“Every time we’ve put on a show, it’s pissed it down. Seriously, we’re the rainmakers!” says Sam Wiehl of Liverpool’s premier psych-rock promoters BEHIND THE WALL OF SLEEP, with the merest hint of exasperation.
A gloomy outlook, but despite many of their previous gigs being marred by inclement weather, the six-strong collective look to have taken a successful gamble on a positively balmy post-Christmas period by booking a hat-trick of gigs, with more in the pipeline.
Frustrated by the fact that all their favourite bands’ tours tended to gravitate towards the veiny sprawl of Manchester rather than coastal Liverpool, a group of friends – Jason, Sam, Adam, Clifford, Bilso and Mark – began to throw around the idea that it didn’t have to be this way, and that their mini fleet of promoters would have the muscle and broadness of taste to attract high quality touring bands from the world over. The magnetic effect of Manchester has for years been the bugbear of many a fledgling Liverpool promoter, but BTWOS have proved that it’s one that can be overcome. All it takes is hard graft, a positive attitude and some nifty poster art.
Fast-forward a year and BTWOS have filled a yawning gap in the market. In December they hosted Premonition 13, fronted by the quasi-legendary doom rocker Scott ‘Wino’ Weinrich. Fans came from as far afield as Newcastle to attend the band’s only northern show. “I think it works because we’ve all got each other’s backing and don’t treat it like a job,” explains Adam, “and if one of us has faith in a particular band, we’ll back them 100%.”
It’s an incredibly trusting attitude to take, but since it was a love of similar styles of music that brought them together, the risk is diluted somewhat. Jason, best known as bassist with psych-rockers Mugstar, explains the importance of “keeping the line-up as varied as possible” and Sam, poster guru and Mugstar projectionist insists that there is “a definite spectrum of eclecticism within the tiny world we inhabit.”
If there were a grain of homogeny running through all BTWOS shows, it would be one of the avant-garde, the psychedelic and surreal, their macabre poster art providing an extra ‘ooo!’ factor. The element of mystery in the designs reflects the music, and the level of detail is enough to draw you in for the couple of seconds that it takes you to ask yourself: “why is that pyramid wearing sunglasses?” or “why is that dog playing with a human skull?”
Three of the troupe have a background in graphic design and, despite their suggestion that there are very few places in Liverpool to advertise shows, Sam is passionate about the need for posters, even in the digital age: “It may not make economical sense to print off a load of posters when there’s nowhere to put them, but we still make them for the same reason bands still press vinyl – to create a lasting, physical medium. Plus, Behind The Wall Of Sleep is not a brand, it’s a bit freer than that.”
With the aesthetics taken care of, there’s the actual formality of putting on the gigs themselves, which all members agree can be the most trying of tasks. Adam is rankled by the turmoil of balancing the finances. “Trying to keep the cost of putting on shows to a minimum is the hardest thing about it. You’ve got venue hire, accommodation, guest list and we always try and feed the bands… it’s hard work.” Sam is keen to stress that on the rare occasion they make a profit, they will either use it to either put on a free show (as they did in August last year, booking Mogwai’s touring guitarist RM Hubbert in Bold Street Coffee) or simply cut the headliners a percentage: “It’s not because we’re really nice or anything, we’re just crap promoters!”
Headlining the next show on 23rd March at the Kazimier are NYC space-rockers White Hills. Signed to Thrill Jockey Records, they are all smouldering guitar solos, earth-moving fuzz bass and stoner wig-out atmospherics. With Mugstar and Mind Mountain in support, it should be a corker.
So what’s the secret to putting on a successful show? They look humbled that I would ask such a question: “We haven’t found that yet!” jokes Jason. But it depends what you class as success. If it’s picking the latest buzz band off the industry production line and using them to sell out an 800-capacity venue, then BTWOS certainly haven’t found it, but if it’s getting your favourite bands to come from all over the world to play a show on your own stomping ground, then we reckon they’re on the right track.