Liverpool Psych Fest returned to the Baltic Triangle for it’s sixth interstellar outing, Getintothis reflects on 2017’s brutal bombardment of the senses.
On the morning after the 1960s counter-culture’s finest hour, Woodstock promoter, Michael Lang, remembered flying out in a helicopter.
Looking down, he noticed the people starting the monumental task of cleaning up the site on which he had created a huge peace symbol. It was made out of the garbage they were collecting.
It was a memory that crossed our mind as we exited Liverpool International Festival of Psychedelia, taking care to hand in our plastic cup at the environmentally friendly cup exchange before a long walk home full of star-gazing, hazy memories and, if we were really lucky, a donner kebab, or some Chinese crispy noodles.
It’s easy to mock the naivety of the sixties and the psychedelic sensibility that went with it but in these troubling times why shouldn’t the chance to embrace an event which feels democratic and open to anyone with a receptive mind and love of music be encouraged?
For us, the reason psychedelic music still remains enshrined in the hearts of so many is that it’s a symbol of what the world could and should be.
For two days, something wonderful happens in the Baltic Triangle – where once Swedish sailors rested their heads today’s travellers feed theirs – let’s dive in…
Liverpool deserves to host an event like this…
Liverpool has a strange and surreal relationship with all things psychedelic.
While the city will always be able to lay claim to producing the ultimate psychedelic band, Liverpool’s close affinity with mind-expansion goes back much further than The Beatles’ decision to turn off their minds, relax and float downstream.
In the early 60s, Liverpool became a centre of the emerging beat counter culture with a new art-school crowd hungry for jazz, poetry and performance.
When US beat poet and counter-cultural icon Allen Ginsberg visited in May 1965, he declared the city to be “at the present moment, the centre of consciousness of the human universe”, echoing philosopher Carl Jung’s previous assertion that “Liverpool is the pool of life”.
Ginsberg would go on to describe Liverpool as “like San Francisco except the weather is greyer” after visiting such locally famous venues as Ye Cracke, the Philharmonic and Hope Hall (later to become the Everyman Theatre), and he had a point.
Here was a west coast city with its own fully formed bohemian quarter where artists, musicians and poets mixed freely and where, this being a busy port, drugs were plentiful. It doesn’t feel like much has changed.
What a difference a year makes…
Last year’s Psych Fest was hailed by many as the best yet in the festival’s six year run but there was the nagging thought at the back of a few minds that maybe we’d reached peak Psych Fest.
While great for tickets sales the presence on last year’s bill of both Super Furry Animals and The Horrors now feels like something of a misstep.
LIFOP (as no one calls it) has always felt like a voyage of discovery, a chance to see the truly strange, odd and whacked out.
Don’t get us wrong: both these bands have produced fine work down the years but when the likes of Tame Impala’s Kevin Parker is collaborating with Mark Ronson and Lady Gaga maybe it’s time to accept that psychedelia has entered the mainstream and it’s time for an event like this to go back underground.
Talking to various heads across the weekend one phrase came up repeatedly: “low key” and not in a negative way.
It felt like this was the year LIFOP went back to its roots and had a long think about what it wanted to be. A glance down the line up confirmed the absence of ‘big name’ headliners – yes the likes of Black Angels are a big name ‘on the scene’ but dozens of bands and acts present on the bill were firmly in the box named ‘unknown’.
It’s a difficult course to sail as ATP have found out to their cost but this year LIFOP pulled it off handsomely.
Liverpool music was back at the forefront…
Some were critical of last year’s event, failing to book many Liverpool-based bands but this year it felt like the city’s talent was daubed all over the festival’s line up. From Strange Collective to the Floormen via Fuss (“we’re from Aigburth – they hadn’t travelled far) and a stunning set from Baltic Fleet, Mersey magic was everywhere.
Even the modern day scene’s spiritual godfather Bernie Connor was seemingly omnipresent, scurrying around with his box of records and spreading the turntable gospel. It felt right.
But it wasn’t parochial…
Over the course of two days gabbing and gossiping we encountered Americans, Swedes, Norwegians, Portuguese and French.
