Day 1 – Thursday
Liverpool Sound City returned for its fifth year serving up an eclectic selection of up and coming musical movers and shakers, indie buzz bands, John Peel approved legends and rappers who aren’t really Professors. One imagines the first five years have been a learning curve, as each year seems to take massive strides forward, both in terms of the artists involved and the event logistics. This year’s festival benefited massively from the creation of “pop up” venues, with the majority of them being in easy walking distance of each other, ensuring the area around Wolstenholme Square was imbued with a real festival vibe and an atmosphere of genuine camaraderie seemed to envelop the area. For music fans, artists and industry bods alike, Sound City is rather like Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, and Boxing Day, there’s a sense of expectation, a real sense of community, a plethora of treats, and for those who (like us,) overindulged, a Boxing Day style hangover.
The first venue we take in at this year’s festival looks rather like a car-park cleverly disguised as a music venue, possibly because that’s exactly what it is, yup, an NCP building is magically transformed into a bespoke stage known as “The Red Bull Garage” for the duration of Sound City. It’s a pretty impressive performance space, but unless it’s full, does tend to lack a little bit of atmosphere. Unfortunately the first band we see, Sunless 97 , are experiencing some technical difficulties which results in a slightly faltering, stop start performance. This is Ed Larrkin’s (formerly of Larrkin Love) new musical vehicle, and their dreamy, often beautiful hazy pop (listen to “Wicked Gravity” below for example) seems to get somewhat lost in what is quite a sizeable building. It’s possible that with such a chilled sound Sunless 97 ‘s music may have communicated itself more eloquently much later in the evening, but tonight, sadly, it doesn’t quite happen for them.
Ghost Outfit/Stealing Sheep
We then cross the street over to another “pop up” venue, the Liverpool Arts Academy, which looks suspiciously like an art gallery converted into a music venue (no shit Sherlock! ) where Mystery Jets are playing to an appreciative crowd. We’ve never really clicked with Mystery Jets for some reason, but they do what they do very well, the crowd love it, and we decide to try another musical flavour and take in Ghost Oufit at the Kazimier next door who are full of frenetic purpose and are at times, ear shreddingly loud. Thankfully Stealing Sheep are on next, back at the “Red Bull Garage” to pour some honey in our ears with their mix of tribal drums, ethereal vocals and eastern mysticism. The place is much busier now and Stealing Sheep are a band who just seem to get better and better every time we’ve seen them and, they always look like they are having an absolute blast on stage. Over at the Kazimier the hip and happening TOY are playing to another packed house and proving there’s much more to them than the next chisel cheeked indie poster boys, (those really are some pointy cheek bones lads) they really can play!! Very enjoyable but we are unable to catch the full set as we are determined to keep to our schedule.
The running order at “The Attic” one of the smaller venues on tonight’s itinerary isn’t running quite as smooth as the “leather on the passenger seat”, so instead of “pondering life’s complexities” we have a “straightner” in one of the local bars, and then return to check out Wet Mouth’s rescheduled set. We’d only heard a few demos by them via Soundcloud and were impressed but live they blew us away, definitely the find of the festival. Expect big things from them in the next few months.
Slow Club/Still Corners
Next up it’s back to the Art Academy for Slow Club who play a fantastic set, full of energy and verve, so much so that despite being in the photo pit we forgot to take any pictures for the first two songs. After getting stuck in a chemical loo for five long and terrifying minutes, which brings back horrific nightmares of Trainspotting via Glastonbury (don’t ask) it’s over to the Leaf Cafe, for the majestic, cinematic synth grandeur that is Still Corners.
Their hypnotic, seductive electronic flourishes and reverb soaked guitars are quite mesmeric and live versions of tracks such as the fabulous “Endless Summer” take on a hugeness of monolithic proportions and fills the entire venue with a wall of beautiful sound. The only down side was that during the quieter numbers there were a handful of boorish oafs afflicted with the spreading malaise that afflicts some gig goers who seemingly cannot resist babbling utter shite and regaling friends with the minutiae of their every day existence, whilst the rest of us attempt to listen to the music. A nice big steaming cup of “shut the fuck up” may well be just what the doctor ordered! Or possibly a browse through our “T.W.A.T.S” Campaign literature.
The Big Sleep
There’s just time for one more band back over at the Kazimier, it’s Brooklyn’s The Big Sleep who induce anything but that, their latest release “Nature Experiments” is an album we’ve been loving this year, a hypnotic sprawling psych-rock shoegaze master-class, and despite the lateness of the hour and running 45 minutes late, the band give it their all, with bassist/vocalist and keyboard player Sonya Balchandani bouncing away on stage whilst Danny Barria’s Led Zep meet My Bloody Valentine guitar riffs are a thing of wonder.
Day 2 – Friday.
Swiss Lips/ Dear Prudence.
The spirit is willing but the flesh is as weak as David Cameron’s ability to competently arrange a piss up in a brewery, but a couple of complimentary drinks (well it would be rude not to) in the Liverpool Hilton helps clear the noggin, and the previous nights cobwebs are positively blasted away by a blistering set from Manchester’s Swiss Lips who bridge the gap between dance, pop, indie and electro with some aplomb. Bags of energy, fabulous pop tunes, leather jackets and shades, we really couldn’t think of a better way to kick off day two. Over the road at the Art Academy Dear Prudence have “come out to play” and founder and front women Madeleine Poncia can certainly belt out a tune and is a mesmeric presence on stage to boot. Musically they straddle a line between 80’s influenced radio friendly indie and rock which was actually more exciting and visceral live, than some their recorded tracks, which we felt were a little too polished.
