Scouse in the House: Bank Holiday fun at Liverpool’s city festival
May bank holiday weekend played host to the Sound City festival. In its seventh year it hosted 360 bands in 25 different venues. From Thursday 1st to Saturday 3rd May thousands of music fans and industry professionals attended the largest city centre music and arts festival in the UK.
Liverpool Sound City – Various Venues – 1-3 May 2014Multimedia performances, seminars and workshops with music were played out in venues as disparate as Liverpool Cathedral, The Kazimier and gardens, East Village Arts Club, FACT, Heebie Jeebies, Leaf, The Attic, Sound Food and Drink and The Zanzibar. In the daytime the Hilton Hotel played host to the industry conference where fabled Velvets composer and artist John Cale talked about the anger that still drove his music 50 years on. Sonic Youth's Thurston Moore orated on the theme of danger and subversion.
Thursday Sound City’s music started for me with IC1s at the Attic. Tipped by Alan McGee, they are currently recording their debut album with the producers of Arctic Monkeys, Kasabian and Bombay Bicycle Club. Their brand is Indie rock and roll with attitude and they had a significant fan posse in tow. Later East Village Arts Club hosted local favourites Silent Sleep who last year made their debut at the festival with a memorable Black-e gig. They debuted songs from their new album including ‘Meet me on the Steps of the Bombed Out Church,’ the participatory video is soon to be filmed in the historic venue. Earlier in the evening we had commented on a man spotted from behind carrying a big doll through the street, only at Sound City! This turned out to be SFA front man and Welsh legend Gruff Rhys who headlined EVAC. I have always thought that seeing him is akin to watching a play rather than a musical performance and of course he did not disappoint. Sporting a wolf's head with a projector and the puppet he gave us a history lesson. John Evans, Rhys’s ancestor was an explorer in 1700s America who searched for ‘Lost Tribes.’ He related his story through his new album ‘American Interior.’ With a metronome, white boards and his trumpeting cousin to accompany him he performed a truly original set to a wildly appreciative audience. Certainly Thursday’s highlight, some might say a festival one.
I had been recommended The Austin based band Gentleman Rogues who played next at Sound Food and Drink. A neat set of guitar pop, with punk energy. Melodic yet brash like Death Cab for Cutie meets 30 Seconds to Mars. Expert producer and film score master, Jon Hopkins was headlining Nation. He played tracks from his 2013 album ‘Immunity.’ Immersive visuals accompanied the tracks with the stand out 'Open Eye Signal' getting the crowd swaying hypnotically. I caught Antipodean Courtney Barnett perform a short but tight set song ending with ‘Avant Gardener,’ and ‘History Eraser.’
Friday A new addition to the Sound City stages this year was the interestingly named Moon Museum, given there was nothing planetary or archaic about it. Rather a friendly open air area with some much welcome real ale for those who were already balking at the thought of another Tuborg. It was here that we listened to the A cappella harmonies of Barbie Shop who performed a set from their extensive repertoire combining the Guns and Roses classic 'Sweet Child of Mine’ and ending as part of their John Cale tribute with ‘I'll be your Mirror.’ A nice surprise was a Brisbane quintet with Aussie contingent in support. The John Steel singers have supported The Polyphonic Spree and collaborated with Roberts Forster of The Go Betweens. Their experimental pop aesthetic is made up of racing harmonies and jangly guitars teamed with rhythmic, krautrock influences. They reminded me of the beach boys meets Teenage Fanclub with a bit of Dark Side of the Moon era Floyd thrown in for good measure.
It’s been five years since Albert Hammond Jr released his debut solo album. Now devoid of his signature curls and sporting a red bomber jacket with a picture of a Doberman on the back, he’s as New York as The Brooklyn Bridge. He played to a crowd of Strokes fan boys and was clearly as overwhelmed at his religious surroundings (Liverpool Cathedral) as they were by their proximity to a member of the renowned band. The drummer owned it like he was in Iron Maiden and the set included songs from comeback EP ‘AHJ,’ a cover of Buzzcocks
’ ‘Ever Fallen In Love’ The Misfits ‘Last Caress,’ and The Strokes ‘In Transit.’ It seemed that everyone I knew was at the next gig, that of much mooted North London newcomers Wolf Alice at East Village Arts Club. The female-fronted indie rockers evoked both Savages and The Breeders or Madder Rose meets Sonic Youth. I heard nothing but positives from all concerned about this young band that were so tight and talented. Ellie Rowsell came across like a young Natalie Merchant crossed with the Duke Spirit’s Liela Moss. Highlights of the set included their single ‘Blush,’ and a marvellous cover of Chris Isaak’s ‘Wicked Game.’
Next up was Will Doyle, formerly of Doyle and the Fourfathers and now playing as East India Youth at Nation. His debut album ‘Total Strife Forever’ would appear to be this season’s must have. Back dropped by an expansive screen his fuzzy electronic exploration drew in a packed crowd.
