Liverpool has enjoyed an embarrassment of riches on the festival front this year. 2014 has seen the biggest names, the best cutting-edge artists and Shaggy all grace Merseyside throughout the year. As we reached the year’s curtain call, LIVERPOOL MUSIC WEEK 2014 strode up to the plate for its tenth edition, primed to unleash more fantastic music on our venues with some mouth-watering prospects on an aggressively great bill. Dave Tate started at the top with the stunning opening event at Camp and Furnace, waiting with baited breath to see the current critic’s darling, while Josh Potts encountered post-rock royalty in the same venue the following night. Dave Tate then took a trip to the other side of town for a set by established indie-dance favourites at the O2 Academy.
There are many round these parts (by which I of course mean the music press) who’d have you believe Daniel Snaith is some kind of musical second coming, and they certainly have a strong case. His last three albums, under the aliases of CARIBOU and Daphni, have all received justified critical acclaim and he has proved himself equally adept behind the decks, taking headline sets at festivals across the summer.
While he’s certainly blessed with a polymathic ability (not only in music, Snaith holds a doctorate in Mathematics), it would also be fair to say I’ve been slightly trepidatious about the trajectory his latest album has set him on. While his previous work has never shied away from the mainstream, he was usually found to be skirting its periphery. Familiar, while challenging its conventions enough to be interesting. With latest offering, Our Love, however, it seems he has set his sights firmly on the charts.
My first thoughts on hearing the album were how similar a lot of it was to much contemporary pop/dance. Not that there’s anything inherently wrong with that, of course, but the album failed to excite me in the same way as, say, Swim or (Daphni debut) Jiaolong. Perhaps this is a sign of Snaith’s increasing ambition to crack the mainstream. Judging from tonight’s show ambition is something Snaith possesses in spades. Every track is squeezed and pushed to its most anthemic, showcasing his move towards a bigger and more club/festival-friendly sound.
Perhaps Snaith’s overriding characteristic, and greatest strength, lies in his ability to connect seemingly disparate scenes and eras. The songs he plays from his last two Caribou albums – such as the ever-excellent Odessa – exhibit his attempts to reconcile a love of dance music with his desire to play as a band. In the context of this band, the music incorporates much of the flowery psychedelia of his earlier albums. New single Can’t Do Without You would not sound out of place atop the Radio 1 playlist, but even tracks dating as far back as 2007’s Andorra hold their own in this decidedly dance-friendly context. Caribou’s broad appeal is evident, with everyone from ‘the youth of today’ to the discerning, beard-stroking musos in attendance. It may be difficult to maintain your uniqueness as an artist whilst the audiences continue to grow but it’s a safe bet to say if anyone can do it, it’s probably Dan.
The buzz surrounding Saturday night’s bill seems to shake the highest rafters of the Furnace, where a dense crowd has filled almost every nook in the room to watch MUGSTAR unleash hell. No, they don’t kick anything over, and their guitars are not beaten on the stage floor like Fisher Price mallets, though you wonder if the noises arising from such activity would be out of place in the quartet’s familiar (but never easy) krautrock tempest. Having gained an extremely passionate local following over the years, the band brutalise any who find the idea of ripples in their pints ungodly. Canvas and Black Fountain are as unstoppable as a truck spotlighting a baby deer; Mugstar are always best when their sheer energy batters the niggling feeling that maybe one gear is all they can hit but, Christ, what velocity, what furious confidence in their material.
FOREST SWORDS is another local lad done good – one of Merseyside’s true breakout stars. It’s great to see him back home in Camp and Furnace on this celebratory Friday evening, at the summit of an All Tomorrow’s Parties event that he’s curated. An ancient idol revolves slowly on the screen behind him, possibly a nod towards Matthew Barnes’ fast and loose appropriation of world music to his tightly wound, electronic fantasia. Like his ambient forefathers, he’s able to let melodies squirrel away beneath percussive bedrock, yet stabs through here and there with vocal lines that take you off guard, shuttling towards a cataclysm we’re eternally hoping for. When Barnes’ stars align, there’s no will to refuse them. The Weight Of Gold is a perfect example of his mythos, performed with see-sawing back motions and a bass pitch that’s too ridiculous to be healthy.
