With Threshold Festival over for another year, the Getintothis team round up the best of the sights and sounds from a weekend in the Baltic Triangle.
We love Threshold at Getintothis. It has become one of the cornerstones of our calendar.
Returning for festival number seven, Threshold once again brought together music, art, theatre, dance and anything else you could possibly throw at them. Unlike Sound City or Music Week, you never quite know what you are going to walk in on next. There is an organised chaos that brings Liverpool’s artistic community together in joy and the love of what we do.
Once again, the sheer breadth of Threshold is such that there is no way we could cover it all. Believe us, we would if we could. But nobody has that kind of man power.
But, we still managed to cover a whole lot. So, here is Getintothis’ highs, lows and all the rest of Threshold 2017.
The opening of the festival seemed to define it. Low key, inclusive and friendly, the welcoming addresses by the festival organisers were warm and appreciative. Appreciative of the efforts of many who worked tirelessly to ensure the festival went ahead and of the many who supported its crowdfunding appeal. Heartfelt, the expressions of gratitude dripped with love, personal commitment, dedication and sincerity. This carried through into the festival itself, helping to define its special atmosphere.
The festival directors taking to the stage to officially open the proceedings only highlights that. The passion each and every one of them has for what they do is palpable and infectious. They are also not without humour, with one suggesting a new slogan for the festival; “Say yes and learn how to do it later”.
Charged with opening the Unit 51 stage were Disastronauts, who gave an accomplished display of persuasive American-influenced alt-rock. Lilium equally shone with a striking performance sprinkled with elements of blues, soul and psychedelic rock that was nonetheless underpinned by strong melodies and ear-catching riffs.
Friday at Unit 51, though, seemed to belong to SPQR who blasted ferociously through a set that flitted between art-rock and full on noise obliterations. This was music delivered on the edge, slightly unhinged with both audience and it appeared band, unsure where we might next be headed – it made for compelling stuff.
Over at District our friends at Popped had the pleasure of curating a stage where sprightly 80s-influenced synth-inflected guitar pop seemed to be the order of the day. This was certainly the MO of Brighton’s Fond of Rudy, whose vibrant set belied the sparsely filled early evening room. Unafraid to veer from the expected routes, the band seemed to enjoy a series of full throttle wig-outs which pushed their sound down more experimental avenues.
Marsicans treated us to anthemic indie pop with a performance high on swagger and energy and urgent vocal harmonies. Coquin Migale experimented with dynamics in a live performance, high on drama, that did plenty to grab the attention as singer ended the set atop the speaker stack.
False Advertising have been much hyped and their Friday night headline set proved District‘s biggest draw. The trio are very good at what they do, delivering a fuzz-drenched performance full of conviction and deeply buried pop-melodies. Yet the nagging feeling remains that the balance is off-kilter, certainly to this writer’s ears.
The honeyed pop sheen overpowers, while light too often finds favour over the murk. However there is an ear-catching infectiousness about the trio which will certainly find favour with those who like their grunge delivered with a dollop of pop sweetness.
At another end of the festival site, premises of Cains Brewery contained arguably the most bohemian looking new space around: Red Brick Vintage. Decorated with vintage sewing machines, mannequins, metal skulls and what not, the venue housed a stage made to look like a slice off a minimalist mind’s bedroom.
The many colours of the room became slightly surreal as they focused on Astles who had just celebrated his EP release the night before. Dude knows how to carry a song, pack a vibe and command silence. Long sustained notes sung over reverberating guitars appeared to have prophetic majesty when juxtaposed with the room’s odd aesthetics.
Later on, the mature and mild sounds of duo Granfalloon found most of its audience rush out to check the Flamenco dancers performing at the adjacent Alhambra Bar. Unfortunate perhaps for the performers, but anything that can steal and sustain your attention is undoubtedly interesting.
Host Johnny Sands saw the room get completely filled with his fans. Though the set started considerably late after a lengthy set-up, you can’t go wrong with a dedicated patient audience and a tried and tested artist.
