge lad with an open mind, a new student of music technology, and various artists, writers, cartoonists, activists, punk rockers and DJs. There were films, workshops, zine and CD stalls, an ultra-cheap vegan cafe, and the largest exhibition of girl penned cartoons to while away the days. The first surprise was to see a familar man on stage, the humble Seth of numerous Leeds 6 bands. He was playing double bass in folk influenced duo Macwatt, helping the accordionist to shine.

Ithaca Art Ensemble is another Leeds scene stalwart, Rosie from Linear Negra and Month of Birthdays, playing complex solo new-folk songs on an acoustic guitar. She sings as if oblivious to the mesmerised crowd and although quiet summons a majestic intensity. Music For One is guitarist Sherry, a dreadlocked Canadian living near the former haunts of Robin Hood. She's passed through Manchester a few times, improvising with such talents as Shalabi Effect and Daniel Weaver, and her solo spot was my main reason for attending the event. She drew the crowd into her orbit by asking if she was loud enough, but her calm reflective instrumental twangs and loops weren't something that needed dominating volume to transform the dark room. She plays with innovative techniques, often lying the guitar flat and using unconventional objects to coax sounds into various effects boxes where they morph magically. At one point she laid down the guitar and played a harmonica over a pedal powered guitar loop. During her set the Spirit of Ladyfest rose, and my enthusiastic clapping earned me some enlightened laughter.

I realised that the look in one face could be more informative than libraries of words. Little Girl With Cherries were another revelation from Nottingham, two school matronly types cranking out complex heavy math rock that certainly appealed to all the Shellac and Don Caballero fans who caught their kick ass set. The Sunday party spun off to a good start with Delta Saint playing perky pixiepop with clever living lyrics. A bit of slide guitar and a few driving solos suggested they were at the start of a cool trip. Their newest song "Troubled Mind," on which the bassist switched to keyboards could be a big hit with fans of Boston rock groups like Madder Rose.

Zero Pretties showed off their admiration of Babes in Toyland by covering "Bruise Violet" and rocked out with enthusiasm and grace. Halfway through their set they switched singers, and when the still tall one with dyed pink hair took over from the raggedly flailing one, she sounded like Lori Barbero. Even though they offered cookies to make people move forward, the crowd didn't bite and remained a little off to one side. Linus drew everyone in, with big smiles and uplifting tunes. I thought they'd dropped off the face of the earth, but obviously they're the kind of band who just get on with their own thing away from all the bullshit of the spotlight. They closed with a calm confident song that confided warmly that love is the law. If there was a motto for the weekend they seemed to have found it right there.

The savior's of the UK pop punk scene, Liverpool's Flamingo 18, rocked the finale, bringing dance energy and a little much needed chaos to the exceptionally polite auditorium. Louise their guitarist keeps reminding me of Pete Shelley in appearance and style but chucks herself around the stage like a bull in a chinashop on a breaking mission. The drummer has that famous Scouse humour and luckily his drum kit didn't keep falling apart like the last time I saw them at a CND benefit. As a large group of us made our way over the singing bridge to Rusholme for the comedown party, Flamingo 18 flashed past in their little car, cheering and honking - total punk rock! Is it too late to give the whole world to anarchic feminists? Wouldn't it be a shame to let the rats and pigeons have their day so soon. Burn brightly emerald empresses.