As the tenth Liverpool Sound City concludes, Getintothis‘ team of writers and photographers reflect on this year’s offering at new home on Clarence Dock.
Ten years of Liverpool Sound City. It’s a festival which has reinvented itself, and transformed many times since its humble beginnings back in 2007. It’s faced many challenges over the years, with venue closures, changes in investors and several significant site moves, and it’s a testament to the Sound City team that festival is still going strong a decade later and has grown into one of the biggest events on the Merseyside cultural calendar.
Musically, Sound City is now almost unrecognisable from its early editions back in the city centre’s venues and bars. Where more diverse and leftfield acts were the main draws on the line up, the festival has certainly moved in a direction which feels a far more safe bet. The new music showcases of acts from across the world are still a strong feature, but the headline names on the bill are now essentially landfill indie. It’s a move that will probably turn away a lot of the Sound City revellers of old, but on this weekend’s evidence has attracted a new, younger audience. And judging by Sunday’s significantly larger audience, it seems to work.
This year was Sound City’s first at their new home of the Clarence Dock, and while the shape and size of the area made it very easy for hopping between stages, it lacked the character of the old Bramley Moore dock site, and very much missed the Baltic Warehouse venue – with it too the gnarly rock of year one and the diverse dance of year two. On Saturday the festival site resembled something out of Mad Max, with plumes of dust swirling in the air making for quite an unpleasant atmosphere, and sparse crowds later in the evening. Indeed, the Atlantic Stage was a dust bowl making it near impossible to bear for audiences – let alone artists who bore the real brunt of the strong Mersey whirlwind.
By early afternoon, booming tom-toms from a soundcheck greeted us on the horizon as we got our first glimpse of the festival site. It looked inviting, the blue Baltic tent and docklands clock tower breaking up the horizon and the sun beating down gloriously. Our first treat, Aussie four piece Olympia, kicked us off nicely with their crystal synths and harmonies, Olivia Bartley sporting a full pink velour onesie because well… why not?
It was a slow yet steady start to the day and The Pirate Stage continually impressed, Montreal’s Mozart’s Sister pulled off a spell-binding performance, while Pierre Kwenders worked his magic with his blend of African traditional music and irresistible grooves – it’s just what we needed.
Sadly, it seemed not many people had grabbed themselves a Saturday ticket and the day was a tad underwhelming on the whole, not to mention the plumes of dust caking everyone in a thin layer of grime (one of the cleaners chaps looked like he’d been underground). On the other hand, The Pirate Stage offered a sizzling selection of great live bands, who perhaps didn’t reap the benefits of the festival fully given the sparse crowd, most of whom occupied the benches by the hotdog van, arguably why the stage never really reached top gear.
Early doors on the main Atlantic Stage saw performances from Estrons, VANT and Sound City veterans Fickle Friends, who showed signs of promise, particularly the latter who’s synth laced indie pop felt perfect for early afternoon festival slots.
One of the day’s biggest draws was Carl Barat and the Jackals, with the Libertine‘s star making his second appearance on Merseyside in a week following the Prenton Park shows last Saturday. With such a big reputation as one of the biggest indie stars of the decade, it was disappointing that it was a set so lacking in new ideas, imagination and flair. Run of the mill guitar music at its most drab.
Amongst the hubbub was a series of official chats at the Tim Peaks Diner that proved to be bonafide highlights, none more so than John Cale’s post hangover interview on Saturday afternoon. Hosted by Dave Haslam, a man with a proven track record of knowing his onions, the Manchester writer / DJ found the ex-Velvet Underground member in relaxed and amiable form.
It’s a dead cert that most of the avid listeners wanted the dirt on Lou Reed, Nico, Warhol and the rest of the Factory community from that much eulogised era of American music history. Cale wasn’t short of stories, with Reed described as “…like a preacher, and other times embarrassed by what came out of his mouth.”