Carrying on through Sands’ soft electronic sounds and later through the folky ones of Alx Green and his band, the night concluded with Matthew McGurty and his band. Though the interest quotient of McGurty’s set can be challenged, it definitely was the most energetic one of the lot.
For its first day, Red Brick Vintage proved to be the chilled relaxing corner of Threshold 2017.
Visual arts presented no more than a diversion on Friday, with the Solstice area feeling decidedly thin on the ground in the cavernous Northern Lights warehouse. This was with the exception of Pamela Sullivan‘s striking shadow work Deadlock and the various video booths dotted around, Michael Stevenson’s installation being the most arresting, a modernist work of contemporary phrases clashing with found images re-sketched.
We took the improv walking tour over there, which was an interactive laugh of facts both true and false, unwittingly featuring members of Emergency Tiara and even managing to chase some smackheads from the Jamaica Street skate park.
There were performance pieces taking place at Constellations, preceding a heavy dose of funk. There were some excellent performances taking place, but alas the lighting in the auditorium didn’t quite do much to exhibit them.
And then The Funk arrived. When The Fire Beneath The Sea began their set, it felt like the party had started, with the crowd more than keeping up with the duo’s energy.
The assembled ranks of Galactic Funk Militia took to the stage for their headline set. We’re not sure exactly how they were able to all fit onto the stage, come to think of it, but they managed to. Opening with cries of “Get sick!”, Constellations continued to fill out throughout their set.
Sometimes it is hard to know whether the band or the crowd are enjoying the set more. The enthusiasm and outright dancing on stage always seems to inspire the crowd with GFM. It would be a cliché to say that they have “come on so far”, but we’re not sure they have. They have always been this good, and we always feel like we are part of it.
Sadly, Lack of Afro had to pull out of the post-Militia DJ set due to illness, which was a massive shame. Thankfully, Radio Exotica stepped in at the last minute, and knew exactly what to do; make us dance. And dance we did. Way into the early hours, and long after we swore we were leaving.
Having lived it up on Friday night, we initially approached Saturday with undue caution in a delicate state. Thankfully, we found the perfect resting spot in Unit 51, with the Soul Inspired showcase. With the sun beating down outside and gorgeous breeze flowing through the venue, the chilled out soulful vibes were just what we needed. By the time Indio’s Dream finished their dreamy psychedelic soul (complete with some killer solos from guitarist Graham Kay), we were completely cured.
Grace Kim followed, with a fascinating voice and a blend of jazz, soul and pop. Her small band was amplified by a choir of backing vocalists who gave her music an entirely new dimension and definitely helped her stand out in the crowd.
Coming from outside of the city was Lilith Ai (London) and Joy Oladokun (Los Angeles) who almost felt like opposite sides of a similar coin, if not quite the same. Ai was intense. Lyrically if not musically, she reminded us of early Springsteen, or The Hold Steady’s Craig Finn. These were gritty, urban tales with fully formed characters a sub plots. At times, the venue fell completely silent.
Oladokun, on the other hand, also told heartfelt stories, but was more laid back, chatty and downright funny. She began her set with an affectionate tribute to the city, which she named one of her favourite in the world. She proceeded to play her own arrangement of The Beatles’ Blackbird.
Down in Red Brick Vintage, people sat on antique chairs treading very carefully because if you were clumsy enough to spill your drink you may have had to buy the chair. A very expensive weekend; £20 for a ticket, £110 for a new living room decoration.
Despite the small and slightly random venue, the acoustics were great and held no hindrance against any of the acts, actually complimented some as the edgy décor created this one of a kind aesthetic. The only issue was the one toilet cubical that had to be shared between many of the festival goers. Not ideal when alcohol is combined.
Indigo Moon drew a huge crowd into the tiny venue. The five some performed a full force off-kilter half hour set. Lead singer Ashley possesses the most powerful voice, used to its very best when paired with heavy breakdowns that fall between funky off-beat psych versus.
