A sign that spring (well, something approaching it) has arrived and an early marker for the upcoming festival season, LIVERPOOL SOUND CITY returns in a refreshed format for 2016. Having made a hugely successful debut at Bramley Moore Dock last year following its relocation from the city centre, the festival will be running a leaner, two-day format over the weekend of 28th and 29th May, leaving very little room to breathe amid the 100+ acts from more than 20 countries.
of stages. The main Atlantic Stage, where festival headliners THE CORAL and CATFISH AND THE BOTTLEMEN will perform, will once again be impressively flanked by the city skyline and the now iconic sight of the Docker’s Clock. A series of installations – both interactive and decorative – will animate the site over the weekend too, accentuating the heritage of the setting’s links to Liverpool’s former industrial glories. The festival’s accompanying conference, Sound City+, has also been re-worked this year, taking place a day before the music festivities in and around the Titanic Hotel (see sidebar). In a slight twist, Sound City’s famed In Conversation events will take place on the festival site this year, with former Haçienda DJ Dave Haslam interviewing Alexei Sayle, Roisin Murphy and Paddy Considine among others.
We begin our preview with a look at Saturday’s big hitters, a duo who provide some of the most bracing stage spectacle seen on the live circuit in recent times, SLEAFORD MODS. Returning to Liverpool after a swiftly sold-out and much-lauded show at The Kazimier in March last year, the pair are guaranteed to be major crowd-pullers for the penultimate Atlantic Stage slot. The dazzlingly abrasive missives of vocalist Jason Williamson, paired with Andrew Fearn’s brutally to the point musical backdrops, are a potent live force unlike much else out there at present.
Following the West Midlands duo, headliners Catfish And The Bottlemen step up to the plate. The Bottlemen are a group who have won an audience through non-stop touring over the past half-decade, and they complete a remarkable rise through the Sound City ranks here, having played the festival in 2011 through its Apply To Play scheme. The Brit Award-garlanded quartet’s set takes place the day after their second LP The Ride hits the shelves. Indie rock trio BAND OF SKULLS, making their first trip to the city in 18 months, also bring their acclaimed live show to the Atlantic Stage, alongside London alt. rock hype kids PALMA VIOLETS.
On the Sunday, homegrown acts proliferate throughout the bill, headed up by a hugely anticipated headline performance from THE CORAL, their first gig in the city since 2010. Returning to the fray with their first LP in six years, the warmly received voodoo psych set Distance Inbetween, The Coral have been plugging their wares across the UK and Europe in the months before the festival, scooping shedloads of press plaudits through the live excursion. This will be one storming homecoming show to finish the festival on a high.
Immediately before the Wirralians, indie rock doyens CIRCA WAVES are set to tread the boards on the Atlantic stage. A band who have become a formidable live draw through a seemingly endless touring schedule since the release of their acclaimed debut LP Young Chasers in March 2015, the locally-cultivated quartet have honed their razor-sharp live set to a fine point. With their surprise, unannounced set on one of the festival’s smaller stages last year causing near pandemonium, their graduation to the main stage is not before time.
A band whose festival gigography now runs into four figures, US psych/alt. rock troupe par excellence THE DANDY WARHOLS return to Merseyside for the first time in a decade. On the road to spread word of Distortland, their best LP in some time, the Portland, Oregon four-piece are resolute festival favourites. BILL RYDER-JONES, recipient of heavy praise for his recent live shows, returns from tour to perform tracks from his critically applauded West Kirby County Primary LP. The openers of last year’s festival, the swooning Scottish indie/folk rock collective NEON WALTZ, are also present in the Atlantic Stage mix.
Providing definitive proof that the Mercury Prize don’t always get it wrong, hip hop trio YOUNG FATHERS headline Sound City’s second stage (the North Stage) on Saturday. A group who set tongues wagging following a standout pre-Mercurys performance at FestEVOL in August 2013, the band have been busy supporting trip hop legends Massive Attack on tour. With second LP White Men Are Black Men Too proving beyond doubt that their Mercury Award-winning debut LP Dead was no fluke, the trio offer great balance to Saturday’s bill. The following night, Libertines man PETER DOHERTY takes on headline duties on the North Stage, and will doubtless draw a fanatical crowd who will be hanging on his solo work away from The Libs. The North Stage also plays host to a swathe of breaking hot acts, something with which Sound City has become synonymous. THE BIG MOON, BLICK BASSY and KAGOULE all come highly recommended on this tip.
The Baltic Warehouse, the cavernous structure that dominates the Bramley Moore site, plays host to the club-oriented portion of the festival this year. Proceedings at this space are overseen by Liverpool dance music stalwarts FREEZE, who over the past decade have become a mainstay on the city’s clubbing scene, famed for their eclectic combinations of live and DJ-focused events at venues including St George’s Hall, the Anglican Cathedral and the Williamson Tunnels. Saturday’s Baltic headliners LEFTFIELD bring a crossover appeal that extends far beyond their initial audience. Breaking through in 1993 with the breathtaking John Lydon-assisted Open Up, Neil Barnes’ outfit have remained on the front line as innovators in the dance music field, as their fusing of house, reggae and thunderous dub basslines found a devoted following.