While sound leakage was a problem at almost every stage, the Cavern stage arguably suffered the worst when acts like Lauren Rycroft and potentially very immersive Laminate Pet Animals were ruined by sound leakage from the nearby Baltic Stage and the adjacent Unusual Arts tent. Bring in two different horn sections playing behind you and some leakage from the Skull Candy DJ sets, and it’s no longer just bad but painful.
Things only picked up around Lucy Whittaker’s pop – we are talking reversed cap and hundred utterances of ‘baby’ pop – till Chay Snowdon and Fur’s tasteful rock. Æ MAK however won the day on this stage with their visually reinstated ABBA meets PJ Harvey sound.
Bands that came later obviously had to compete with huge names on other stages but acts like Ali Horn and KOG + The Zongo Brigade still managed to keep a bit of party going.
Slaves picked up the tempo back over on the Atlantic Stage with their raucous punk sounds before the Kills saw one of the biggest crowds of Saturday evening gather for their dark, swaggering rock and roll. There are few vocalists around like Alison Mosshart, who prowls the stage and snarls her vocals. It’s a menacing set, and is easy to see why the band are so popular in the city.
Metronomy, one of the more interesting bands on the bill and tonight’s headliners, were unfortunate to play victim to the deteriorating weather and sadly performed to a crowd which could not have been more than 500 people. They put in a headliner-worthy performance, performing tracks from throughout their decade long career, but without much atmosphere being generated by the audience, it all felt a bit flat.
The party animals among us enjoyed the Getintothis after party at Invisible Wind Factory. The handful of us who saw Manchester’s False Advertising were treated to some hefty helpings of female-fronted grunge, firing a political aggression and jarring guitar chords at will. I See Rivers drew the eve to a close, with the weary crowd opting to sit and let the three-piece enchant them with their blissful folk. They’re making a habit of joining the crowd for a sing along, and it’s a pleasure to behold – they’re a band that are always over the moon to sing with strangers and not just to them.
Upstairs in the Invisible Wind Factory, RongoRongo impressed as usual with frontman Mick Chrysalid showing off his signature dance moves, before impressive sets from Formation and Marnie. A great end to an otherwise underwhelming day.
Sunday began with a whole different feel to Saturday, and no that isn’t the hangover, it feels more alive! The amount of people had pretty much quadrupled in size and you now even had to queue to get a beer; there was a real buzz about the festival. The Pirate Stage again impressed, competing with some huge acts throughout the day, there was consistent hive of activity throughout.
Where Saturday was flat with sparse crowds and subdued atmosphere, Sunday was far better from the outset. The Baltic Stage was probably the best of the festival, with the tent making for better sound and keeping in the atmosphere. At times it was absolutely electric.
Sunday at Tim Peaks found Jennifer Otter Bickerdike once more on the couch with the Diner curator himself, Tim Burgess. Where Jennifer gave Danny Fields room to speak out of a seemingly deep rooted long-time respect, Burgess gets the full-on fangirl treatment with an often over-bearing interviewee claiming repeatedly that he is “Fucking Amazing!” She is aware of her overt enthusiasm and even apologises on occasion, but cheery Tim seems more than happy to indulger her. Her mic does appear louder than his.
It’s an interview that rarely gets under the skin and is confined to chatting about the usual stuff, his recent book, the new Charlatans album and his collaborations with such Manchester luminaries as New Order and Johnny Marr. He admits to being more of a New Order than a Joy Division fan and his seemingly eternal playing of Power Corruption and Lies on its release in 1983.
A regular feature of Sound City is that it gives some of Merseyside’s rising talents a chance to perform on a bigger stage, and it’s a testament to the strength of Liverpool music that it was the city’s bands who put on some of the best sets of the festival.
The Vryll Society continued their rise as one of the most compelling live acts around with another set of cosmic indie grooves, while recently crowd GIT Award winners She Drew The Gun had fans singing along to their beautifully crafted songs Since You Were Not Mine and Poem.