With a more chilled vibe, Oya Paya kept everyone on their toes for their set. They were almost pop-punk, but missing out that cringey part everyone hates. The two singers played round with their vocals including perfect harmonies, and even whistling from the lead singer.
RongoRongo headlined the stage; the six on stage made for a BIG sound, with thee three guitars on a small stage it was a heavy set, and a perfect finish. Muffled percussion and an abundance of reverb.
The Baltic Social never seems to be empty on a usual weekend, combine it with live music and you’ve got a full house. Weekend Wars were easy listening indie-pop, with jangly guitar riffs, and big hooks. They provided a perfect set after a day of sun, music and drink. Port Erin followed with a heavy set, but whose vocals were something unusual, gripping the audience. It struck us as an original sound for many in the crowd.
Kicking off 24 Kitchen Street to a decently populated room were Live! In Color, their pleasant country pop ditties culminating in a well-chosen Eels cover. The misty eyed and melancholic but stridently voiced folk of Niamh Jones followed, with Derek King holding down the fort, the smooth-voiced Liverpool Acoustic journeyman’s old school Billy Bragg-ish singer songwriter material.
Ian Janco was the first act onstage at Kitchen Street looking as if he was about to play his own gig and not just a guest an open mic, the LIPA-based Los Angelino’s summery pop, free and easy guitar lines and rambling bass informing his gently psychedelic set of freak-pop. Maybe taking suggestions for lyrics from the audience doesn’t come across in black and white, but it all made sense at the time.
Other highlights included the kooky avant-garde-ness of Nicola Hardman, her assured voice recalling Regina Spektor or Amanda Palmer at times, and Hull’s Katie Spencer coming on like Stevie Nicks clashing with Laura Marling, voice and harmonics keening all over the place.
Following a lengthy delay, Kalandra proved themselves worth the wait, as one of the most dynamic bands on the stage, but also one of the most inconsistent. At their best they played glacial, atmospheric apocalyptic pop, like Lorde being chased through a haunted forest by a pack of wolf spirits. But they frustrated as much as they impressed, at their worst sounding like little more modern but formulaic Celtic folk.
There was a riot going on over at District in the meantime, with Yeah Buddy head honcho Krystian Hudson‘s DIY punk three piece Salt the Snail leading the charge. You really get the impression that anything could happen at a Salt the Snail gig. The audience get involved, pick the setlist, win mini Babybels and get some sweet, shambling hardcore punk tunes into the mix. Bargain. They will feature at stage curator Loner Noise‘s Wrong Festival this summer, and not at Sound City because they’d probably show Slaves how it’s really done.
With Kitchen Street way behind thanks to Kalandra‘s delay, we ahead across to District, where punk was served promptly. For better or worse the grungy power trio Forever in Debt wore their Nirvana influences on their sleeve, followed by the Cubist, mathy, At The Drive In-style anarcho punk goodness of Federales.
Next up was the grinding, gothic industrialism of two piece God on my right. It’s safe to say there’s no band that sound like them in Merseyside at the moment, and not much of an exaggeration to say the same for the UK. As the nauseatingly deviant electronica they dispatched reached heavier and heavier levels, their violent guitar riffs and distorted vocals followed suit thrillingly. Nine Inch Nails are an obvious touchstone, but that fails to tell the full story of how great God on my right could be in a short space of time.
Local noisenik three piece Elevant took to the District stage ahead of the headliner, dispatching Tool-influenced basslines and screeds of slippery riffs. Of the local bands on offer, Elevant are best equipped at channelling their manic energy into something tuneful, manageable and listenable, and proved a worthy draw as the room filled.
It was time to get down and abysmally dirty with festival headliner Hey Colossus. As the feedback rose, it felt as if something vital like gravity or oxygen drained from the room and the six-piece began to dismantle the District stage as they tore into their set. Frontman Paul Sykes’ voice is somewhere between a Nick Cave sneer and a King Buzzo bark, but by the end of their psych-noise dispatch, he’s gone full-on Matt Berninger wine-fuelled cyclone, nearly twatting the front row with a flailing mic stand. Three guitars and bass onstage provides volume to burn, but also near-ceaseless melody, even through the vicious riff of a new song from their shortly to be released new album The Guillotine.
