UK music festivals can often be a hit and miss affair, this is usually due to the depressingly uncooperative British weather rather than the music (unless it’s the lamentable V- Festival which would be ear-perishingly shite whatever the weather). The shadow of the tragic events in Manchester cast a long shadow over this year’s Liverpool Sound City which took place in yet another new location. Clarence Dock is surely an enforced stop-gap rather than a permanent home due to the blue half of the city’s football team purchasing the adjoining land at The Bramley Moore Dock to build their shiny new stadium (to extend their bulging trophy room no doubt.) Every festival faces a differing set of challenges, take for example Festival No 6 last year. Having the aesthetic beauty of Portmeirion village probably didn’t offer much consolation to those who had their cars written off after the carpark flooded. So perhaps for Liverpool Sound City the choice was stark, either use Clarence Dock this year or not have an event. And had the latter been the option we wouldn’t have been able to share the following …
The whole event started with two one-off gigs in Clarence Dock, and it was John Cale’s reimaging of “The Velvet Underground & Nico” to celebrate the album’s 50th anniversary that proved to be the biggest draw. It was a bold move by Cale and something of a coup for Sound City given it was the only European performance of the show. Talented local musician Marvin Powell manfully gave it his best shot as the solitary support act, and after completing his set the crowd were then treated to … well, not a lot – for well over an hour there was no other entertainment. In the sweltering dusty heat, the bar queues grew as did a sense of frustration as the lyric “First thing you learn is that you always gotta wait” became ironically prophetic.
When Cale finally did arrive on stage the start was explosive “I’m Waiting For The Man” with The Kills Jamie Hince on guitar segued into “White Light/White Heat” as Jamie’s bandmate Alison Mosshart joined Cale on vocal duties, adding some headshaking, hip-swinging rock n’ roll swagger. The Fat White Family guested on a visceral, throat-shredding-“Shane-MacGowan- gargling-razorblades” version of “All Tomorrow’s Parties “, with both artists perfectly suited to the Velvets iconic rock n’ roll cool and sense of danger and subversion.
After such an exciting incendiary start the set never quite recaptured that energy and power, and some collaborations and “re-imaginings” worked far better than others. Gruff Rhys’ take on “Lady Godiva’s Operation” sounded laboured and plodded along like a man in concrete Doc Martins wading through a sea of molasses and went on for an interminable nine minutes or so. “Black Angels Death” fared little better, but mercifully was much shorter. Nadine Shah’s take on “Femme Fatale” could have been brilliant in an environment such as The Liverpool Philharmonic but from where we were stood it was almost inaudible and sounded dense and muddy like a badly recorded youtube video. The same must be said for Wild Beasts flaccid, anaemic sounding take on “I’ll Be Your Mirror” which sounded about as subversive as Will Young singing “Kumbaya” in a tin bath. In conclusion, it was an event that would have been far better suited to an indoor venue rather than an outdoor arena, but that wasn’t an option. It all felt oddly impersonal with zero interaction with the crowd and no announcements as to who exactly the guests arriving on stage were, which caused much confusion. All we can say is thank fuck applause junkie Bono didn’t turn up, as he so often manages to shoehorn his diminutive form into any culturaly significant event. Saying that it was an event that still gave you a “fuck yeah! it’s Cale singing the Velvets” thrill and when it worked well (ie. Mosshart and Hince) it sounded fabulous. The previous night, in terms of entertainment The Human League managed, in exactly the same environment to make a connection with the audience, making it feel inclusive and fun as they played hit after hit. Phil Oakey dashed about the stage looking part Pharaoh part futuristic serial killer whilst Joanne and Susan danced with the same sort of mad, deranged abandon they did when they were teenagers.
So on to the actual festival. Andy Von Pip (me) Phil Greenhalgh (him) and Susie Bennett (her) walk us through their own Sound City highlights.
Andy’s Festival Highlights
The first act of the day on a rather windy Pirate Stage came in the velour-clad form of multi-instrumentalist and songwriter Olivia Bartley who with her band perform as Olympia. Her sophisticated leftfield pop replete with shimmering guitar licks (think Ana Calvi meets Chris Isaak) provided an uplifting start to the day. Difficult to pick just one highlight of the set as the band battled the wind but you can’t really go wrong with a song as deftly beautiful as”Smoke Signals” from her stunning debut album ‘Self-Talk.’