If Forest Swords represents the transitory level of success as an instrumental artist, MOGWAI have to be the lords of the long game. The Glaswegians have experimented with their quiet-loud nuclear dynamic before – however, 2014’s Rave Tapes might be their most mature effort yet and, truthfully, it adds a lot of meat to Mogwai’s musical bones. Opener Heard About You Last Night slithers beautifully to life, three luminous hexagons above blinking out over our dark bodies. Remurdered’s menace could be lifted straight out of Pink Floyd’s Welcome To The Machine, another dizzying and dystopian murmur bubbling at the edges of ascendency. Count all of the finger-flights up the neck of John Cummings’ guitar and you deserve a medal. The group swap instruments occasionally, tuning into a kinesis that binds each take-off with the titanic force of a leviathan emerging from clouds of fog. Each song requires patience but they are very rewarding: Death Rays, in particular, layers its sonic patchwork together without revealing any seams. Mogwai can say more with a held chord than most bands can cram into a lyric sheet, and for this, and the fact that they are simply one of the most cohesive units gracing modern music, we can reattach to reality tomorrow with a glimpse of transcendence.
On the face of it, MONEY don’t look like a band you would particularly want opening for you. Recent headline slots have shown them to be a band capable of wearing out an audience with the conviction they put into their performance and, if they hit their stride, they could easily threaten to blow any headliners out of the water. Their reverb-washed post-punk sound brings to mind The Bunnymen and the songs push towards anthemic. Synth pads wash and rise and vocals soar, touching on themes of love and loss, all with a decidedly Byronic bent. And my, what vocals they are. Midway between a choirboy and a drunk, Jamie Lee manages to evoke an entire spectrum of emotions and then some, all with a coy smile across his face. His swagger and charisma are arresting. Again, not exactly a band you’d relish following.
Pity, then, poor WILD BEASTS, for that is precisely the hand they’ve been dealt. Things start promisingly enough and they’ve brought along all the bells and whistles, not to mention a particularly impressive light show. In spite of all this, however, I find myself zoning out from the second song in. The sound from the venue could partially be to blame, but only to the extent that it exposes a weakness inherent in the band’s latest synth-based offerings. Stood up alongside their better – and better-renowned – earlier work such as All The King’s Men and Hooting And Howling, it makes you wonder why they ever chose to move away from their guitar-based roots at all.
Indeed, the band seem a long way from those quirky-yet-compelling Cumbrians with the camp falsettos and jagged guitar pop that found them fame. Instead, they have repositioned themselves as a group of Thin White Duke-era Bowies, wrapped in swagger and turtlenecks. While they prove themselves experienced-enough musicians to put on a good show, at times it feels like they’re going through the motions. Towards the end of the set they do try to engage the crowd with their louder songs and more dance-inspired beats but it’s too little, too late. It’s a shame really because underneath all the synth glitz, 80s fashion and faux posturing, I’m sure there’s still a band capable of putting on a great show. Just not tonight.
With the echoing din of such fine purveyors of modern rock still rattling the walls of Camp and Furnace, we pitched up at The Kazimier for a fine weeklong series of free shows. Dave Tate, Richard Lewis and Paddy Clarke saw some of the highlights.
FREE SHOWS @ THE KAZIMIER
There’s nothing like a bit of Saturday Night Fever, particularly when it’s soundtracked by the infectious, hypnotic grooves of one of San Francisco’s finest groups of recent years. PEAKING LIGHTS certainly bring a party atmosphere, even if it’s mostly limited to the stage. Not since the Shangaan of Nozinja has Liverpool played host to music simultaneously ebullient and danceable. While their sound is clearly indebted to Jamaican dub production and ideas, there is a gratifying lack of affected patois, quasi-spirituality or misappropriated ideology that afflicts so much of dub-inspired music. Peaking Lights’ music equally references shades of 4AD as it does Studio One and is all the stronger and more interesting for it. Danceable and fun. Now if only they could drag a few more bodies on to the floor.
Across this year’s Liverpool Music Week bill you can dip in to sets that are both brilliant and bizarre, but few are as unyieldingly bizarre as AMERICANS, the disordered duo who open the evening tucked in a corner amid a tangle of wires and props on the crowded floor. Though they open with sparse, easy chimes, the pleasantries are soon smothered by a harsh, cacophonous swarm of frantic drums and whirring, abrasive synths which attack and attack with no surrender in sight.
It’s a shambolic set, yet somehow completely engrossing – it might well be one of the best comedy routines Liverpool’s seen in years. Though one particularly obnoxious gaggle of pissed-up, middle-aged punters who’ve stumbled into the wrong hen-do feel the need to heckle, for the majority the duo are remarkably endearing.
SEAWITCHES follow and bring things back down to earth – unfortunately a little too much. Their set is a relatively engaging one, thanks in no small part to the lashings of ethereal charisma lent by frontwoman Jo Herring’s command of the stage, and they’ve no shortage of fetching riffs and creeping atmospherics. The band’s problem is simply a minor identity crisis – the shadows of Savages, Siouxsie and The Cure still darken their idiosyncrasies. That said, they reveal much in embryonic talent that’s there to be tightened, and those vocals soar nonetheless.