Back at 24 Kitchen Street, Emotion Wave’s showcase was running late, but it meant we could catch more of Mark Lawless than we thought we would. A dose of electronica with visuals taken from American television in the 1970s that may or may not have been profound. It certainly felt like it was.
Loka headlined, with slightly more intricate visuals and a slightly more prog rock vibe mixing in with the electronica (don’t assume that is a bad thing!). At times they felt almost Marillion-esque, and their mixture of music and visual art seems tailor made for a festival such as Threshold.
Perhaps because everyone went a bit heavy the night before (we certainly did!), Constellations proved tough for most the bands taking to the stage on Saturday afternoon, which was a real shame. Not that anybody played badly, far from it. But sadly there never seemed to be more than half a dozen watching the sets; the occupants seemingly preferred to sit in the dining area, listening to the music in the background. Not that anyone let it hold them back.
But, of course, it packed out by the time one of the festival’s most eagerly awaited sets took place in the evening. Although not quite a homecoming, Hannah Peel was quick to acknowledge the influence that Liverpool had on her formative career, and this resonated throughout the mighty performance she delivered.
Drawing heavily from last year’s Awake But Always Dreaming LP her set conjured up jarring and fragmented soundscapes; a blizzard of electronic abstractions over which her crystal clear ethereal-like vocals were allowed to shine.
The personal nature of the album, which is about the fragility of memory and the torment of dementia, shone through. Emotional and heart-wrenching at times, uplifting at others, it was a poignant and transfixing set that stood out as a one of the festival’s best.
Saturday evening saw Unit 51 possessed first by the percussive, hypnotisim of the mystical Mamtung before the darkly gothic Ovvls closed the stage with a breathtaking performance that seemed more than the sum of its keyboard and drum make-up.
The drums were augmented by an electronic sampler while the rhythms revealed a keen dexterity and the keyboard overlaid by synth and samples that added an experimental edge to Stef Stoke‘s powerful and affecting vocals.
Sunday saw Constellations taken over by Mad Pride, a global mental health movement that aims to educate people on the causes of mental ill-health, provide a forum for people to share experiences and to stand in solidarity with those experiencing mental distress.
The centre-piece of Mad Pride was the Soap Box Poetry Slam, a freeform open mic poetry event that allowed people to share their experiences through the medium of poetry. It is at this sort of event that Threshold excels. The atmosphere was one of inclusivity and comradeship as some powerful and thrusting poetry fused political ire with moving personal experience.
Former Merseyrail Sound Station winner Blue Saint performed first a poem and then a song as a balaclava-clad alter-ego. Striding menacingly among the attendees while repeating the refrain “Excuse me Dr Frankenstein, I think I’ve got a screw loose“, he seemed to personify Mad Pride‘s stated intent to recapture the vernacular of mental illness.
What followed was drums and fire. Lots of drums and even more fire. Katumba gave the festival a carnival feeling with an awe-inspiring display of collective choreographed drumming from the floor of Constellations before heading to the street and finishing in the garden.
The performance combined the transfixing energy of hypnotically tribal drumming with infusions of modern dance. It was a mass of noise, energy and movement that was upliftingly positive in its abandon and exuberance.
Its fire-lit culmination in the garden, after darkness had taken hold, proved the real spectacle. The dance routines by Liverpool’s own Bring the Fire Project with its cartwheeling, lit-at-both-ends torches added a frisson of danger as well as a visual feast, which when coupled with the effervescent drumming served to create something very special and highly memorable.
Mersey Wylie had earlier soothed attendees into Sunday with a soulful mix of jazz-inflected blues, closing number Woman reminding that outside Threshold‘s inclusively equal confines prejudice and privilege still hold unfortunate sway.