I’m biased I love the Kills, and Jamie Hince and Alison Mosshart who are celebrating 15 years since their live debut proved once again what a vital, sexy visceral rock n’ roll band they are. They’ve always managed to take classic rock n roll riffs and forge them in their own image and as a live entity, they are an unstoppable force. Hince’s unique unconventional guitar licks and Mosshart’s panther-like prowling about the stage gave classic tunes such as “Heart Of A Dog,” “Kissy Kissy,” “Whirling Eye,” and “Hard Habit To Break” a totally different dynamic to the recorded versions. A real festival highlight.
Taking their inspiration from 90’s era grunge Perth’s Tired Lion give it a melodic twist and their live performance is all about powerhouse guitars, pulsating percussion and lead singer Sophie Hope’s intense honey cracked melodic roar. As their set began, the Baltic Stage tent began to fill up and onlookers were treated to a passionate set of raw emotionally charged grunge crunch from a band giving the genre a well-deserved kick up the arse.
Bang Bang Romeo
The first thing that strikes you about Bang Bang Romeo is frontwoman Anastacia Walker’s incredible powerhouse vocal. It really is off the scale, timeless, untamed and utterly authentic – at times reminiscent of Nancy Sinatra meets Amy Winehouse meets Grace Slick on a Tarantino soundtrack. Of course, it’s not just about Walker’s amazing voice and stage presence, it’s also about the songs and the tightness of the band as a unit. And when you hear tunes of the quality of ‘Johannesburg’ and ‘Carnival’ it’s enough to convince anyone with ears that here is a band who are on the cusp of a major breakthrough.
On the subjct of ears … Tear came highly recommended from a friend whose ears I inherently trust. I bought their debut mini album ‘VINYL01’ and was immediately in love. Catching them live merely reaffirmed that love. A fabulous set which sadly didn’t include our favourite ‘Careless Again’ (unless I missed it ), but tracks such as ‘The Sprawl’ , ‘Never Fade Away’ ‘Nothing You Can Have’ sounded raw, powerful and yet tender and beautiful which is something the band do so well, behind the fuzzed up thrash and vague sense of ennui there’s also an evocative beauty. And then, of course, there’s singer Camille Bennet’s gloriously unhinged vocal on “Begging” which conjures up The Au-Paris duelling with the Breeders. A great set which demonstrated the band’s huge potential. And of course, bassist Katie’s epic T-shirt pretty much guarantees she’ll be given the freedom of Liverpool when Tear return, which is hopefully sooner rather than later. Brilliant band.
Phil’s going to be writing about them as his highlight but what I will say is it’s always interesting watching people who have never seen Pink Kink live before. It usually starts with a ” WTF am I watching /listening to?” the baffled looks quickly turns into amazement which morphs into excitement which then changes to love, and resolves itself somewhere around total adoration and rapture. Or not, if you’re a dick. What a band!
Paris Youth Foundation
Phil’s Festival Highlights
In the past two years, on the next dock at Bramley Moore, the cavernous brick woodshed that housed the ‘Baltic stage’ had been the thumping heart of the festival, hosting thunderous noise rock, and last year as a vibrant packed dance warehouse.
This year the brick warehouse was conspicuous in its absence in the new location where the Baltic Stage was resurrected as a standard marquee stage, but the spirit of the stage was carried along the docks and it remained the core of the festival, at times making up for the misgivings of often weak offerings on the main stage.
The hugely successful opening on the stage from Generation was followed by Derry three-piece, TOUTS, proper attitude-laden N’ireland punk drew the early crowd creating a palpable ‘I think I’ve just seen something special’ buzz for those fortunate enough to have been on the dock early Saturday. Sure TOUTS will grow tired of hearing legacy bands listed in the same sentence as their own, but one time for the purpose of reference; The Clash, SLF, Undertones, but delivered with a genuine sneering “yeah? so fucking what” raised middle finger- It’s tiresome to judge young punk bands based on clutching at such retrospective points of reference, on the assumption that they are sat studiously pulling apart decades of back catalogues when on this showing, they are just picking up guitars and doing what comes naturally. And TOUTS were doing exactly that, banging out natural raw punk- don’t dismiss it because its not 1977, this is here and now music rebellion. Also provided the best line at SC 2017 /Best Northern Irish accent mode: “This is a wee song called Go Fuck Yourself”.
