Liverpool Sound City Review 2018
In order to move forward, Liverpool Sound City 2018 took a few steps backwards and returned to its roots within the city after an enforced three-year stint in Liverpool’s Docklands. This year’s festival was firmly focused on the musical discovery element, providing a showcase for new and emerging artists to perform, network, win over new fans and occasionally play to bemused diners having their Sunday Lunches.
It goes without saying that a music festival without music would simply be collection of vaguely confused people wandering around Liverpool’s Baltic Triangle – which is initially how I felt when I arrived in the area, the lack of any signposts to indicate a festival was actually taking place could certainly have been an issue for first time visitors to the area. However when I found the music, well, I was often genuinely blown away by the raw talent on display. There seems to be a new wave of artists emerging, intent on expunging the safe, risk-averse beige blandness that has often held sway over the last few years, and it definitely very much felt like we were seeing and hearing the future. Gone are the earnest mewling young bearded troubadours with the sad poetic eyes, and quivering lips, with souls so brittlely sensitive that in order to record music they must be spirited away to an isolated log cabin in the middle of nowhere lest they shatter like fragile glass. Instead, we have bands who live and breathe rock and roll, who are totally committed and perform with the sort of passion that simply can’t be faked. Leading the charge are bands such as The Blinders who are one of the most exciting, vital and visceral bands in the country right now, and who are surely set to storm the gates of mediocrity and take down all in their path. Their swaggering twisted barbed explosion of rock and roll was a joy to behold and the intensity of their performance translated to the frenzied crowd who were as fired up as the band.
Avalanche Party are another collective who give their absolute all and were the band that really kick-started my festival with a sweaty searing performance that was breathtaking in its power and audacity. Singer and guitarist Jordan Bell was a man possessed combing the feral sexuality of Jim Morrison with the intensity of Ian Curtis and the fearlessness of Iggy Pop. He had any remaining mid-afternoon dinners choking on their Moroccan spiced lamb kofte as the band performed at The Baltic Social. Idles have been around a good few years, but are now finally winning plaudits and gave a performance so intense that I feared the crowd might experience some sort of collective seizure. I personally only lasted three songs before making my escape for fear of my camera getting smashed. Note to the venue, if you do allow photographers in to shoot Idles have a fucking photo pit at the very least, cameras and lenses ain’t cheap and I can’t afford to be that punk rock !
The Baltic Market hosted the Pirate Studios stage, which was without a doubt my own personal favourite in terms of the overall line up. False Heads smashed the fuck out of the stage and themselves. Singer and guitarist Luke Griffiths must have surely been a mountain goat in a former life given his propensity for head-butting his own guitar, clambering on tables and speaker stacks and leaping off them as well as ending the set as a human torpedo propelling himself at drummer Barney Nash and ending up in a crumpled heap behind the drum kit at the end of the set. An incredible performance.
Hey Charlie gave us one of those ‘festival moments’ with a mind-blowing set when you’re like ‘fuck yeah’ and they had the room positively bouncing with joy. It was somewhat reminiscent of Wolf Alice’s previous Sound City appearance a few years back in the sense that you felt here was a band who had genuinely arrived. Their image is deliberately designed to play with people’s expectations, which by the end of their set, are completely obliterated. It was stunning from start to finish, replete with crunching grungy riffs and an insouciant no fucks-given attitude which made the band one of the absolute stars of the festival. ‘Hey’ sounds like Warpaint fused with L7. ‘Cheer Up Princess’ is a grunge-pop classic and latest single ‘Love Machine’ is yet more proof that this trio have an exceptionally bright future ahead. Festival promoters, book ’em now, they will not let you down.
Up and coming Canadian grunge queens Dish Pit gave a powerful, towering performance which had a festival dinners in the adjoining Baltic Market, more used to gentle acoustic whimpering covering their ears from the sonic assault whilst Queen Zee and The Sasstones had nearby Prosecco quaffing hen parties baffled, bemused and hastily tottering toward the exit within seconds. Festival-goers, however, were treated to a joyous celebratory white-knuckle ride.
Zee totally owned the stage, proving to any remaining doubters that this band are very much the real deal. They’ve come such a long way since I caught them a few years back performing a set beset by sound issues as a duo. It goes without saying that my own pick for the festival as ‘curator’ (get me) Black Honey were EPIC and played to a rammed audience in ‘Furnace’ (which is the name of the venue for the uninitiated, ).