WE CAME OUT LIKE TIGERS are, as ever, a welcome cat amongst the pigeons. Led by the melodrama of the choral Tribulation, as they take their opening strides they duly career into a thunder of drums and razor sharp screams. Noisy is an understatement, the group completely uncompromising in a set of magnetic intensity. They take to quieter moments, too, with immense reserves of confidence, solo vocal segments still captivating for what appears to be a far from stereotypical screamo crowd. As frontman Simon Barr turns political orator for a defiant soap-box speech towards the set’s close, it’s more than clear that he’s a man with The Kazimier in his palm.
EAGULLS have more than the swagger to follow, rocketing into their luscious post-punk wails with the fine-tuned intensity of Killing Joke at their most thrilling. It’s not long before the moshers stumble frontwards for Nerve Endings after ten minutes or so of quivering build up and, given the band’s early, inexorable pace it’s not hard to work out why. They are a potent live force, yet also a band without a huge amount of material – exuberantly acclaimed their self-titled debut might be, but they’ve little more than that record’s ten tracks to work with, all of which follow a set formula, and the set feels wanting of a simple step up. That said, they’re as good in their delivery as any of the slick performers out there, and, should their baying crowd stick around, it’s only time in the way of some sure-to-be stratospheric highs.
HOOKWORMS’ support slot to fellow cosmic voyagers Moon Duo two years ago saw the same venue at roughly half-full, whereas tonight The Kaz is at sardines capacity before the five-piece descend from the dressing room.
Assuredly opening with slow-burner Away/Towards – the curtain-raiser to last year’s magnificent debut LP, Pearl Mystic – the set powers forwards in units of three or four tracks at a time, the first tranche comprising twenty minutes of exhilarating prog/psych cross-pollination before a brief respite is finally permitted.
Stood front and centre onstage, vocalist MJ is the fulcrum of the band’s sound and somehow manages to combine intense emotional vocal catharsis with lab technician-like accuracy across keyboards and the sound desk of white noise effects and samples in front of him. To the left of the stage, a guitarist grapples with his low-slung axe whilst opposite a fellow six-stringer lets loose a blizzard of FX, their efforts backed up by the formidable drive of the rhythm section.
Showcasing new material – XL-proportioned lead single The Impasse and new 45 On Leaving, pulsing along on an insistent jabbing bassline – amply demonstrate why imminent second LP The Hum is pulling in plaudits from across the board. The upbeat stomp of Radio Tokyo signposts the group’s excursions into poppier climes, while the swooning Off Screen proves the quintet can change gears from intense to expansive, ‘quieter’ moments where, conversely, the volume doesn’t actually drop. The title of the straight-ahead motorik psych-pop of Retreat played last, meanwhile, proves paradoxical, given that the present band are advancing in the opposite direction at gathering speed. A quick “Cheers Liverpool” and they depart to long, highly deserved applause.
Tuesday brings a reminder that THE ANTLERS are a band of nothing but gargantuan quality. Before those venerable Brooklynites can see starry-eyed expectations fulfilled, however, JAMES CANTY is up showing off his own prowess: solo acoustic segments propped up by his modestly moving, electronic-leaning backers. In the former it’s off-kilter at the perfect angle, the passion more than apparent yet never bordering on the saccharine, while in the meatier sequences it’s synth pop done properly.
With the bar set rather high then, ETCHES leap to push it once more with a plush, commanding set of individualist, dark electro pop that breathes charisma into a formula dominated by down-tempo mumblers. Above all, the set simply shows character, the group’s musical narratives shaped by organic twists and turns, kaleidoscopic collisions of texture and the hypnotic float of delectable riffs, their latest Ice Cream Dream Machine the closer and the highlight. It’s a set so good it almost leaves seeds of a scandalous upstaging in the back of some still-reeling minds.
On record, The Antlers have a long time been the refuge of the disillusioned hipster, with records like Hospice earning the type of reverence reserved for their elders and so-called betters. Their live set is everything their adoring cult could hope for: a captivating sequence of knife-edge tenderness to reel in their doting mob.
They open with the delicacies of Palace, distilling, refining and unleashing a yearning cocktail of opulent texture into the very purest of assaults on the senses. Throughout the set they essentially keep repeating the feat, their hour or so a protracted sequence of singular euphoria, peppered with stratospheric crescendos of sparse-yet-unbridled emotion. As on record they never quite deviate from their marvellous mid-tempos, perhaps leaving those yet to be converted a little out of the communal loop. That minority are a meagre one, though, for at large the set leaves the masses in tatters as the spell finally breaks, and a departing Epilogue feels enough to stake a claim for the festival’s finest hour.
