What do you do when you reach a landmark anniversary and celebrate it with your biggest party yet? Well, you try and top it, of course. An evergreen fixture on the latter part of the city’s live music calendar, LIVERPOOL MUSIC WEEK is set to embark on its biggest programme of gigs to date this October, showing us that it has no intention of standing still: Richard Lewis and Bethany Garrett give us the low-down.
Returning for its eleventh year, last year’s Liverpool Music Week drew in 20,000 people across its 10-day run, with the festival making the shortlist at the UK Festival Awards 2014 for Best Line Up (Mogwai, Caribou, CHVRCHES, Forest Swords). The biggest indoor festival of its kind to be held in Europe over the winter months, LMW has long since expanded past its seven-day format of musical cramming; 250 acts are set to appear at over 50 events across Liverpool’s key city-centre venues, running from Friday 23rd October until Halloween nine days later. Once again the line-up is an absolute smörgåsbord of musical confections for your consideration, where alternative rock Titans sit alongside cutting-edge pioneers in electronica. It also wouldn’t be a Liverpool Music Week without an undercard of flourishing local acts, and this year is no different, with several of them now sitting comfortably alongside the headliners. If you need some help in drawing up your own list of this year’s must-see acts, here’s our guide to what’s taking place.
23rd October @ The Kazimier, Rat Alley and The Arts Academy
Though there are other shows running alongside this on 23rd October, the Opening Party is the real place where Liverpool Music Week comes alive. The Kazimier, its adjoining outdoor Rat Alley, and the recently adopted Arts Academy will act as the incubator to an opening night of epic proportions, with a plentiful amount of stages and nooks pressed into service. Avant-garde electronic artist HOLLY HERNDON, a lynchpin of the constantly fascinating 4AD label, headlines this event in a stunning opening gambit for LMW 2015. Herndon’s cerebral take on that grey area where experimental electronica meets club music is full of inventive tingles, with her second LP Platform, issued in May, winning her near-unanimous critical acclaim. This LP landed Herndon on the cover of Wire magazine in April, where she discussed liberating the potential of technology.
Another Wire magazine cover artist in 2015, Mica Levi, makes a welcome return to Liverpool as part of the Opening Party with her avant pop group MICACHU AND THE SHAPES. Fresh from the release of new LP Good Sad Happy Bad, the Shapes’ bright, cut and paste manner has now added and extra emotional dimension that works on a wealth of levels. Micachu And The Shapes’ inclusion demonstrates LMW’s eclecticism as they line up alongside electronic duo DARKSTAR, whose third LP Foam Island finds the Warp heavyweights in classic dark-yet-uplifting form as they tackle their own disillusion with 21st-century society.
Shadowy electronic music producer and DJ JAM CITY – the project of Jack Latham – also features at the shindig, bringing to life his updated version of what the post-dubstep landscape sounds like. This year’s Dream A Garden album is something of an about-turn from his 2013 debut record Classical Curves, and sees Latham venting his frustration at everything from DJ culture to the non-committal attitude of modern musicians. He has, as ever, got plenty to say, and delivers it with a detached, alien-like voice.
A special guest slot is also reserved for returning heroes OUTFIT, as they reassemble on Merseyside after an extensive UK and European tour. Slowness – their Memphis Industries-released album from earlier in 2015 – has had a slow-burning effect in winning listeners over, but win them over it has. If the reaction to their gloopy, angular melodica at their Kazimier headline show in June is anything to go by, this could mutate into the night’s biggest happening.
VEYU will add a flourish of bruised, driving indie to proceedings as they warm things up, and they’ll be joined by a clutch of fellow local stars-in-waiting across the three performance spaces.
Many of the highlights of this year’s LMW will come from its series of standalone shows which, when put together, look like an especially star-studded constellation. For many people, the centrepiece of these shows will be the appearance of RICHARD HAWLEY on the festival’s opening night. Hawley is on the road to promote new LP Hollow Meadows, which is a return to the classic, sophisticated songwriting of the Pulp guitarist’s formative solo years. It is a highly anticipated follow-up to 2012’s Standing At The Sky’s Edge, an LP which secured Hawley a second Mercury Prize nomination. The little-used Dome at Grand Central Hall will be the setting, a spectacular location which will hopefully follow in the same vein as Hawley’s fantastic show at the Philharmonic Hall in 2013, a similarly ornate venue for the Sheffield singer’s baroque pop songs.