We have maybe ran out words at VPME to describe Pink Kink, the fact that we could barely find the right ones in the first place may have contributed. 11th hour replacements for the sadly missed Pumarosa on Saturday’s Baltic stage, the manic 5 piece were the ideal precursor to Peaches stage headline. Singer Bridget Mayer clad in ripped stocking mask that gave her a look somewhere between Sigue Sigue Sputnik and Pussy Riot, their set swings from dark feminist politika to irony-laden insane bubble gum pop-rock, everything in between, and more.
Their set on the smaller Tim Peaks Diner early Sunday evening proved the stronger of their two Sound City performances, Bridget seemed to agree, telling VPME “i think it’s a lot more fun to be smashed on a stage than it is to have all the room in the world” and it showed. We need to be mindful that Pink Kink are a band that has yet to release a single note outside of their insta-legend live performances, the smaller stage condensed their intoxicating energy and there was a palpable buzz in the crowd as it is with every performance we’ve seen to-date. Need we repeat that this is a must see live band?
Disappointing crowd numbers on Saturday filtered down to the smaller stages meaning many decent bands didn’t get the audience they deserved, even the sun decided to disappear behind foreboding clouds late in the early evening. The excellent Label showcase on the cavern stage was an undeserved victim of lack of attention, though Ali Horn managed to pull a decent crowd and gave one of his strongest live performances to date. It’s looking like the first album is becoming more imminent, and from this performance, the songs are starting to really come together which should make this a hotly anticipated release.
Once again the close relationship between Sound City and Seoul’s Zandari music brought an eclectic taste of Korea to Liverpool and the Sunday afternoon Cavern stage.
SsingSsing base their identity on the concept of male Korean Shamans representing both male and female personas and fuse lyrical Korean folk and contemporary content (My Korean is a little rusty, don’t take my word for this). Whether this is the deep-seated ethos of the band or an excuse to perform outrageous Glam Rock drag with a huge in-your-face performance, they both bemused and excited in equal measure and drew one of the best crowds to the Cavern stage.
Photo: Mark Holmes
Wasted Johnnys gave us a set of raw K-pop punk, lead singer ‘Angie An’ a live wire of bird-flipping, high kicks of laddered tights and brothel creepers, and chants of “lets get fuckin’ wasted!”. (They were also handing out branded condoms after discovering the cultural interpretation of their own moniker.)
Swiimers offered a more subtle floating guitar pop topping off a well balanced and eclectic Korean showcase that we’ve come to expect from Sound City in recent years.
The Korean showcase followed an intense dark rock performance on the Cavern stage from Cheshire psych three piece Déjà Vega. Perhaps down to a shorter festival set, this was a more stripped rock set than the layered sonic landscapes evident in previous gigs, but none the weaker for it. Potent heavily reverbed lead guitar and vocals layered over a hypnotising metronomic bass line. As mesmerising and powerful as anything I saw over the weekend.
I have to admit, much to my own discredit, that I’d pre-judged the appearance of a 12-year-old singer-songwriter as a potential ‘britains got talent*’ oddity because surely a young kid can’t have the credibility to deliver ‘proper’ music? can they…? It took Tom ‘Mouse’ Smith very few chords to shame my blinkered attitude. This was as accomplished a performance belted out with skill and passion as you’ll get from many a new solo artist, let alone someone of tender years.