Wonderfully eclectic curation strikes again as we witness angular alt-rock from Bologna in Shijo X, some neat acoustic numbers from Miccoli who were sadly a little drowned out by the booming Atlantic Stage, and some mellow trip hop beats from Jose Otero and his astounding, effortless vocal range.
An onslaught of guitar bands led us into the evening, Goan Dogs impressed with their freaky pop, meandering through various genres with wonky tropical riffs, maracas and harmonised choruses about hot boxing cars. Rozelle are equally impressive, tight and well formulated they work great as a unit and their towering bass section vibrates in your chest as we start to feel pretty booze-y once more.
Baltic States sure know how to party and their electro pop became brilliantly hectic, ending in a wild frenzy on stage and giving it their all ahead of headliners False Heads, one of Iggy Pops favourite new rock and roll bands. Competing with The Cribs is always going to be tough, but it’s a blistering set from the East London three-piece, as it usually is. Copious amounts of spine-shattering riffs and vicious energy have earned these lads a great live reputation and it’s a great way to sign off from The Pirate Stage on a Sunday that really hit home after a deflated Saturday.
Following a site-wide minute silence for the victims of the Manchester terror attack, the packed out crowd waiting for the Baltic stage headliners the Cribs paid their own tribute with an impassioned singalong of Don’t Look Back In Anger. We could only appreciate it from outside the tent as it had filled so much, but could still see that this was one of the standout moments from across the weekend. Performing a career defining record in full, The Cribs showed why they’ve become somewhat cult icons over the years, with classic indie anthems such as Men’s Needs getting huge receptions.
While over at the IWF for the after show, Mamatung had set the bar high on the main stage, down in the basement Stealth had at least managed to hoist a victorious flag with his bluesy power-rock. Entirely different to its predecessor, the following act was a DJ set by Clement Bazin who constantly proved how the tin drum is a necessary dance musician’s companion.
By the time it was Wild Fruit Art Collective’s turn, they were drunk out of their minds – or at least we would like to believe they were. But that doesn’t matter because so was everyone else. While technical difficulties during the very first song significantly delayed the set, they kept the interest going with their off stage attitude. When they did come on, there was some punchy rock and roll noise and it all ended with a member jumping through the separation barriers to crash on the floor – enough said.
While the line up was less inspiring than in previous years, one thing that Sunday evening showed is that there is still a huge appetite among young music fans to see the indie bands of the mid-2000s. Although it may still seem surprising to some, the likes of The Cribs, The Kooks, White Lies and Milburn are a big draw for teenagers, and Sound City have done well to capitalise on it.
We feel a long way from the days of Factory Floor and Thee Oh Sees in the Kazimier, The Walkmen in the Anglican Cathedral and The Hold Steady in the Garage, but what’s clear is that Sound City is now carving out a new identity, and it’s picking up a whole new generation of festival goers in the process.
The class of 2017 – the 17 best artists and bands at Liverpool Sound City 2017
1. Queen Zee and The Sasastones – Saturday 27, Tim Peaks Diner
Perhaps the best thing about Queen Zee’s performance today was the sheer anger in her performance, grinding, screaming pounding attacks played against the spectacle of Edge Hill students dancing gracefully outside of the tent. It was a perfectly jarred juxtaposition and could have made a great music video.
The Sasstones go from strength to strength and were the first band to truly fill Tim Peaks Diner. The sheer energy flying from the stage and the amount of folks singing along is testament to their relatively short journey that has seen the band grow in numbers as well as confidence and aggression.
A failed attempt to trash the gear after a three-way drum off suggests that wishes to become as destructive as The Who may be a few paychecks away, but there was no denying their presence here today and in Queen Zee a rising star in the making. – by Del Pike
2. a.P.A.t.T. present Obsvered Music – Saturday, the Label Presents Stage
Tucked away in what looks like an army medics tent are Liverpool veteran ear-assualters, a.P.A.t.T. They’re here as part of a partnership between Ormskirk-based University Edge Hill and Sound City who’ve lined up a ten part series of musical adventures – and a.P.A.t.T. are quite comfortably the most ambitious of artists we see on the festival site on Saturday.