A collaboration between LMW and alternative music promotions powerhouse All Tomorrow’s Parties brings Canadian post-rock titans GODSPEED YOU! BLACK EMPEROR to Camp and Furnace on Tuesday 27th October. Godspeed have one of the most distinctive audio footprints in music – a loud/quiet/louder approach, with strings and found sounds stuffed into the gaps to devastating effect – and they have undoubtedly been a huge influence on post-rock bands of every hue. The Montreal group are travelling the globe showcasing recent LP Asunder, Sweet And Other Distress, which was issued to widespread acclaim earlier this year: this is the first time the band have ever played on Merseyside in their 21-year career, and their monumental live show is ideally suited to the former industrial recesses of Camp and Furnace.
Shifting gear completely, LMW team up with city-based promoters Harvest Sun to present country troubadour JOSH T. PEARSON in the evocative surroundings of The Scandinavian Church (Wednesday 28th). Formerly of cult indie rockers Lift To Experience, the Texan singer-songwriter counts Mark Lanegan and Guy Garvey among his many fans, while also commanding a formidable cult following Stateside and in the UK. The semi-Biblical nature of Pearson’s lyrical wordsmithery, coupled with the fact that he’s one of the most intimidating-looking gentlemen in rock, are the main contributing factors to this obsessive following.
Following their appearance in The Kazimier Garden in July where they debuted their wonderfully off-kilter performance Legs, STEALING SHEEP continue the dance theme via a hook-up with IMMIX ENSEMBLE at The Bluecoat on Sunday 25th October. The collaboration also features a live dance performance by two of Ireland’s leading contemporary dancers and choreographers, Fearghus Ó Conchúir and Aoife McAtamney. Staged in association with Liverpool Irish Festival, the performance combines the former’s sparkling alt. pop with the latter’s traditional orchestral instrumentation.
Nipping over to Wolstenholme Square on the same night, US noise rockers HEALTH play The Kazimier, their first show in the city in half a decade. Known for their discordant and distinctively deafening sound, the LA quartet manage to evade the usual labels by ploughing an intriguing furrow between noise rock and stadium-sized posturing. August’s Death Magic is their third studio album, coming six years after their last (Get Color), and two years after their soundtrack to video game Max Payne 3. Though pegged as the heirs apparent to Trent Reznor’s theatrical noise throne, HEALTH have a lot more in their locker to show yet, especially given the newfound melodic strain on Death Magic.
On 29th October The Kazimier plays host to the latest Trance Party from Ellesmere Port beatsmith EVIAN CHRIST. Presented in association with Oscillate Wildly and Abandon Silence, this late-night party is Evian Christ’s chance to bring together his favourite artists from Beatland for one massive party, with not a hastily-erected backstage cage in sight.
There’s another welcome return from an LA-based band on Friday 30th when BEST COAST drop in at The Kazimier. The fuzz pop duo – fronted by the cat-loving Bethany Cosentino – released their third record, California Nights, in May, which sees them add a layer of overdriven shoegaze guitars to their trademark weed-infused alt. rock bounce. Best Coast are assured to bring the brightness of summer cutting right through October’s dark nights.
31st October @ Camp and Furnace
The end of Liverpool Music Week’s festivities fro 2015 comes in the form of the reliably brilliant Closing Party, which takes place on All Hallow’s Eve at Camp and Furnace, scene of triumphant gigs by Mogwai, Forest Swords and CHVRCHES last year. The final word for 2015 is given over to Atlanta, GA’s DEERHUNTER, yet another 4AD star snared in the Liverpool Music Week net. This totemic US alt. rock quartet, led by the brilliantly unpredictable Bradford Cox, unveil their new LP (Fading Frontier) a fortnight before this show, and will likely be one of the biggest draws of the whole festival.