An outfit who have provided remixes for just about every notable act of the past 15 years, Belgian dancefloor alchemists 2MANYDJS (DJ set) are joint headliners at the Baltic Warehouse on Sunday. An offshoot of electro/alt. rock project Soulwax, the Dewaele brothers have spent the past touring the world’s clubs and festivals with their Sound City appearance marking their first showing on Merseyside in two years. Co-headliners HOT CHIP surely need no introduction, as the synth pop types are focused on the ones and twos for the evening as the London crew take to the Warehouse to play their DJ set.
The project of all-round electronic music polymath Sam Shepherd, FLOATING POINTS make their Liverpool debut at Freeze. Following a slow trickle of EPs and live performances over the years, Shepherd released debut LP Elaenia to universal acclaim last year, with the album’s accompanying live shows securing similar accolades. MOTOR CITY DRUM ENSEMBLE, JOHN TALABOT and ROMAN FLÜGEL add some heavyweight ballast to Freeze’s line-up – and keep your eyes open for exclusive after parties at Freeze’s Greenland Street Garage venue each night.
Alongside the storied acts is a smorgasbord of under the radar, up-and-coming and quite frankly near-unknown new acts to investigate, spread across the festival’s stages. A quick selection of delights we urge you to check out include Korean rock ‘n’ roll duo DEAD BUTTONS, Canadian alt. rockers DILLY DALLY (who amassed considerable praise for last year’s debut LP Sore), Glaswegian quartet HOLY ESQUE (who have just released their formidable first album At Hope’s Ravine), plus South London grime MC NOVELIST – all of these acts are making waves ahead of their appearances at Sound City this year.
In addition to the newly laid-out stages, the outlying gig spaces have been given greater emphasis this year. The Captain Morgan Tall Ship will be docked on site and will host gigs and parties across the two days, including sets from BLUE SAINT and newly-minted Glastonbury Emerging Talent Competition winners SHE DREW THE GUN. The Cavern Stage sees PINK KINK and FERAL LOVE in amongst the action, while elsewhere the TIM PEAKS DINER (founded by Charlatans frontman Tim Burgess) hosts performances, film and DJ sets, and is the setting for Dave Haslam’s In Conversation events. In addition to various pop-up activities, the high probability of some unannounced guests and other assorted diversions, The John Peel World Cup Table Football Competition makes an appearance in the festival’s VIP area, with guests taking on the festival’s artists in the ultimate test of foosball skills.
Add in to this a record fair, the regular Screenadelica poster exhibition, and shuttle buses operating from the city centre, everything looks in place for Sound City to once again take hold of the city’s musical pulse for one weekend. In view of all the info above, you’d better get the festival planner primed for the weekend. Fuck yeah, Liverpool.
Liverpool Sound City takes place on 28th and 29th May at Liverpool Waters Bramley Moore Dock. Make sure to pick up your copy of the special edition Bido Lito! Dockland Pink magazine on the festival site for previews, news and interviews – and check bidolito.co.uk for even more exclusive content.
An aspect of Sound City that continues to grow with each annual instalment is its music and digital business conference, which this year has been expanded and is now operating under the name SOUND CITY+. Located at the central hub of the Titanic Hotel, the intensive programme of speakers, workshops and industry showcases is being staged in partnership with listings/entertainment website Skiddle.
A major new addition to Sound City+ this year is the welcome appearance of the Label Market, part of the conference’s Marketplace (which has generated hundreds of business opportunities since Sound City started in 2008). A slew of indie label heavyweights such as Domino, 4AD, Bella Union and Heavenly Records will be present, showcasing their wares alongside local stables including Deltasonic and Baltic Records.
On the industry side of things, there will be presentations and TED-style talks with a variety of people from across the music industry and tech sectors. Former Creation Records supremo ALAN MCGEE will be talking about his nationwide Musicians Against Homelessness campaign, plus representatives from The Musicians Union, Ditto Music and Believe Digital will be engaging in talks and panel sessions. A sector of the music industry that is increasingly becoming one of the business’s most important revenue streams, sync deals, tying artists’ work into TV and film is also represented. Representatives from broadcasting organisations including the BBC, HBO and Fox will be present, with Head of Music Licensing at the BBC, Nicky Bignell, hosting a workshop as part of the programme.
There will also be a series of one-to-one networking sessions with some big hitters of the live festival circuit in the UK and abroad, including Coachella, Outlook and Dimensions, and Kendal Calling. Grassroots venues including Manchester’s Islington Mill and Sheffield Leadmill are represented in networking sessions, as are national businesses such as BT Sport, Lime Pictures and Bis Synch.
Sound City+ Delegate Passes are on sale now from Skiddle; they guarantee the holder access to all conferences held on Friday 27th May, plus the festival itself.