The 20 or so listeners who venture inside this white box are greeted by keys, drums, flute, strings, boxes which emit modulated waves and an array of other instruments as the six piece throw not just the sink but the entire kitchen into your face for a little over 25 minutes. Operatic rock melds into gentle whimsy before the whole thing swells into a chorus of vocal rage as band-leader Stephen Cole falls to the floor raising his arms skyward as all around him – including several of those watching on – sing together howling into the vortex. It’s violent and yet rather uplifting and was just what we needed. – by Peter Guy
3. Catholic Action – Saturday, North Shore Troubador
It’s always hard to get festival goers to an after party when they’ve had a nearly 12 hour shift of bevying; they either want to retreat to bed or follow suit for more alcohol in town. However, one way to do so is put on a banger of a band on the end of the line up, you are obviously going to stay for them
Catholic Action from Glasgow headlined the after party at Northshore Troubador, although they played to a small and very intoxicated crowd, it was clear that everyone there was a music lover, and not a song went unappreciated.
These lads are proof that glam rock, minus the make up and jazzy outfits, is welcome in 2017. With guitar riffs and melodies reminiscent of the Strokes and Jet, but with a T-Rex 70s edge. – by Lorna Dougherty
4. Touts – Saturday 27, Baltic Stage
5. Jo Mary – Sunday, The Pirate Stage
Jo Mary appear like a group of misfits, each member channeling a whole different scene. Their frontman adopts a slacker skater look, to his right stands a floppy haired Bez-type hype man in an Adidas tracksuit playing tambourine, while to his left stands lead guitarist who’s bluesy guitar work suits his desert-rock clobber perfectly.
‘This ones about death’ we’re assured before launching into cool 60s psych with a Thee Oh Sees style vocal, dusty desert tones stride round the Pirate Stage as the sun brightens. As the set progresses the band really come into their own, gathering momentum as the tunes get heavier. A real standout that ticked all the boxes, pulling together a vast pool of influence for some top notch rock and roll.– by Matthew Wood
6. Æ Mak – Saturday, The Cavern stage
The seven piece from Ireland managed to do on the badly sound leakage addled Cavern stage what most other acts couldn’t do – given an immersive performance of authentic new music. The captivating factor was well helped by the tight sound and the two front women’s beautifully perfect choreography.
Æ Mak sounds akin to ABBA meets PJ Harvey. With memorable tunes and unique costumes like of the former, they exhibited the moodiness and sonically heavier quality of the latter. By doing what they did on a smaller stage and lesser budget so well, this is one act that we don’t just predict but anticipate on bigger stages. by Amaan Khan
7. The Japanese House – Saturday, Baltic Stage
East London quartet Japanese House specialise in delicate, warm swells and bathed in an orange glow inside the Baltic Stage they’re a seductive Saturday evening highlight. Vocalist Amber Bain switches between guitar, keys and fuzzy vocal which washes over you with ease lulling you ever in. At their most buoyant there’s elements of HAIM as electronic drum pads kick in but for the most part this is oozing subtle pop gorgeousness to simply wallow in. – by Peter Guy
8. Yak – Saturday, The Pirate Stage
‘We’ve been demoted‘ joked Oli Burslem after we bumped into the Wolves three-piece while grabbing a beer. They were explosive at The Baltic Stage at Sound City 2015 and it seemed a shame for them that they’d been assigned a smaller stage this time round.
Their performance only cemented this feeling, it was fierce, energetic and everything we expected; they deserved a bigger crowd and would have suited The Baltic tent down to a tee.
