Photography: Keith Ainsworth / arkimages.co.uk

2015 has seen our fair city enjoy a plethora of offerings on the festival front and, wrapping up another wondrous season, LIVERPOOL MUSIC WEEK brought us to the curtain call in glorious form. In its 11th edition, and with no signs of slowing down, LMW was one heady week (and a bit) in October that served up many a mouth-watering soundbite on an outrageously impressive bill. Our review of the festival starts at the top with the stunning opening event at The Kazimier, and is rounded off with a blazing Closing Party on a foggy All Hallows’ Eve at Camp and Furnace.

OPENING PARTY

The Kazimier

Liverpool Music Week is an undertaking that seems to grow in scope and quality with each passing year, bookended by the semi-mythical Opening Party and Closing Party, the two nights that have become the stuff of legend in the Liverpool music calendar. The electric-eclectic line-up for tonight’s opening event at The Kazimier is testament to this legacy and it seems like we’re set for another triumph. Starting proceedings are local sonic doom-makers BODY. Their melancholic, electronic wanderings are intriguing and memorable, and they prove to be a perfect root from which the rest of the night can grow. Aesthetically different but equally impressive, VEYU provide the sizeable crowd with a taste of their new, heavier sound. Still awash with their trademark reverb-laden guitars, the new tracks are not too far departed from the band’s previous output, but suggest a darker and less refined approach to future material. Next up are the ever-evolving and enigmatic collective that is MICACHU & THE SHAPES. Their set expectedly reads like an encyclopaedia of the past three decades of popular music and is as melodic and beautiful as it is discordant and harsh. Never one to settle for convention, Mica Levi draws the crowd through glitchy pop territory into noisy grunge landscapes, refusing to allow passive consumption in lieu of piqued interest. After such an immersive experience it is with a grateful sigh that the now near-capacity audience welcome OUTFIT to the stage.

Their ambient take on synth pop is warmly received and offers welcome respite to ears that have had to adjust to different styles and extremities throughout the evening. As well as being massively enjoyable, Outfit also act as a fitting segue into the penultimate performance of the night, which is provided by cerebral electronic act DARKSTAR. Aiden Whalley’s combination of contemplative beats and samples with poppy synths and vocal melodies makes for a ponderous yet satisfying display. With the drinks now well and truly flowing, the attendees of tonight’s party are evidently in the mood for just that, and though headliner HOLLY HERNDON caters adequately to those who simply want to throw some shapes, her set, combined with some mesmerising visuals, also offers much for those content to stand and admire.

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SHOWCASE EVENTS

Also competing for attention on the opening night of affairs is RICHARD HAWLEY but, judging by the queue the length of Renshaw Street outside Grand Central’s Dome, he needn’t worry. Under the pretty powder-blue and porcelain ceiling of the former Methodist church, Hawley and his four copycat band members gift Music Week-goers a smooth, skyrocketing and sublime set littered with gems from his brooding back catalogue and soon-to-be-classics from latest release Hollow Meadows; early on we’re treated to golden oldies Tonight The Streets Are Ours and Standing At The Sky’s Edge. While the sweeping orchestration and Mediterranean-lilt of the former conjure up images of cobbled, candlelit streets, the latter paints a different image entirely, all storming blues crescendo and thundering drums. Both tracks showcase the range and strength of Hawley’s vocal and his band’s musical prowess, which are only amplified in the ornate venue.

Hollow Meadows seems to continue in the same vein as previous releases, meditating on relationships, ageing and frailty, and Hawley translates these themes into a stunning live performance. Beautifully unhurried tracks like What Love Means, I Still Want You and Tuesday PM, which Hawley introduces as “probably the quietist and saddest song” he’s written, command stillness in the ecclesiastical venue, the audience rightly mesmerised by the most affable man in music spilling his soul. Mixed-in amidst fan favourites the wistful Open Up Your Door and warming Don’t Stare At The Sun, his new material flows seamlessly.