Average Sex were anything but average, with a spiky, hugely enjoyable, engaging set whilst Hatchie was dream pop perfection and a-must-listen-to for fans Of The Sundays, The Cocteau Twins and lovers of classic 4AD bands, Glaswegian Lucia brought a rockier edge with her wall of sound on speed indie pop and Hands Off Gretel closed our own Sound City festival experience in some style with their off-kilter, demented but joyful take on grunge rock. I could go on, what I saw of Table Scraps was superb ditto Calva Lousie, Life At The Arcade and Elevant and I really did not see one bad performance over the entire weekend, but I do need to eat at some point today.
Hands Off Gretel By Andy Von Pip © www.AndyVonPipPhotography.com
Of course, not everything worked, and to be honest I’ve not yet attended any festival or showcase that hasn’t experienced at least some technical and logistical problems, it’s often the nature of the beast. But I’d rather not be akin to the inveterate serial social media “liker” who likes everything to such a degree that it renders their opinion utterly meaningless, or the blog or publication that views the world with an unwavering uncritical eye to ensure future free passes, shits and giggles, because if everything is AMAZING then everything is average. And personally I want my hometown music festivals to be much more than that, so it is actually possible to highlight things that could be improved upon without being perceived as negative or inducing the wrath of the music festival gods, besides nobody likes an arselicker right? :)
The lack of a genuine central festival hub meant initially it didn’t have that “festival feel.” Clear signposts, a bit of decorative festival art and the closing off of certain areas, where feasible, to the general public would perhaps have remedied that aspect creating more of a “festival bubble” and replicate the atmosphere that used to exist in Wolstenholme Square. At some venues, there didn’t seem to be people checking wristbands meaning people without tickets were able to slither into some gigs and a small percentage of security/door staff could perhaps benefit from a customer care course and learn to exercise their facial chuckle muscles on a more regular basis. The Baltic Market area is fantastic space but the stag and hen “dos” on Saturday, combined with the lager inducing sunshine verged toward the lairy on occasion. It was odd that the space at Furnace was used by the festival and not the adjoining Camp stage? Stealing Sheep’s suffragette street procession lacked an actual ‘street’ and instead was held indoors, however, it did look impressive and Black Honey who were sound checking at the time looked rather bemused! Don’t worry guys in Liverpool we always have processions during the sound check, just to make you feel welcome :)
Another feature missing this time around was the “wow factor” in terms of venue/s, for example, Live At Leeds in the past has utilised the Holy Trinity Church and “the Church”, The Great Escape has Brighton Dome, and in previous incarnations Sound City has used the Anglican Cathedral to create some very memorable moments, and it’s only a short walk from the Baltic Triangle. Perhaps the nearby Exhibition Centre could be utilised in the future? For the conference perhaps? OK, inevitable photographer moan now – Photo pits – it was stated beforehand that these would be in place at certain venues however this wasn’t always the case, and staff at some venues didn’t really seem to know what the protocol was if any. As mentioned when you’re shooting a band like Idles a barrier really does help protect your gear and stops it getting twatted about in the moshpit of madness. This isn’t exclusive to Liverpool or Sound City … but stage lighting? Come on venues, I mean if a band really does want to look like a collective of angry Smurfs then I agree vibrant blue is indeed the go-to colour of choice, but honestly, there are other hues available on the colour spectrum. There were venues at this year’s Sound City that looked like they were more suited to acoustic performances whilst people dined and they simply didn’t suit some of the artists sound or vibe. That said none of these issues are unassailable mountains to climb and we appreciate there are cost implications. And let’s not forget this was the first time Sound City has used this multi-venue format in this area. It was very much a toe-in-the-water year, to see what worked and what didn’t. And on the whole, with a bit of tweaking, this could well be the start of an exciting new era for the festival.
Ultimately, it was all about the music and the performances from all the artists I caught really were phenomenal. Indeed of such quality that it felt I was definitely witnessing a number of future festival headliners.
On a personal note after losing my dear old Dad after a long illness last week it was touch and go whether I’d feel ready to attend the festival. However, I decided it might do me good, have a break from funeral arrangements and enjoy the music with no pressure. And I’m glad I did – I left the festival feeling energised, uplifted and hopeful for the future – as a friend remarked – “Contrary to popular belief, music doesn’t have the power to heal. But it has the power to soothe the soul”
And so the good news is that there’s a very special new breed of bands emerging, political, engaged and passionate about music, rejecting the old ways and the overriding message that resonated for me was that the future of music really does look to be in safe hands. It’s only the industry itself, with its obsession with Ed Sheeran sound-alike’s that might spectacularly fuck it all up ;)
Early Bird Tickets for Sound City 2019 available here
And if you have withdrawal symptoms check out Liverpool Calling featuring the likes of False Heads and Avalanche Party available here
Photo Gallery – Pics by Andy Von Pip , Andrew Ab and Phil Greenhalgh
Hey Charlie By Andy Von Pip © www.AndyVonPipPhotography.com