Juxtaposing the storied and the brand new are two acts that occupy the sub-headline spots (but only just): the storied half is represented by ground-breaking post-punks GANG OF FOUR, who showed at The Kazimier earlier this year that they’re still packing the punches almost 40 years after their formation; the latter, brand new, half is represented by SOAK, one of 2015’s most talked-about new artists. The project of Derry-born songwriter Bridie Monds-Watson, SOAK has received sizeable acclaim for accomplished debut LP Before We Forgot How to Dream released in May. A firm favourite with BBC 6Music, which supported singles B A Nobody and Sea Creatures, the upcoming set at Camp and Furnace will be SOAK’s Liverpool debut.
Another new artist who has turned heads with his individualist alt. pop is LA PRIEST, the new guise of former Late Of The Pier singer Sam Dust. Scoring impressive reviews for debut LP Inji, his new set-up sees Dust move away from the leftfield electronica of his former band towards oddball psych pop. Elsewhere, BAIO – who, under his full name Chris Baio, is best known for his day job as bassist for superlative NYC alt. rockers Vampire Weekend – is preparing the ground for his forthcoming debut solo LP of dance-friendly hits The Names, due for release this winter. Continuing in this indie disco vein but hailing from this very conurbation are poppy rockers CLEAN CUT KID, who received the support of Radio 1 for their infectious debut single Vitamin C earlier this year, with the group’s debut LP expected next year.
Bringing it all back home are ALL WE ARE, who wrap up an incredible year which has seen their “psychedelic boogie”-infused debut LP reap sterling reviews. Returning from a series of festival appearances across Europe, the three-piece take to the stage in the former warehouse space for the second year running, in what will doubtless be a memorable homecoming. Percussionist Rich O’Flynn informs us he’s itching to play to a home crowd and that the mellowed and melancholic trio are planning on mixing things up a little at Camp and Furnace: “We always try to do something a bit different when we play in Liverpool. We’ve done stuff before where we’ve got people up playing some extra drums or playing extra instruments, but whether it’s having some people on stage with us or doing some new tunes, we try to make things a bit different. We just love playing so to be in Liverpool and play a home gig – the Closing Party – will be a real buzz.”
Also representing the home front will be pioneering punk rockers SUGARMEN who make their Music Week debut after a series of higher-than-high-profile summer shows and festival slots. Currently cooking up a storm in the studio, keep your ears peeled on the night for something a little different sounding from the four-piece, powered by the same electrifying stage presence they’ve built up a rep with. Guitarist and vocalist Chay Heney took a break between takes in the studio to tell us how the band are “really looking forward to playing. Over the last ten years or so Music Week’s become a huge part of the gig diary in Liverpool, so we’re made up to be playing the Closing Party which is always the biggest night and has got such a great line up this year – we’re fans of Gang Of Four and Deerhunter too. That’s the great thing about it, you get to play among contemporary bands as well as bands that have more stature than you and that you’re fans of. It’s also just nice to be included in a show that someone in your hometown has put together and thought that you’re good enough to play – you know? It’s boss that someone’s put us on a bill with bands that we really like.”
SPRING KING, the energetic surf rock quartet who went from under the radar, word-of-mouth success to worldwide exposure, return to the parish which one of their number (guitarist Tarek Musa) once called home. Famously the first act to be played on Zane Lowe’s Beats 1 radio show, the band are limbering up to support Spector on tour next month. Relishing being back in his surrogate city, Musa informs us “I’m really excited to play, we’ve never played Music Week before either and I know that a lot of good bands end up playing it. We played Sound City and I guess every time I come to Liverpool it’s just a bit of a laugh, it’s like a second home to me cos it’s where I studied and a lot of my mates are still there, like [producer] Joe Wills and [songwriter] James Canty.” The guitarist also praises the festival for promoting sonic open-mindedness amongst gig-goers. “Music Week is good because there are a lot more people going along to the venues just on a whim to try out new sounds and hear new bands, whereas when you’re headlining most of the people are gonna come because they’ve maybe seen you before or they’ve heard your stuff on SoundCloud. With Music Week, it’s more like ‘let’s try out something new, let’s try out this venue or this one’.”
Enough there to keep even the most weary, wandering punter happy? We think so.