Perhaps it’s a lazy comparison to make but with those fathomless baritone vocals and a musical style that eludes easy categorisation and exudes crossover crooner cool, Hawley is very much the modern-day Roy Orbison (the thick-rimmed specs and deep black Brylcreemed quiff help a little too). He introduces soaring set-closer Heart Of Oak as an ode to his adoring fans, before encoring with the hauntingly atmospheric and slightly Doorsian The Ocean.

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Now for something completely different. Fast forward a couple nights and experimental outfit HEALTH are headlining the black and white bowels of The Kazimier. Like HEALTH, local support acts a.P.A.t.T and BARBEROS defy genre, the former mixing elements of electronica, ska, prog rock and industrial beats. Barberos, another Liverpool stalwart, are essentially a keyboard, two drum kits and three morph suits (if that seems strange to you, you’ve come to the wrong gig). Both set up the headliners perfectly, leaving just enough of the crowds’ eardrums intact for HEALTH to finish off.

The Californian noise-rockers take the stage for their fifth Liverpool show, and a first return to Merseyside in five years. After gaining fame with the electro-stuttering Crystal Castles remix of their track Crimewave, each subsequent album release has pushed boundaries further, the quartet refusing to let their sound be limited by their instruments. The crowd are hit with a barrage of noise as the band open with Die Slow, overcoming some early problems with vocal levels. Stonefirst, from their latest release Death Magic, is a pummelling barricade of scratching synth that is given greater listenability by Jake Duzsik’s haunting vocals. Hardcore fans head-bang and fist-pump at the front, the rest of the crowd swaying to the industrious beats.

Finishing with an encore of the impossibly frantic Courtship, the band leave the stage as breathless as the crowd. Frenetic offerings like this showcase exactly why, in its 11th year, Liverpool Music Week continues to endure and attract hordes of fans from all over.

Now for GODSPEED YOU! BLACK EMPEROR in the commodious Camp and Furnace. What can be said? A colossal machine raptures through our city, picking up where HEALTH left off. The Canadian eight-piece are regarded as the entrepreneurs, the originals, and the saviours of post-rock. A musical discipline, once upon a time overlooked. The creation of sonic landscapes, landscapes that delve deep, constructing an unweary path to future dystopia.

Mediative drones ring out. The atmosphere builds around this industrial warehouse. Melancholia floods down the dark, damp iron girders as the once derelict confines of Camp and Furnace host an unforgettable evening. So we have it. Loud, sustained dissonant noise rapturing throughout the venue, mesmerising anyone in its path. Analogue projections burn through the reel-to-reel tape, painting the stage with lurid, breathtaking cinematography. Signature sonic soundscapes provide a contradicting feature, unsettling yet peaceful. Godspeed ease to the stage as they proceed through their never-ending archive, engrossing the audience with two hours of blissful textures. The eight-piece tear through material such as Storm and Mladic, to name but two.

Experiencing a show of this magnitude is astounding – every aspect so beautifully crafted, finely tuned and constructed. There is no margin for error, as the horror of a twisted, tormented soul emerging from a fictional realm creeps up your spine. Godspeed You! Black Emperor share their idealistic views on the world the only way they know how: by channelling their personal heart-felt emotion and beauty through the simplistic artistic medium of music.

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Everything is slowed down somewhat over at the Scandinavian Church for an evening with JOSH T. PEARSON. The Texan, accompanied by friend Calvin Lebaron for much of his set, treats the captivated congregation to an unusual evening of laughter, religion and heartbreak. As an experimental side project Pearson performs old gospel standards with Lebaron as The Two Witnesses and introduces each as “a song your Grandma would love”. Looking resplendent in Southern Gent attire – one all in black, the other in white – their vocal harmonies work wonders in the exquisite interior of the Park Lane venue, and while irony propels Pearson’s between-song yatter, the duo clearly having nothing but respect for these moving hymns.