And that was just off stage.
When LIFOP originally dubbed itself with its rather grandiose ‘International’ title it was easy to mock, but the event really does live up to its trans-global claims.
Some of the onstage comments perhaps reflected how lucky we should feel to have this event on our doorstep – we particularly enjoyed Rishi Dhir of Canadian psychsters Elephant Stone’s rant about how LIFOP was “the coolest fucking festival I’ve ever been to”.
The joy on several foreign band’s faces as they enjoyed the opportunity to play to large and receptive audiences was clear to see. We should be proud.
A special mention must go to multi-media artist Sam Wiehl and his team whose video projections this year were simply mind-blowing.
A succession of synapse spinning images met punters wherever they met and with some of the visuals in Furnace especially burned on to the retinas of many a tired festival-goer on Monday morning.
LIFOP has always felt like a celebration of artists operating at the cutting edge of today’s global psychedelic renaissance, alongside film, performance and mind expanding visual delights.
Wiehl’s work is crucial to the festival’s image and long may that continue.
Space is the place…
It certainly felt like there were fewer attendees at this year’s event and whether you think this is a good or a bad thing may well depend on whether you’ve ever dipped your toe in gig promotion.
One thing that was not missed were the ugly bottlenecks that have marred some previous LIFOPs.
We’d like to think this was possibly down to better crowd management and although all the security staff we met were friendly and attentive, employing some who actually had experience of how gigs worked may have helped.
Stopping people from entering half empty rooms and then interrupting groups of friends with assertions that they had to stop talking and move forward were some of the more bizarre staffing missthrows we noticed.
The District venue remains the event’s curate’s egg too: hard to get into, hard to get out of, it seems to struggle with some of the crowds desperate to see the acts it hosts.
Perhaps a rethink next year? Others mentioned more food options (45 mins for a pizza isn’t really on is it?) and an extension to the market area which seems a bit forgotten about upstairs in Pryzm.
Elsewhere the drink tokens system seemed to work well this year and it’s hard to argue with some of the drinks on offer especially when it came to the ale offering. Special props too to the lad behind the outside bar by the DJ who seemed to spend the entire weekend grinning and dancing.
Best artists from Liverpool International Festival of Psychedelia 2017
Endless Boogie – Furnace, Friday
On record New York’s Endless Boogie are a record collector’s dream – beautifully played and recorded electric blues with a touch of Krautrock loopiness. Live, however, they are truly something else as a packed Furnace falls head over heels of with their good time rock n roll. Guitarist / singer Paul Major and fellow axeman Jesper Eklow look like they’d be happy trading spiralling riffs long into the night and with one wag shouting “Gregg Allman lives” this is a show full of smiles and thrills. – Jamie Bowman
The Telescopes – Furnace, Friday
One of the many good things about LIFOP is its apparent determination to respect those of a previous generation worthy of their dues. English space rock veterans The Telescopes emerged in the late 80s alongside fellow heads Loop, Spacemen Three and My Bloody Valentine and this year’s As Light Return album added fuel to the argument that they deserve their place among these luminaries as one modern UK psych’s most important bands. Dark, noisy and experimental with thick layers of distortion this was a reminder of a band back to their best. – Jamie Bowman
W.I.T.C.H. We Intend To Cause Havoc – Furnace, Saturday
W.I.T.C.H.’s story is one that needs to be told and heard. It features their Zambian main man, Emmanuel ‘Jagari’ Chanda, who was given his nickname by his audience and followers dubbing him the ‘Zambian’ Mick Jagger, during the 1970s. The music that Jagari and his contemporaries were playing, later to be given the tag ‘Zamrock’, was driven underground, unable to find a commercial outlet in a poverty-sticken land governed by an unsympathetically oppressive and tyrannical regime. Introducing the song, Living In The Past, to the Saturday night Furnace Psych Fest faithful he explained, “This is now my home, and if they don’t give me a visa, I’ll swim back here”. The band itself is collective of accomplished musicians that provide impeccable backing for Chanda’s retro 70s Zamrock musical style (which features rich, psych-guitar aplenty). And in case you missed it, he can do the hip shake baby, … as good as the best of them! – Mark Rowley
Trad, Gras och Stenar – Furnace, Friday.