All being said, Yak had come with a job to do and rifled through their gloomy, twisted rock. Harbour The Feeling pulsed manically as the thin crowd flail amid the strobe lights, before Burslem adopts his Nick cave-esque devilish croon for Smile, a track that deserved far better reception. – by Matthew Wood
9. Bribes – Sunday 28 Twin Peaks Diner
This is the band who very almost owned Deltasonic’s Hidden Charms from the comfort of their support slot at The Magnet recently, a Liverpool trio who deserve to be heard.
Bribes are kind of unique, which is a rare thing. With a vocalist who at times sounds like Marc Bolan but sounds even more like Gaz Coombes, it is difficult to not recall the Supergrass Glam period. The twist comes in Led Zep heavy basslines which leave Pumping on your Stereo standing at the bus stop.
There’s aggression and a heart with this band and tracks like Jump the Gun and Hanging on are instant classics. It was great to see the crowd grow to love them over this short set, from gentle nodding to full on fist-pumping. What works best with Bribes is their ability to bring Glam and Britpop into the 21st century without being even slightly cloying. Even the bassist sings like Bolan so some pact has been made in the band.
Once the Bribes catalogue expands a bit and their set becomes a little more eclectic, see how they smash it. It’s just a matter of time. – by Del Pike
10. Magic Gang – Saturday, Baltic Stage
In what seemed to be a very slow start to the day, I was waiting for an act to liven up the mood and atmosphere. I believe it was these boys.
Their light hearted love songs, with catchy melodies and beautiful harmonies is what was needed to fit with the momentarily sunny day; we saw those storm clouds and rain was on the cards. But even if it rained now spirits were high and spirits were being drunk.
There’s nothing quite like live music, but it brings the biggest smile on your face when a crowd sings all the words back to a band. The crowd’s favourites were mixed in with their newest single Your Love which has taken a Western-ish sound, it was a burst of fresh air.- by Lorna Dougherty
11. Fizzy Blood – Sunday 28, Cavern Stage
12. The Vryll Society – Sunday 28, The Baltic Stage
The words psych rock are thrown around way too often and way too loosely. However, Vryll Society is one band that is made for those descriptive words. Rule number one of the genre is that the act should be immersive, hypnotizing, takes you on a journey – a ‘trip’, if you will. That is exactly what Vryll Society did on the Baltic Stage.
Their set had intelligently put together beautifully crafted songs – a downtempo one between two uptempo songs, an intense one next to a chilled out jam, it all just kept one’s interest piqued throughout the set. They take the backbeat backed riff heavy mush of guitars and top it off with Michael Ellis’ shyer Tom Verlaine-esque vocal and performance style. To top it all, they somehow make it sound modern. – by Amaan Khan
13. Tim Burgess – Sunday 28, Tim Peaks Diner
Tim Burgess is such a welcome presence at any music event with his mobile coffee shop and seemingly endless goodwill gestures.
His Tim Peaks Diner at Sound City this year has been a great success and seen both John Cale and Danny Field interviewed alongside some great live performances. It only seems right that the man himself gives himself a slot and how glad we were that he did. Despite rumours of a full-on Charlatans appearance, just the acoustic set with guitarist Mark Collins was enough.
Burgess, forever beaming and clearly grateful to be here, filled the tent and created a truly intimate experience. His selection of songs couldn’t have been better, with new material from the highly acclaimed new album mixed in with some old favourites.
Smash The System is a well-timed opener, released in 2010 but perfect for the here and now, lyrically aggressive but delivered with a fragile grace. Pure class. North Country Boy floors us and is followed by new single, Plastic Machines which features Johnny Marr on the recorded version. Tellin’ Stories hits the nail on the head and new track Different Days just pleads for us to buy the new album.
A guy in the audience announces its his mate’s 30th and Tim does the decent thing shaking his hand and being sweet, but the birthday boy can’t shut up for the remaining tracks which is a pain in the arse as it almost ruins what’s left in an all too short set.