It seems Pearson was in a different place when he wrote 2013 album Last Of The Country Gentlemen, as tonight he jokes about getting a haircut, massaging his friend in his sleep and the danger of robots taking over the world. But when it comes to getting into the headspace for one his songs “that’ll make you cry”, he is fully committed to the moment and so is the entirety of the crowd. Every song ebbs and flows; as Pearson tickles crescendos from his acoustic and as Sweetheart I Ain’t Your Christ and Woman, When I’ve Raised Hell dance around desperation and redemption, it’s captivating.

It’s impossible to tell to what extent confidence or fragility informs Pearson’s stage persona, constantly reassuring us (or himself) that he feels alright, anguishing over the sound of his guitar and getting his buddy Calvin onstage for a seemingly unscheduled performance. Whether he is under-confident or a master of stagecraft is irrelevant, as he has more than won over this Music Week crowd who hope this is not the ‘Farewell Tour’ that Pearson quips it is.

"A night like this is important for Liverpool, not just because the DJs play music you don't hear outside of London or New York, but because of the attitude and agenda that the performers bring with them."

Unlike Pearson, who threatens farewell, EVIAN CHRIST, appearing at new Hardman Street-outing Buyers Club, appears to be an artist in transition. After signing to Warp earlier in the year, he announced the news of an art installation at the ICA. This installation, along with a few one-off parties he put together in London, was themed around trance – if not the genre itself then the idea of trance and the exploration of otherworldly 90s dancefloor utopia.

These events sought to engage not just with the idea of “meaningless euphoria” but with the social and political environments that surround trance as a movement and as a desire within club goers. These lofty ambitions, along with his gradual alignment with a new breed of US club experimenters like Fatima Al Quadiri and his famed collab with Kanye, all combine to make it feel like the music world has underestimated this young lad from Ellesmere Port.

The music tonight is intense (as are the lasers and constant strobes), either through sheer force of sound or by virtue of jarring sonic contrasts. Perhaps the overriding theme of the night is that of deconstruction, from EVOL’s troll-like set of endless hoover synths to the trance impresario himself, Evian Christ, and his muscular trap’n’bass abstractions.

A night like this is important for Liverpool, not just because the DJs play music you don’t hear outside of London or New York, but because of the attitude and agenda that the performers bring with them. Tonight that attitude is best expressed by the pairing of GHE20G0THIK founder Venus X and LA’s most aggressive club collagist TOTAL FREEDOM. Their rapid-fire selections and ever-morphing tapestry of mutant hip hop and US club music feel fluid and exciting, like a bold adventure within the American underground.

The club has long been mythologised as a democratised zone for people to come together and look forward but it remains a myth unless promoters actively encourage new voices. Within a club context, the night’s female onstage presence felt particularly refreshing, with NKISI and Berlin’s KABLAM both delivering hard-hitting early sets to a handful of Liverpool’s most dedicated.

LMW and Evian Christ should be commended for bringing a line-up like this to Liverpool. For a town so rich in musical heritage and culture, the club scene here can feel overly student-centric and techno-oriented, but tonight is proof that there is a growing audience for forward-thinking club culture whose purpose is to disorient.

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Mischief night, but the BEST COAST crowd are above all that; too busy lining up to see the duo bring their Cali cool to the Kaz via the North West coast. First up though, to paraphrase Dorothy: are BATHYMETRY a good band or a bad band? If it’s the latter, that may even be where their appeal lies. There’s a void in their 60s sound – The Shirelles playing Pink Floyd’s UFO Club set. Possibly vice-versa. Maybe refusing to learn to play their instruments stems from the fear that, upon mastery, they’ll lose the Grimm factor that’s borne out by their obvious songwriting ability. An illustrative example is that the perennially out-of-tune guitar has a lot in common with Sartre’s lazy eye: distracting, but not relevant to an appreciation of the important work for which he’s best known.