Connah Evans held the mood with an earnest and lovelorn set of indie-folk, while Ruby Sky followed it up with a more forceful rock-influenced set that drew heavily on raw and personal experiences, showcasing her emotive and affecting voice.
The Baltic Social stage was a complete disappointment on Sunday, and it had nothing to do with the acts.
The ukulele and strong voice of Alison Benson kicked of proceedings, followed by the punkier Kevin John Eustace and Conor Molloy‘s soft, jazzy chords and harmonics. Geoghegan Jackson seemed perturbed by the setting however, their quiet Celtic chords and evil tales coming across weakly.
Silent Cities however rose to the challenge admirably, their fuller, effects-heavy setup able to surmount the general noise and hubbub of the venue that earlier acts found so awkward, and were rewarded with the stage’s largest crowd of the day. Øyvind Weiseth brought things to a close with the only act that felt trimmed down from something more sophisticated in the Norwegian’s well-thought-out arrangements.
But the venue should really question whether or not to commit as a venue for the full weekend. As it stood, the setup for Sunday’s Acoustic Afternoon stage was simply not good enough, and a disservice to both the festival and the acts taking part. Laying on six seats for Threshold whilst filling a regular afternoon’s bookings for meals diluted the festival experience considerably, and presumably annoyed the patrons eating their afternoon tea.
Taking a Sunday of table bookings, then also agreeing to host a Threshold stage seemed ill-advised to say the least, bordering on cynical. All we can report on is what we saw, which was a meagre row of six seats for the Threshold audience, which barely even constitutes a table booking, never mind a festival venue.
Unit 51 drew full crowd all afternoon. Most People enjoyed the spring sun outside and relaxed with the music in the background. The Shipbuilders’ old school blues also had a slightly western vibe. Stop start drums and a funky bass line had occupants up and dancing. The Jjohns always play a brilliant set, with their Merseybeat sound they have heavy influences from that of The La’s, The Beatles and Oasis, but they always put their own original twist on it.
Northern Lights saw its visual arts admirers empty the space due to a fire alarm, but everything seemed fine at Red Brick Vintage. Secret Circus took over with just about everything other than music. We walked in halfway through a burlesque act, this was followed by a poet and some belly dancers.
By far the highlight of our time there was Terry Arlarse, a comically misanthropic performance poet whose act was quite possibly the funniest thing we have ever seen at a festival. “My poems are the puddle, and I am the bus. You’re gonna get wet”. Tears were literally streaming down our faces.
Red Brick Vintage ended with a samba workshop involving the left over audience. By then, things were back to normal at Northern Lights with a choir beautifully singing by the entrance to the setting sun. Inside, people painted away to ambient sounds of performances of pieces by the likes of Phillip Glass.
From its glacial outset of cut glass vocals and sharp-edged electronic choppiness the set grew in intensity helped by Helen Morrison‘s ushering of the crows closer to the stage. The techno beats took hold and an emphatic euphoria emerged. The closing techno cover of The Stooges’ I Wanna Be Your Dog proving a worthy festival highlight.
Nils Bech seemed to struggle with the sound. Frantic gestures to the sound desk were followed with a complaint that he couldn’t hear anything from is on-stage monitors. It seemed to undermine the performance which was a shame for the Norwegian had certainly proved an interesting performer.
Extravagant and robotic gestures verged on performance art while his aloof vocal delivery contrasted with the music which veered from swathes of glorious and textural ambience to punching beats.
Mellowtone’s stage at Black Lodge was packed throughout, which isn’t a surprise. It feels wrong to say it, but as great as the acts were (and, don’t get us wrong, they were), we almost felt as if the music suited a dank, rainy day rather than the glorious sunshine we were experiencing.
That said, Seafoam Green in particular were fantastic and actually sound exactly like you think they would, based on their name. If you closed your eyes, you might have felt a little lost at sea.
