Next week Liverpool Sound City roars back into action, with its biggest and most ambitious line-up of music, arts, and culture to date. There’s also been the small matter of moving the entire festival to Liverpool’s docklands area and transforming the landscape into a post-apocalyptic fantasy world which will play host to some of the biggest names in music.
We caught up with CEO Dave Pichilingi to discuss how things had progressed since we last met in November (See HERE ), to discuss the challenges involved and to find out just what we can expect from an event that looks to raise the bar and provide the ultimate urban festival experience.
VP: Alright Dave, so how has the whole experience of moving the festival to its new home at the Bramley-Moore Dock panned out since we last met?
DP: Haha, well not without it’s challenges shall we say. The thing is once you’ve made the decision you’re then tasked with putting your ideas into action. At that point, you’re faced with reality, and obviously, of paramount importance is not just that people have an amazing experience but that everything is underpinned by appropriate health and safety regulations. So for example, there was a bridge we would have really liked to have had closed to make our life a whole lot easier in terms of artist access, but it just couldn’t be done. However, we have a team here who have the vision, drive and ability to work around any issues. The thing is when you put on an event such as this it’s very important that you not only have a plan A and a plan B, but also a plan C, D, E, F and G ! I think the last time we spoke our main ‘Atlantic stage’ was going to be in the big warehouse. But we’ve now moved that outside with the River Mersey as the backdrop. This will guarantee that everybody who wants to see the headliners will get to see them! So yes, we have made a few changes, but it still is pretty much as we’d planned.
VP: And you’ve been working with the very talented people behind Festival No 6 and Shangri-La at Glastonbury?
DP: Yeah we are all friends so it makes sense for us all to share the love and expertise. For example, we have Luke Bainbridge, one of the founders of Festival No 6 curating our arts and culture programme. It was very important with us having this vast space that we keep people engaged, excited, and wanting to stay on site all day and night. So be prepared for some surprises.
VP: When I visited the site last year, it was quite difficult to envisage how the space would be used, but I know making sure the backdrop of the Mersey was utilised to maximum effect was a big part of your vision.
DP: Yeah everybody said they couldn’t picture the festival site layout! Rest assured it’ll be an amazing experience. And yes, it was very important for us to utilise the space we have creatively in conjunction with spectacular views of the River Mersey. As well as amazing bands on the banks of the Mersey, there’ll be plenty of surprises and added bonuses. For example on Sunday (24th May), one of the huge three Queens cruise liners will be arriving in port, there’ll also be a firework display, which will take place right behind the main stage when Belle and Sebastian are finishing their set! So it’s going to be very spectacular!
VP: One of the things that had developed at Sound City over the years was the festival hub around the Kazimer. At a lot of urban festivals, sometimes you don’t quite get the vibe that a festival is actually on, often the distance between venues kind of disrupts the sense of cohesion.
DP: Yeah, lot of the time I don’t really think you can call those sorts of events festivals as such. They are just a lot of great gigs, but organising city centre events are challenging, and it can be difficult to achieve that sense of unification. I think we’ve done that well as the festival grew and we certainly made the most of what we had. Saying that during the first few years, it didn’t really quite feel like we wanted it to.
I’m not saying I’m right but for me a festival is something that you are totally immersed in, SXSW for example, does that really, really well whilst at Glastonbury you feel like you’re on another planet! So this year, we’ve kept all the core elements that people loved about Sound City, but by moving to the riverside site we hope it will make people feel they are together in a very special space. We got lots of amazing extras going, for example, Tim Burgess’s Tim Peaks Diner, the Aussie BBQ, Korea Rocks, the Brazilica Carnival and loads more.
VP: As mentioned in our previous interview people are often naturally a bit wary of change (as evidenced by the barking mad election result) but my view is that new experiences are what make the world go round.
DP: Exactly, and the flip side of people fearing change is that people get bored quite easily. If you change things when people have already become bored, it’s often too late. The skill is to introduce change whilst people are still excited about what you have and what you do. I think last year may have been a little too early, but this year is absolutely the right time for us. Everybody in the team is buzzing and feels reinvigorated we are all very excited to share what we’ve been working on with everybody. For people from the city, they are getting to see live music in area that many people have never really visited before, and for guests coming from around the world, they’ll get to see the traditional parts of the city as well as an area of the docklands that wouldn’t ordinarily be on any visitors itinerary. On top of that, there’s a world-class music conference inside the Titanic Hotel and hundreds of bands from around the globe, as well as some amazing arts and culture. Now that is exciting and I hope when people leave they say… ‘Yeah I can see why they moved the festival here.’
VP: On to the music now, some great headliners, and some amazing up and coming bands with an eclectic mix of genres, so something for everybody would you say?
DP: We always have our eyes and ears on what we feel our core audience wants. For the first time ever we’re running over the weekend meaning we can start earlier and continue right through till three in the morning. There’ll be no mad dashes you can literally wander between anyone of our 12 stages and catch any number of artists, the big headliners, emerging artists, there’ll be parades, impromptu events .. definitely something for everybody. It’s a marked step up from what has gone before. In the past, we’ve had to work with venues and stakeholders – that obviously meant there was always a degree of compromise, but this year we could do exactly what we wanted, we had a blank canvas!
VP: How have you found the organisation of the event this year? More stressful than in previous years?
DP: Ha, Ha, about the same, to be honest, I thought it would be a massive step change. Then again, stressful probably isn’t the right word. I mean if you look at what’s happening around the world? At the end of the day, we are putting on a music festival, and we’re in a fortunate position to be able to do that. We want to make sure everybody’s safe, make sure everybody has an amazing time – at the end of the day its rock n roll. So I wouldn’t say stressful as such, more challenging – but as I say we are in a very privileged position and we should count our blessings that we can do what we do.
VP: In terms of logistics what’s the situation with transport getting people to the festival site?
DP: We’ll have a people in place by Lime Street Station to greet and guide people. We’ll have our own dedicated bus service on the Empire Theatre side of Lime Street Station to ferry people to the site and take all the pain out of getting there. Once people are there, they’ll not have to frantically consult their schedule and dash around to catch acts, everything from indoor and outdoor stages, great food, bars, pop up coffee shops, chill out areas will all be easily accessible in the space of few minutes! For late night revellers, there’ll also be a dedicated taxi rank outside the site.
VP: This year it’s running right across the weekend, with the actual site opening on Friday …
DP: Yeah the conference runs across Thursday and Friday. There’ll be a delegates party on Thursday night so we will have about 2000 people in the Rum Warehouse at the Titanic, there’ll be free drinks, and special concessions for delegates, which I imagine will run into the early hours.
VP: Difficult one, but who would you say are your own personal must see bands?
DP: You’re right it’s tricky, usually the bands I come away loving the most are ones I’ve never heard of, and I’m sure that’ll be the same again this year. I always look forward to the overseas bands; I’ve got a soft spot for Korea having been over there a few times, so watch out for a young band called The Dead Buttons. Really happy we booked Swans and looking forward to seeing how their set unfolds on our main stage with the Mersey as the backdrop. In addition, I’m a huge fan of Belle and Sebastian and have been for many many years, so it was a great moment when we booked them. And I’m sure we’ll all get shivers down our spine when The Flaming Lips play on the banks of the Mersey. As ever there are some great new Liverpool bands playing and I’m looking forward to hearing new material from The Tea Street Band. Oh and, of course, those young scamps 35 Summers are playing 😉 – It’s all set to be an amazing experience!
On Monday we’ll be picking ten bands we’d recommend you catch at this year’s festival
You can still get wristbands HERE