More than half an hour into their set and they’d only played two songs. Introspective prog rock but with fire and passion. This is a band that knows what it’s doing having been around in one form or another for 50 years or so. It’s a mesmerising jam session that just keeps going on and on, getting better all the time. Wicked vibes. – Peter Goodbody
Mark McGuire – Pryzm, Friday
The former Emeralds member combines electronica and guitar to sublime effect and this was a real treat of an appearance to a hushed and prone Pryzm gathering. McGuire’s gentle style of looped guitar develops gentle melodies that eventually overlap and congeal in a way that at times is simply beautiful. He combines this with an emotional and autobiographical sense of story to each track which seems to push to the fore the human element behind each piece. When he introduces the last song as being about his young daughter the small but appreciative crowd melt. – Jamie Bowman
LA Witch – District, Friday
If all-girl bands (like all-male bands and mixed male and female bands, for that matter) fall into either one of two classifications: good or crap; then LA Witch most definitely drive their car into the former of these broad categories. Exuding an irrepressible air of Californian rock-chick indifference and swagger, front-woman Sade Sanchez’s sumptuous guitar riffs and nasal drawl hit a perfect accord with the tight rhythm of Ellie English’s rock-steady drumbeats and Irita Pai’s propulsive bass. The slumbersome Baby In Blue Jeans, with its killer line ‘I feel so alive’, sung with insouciant deadpan irony, and the angry Ain’t Comin Home, lamenting a lover unable to take the heat and since departed, were highlights in a set that could loosely be described as an understated mix of garage grunge and blues rock. – Mark Rowley
Elephant Stone – Camp, Saturday
The Canadian band’s thrilling blend of Paisley Underground-esque jangly guitars and sitar turns out to be one of the surprise hits of the weekend. With their Stone Roses influenced name Elephant Stone take that group’s layered acoustic guitars and ringing Rickenbackers to create a psychedelic, ’60s pastiche that never sounds too tethered to the past. Full marks too for frontman Rishi Dhir hosting a soothing sitar workshop after the band’s brilliant set. – Jamie Bowman
Wolf People – Camp, Saturday
Quite simply one of the best British bands around at the moment, Wolf People have added a Black Sabbath-esque sense of doom filled metal to their esoteric combination of folk fantasy and Stonehenge mysticism. Add in a rhythm section which imbues their tales of medieval sorcery and Wicker Man-esque freakiness with an undoubted funkiness and you have a live experience to relish. – Jamie Bowman
Julie’s Haircut – District, Friday
One of the few criticisms levelled at Liverpool Psych Fest concerns the overuse of reverb-heavy, guitar drone – not this year. District on Friday was anything but, and amid a ten act billing (plus green baize legend Steve ‘never boring’ Davis) of quite remarkable musical variety were Italian quintet Julie’s Haircut. Mixing melodic prog, extreme noise, rocket-fuelled disco and hook-laden pop, here was a band which typifies the festival’s ethos – a truly magical international interstellar band many of those in attendance had yet to hear, but were left nothing short of astounded. What worked best was their mix of subtlety and ambience as they applied layer upon layer of nuance and atmospherics to their sound before breaking out into thunderous saxophone-assisted piledrivers. Much of the set was taken from their 2017 album Invocation And Ritual Dance Of My Demon Twin – including the swaggering shamanistic brew of Orpheus Rising and the tribal pounder The Fire Sermon. It’s no exaggeration to say this wasn’t just the set of Psych Fest of 2017 – but would easily register into the top five sets the festival’s ever hosted. Remarkable stuff. – Peter Guy
Krautwerk – Pryzm, Saturday
Krautwerk were a surprise to stumble upon after coming away from an explosive Black Angels set in Furbnace. Electronic Krautrock music legends Harald Grosskopf and Erberhard Kranemann played a very intimate set in Pryzm to a modest crowd seemingly entranced by their cosmic sonic soundscapes. Dressed in denim dungarees and bowler hats with tables of interesting instruments and gadgets, it was a treat to see two pioneers in electronic music at work in such small surroundings. – Lucy MacLachlan