VIOLA BEACH might not seem to have a lot in common with tonight’s headliners, sonically speaking, but their fine blend of the last 30 years of British guitar pop acts as the perfect link between Bathymetry’s stripped-down wooziness and Best Coast. This set’s delightful – as is seeing their (un-microphoned) drummer sing along to Swings And Waterslides and know it’s not onanism, nor bravado, but simply joy at making music.

Best Coast sound massive these days, guitars filling The Kaz with adolescent fuzz and drawing a huge crowd with adolescent fuzz of its own. With studio-perfect vocals all night, Bethany Consentino proves her slacker credentials by rattling through California Nights, So Aware (both from their new album), Boyfriend et al. barely wasting any time on between-song chat. Highlights include I Don’t Know How, a post-grunge Beauty School Dropout, and Do You Love Me Like You Used To, with a vocal that erupts from hidden depths.

Though the crowd might disagree, over a 19-song set, the patterns that emerge – lyrically and musically – are repetitive. There’s a lot of being and feeling crazy, fading out and fading away, being in love and not knowing how to say it. But those sentiments ring true to so many it might be enough to get the point across.

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CLOSING PARTY

Camp and Furnace

Clawing our way through gig exhaustion to the euphoric finish line – rather like how Jacko’s thriller zombie eagerly leaves the grave for the dance breakdown – we’re in for a treat at the coveted Closing Party, which takes over Camp and Furnace on the mistiest Halloween Merseyside’s seen in years. Mercury nominees SOAK mark a sea change – the dash of melancholy to what is, after all, LMW’s farewell for another year. Their sound world has washes of reverb, electronic drums, and acoustic guitars that slip delicately through the mix. Icelandic with an eighties feel, Hailstones Don’t Hurt induces such a train of thought: first, you think it’s Ultravox; next, that it is Vienna; then you realise it isn’t and, finally, that it is better than Vienna. Vampire Weekend bassist Alexander BAIO’s pays homage to the decade more…indulgently. At times he’s the thawed Bryan Ferry, or perhaps one of the brothers Kemp (I presume they’re into cryogenics). Admittedly, it’s a difficult venue (two stages in one room and both feel awkward all night), but some inspired guitar parts do redeem the period-appropriate excess.

ALL WE ARE’s new track Down is a gothic masterpiece with cinematic ambitions and murky vocals. It’s a prelude to DEERHUNTER’s artisan noise pop. Refreshingly, even with a new album out, they don’t seem obliged to plug it relentlessly. As good as latest single Snakeskin is, the set is a jaunt through their back catalogue leaving little room for improvement, and their use of noise really is virtuosic – the four minutes of feedback before they leave the stage is not the frippery that ends most gigs – it’s as integral as the album tracks, a genuine coda.

Following Deerhunter is tough, even for a band who’d split twice before Turn It Up, Faggot twinkled in Brandon Cox’s eye. It’s hardly reasonable to expect that 1978’s agents of sexy Marxism should continue to agitate into their dotage, but to see Entertainment!’s sole survivor, the saturnine Andy Gill, sip from the large glass of white perched atop his amplifier between songs rather undermines the left-wing credentials and sweaty urgency of the previous two minutes. While playing they do at least hint at the intelligent rage that GANG OF FOUR once owned (on this side of the Atlantic at least). It’s an oddly-weighted set, delivered in a business-like manner at the end of the night, to a diminishing crowd who do, to their credit, muster the energy to launch themselves at each other and the barrier and generate a little atmosphere.

Chances are many stragglers will head home thinking of LA PRIEST, who overcomes the venue’s limitations with contagious energy, high-density tunes, and slinky PJs. Between such luxurious stagewear and new single Show, he endears himself to the crowd: announcing his successors onstage with genuine excitement, which is more than common courtesy; he’s one of us, a music lover and giddy fan. Turning the mic to the final cheers, he finishes by sampling and mixing them anew, a real moment of live music. What purer act of communion could there be? The spirit of Liverpool Music Week in silk pyjamas.