Having recently supported Interpol here in Liverpool, Brighton duo Royal Blood made their LSC debut at Duke Street Garage. The duo’s set of bluesy rock had the crowd moshing out as if Pearl Jam were in the house. The hard-nosed rhythms, weighty vocals and breaking riffs of ‘Figure it Out,’ and ‘Little Monster,’ were greeted with head shaking enthusiasm by their fan base.
Next was a rush to Nation for Fuck Buttons who headlined there. Facing each other on stage with their silhouettes projected on the screen behind them it appeared as if they were on fire. Dali-esque visuals and unsettling distorted sounds emanated from the stage. Layer upon layer of electronica gave way to a crescendo of euphoric lighter beats as they signed off their set. I was then swayed between the Hold Steady and The Bug (Kevin Martin) but chose the latter. He was supposedly headlining the Black-e and we traipsed up there only to realise that due to sound constraints it had been transferred back to Nation. Appearing with long-time collaborator the MC 'Flowdan' (a founding member of the grime pioneers 'Roll Deep') they recorded tracks together - ‘Louder’ and ‘Dirty’ for The Bug's 'Filthy' EP on Ninja Tune last year. Sadly the ensuing set was cut to about half an hour much to the disapproval of the artist and disappointment of the punters.
Saturday Slightly jaded by the third day of gigging we started with a pint of American red and a balcony seat in the Kazimier Garden for the now traditional Korean Party. A burgeoning crowd provided a summer party atmosphere with some hard core Smashing Pumpkins-esque rock in the afternoon care of Dead Buttons and Asian Chairshot. The evening started in earnest with otherworldly sonics from Bird, whose petite front lady Adele Emmas looked like a little wren. When I last saw them in the Scandinavian Church supporting Gravenhurst, they showed great promise but their sound seems now to have matured into a more robust affair. Constant bass and relentless timpani contrasted with the dreamlike moody ambience. With purple lighting accentuating the beautiful cathedral surroundings they evoked Siouxsie and the banshees with their signature howls. Songs from their new album which is to be launched at The Kazimier later in the month were played to a smallish but dedicated crowd. This part of the evening was topped off by street kids dancing to Survivor’s 'Eye of the Tiger.' In Nation next was the Radiophonic Workshop. Originally founded in the labyrinthine corridors of the BBC’s Maida Vale studios in 1958 this maverick group of experimental composers, sound engineers and musical innovators were like Public Service Broadcasting’s granddads. They seemed very pleased to get their toys out to play with some serious equipment displayed on that stage. The founding members, their archivist and a member of The Prodigy are releasing a new album and they interspersed that with more familiar fare. With samples from The Light Programme, Doctor Who, Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy and The Goon Show, this was a geektastic experience for all concerned.
I had fancied Blanaevon at The Shipping Forecast but as the queues to see Doves singer Jimi Goodwin at EVAC were a worry, we debunked straight there. Fresh from supporting Elbow on their recent tour Goodwin has all the easy charm of his friend Guy Garvey. Set highlights included the new single ‘Oh! Whiskey’
and ‘Didsbury girl,’ from his debut solo album 'Odludek.’ Complaining of a dicky tummy he looked decidedly unwell. To his credit he played to a loyal if noisy crowd. Many of whom frustratingly talked loudly through his solo songs only managing to shut up for crowd pleasers ‘The Last Broadcast,’ and ‘Snowden.’ We headed back to nation for Public Service Broadcasting but the queues for Wolstenholme Square were huge and it was one in one out. An odd decision was made by security to block off the whole square because the Kooks were performing later in Duke Street Garage. This was definitely the low point of the festival which left many disappointed that they couldn’t get in to see bands at the Kazimier and Nation. Still all was not lost as we set off to Studio 2 at Parr Street to catch some up and comers. Dominic Dunn is a 17 year old lad from Kirkdale with a string of local accolades to his name and boundless enthusiasm. His band encored with their new single 'Keep Them Tight.' Sienna are a Scottish sextet of multi-instrumentalists who number Ryan Adams, Laura Marling and Neil Young among their influences. A very upbeat talented young bunch who played their evocative single ‘Wandering Star,’ to about 10 people although in Glasgow they have sold out King Tuts twice! Having shared stages with stalwarts like Mogwai and Explosions in the Sky, 65 Days of Static also perform acclaimed live shows. Their searing instrumental post rock and electronics included material spanning the past decade from 2004’s debut LP 'The Fall of Math' to last year's LP 'Wild Light.’ The walls of the Black-e were bedecked with Screenadelica’s gig posters and it was with one of them and a cup of tea rather than early hours dancing that LSC 2014 ended for me. Another great Sound City, a solid line up and a festival that seems to have become a Liverpool institution. See you next year.