For the uncostumed Halloween crowd that’s seemingly oblivious to the festivities beyond the beer garden, an imperious evening with LIARS awaits. As Liars take the stage to a beaten, bemused but ever-enraptured crowd there’s still plenty of room for manoeuvre; that, however, is the perfect state of affairs, with Liars seizing on the breathing room from the off, the gleeful bounces of an adoring front row quick to fill the space.
The set rests on the trio’s more recent electronic leanings, and it’s their second outing, Mask Maker, that truly sets the night alight. Relentless grooves and finely-tuned explosions of electro-insanity are the order of the day, the New Yorkers hurtling through their show with an off-kilter swagger that soon filters into the mob, some of whom simply stare in befuddled hypnosis, others diving headfirst into the lunacy. The set concludes only slightly too soon with Mess On A Mission, and the crowd need no cajoling into a manic reception as frontman Angus Andrew’s frenzied refrain is matched at every word.
For those who’ve been here before – and there should be plenty of us, this being the tenth edition and all – the legendary status of the LMW Closing Party will need no explanation. For those new to it, it invariably offers a fittingly thrilling and bustling finale. Alastair Dunn and Jack Graysmark threw themselves in to the tumult of this year’s Music Week climax, which saw a full-on takeover of the city’s Baltic Triangle with the closing party sprawling across numerous venues.
There are few signs to indicate the hive of activity into which the Baltic Triangle has been turned by Liverpool Music Week’s Closing Party, as it’s hidden away within these old warehouse walls. At a time when development plans threaten the very fabric of this area, this culmination of a week of musical extravagance feels even more selective and for those in the know.
VEYU have managed to turn the bare white space of The Blade Factory in to their own mini-EPI, with neon-flecked artwork and rippling visuals splashed across the walls. It seems a little at odds with their own pastel-hued melodica but, as Running and In The Forest unravel, it’s hard to imagine a setting that won’t fit this band’s gorgeous tones.
The escapades of main act on the District Stage, BLACK LIPS, have become the stuff of legend, so it is no wonder that the venue is packed to capacity. Those who arrive late to the toilet-roll-and-sweat party miss STRANGE COLLECTIVE charging the air in the room with a riotous crackle, but it’s the headliners who people will remember after this limb-flailing show. Though Black Lips appear to have matured and mellowed since their infamous early performances, they still put on a riotous show. The frenetic pace of their songs does little to disguise how well-crafted they truly are, and the gospel and blues influences are clear throughout. Fan favourites Bad Kids and Oh Katrina! prove the highlights of the set, but everything in-between is just as good.
Over at Camp and Furnace, such is the anticipation that a mass of punters are waiting patiently to get into the main hub when half-eight rolls around. Suddenly, the room is swelling and a foreboding static is heralding the arrival of BIRD, a four-piece that always capture the twisted, otherworldly beauty that lies within darkness. The subdued guitar notes on The Rain Song linger before swiftly being bought into focus with ear-shattering percussion. With whispers of the band shutting-up shop and confirmation that this is their final Liverpool show, it’s reassuring that they remain resolute in their performance as they fly home to roost.
Headliners CHVRCHES really reap the rewards of the vast, cavernous space of the same venue. Their melodies come ready-made for translating the crowd’s energy into a blissful, pop-heavy elation and, as they launch into the frenetic roll of We Sink, the industrial setting complements the swarm of synths and intense neon graphics that douse the stage.
Maybe it’s just the PA, but despite frontwoman Lauren Mayberry’s determination her vocals occasionally drown under the full force of the band’s sound, such as the blistering chorus of Night Sky. Yet on other tracks, like Gun, she is clear and assertive, bolstered by a vigorous aura of self-belief. Iain Cook and Martin Doherty flank her, often shoehorned to their stations of synths and samples, so it’s refreshing when Cook pulls out a bass to flaunt at the front of the stage, while Doherty takes on vocal duties for new single Under The Tide, twisting his mic cord in aggressive writhing while Mayberry retreats to the safety of the synth pads.
After what seems like an obvious finish on the woozy delirium of The Mother We Share, the band return for a triple encore of non-singles. As a calm wave attempting to defuse a boisterous storm, it feels out of place; in the live arena, this is a band that excel in their bombastic, full-on moments. It is astonishing that this is the Glasgow trio’s first visit to Merseyside, but what a debut to make; delivered in seismic quantities, Chvrches’ brand of synth-pop demands not only your reaction but your participation. When the pace is pushed as far as it can go, it works wonders as a final charge.
Words: Sam Turner, Dave Tate, Joshua Potts, Richard Lewis, Paddy Clarke, Alastair Dunn.