Careful not to make make the mistake I did and pre-dismiss Tom as a cute novelty act, there is some real talent shining through here
*as a postscript, we did a bit of back research after the event… as if the kid couldn’t have got any higher in our estimation, he did this…(LINK HERE )
She Drew The Gun promised a special homecoming set and delivered in bucket loads. In the VPME previews, we’d mooted how the subtlety of previous performances may translate to the bigger festival stage… the answer- with sheer perfection. This is a performance that closes the loop for She Drew the Gun, sublime songwriting and recorded material, beautiful intimate performances on the smaller stages, and now the final exam piece, to deliver on the big gigs. An all too short set though, this could have ran well beyond the cover of ‘sweet harmony’
SDTG have reached the point where the packed Baltic stage crowd lovingly returned the lyrics and seeing the emotion on Louisa Roach’s face as the crowd returned the chorus in the sublime ‘poem’; ‘Life, give me something to believe in, No lies just something to believe in’, really got me in the feels… a defining and joyous moment, not for the first time this weekend I think I may have got some of that Clarence Dock dust in my eye…
Re-TROS were another act that appeared twice on different venues at Sound City, and the post-punk Krautrockfusion band from Beijing had performances took an intelligent understanding to tailor the sets as appropriate to the locations.
At the aftershow party in the NorthShore troubadour was a synth laden affair compared to the guitar-led opening on the Atlantic stage. Both performances hit technical issues that very possibly reshaped the sets on the wing, but consummate musicianship shone though to overcome these and still deliver thumping intense sonic scapes over precision percussion.
Earworms of Sound city 2017? Coming from two of the above artists, two tunes so fresh we can’t even provide links, but safe to say will be heavy contenders for track of the day when they do get recorded: Ali Horn’s as yet untitled ‘whatever happened to the dreamers’ (working title ‘dreamer’) and Pink Kink ‘Pattern People’ with it’s massively infectious scatter gun harmonies shared across every band member, giving way to a barnstorming rap from keyboard player Inés. It’s no secret that PK are massive favourites here at VonPip central, and we’re aware that first recorded releases are imminent, they could do a lot worse than representing themselves with this amazing rollercoaster of a song.
The Vaginas From Mars: Peaches at Sound City 2017
It was the 10th year of Sound City celebrations and the Canadian queer icon Peaches was heading up the Baltic tent in a flesh coloured birthday suit. Eyes popped out, boobs popped out and it felt like hundreds of cherries were popped too as the 50-year-oldgoddess of electroclash quite literally walked all over the top of the crowd to trample any sense of inhibition. Peaches did all of this in a cut off body stocking with florescent pink nipples and a pink furry bush; straddling and surfing the gig-goers as much as she was the boundary line at which taboos are broken and the audience were more than happy to lift her up. Her dancers appeared in shrouds that were soon to be shed in favour of vaginal headdresses – all this and I haven’t even told you about the music yet.
The set, and probably a few minds, opened with Vaginoplasty a song that celebrates female genitalia and those ‘blessed with big big lips’. Peaches pulls the same sorts of sexually charged punches as her mainstream pop queen counterparts, but undoubtedly pushes them further and here remained firmly in the camp, and the festival stage, where the perceived ‘alternative’ began to penetrate the mainstream and not the other way around.
Her position is purposeful and she doesn’t consider herself to be part of the industry, but more of an infiltrator of it. This was a good thing; it situated her on the bill in Liverpool next to a predominance of male guitar bands and caused a total shift in the experience of the line-up as a result. Her music and her sense of humour was well received by the assembled weekend ticket holders as was the massive translucent inflatable dick that Peaches lay across the top of the crowd and entered inside in order to squirt silly string all over the back row during the orgasmic finale. Peaches and her dancers ended the show mostly naked and with her most recognisable track Fuck the Pain Away. The overall performance was by far the pinnacle of the weekend; a tall order considering she appeared the night after John Cale and the night before headliners The Kooks.
Peaches is often described in the press as ‘different’. The thing that Peaches dramatically acted out is that she is no different; in genderfluidity terms, she’s just got the balls and the inflatable cock to keep performing and expose the fallacy that you would ever stop because you’re the wrong age, orientation, gender or predilection. She brings with her an unarguable striptease of self-affirmation that’s also a lot of fun. In being a part of what could be considered a controversial stage show we were publically entered into a glamorama of the natural and a show length release of convention. Punks girls with Mohawks, space era hippies with diamond-lined eyebrows, and anoraked northern lads who will live forever were all together and present to have fun, be who they were and witness a shedding of societal skins even more so than the prolific change of outfits.