We manage to take in a few numbers at Generators North East Invasion showcase which is always excellent, particularly impressive are Mammal Club, and then….
It’s off to the snappily named “Wolstenholme Creative Space”, which makes Harry Potter’s bedroom under the stairs look positively roomy for local band, Bird. We’ve not seen them live for over a year now, we’ve always rated them highly, but they’ve raised their game again and are transferring their huge potential into something much more tangible. Surely their new single, due in June “My Love Sleeps With Lions” will elevate them to the next level and start making people beyond Merseyside sit up and take notice.
Feisty pop upstart, Charli XCX, is on at the “Red Bull Garage,” she’s currently hot on the buzz radar being touted as the next new big pop hopeful and she’s certainly an interesting character. Her Dad used to book bands like Siouxsie and The Banshees, she was raised on The Spice Girls, she’s previously stated that although she likes Lady Gaga’s style she’d quite like to punch her in the face. Furthermore she likes La Roux but finds her voice incredibly annoying and she thinks Darth Vadar is something of a hot fox -“the mask, the voice, the heavy breathing, and the way that his cape whooshes when he walks.” All entertaining stuff but has she got the musical chops to be a potential chart botherer ? She looks a million dollars and every inch the pop princess in waiting, she’s certainly got the moves,the voice but what about the songs ? Tonight’s set was a little hit and miss but there was still plenty to enjoy and when she hit her stride it was hard not to get swept away by her charm and energy.
We finished day two with the polar opposite of Charlie XCX, a sonic and visual assault from The Dead Class at the Antipop Records After-Party in which we were harrowed to the very core of our being by the sight of a demented naked man with a rabbits head and a hole in his chest leaping about like some sort of pale ghastly pipe cleaner on speed doing unspeakable things. We left with our eyes bleeding and our ears ringing!
Day 3 Saturday
By day three we are starting to resemble one of the less attractive cast members of “The Walking Dead,” the inverse ratio of sleep to beer is finally catching up with us, as we grab our liver which is trembling in the corner and promise that it will be a quieter night tonight (we lied.) Saturday night in Liverpool City centre is often stag and hen night hell, so it’s a relief that the majority of venues for Sound City are tucked away from the pukers and brawlers, unless of course being accosted by hormonal middle aged women dressed as St. Trinians school girls is your bag ? Horses for courses and our course was set for Heebie Jeebies and the now legendary “Aussie Barbecue.”
It ‘s fairly packed but we managed to catch part of Emma Louise’s set which sounded rather impressive and then it was back over to ” Wolstenholme Creative Space ” to see a band from Manchester who have been getting quite a bit of blog love of late. PINS set was defiantly one of the highlights of the entire three days and proved beyond a doubt that the hype is well and truly justified. Noisy layered buzz saw guitars, great hook laden melodies and honeyed and occasionally haughty Siouxsie style vocals make for an intoxicating mix, and you certainly get the feeling that this is a band who are going places for sure.
The Daydream Club/ Pete Bentham And The Dinner Ladies.
Next up on our musical agenda was the Gothic majesty of Liverpool’s “Bombed Out Church” and although it was a tad chilly for an outdoor gig, The Daydream Club’s beautiful harmonies and evocative tunes soon had the effect of bathing us in imaginary sunshine (as we write this, we wish we also had an imaginary hangover.) Very nice people too!
We were starting to flag at this stage but Pete Bentham and the Dinner Ladies rev it up with an entertaining set back at the Art Academy and prove punks not dead, it just wears a shiny 80’s suit and is surrounded by Dinner ladies, it also proves that you can write a decent protest song without being a po-faced navel gazer, or tortured poet with a shit beard. “Do The Don’t” “Part Time Punk” and ” Hip Potater” are all crowd pleasers, but if you listen and pay attention you’ll find that behind the “fun” façade Mr Bentham’s got plenty to say and raises some very salient points.
The Wedding Present/ Tall Ships
Next it’s off to see indie legends the Wedding Present at the Zanzibar, Gedge is on fine form and seems to be looking younger by the year, one can only assume he has a Dorian Grey style portrait in the attic these days. He played a set that featured mainly new tunes mixed up with a few classics from a back catalogue positively groaning with quality. In a major timing balls up on our part we than dash over to catch one tune by Bleached as the wrap up their set, before managing to watch The History Of Apple Pie pack up their equipment and leave :( . And so we round off the festival with Tall Ships at the “This Is Two / Big Scary Monsters’ Screenadelica Showcase” who close SC 2102 in explosive style. Rather apt given that we are now slightly bombed.
And so concludes another great year at Sound City, a fabulous opportunity to see emerging talent from around the world in intimate venues, meet friends old and new and show case what Liverpool now has to offer as a great place for live music. There is life outside of London! Although if Cameron found out we were having this much fun up North he’d probably ban it ! Hats off to the promoters and organisers who worked their socks off during the three days of musical madness. It was a blast, we should do it more often.. But now we’ll sleep for a week.