Gnod – District, Friday
Gnod are the sonic equivalent of a traffic accident involving a monster truck, an AT-AT Walker and a rhinoceros. Yet their monstrous visceral power is all consuming and enduring. The industrial headfuck is part of the pleasure. Unlike their last Liverpool show at Buyers Club, their Psych Fest performance includes parka-sporting, perma-twitching Neil Francis and it’s his inclusion which lends a somewhat poppier, more inviting edge to proceedings as he rasps amid the breeze-block sonic velocity as once again District’s black box walls are seemingly paint-stripped before our very eyes. By the conclusion it feels like your internal organs have been twanged to pieces. Top marks once again to Rocket Recordings who’s roster, including Julie’s Haircut, was top of the class at PZYK 2017. – Peter Guy
The Bug Vs Dylan Carson – Camp, Friday
It’s fair to say Camp felt like the more underwhelming of the four venues at PZYK 2017, there rarely seemed to be as much of a buzz generated within those walls. However, The Bug and doom superman Dylan Carson more than made up for that deep into Saturday morning with a ear-melting performance which lent heavily on the latter’s characteristic bowel-quaking drones. Amid the maroon lighting and thick plumes of smog ten inch walls of guitars dueled with a regurgitated electrical storm which forced listeners to either bask at the very heart of the stage or watch on from the back of the room. It was potentially the loudest set we’ve heard at Psych Fest – and it was brutally magnificent. – Peter Guy
OMNI – District, Friday
Agit-pop, alt-rockers OMNI followed LA Witch on to the prime-time Friday evening District Stage. Facing a packed room, the three-piece set about convincing the curious gathering of music explorers that they are indeed worthy of all the hype and praise received, since bringing their brand of prickly pop from Atlanta on tour to these shores. After a nervy start, the band hit their groove and performed a delightful mix of established numbers with songs from their brand new album, Multi-task; which they were pleased to announce, had been released earlier this day. Their sound is uniquely wiry, tuneful and irresistible. Vocals, guitar twangs and lolloping bass lines head off at varying tangents, but are kept locked-in by a tight rhythm section that knows exactly which turn to follow next. OMNI make for compelling listening and go highly recommended. – Mark Rowley
WH Lung – Blade Factory, Friday
Blade Factory is the smallest of the four stages at Psych fest and therefore doesn’t get the biggest names. But it does get some crackers nevertheless and it can be a really rewarding place to spend some time. Previous Psych Fests have seen absolutely stand out performances on this stage – Eartheater, Throw Down Bones, Holy. And so it was when WH Lung arrived on the Blade Factory stage. Billed as a three piece, there were five of them tonight. A kind of cross between Depeche Mode and Afrirampo and a good dose of Ian Curtis style dancing thrown in for good measure. It was mesmerising and those who managed to squeeze into the Blade Factory were treated to one of the reasons Psych Fest is such a blast – the discovery of the amazing. – Peter Goodbody
Guantanamo Baywatch – Blade Factory, Saturday
Guantanamo Baywatch’s surf riot got the crowd into party mode. Bringing the sixties beach movie into the Blade Factory but turning up the punk, the whole crowd appeared to be bopping along and called for more once the set was over. The perfect summer soundtrack of sleazy guitar licks and bluesy scuzz. – Lucy MacLachlan
Acid Arab – District, Friday
Completing possibly the best run of bands in Liverpool International Festival of Psychedelia’s history for one venue (District) on the Friday are Acid Arab. Cosmic Lebanese desert disco probably isn’t a stylistic which is going to catch on soon but this Parisian duo are defo the forefounders of something we’d like to hear more of. In among the swirling electronics you can pick out tablas and twanging guitar which is ever so malevolent. For around an hour District is turned into a sandstorm discoteque as revellers in various states of disarray boogie like there’s no tomorrow. For some you get the distinct impression there’s unlikely to be.