DIY PRESENTS – BREAKING OUT: Away from the bright lights of the established headliners, LMW 2015 provided us with a run of shows at the Shipping Forecast and Arts Club featuring a clutch of acts who we can be sure will be bill-topping names in the future. Our scouts were out in force – here’s who impressed them…

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Joint headliners THE AMAZONS bring a touch of swagger to the Shipping Forecast on the opening night of this Breaking Out run. It’s also the first night of their UK tour with a literal mic drop moment at the end, but it doesn’t detract from the quality of their set, which leaves the crowd wanting more from the Reading’s own rockstars.

The venue is soon filled with more fans of London based band, PALACE, who sing along to their easy listening favourites; So Long Forever and Head Above The Water from their second EP Chase The Light. Inspired by Jeff Buckley and taking influence from bands like Alabama Shakes, Palace deliver a set that is as pleasurable to watch as it is to listen to with the lead singer’s humble interactions with the crowd making this a band to look out for in the future.

IDLE FRETS jumpstart the proceedings with pop music that oozes sunshine and warms the room on this chilly evening. The most recent single, Lifeline, is an obvious high point during the show.

ALL TVVINS take to the stage to headline the night. Sounding like a live band version of LCD Soundsystem they are tonight’s saviours. They provide some much needed proof that pop music does not have to be bland. With the right ingredients, as can be heard in tracks such as Too Young to Live and Darkest Ocean, pop music can be as cathartic as any other sonic form. Their live performance offers some unashamedly expressive dance moves from the guitar player. By far the stand-out group of the night and a deserving headliner, All Tvvins play an honest, raw and powerful set.

As feisty newcomers DMA’s take the stage it becomes clear that they have a unique breed of Oz pop. Frontman Tommy Odell swaps ego and arrogance for modesty and a quiet swagger; this a band with no need for idle chatter. With only one EP under their belt it seems the fans have already learnt-it-by-heart as they chant furiously in the face of the band. The room resonates with a raucous energy. By the time the opening chords of Laced ring out into the room, the crowd erupts into anarchy: beer flies across the room as a hundred sweaty heads start to slam their fists against the basement’s ceiling.

Crowd favourite STRANGE COLLECTIVE fill the space out. These guys a hard to pin down to one genre, but Brit pop punk describes the majority of their set. OHMNS decide on an impromptu invasion/collaboration for the last song, which goes down a storm.

The room empties out after Strange Collective finish up, but sadly doesn’t fill back up by the time TELEGRAM start up. The four-piece is a little more old school compared to the previous acts, dressed a little Gothic and more technical in their play style.

A recent signing to the prestigious 4AD records, PIXX has been blowing people away with her own brand of alt pop. With ethereal backing tracks and a voice that haunts you in your sleep it is hard to escape the hypnotic trance that the BRIT School graduate puts you under.

This isn’t the sort of gig to jump around at as the audience exchange a lively commotion for respectful silence, basking in the full glory of her truly remarkable voice. Vocals are combined with a laid-back stage presence as the quirky Southerner taps at her drum machine with casual one stick beats, her movement juxtaposes against the awkward tension of the music perfectly.

With an atmosphere as electric as her sound, SHURA gives an energetic performance of singles White Light and 2shy that sweep you up in her soft voice, honest lyrics and familiar synthesised beats that are reminiscent of a young Madonna but with a modern twist. It is clear that Shura is going to be a hot ticket in the next year, so catch her in these intimate venues while you can, but with performances on Later with Jools Holland and a US tour underway, that may be easier said than done.

 

Words: Alastair Dunn, Bethany Garrett, Christopher Hughes, Sam Banks, Sam Turner, Andrew PM Hunt, Stuart Miles O’Hara, Portia Fahey, Matt Hogg, Kieran Donnachie, Christopher Carr.

Photography: Aaron McManus, Stuart Moulding, Keith Ainsworth, Marty Saleh, Mike Sheerin.

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