Liverpool Sound City, 17th- 19th May, 2012
With the new issue of Ellipsis magazine coming out very soon I thought I would put up the review of my wonderful Liverpool Sound City weekend, which featured in the last issue, along with my interview with Bido Lito! editor, Craig Pennington. You can buy tickets for Sound City 2013 here.
It is impossible to separate Liverpool from its hallowed musical heritage, but how many students living in this thriving city are actively engaged with the music scene as it stands today?
The annual Liverpool Sound City festival, which took place last May, was the perfect opportunity to see the best of local talent performing alongside major headliners across various venues, Camden Crawl-style, right in the centre of town.
Early favourites Mystery Jets got the weekend off to a good start in what appeared to be a corrugated iron warehouse with highlights from all four of their albums. Using a battered stars and stripes backdrop the band focused on the Americana-heavy side of new record Radlands but still sounded best on the English pop of ‘Someone Purer’ and ‘Greatest Hits’, both of which featured charming ‘sha-la-la’ style backing vocals. Those who didn’t bugger off early after ‘Two Doors Down’ to go and see Professor Green at the Echo were also awarded with a ramshackle rendition of ‘Behind The Bunhouse’, which got the (sadly diminished) crowd dancing.
In another temporary gig venue/garage, local ladies Stealing Sheep were casting their glorious hippy spell with three part harmonies, loud percussion and a lot of glitter. With only drums, a guitar and keyboards the building psychedelia of songs such as ‘Gold’, taken from their debut album Into The Diamond Sun, filled the cold concrete space with warmth.
The minimal synth indie of recent buzz band Alt J, however, failed to translate in the noisy bar atmosphere of the Kazimier, and even singles ‘Breezeblocks’ and ‘Tessellate’ had little impact.
Following night, same venue, and charismatic frontman Eugene McGuinness, who has toured as a guitarist with Miles Kane, was on fine form accompanied by his equally dapper band. With driving 60s riffs and sharp, witty lyrics (“If beauty is truth that makes you a l-l-liar”), the likes of ‘Shotgun’ and ‘Lion’ are the stuff indie dancefloor dreams are made of.
Dressed like WWII evacuees, Spring Offensive provided a different kind of performance with their jittery, angular folk in the abandoned-house-turned-art-space of the Wolstenholme, breaking their set halfway through to stand in a tight circle and sing a cappella in the middle of the crowd, who were hushed and thrilled.
Come Saturday, and Sound City almost lost its grip on reality with an eardrum-popping set from local ‘eccentrics’ Jazz Hands. Playing alongside Liverpool-based gig poster exhibition Screenadelica, the five piece hardcore/rock/jazz band dressed entirely in orange and included one topless, balaclava-wearing member whose job seemed solely to be playing the cowbell in people’s faces in an aggressive manner. Mad and wonderful.
The old-fashioned opulence of the newly opened Epstein Theatre played host to a number of more laid back and acoustic acts throughout the weekend, including Michael Kiwanuka and James Vincent McMorrow. Ex-LIPA (Liverpool Institute of Performing Arts) lad Dan Croll really shone as someone to watch out for in the future; the beauty of ‘Home’ and ‘Marion’ was hard to ignore and he has since been played by the likes of Lauren Laverne and Nick Grimshaw. “I loved the Epstein and had an amazing time playing in it,” Croll told Ellipsis.
The highlight of the weekend, however, came from one of the best bands in Liverpool at the moment, Death At Sea. Kitted out entirely in grandma-style summer dresses (because the city needs more “fun”, apparently) and playing to an impressively big crowd considering their output at the time was only three songs uploaded to YouTube, they proved themselves worthy of the hype surrounding them with a set that burned with energy and ambition. Debut single ‘Drag’ especially has a lo-fi, slacker rock sound The Cribs would be proud of, and boasts an epic chorus in the making in “When he’s with her/She bleeds glitter”.
This may have been a hard act to follow, but LA sisters Bleached did a pretty good job and managed to look effortlessly cool to boot. Sounding like The Ramones if they were a 60s girl group, their 3 chord songs injected some romance into fuzzy punk guitars with self-consciously simple lyrics such as, “Baby won’t you please/Come on back to me” (‘Searching Through The Past’).
Frustratingly, Sound City 2012 fell during exams; this year, however, the festival is due to be held much earlier (2nd-4th May). So by all means get your fix of Penny Lane and the Cavern Club, but with a thriving local music scene as rich and varied as this, who would want to remain stuck in the past?
(All pictures belong to me.)
Craig G Pennington, Editor of Bido Lito!, Liverpool’s premier music magazine, had this to say:
As well as seeing some amazing bands and listening to some brilliant music, the biggest, most exciting change at Sound City this year was the way that Wolstenholme Square became a kind of central hub for the festival. The way the car parks and the warehouses near the Kazimier were used as venues felt very much like South by Southwest [legendary music festival held in Austin, Texas].
I personally didn’t get to see that many bands because I was in the office making the Bido Lito! daily magazine! But from what I saw I thought Toy were fantastic, they were a real standout. Tea Street Band were stunning; the Red Bull Garage played perfectly to their strengths. It felt like some weird, Haçienda-esque, industrial space and just came alive with them. When it came to Liverpool bands, I’ve seen Death At Sea get continually more and more exciting, and Owls* were brilliant; it was their first show with their new line-up and they were really good. From what we heard from our contributors, I think Willis Earl Beal was probably the headline act that stood out. He really introduced himself and seems like a very exciting artist.
To anyone who has just moved to the city, I would say the Liverpool music scene is so varied and diverse that it will be much more exciting than you could ever imagine it to be. We’ve got so many artists breaking through on a national level, from grime and drum and bass, through to really interesting electronic and avant-garde artists, through to rock and roll bands and female MCs. It’s the strongest music scene that I’ve ever known in Liverpool.