Side note: what with Bambi Davidson, Endless Boogie, The Bongolian, Sex Swing, Celestial Bums, Guantanamo Baywatch and Pigs, Pigs, Pigs, Pigs, Pigs, Pigs, Pigs this year’s event surely had the best named bands on record. – Peter Guy.
Sex Swing – Camp, Saturday
It’s only 10.45pm when Sex Swing assume their position in Camp – but with one and a half days of the festival completed and with the PZYK Colony (a massive rectangular installation which drops over the mid section of the room) transmitting whacked out lazers and mindflipping visuals it’s around this time when things get truly *too much*. Then Sex Swing start playing. It’s off the scale ridiculous. Ribcages jangle, heads mangle and your eyes – your eyes – begin to hurt. Their grind is relentless and you’d think there was at least 14 bass players on stage. Thank heavens there wasn’t. I’m not sure we’d have survived if there were. – Peter Guy.
Grim Brides – Blade Factory, Friday.
Utterly batshit crazy, Danish mayhem. We’re used to seeing bands wearing masks – Evil Blizzard, Dirt Box Disco – but these guys ramp it up to the next level and then some. Completely unintelligible vocals, pummelling bass and screaming synths. We have very little idea of what’s going on. It’s just an insane noise fest. Good for sure but by God it would annoy not only the neighbours but the whole of the rest of the road as well. DAF and Einsturzende Neubauten are amateurs compared to this lot. – Peter Goodbody
Ex-Easter Island Head – Furnace, Saturday
A select bunch of Liverpool heads feel Psych Fest undersells Liverpool talent and should provide more opportunity for the vast riches of new artists emanating from the region. They’re wrong. Ultimately, there’s a lot of other Liverpool festivals which provide this platform – and Psych Fest’s USP is the International element which year on year delivers overseas artists you’ll unlikely see elsewhere in the UK – many of which you won’t have seen before. Chances are Scousers, and people from around the UK, *will* have had the chance to see many of the new Liverpool artists currently making a big noise. That said, this year’s festival included an array of talent from the region including the likes of FUSS, Jane Weaver, Baltic Fleet, The Floormen, Strange Collective and Cavalier Song – and whoever’s idea it was to open Saturday morning with the blissed out brilliance of Ex-Easter Island Head was a stroke of masterclass programming. Ninefuckingteen musicians lined the Furnace stage – each hitting their guitars with mallets or ringing bells, or bashing some form of percussion – but all with relative quiet and precision. The results were transfixing and somewhat soothing after the previous night’s intensity. It felt like a big, warm blanket. – Peter Guy
Pigs, Pigs, Pigs, Pigs, Pigs, Pigs, Pigs – District, Saturday
Matt Baty is unstoppable. For 45 minutes, Baty climbs speaker stacks, swallows his microphone, sweats out his own body weight, drinks a bottle of Buckfast, tootles about in a pink glittery cowboy hat and wraps himself up in cables – all the while projecting his vocals with such force he looks likely to pass out any moment. Amid this half naked wildman’s onstage lunacy his band Pigs x7 detonate a raging rock and roll leviathan. It’s pure riffs. So many riffs. All the riffs. More riffs than Jimmy Page could digest for breakfast. More riffs than Lemmy had Jack Daniels. By the close bass player, John-Michael Hedley is laughing his head off at the preposterous chaos of it all while guitarist Adam Ian Sykes is dishing out his guitar to the front row inviting them to get involved. Wild. – Peter Guy
Dans Dans District, Saturday
What they say they do is to create soundtracks for imaginary films. What they actually do is create powerful, moving instrumentals that had us thinking of Can or Hawkwind at times. It was upbeat and downbeat but never dull. Think of the sound of car chases or spaghetti westerns. It was all there. There were still queues to get into Furnace when these guys came on to pretty sparse crowd in District. That’s a lot of people who could have chosen to see something fresh and interesting yet decided they’d rather see the back of someone else’s head for half an hour. It was a pity because this was top quality entertainment. – Peter Goodbody
Getintothis‘ Liverpool International Festival of Psychedelia 2017 team: Tom Adam, Jamie Bowman, Gary Coughlan, Peter Goodbody, Peter Guy, Lucy MacLachlan and Mark Rowley.