Over the road, CMD Presents took over 24 Kitchen Street with a fairly eclectic mix. We walked in on N.E.S.H performing Ricky Martin’s Livin’ La Vida Loca (cos, you know, why not?). We feared they would be nothing more than a novelty band at first, but it became clear that wasn’t the case. They seem to be quite a young band, but their final song in particular, Mrs Jones, definitely showed their potential.
The room filled out for LUNA, who perhaps should have played later in the day. It was a bit of a jarring difference between her and the preceding act, but it made her no less invigorating. Katie Mac, on the other hand, reminded us of a sort of electric Joan Baez until she started upping the ante with a more rock and roll edge.
But the rumours are true. If one band owned Threshold 2017 it was probably Queen Zee & The Sasstones, and pretty much everybody who saw them seemed to agree. Aggressive, exciting, loud and right in the feels. Zee has probably become the best frontperson in the North West.
She is a bona fide star, and seems to only get sassier with each subsequent show. It would be boring to analyse them, and not in-keeping with their ethos. All we can say is if you haven’t experienced this band yet, you have wasted your life. Long live the Queen.
They were supposed to be headlining, but an administrative issue meant they had to switch with Wild Fruit Art Collective. As good as they were, they couldn’t quite match the Sasstones. Believe us when we say that is no slight on them and they more than held their own.
Dragging ourselves back to Constellations for the end of the last stretch, the crowds starting falling away from fatigue and exhaustion during Xander & The Peace Pirates. By the end of their set it was mainly Threshold staff left, but that is to be expected. Last year the band were down to a two-piece, but this year they played with the whole band and were much better for it.
We stuck around for the after party for a while (truth be told, we refused to leave until the DJ played New Edition’s Candy Girl). The sense of community became apparent amongst the volunteers who make Threshold happen, as everybody danced together one last time.
Tucked away in the Baltic Triangle it really does seem unique among Liverpool’s many musical events, feeling like a community gathering.
And although not having a festival site as such, the length of Jamaica Street from Kitchen Street to the Cains Brewery beyond Parliament Street seemed to belong to Threshold. Be in no doubt, this is a real festival with its own defined character and is so much more than a wristband that provides entry to a selection of music venues.
People spilled out onto the streets in the spring sunshine in what remained a relaxed celebration of emerging art. There was a real mix of people mingling freely. Of all ages, gender, sexual orientation, ethnicity and nationality providing hope, however fleetingly, that a harmonious future might be within our grasp.
The feeling of love and care extended to the curation and this was the biggest hit for the festival. Extending invitations to regional promoters to hand-pick artists gave a real sense of community to events, as stages possessed an assured sense of identity.
None more so than at District on Saturday, where Loner Noise hand-picked a bill of lead-weight heaviness and grinding abrasiveness, or CMD Presents on Sunday at 24 Kitchen Street which showcased some of the best alternative talents on Merseyside right now.
If there were criticisms then we must look to the art, tucked away in Northern Lights it felt a little bit isolated, while its installations were overwhelmed by the scale of the space. Likewise the music could come across at times as a tad safe a little bland with many acts offering a variation on a similar shade.
Yet this seems unfair. It feels like an emerging arts festival and by nature acts are not always fully-formed. They are still growing, searching for their own identity and this is where the festival deserves so much credit for its support of the grass-roots community.
Indeed this sense of community spills over into attendees who are warm, sympathetic and appreciative of artistic endeavour. There is a refreshing absence of laddish loutishness; by its very convivial nature it is as if the festival has enforced its own ‘No Dickheads‘ policy. All serves to make Threshold Festival an enjoyable and rewarding weekend.
It feels like an epicentre for Liverpool’s creative community. You can’t walk five yards without bumping into your friends, you can’t turn a corner without seeing someone you admire. We get the feeling that very community would miss Threshold a lot more than most of our other events if it would cease to be.
Threshold, we love you. Never change.
Writers: Shaun Ponsonby, Paul Higham, David Hall, Amaan Khan, Lorna Dougherty
Photographers: Christopher Flack, Tom Adam, Glyn Akroyd, Andy Sunley, Lucy McLachlan