A beautiful version of the early favourite, The Only One I know gives ample opportunity for the audience to join in and it’s a brilliant place to be. This is probably the song that got most of us into the band in the first place. Just to see Tim’s sweet smile as he videos us singing the chorus back. New song, Solutions finishes the set and he finds time to pose for a few pics with the front row before shuffling off humbly leaving the tent feeling as high as a kite. A festival highlight for sure and one of those occasions that some of us will remember for a very long time. – by Del Pike
14. !!! (Chk Chk Chk) – Sunday 28, Baltic Stage
As the festival was drawing the a close, legs were becoming weary and feet were becoming sore, we were in much need of a pick me up to help us over the finish line. !!! (Chk Chk Chk) were the perfect solution. Bringing their latest record Shake the Shudder, the New Yorkers turned the Baltic Stage into Liverpool’s own Studio 54 with their electric brand of disco, putting on one of the performances of the weekend.
Kicking off with the brilliant The One 2, it was a party atmosphere from the first note, with the band throwing some serious shapes and frontman Nic Offer getting amongst the crowd early on – he spent more time in the crowd than he did on stage.
With indie disco anthems such as One Girl/One Boy on show throughout, the set felt as if it was over in a flash, when we could easily have watched them play all night. It was fun, slightly cheesy, but ultimately what festivals should be about. – by Adam Lowerson
15. Mamatung – Sunday, Invisible Wind Factory
The aftershow party on Sunday at IWF threw up a few surprises and all were good. It was, perhaps a difficult slot to have been given, seeing as The Kooks were still on stage over at Clarence Dock. But the crowd grew steadily for Mamatung and by the end of their short set, they’d made a significant number of new fans.
Using non-rock instruments and impeccable vocals, Emma, Becky and Jodie sucked us into a dream-like state of consciousness as their sonics wafted around and drew us all in closer. It was a special moment. Original, different and perfectly at odds with much on show this weekend. A perfect fit and a welcome chill out from the mayhem at the dock. – by Peter Goodbody
16. Proletariat – Sunday 28, The Pirate Stage
Following an eloquent introduction from Cabbage frontman Lee Broadbent, praising the ‘creative hub’ of their shared hometown, Mossley, Proletariat hit us with some roaring alt-punk that sparks their Manchester following into life.
They begin proceedings with a cover of The Stooges’ Now I Wanna Be Your Dog and race through their energetic set with some serious shredding and the invigorating energy of early Arctic Monkeys. Rapid fire chords and dark, relentless riffs give them a real serious edge that gets fists pumping, meanwhile Broadbent and his pal dance around like the monkeys from the beginning of 2001: A Space Odyssey, tying one another up in the braces on their trousers and soaking up the attention. – by Matthew Wood
17. The G.O.D – Saturday 27, Tim Peaks Diner
Just for the hell of going against the grain of what we might expect, The G.O.D were a welcome addition to the line up at The Diner.
With a drummer of mature years, Simon Wolstencroft (The Smiths‘ first drummer and later The Stone Roses and The Fall) and a frontman who could easily be Shaun Ryder’s brother, Chris Bridgett (Dub Sex), they know the Manc music scene inside out and, were cracking out tunes today like Skull Candy were chucking out freebies.
Bridgett’s time on The Happy Mondays’ crew has served him well as he bridges the gap between Ryder and Can’s Damo Suzuki in both vocals and wig out grooves. A three piece female backing band add those flavours of Manchester’s baggy scene and the whole thing just fits.
There are whole load of sixties influences there too in tracks like Just Looking, not a million miles from our own Real People and Rain in fairness and their love of Liverpool reflected in their admission to playing The Beatles‘ Red Album on the way over. The band are supporting The Stone Roses at Wembley, can’t imagine a better fit. – by Del PIke
Getintothis‘ Liverpool Sound City 2017 gallery of highlights from Clarence Dock
Getintothis‘ Sound City team: Adam Lowerson, Ryan Craig, Lorna Dougherty, Christopher Flack, Peter Goodbody, Amaan Khan, Lucy McLachlan and Warren Millar, Del Pike, Matthew Wood.