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Following the preceding sold-out instalment in Birkenhead, FestEvol are back with the remaining chapters of a trilogy of all-dayers this summer. This time we’re across the water in the Invisible Wind Factory, the venue’s lofty ceilings and elaborate decor aptly reflect the grandeur of the occasion. We’ve had the first gigs back after lockdown, but now it’s time to fill the festival-shaped hole in our lives – and there’s no better set of artists to do so.
From the off, FestEvol is a showcase of bright and unique talent from across Merseyside. Despite the rain outside, Scandi-Scouser SKIA brings a burst of sunny bubblegum pop to brighten up the afternoon. Complete with shiny synths and punchy percussion, songs such as Feeling Fine and Hey Boy get feet moving and serotonin flowing. It’s feel-good pop in its purest form, and the perfect appetizer for the day ahead.
Next up are BUZZARD BUZZARD BUZZARD, who steer us from pop perfection to a nostalgic ode to 70s rock and roll. The ridiculous (yet very catchy) ditty, John Lennon Is My Jesus Christ tells you all you need to know about these Welsh glam rockers. Combined with flamboyant dance moves and lyrics paying homage to Lennon, Bowie and Bolan, they wear their influences unashamedly on their sleeves. They don’t care what anyone thinks, but for what it’s worth, we think they’re pretty great.
WORKING MEN’S CLUB swagger on stage to ABBA’s Fernando. Suddenly their gritty, industrial synth pop fills the vast venue and bursts at the seams. Frontman Syd Minsky-Sargeant spits and snarls his politically charged lyrics, evoking a young Mark E Smith with his Northern angst and brooding stares. Tracks like A.A.A.A. and Valleys are as powerful live as they are on their phenomenal debut record. Analogue fuses with digital as they seamlessly glide from ferocious guitar solos to minimal techno beats. Before we know it, they’re marching off stage, leaving ears ringing and hearts racing. It’s an evocative, powerhouse of a set that certainly isn’t for the faint-hearted.
As the evening draws in, STEALING SHEEP deliver an expected festival highlight. It’s always fun to see a band match a focused style and image with an equally enjoyable sound and stage presence, something the Liverpool trio manage in spades. Their set has an almost cinematic, sci-fi quality, the three members are wearing inflatable suits and glowing pink LED goggles. Stealing Sheep’s strongest moment emerges with Just Do, a thudding electro track, where the trio gather centre-stage, harmonise and dance in tandem. Although choreographed, the performance doesn’t come across as too meticulous. The band never lose their sense of humour and they’re all the more endearing for it.
Later, KELLY LEE OWENS makes an incredible debut performance of her standout 2020 album Inner Song. Released during the height of the pandemic, and denied a live performance for so long, the sounds of Inner Song play like they’ve been marinating, bubbling under the surface waiting to be unleashed. Listening at home, the album sounds meditative and intimate; tonight, Owens explodes the album’s electronic textures and loops. The trickling shudder of Melt! is transformed into a thundering rhythm, Re-Wild pulsates through the room. Kelly Lee Owens is a great closer for this first weekend of the festival. To hear the album translated into a club context so successfully feels cathartic, precious even.
The final part of the FestEvol all-dayers is defined by a host of incredible bands, the majority of which are female-fronted. A fact which, until it becomes assumed and ordinary, is worth mentioning and celebrating.
Among the line-up are PINS. The three-piece, clad all in black, take to the stage blasting out their grungy bassline-driven, synth-laden tracks to the awaiting audience. The Manchester natives knock out hits from their latest LP, Hot Slick, performing anthemic songs like Bad Girls Forever and Bad Habit – the latter accompanied by a fist-in-the-air dance routine the audience fully gets behind. Having rocked out so hard, the drummer’s cymbal flies off onto the stage and the trio end their performance in the crowd, dancing with the fans down at the front.
Continuing with the female empowerment on the main stage, London trio BIG JOANIE bring some serious feminist punk vibes to the festivities. Born out of the London DIY punk scene, they smash out tracks from their 2018 debut album, Sistahs. Catchy tunes like Fall Asleep have the crowd bouncing as the vibrant electronic breakdown perfectly accompanies the droning guitars and punchy basslines to an appreciative applause.
THE BIG MOON appear to be a favourite among the audience as a large crowd forms while the band set up, clinging to the front of the stage, no longer taking soundchecks for granted. The London-based quartet work their way through a set of non-stop hits and the audience doesn’t stop for breath singing along. With tracks like Take a Piece, Don’t Think and Formidable knocking the crowd around with heavy guitar solos and powerful vocals, a surprise cover of Fat Boy Slim’s Praise You really gets everyone jumping. As lead singer Juliette Jackson chants the line “We’ve come a long, long way together, through the hard times and the good” cheers from the audience show a collective feeling of togetherness, finally restored. There are a few teething problems along the way, missed lyrics and a forgotten pedal, but we don’t care about tiny mistakes and share in the group’s laughter and pure joy at having them back on stage. Ending on their biggest hit, Your Light, the catchy chorus, flashing lights and rave forming in the middle of the crowd is the perfect way to end their set. It’s a very big welcome return to the stage for The Big Moon.
As the Invisible Wind Factory’s industrial fan cuts shards of light from the mouth of the main stage, its repetition mirrors that of a clock. Its steady hand is counting down the minutes until headliners THE ORIELLES beam us up into a cosmic flurry of light and sound. From the very offset this band is tight. Not only that, but the confidence they carry is fascinating. They aren’t the kind of band that marches around the stage exploring, but every movement they make pulsates in unison, only making it harder to resist drummer Sidonie B Hand-Halford’s invitation to dance. The bass of her sister Esmé Dee casts white lasers of reflection from her tuning pegs singling out anyone who dares not sing along to the anthemic songs of a well refined set. The band is guided by injections of electric harmony in the form of Emily Zurowski on keys that resonate in all the right places.
The setlist could be from a Now That’s What I Call The Orielles album, a collection of their best. Showcasing a tremendous evolution of the band, earlier songs like Let Your Dog Tooth Grow continue to shine in the company of newer tracks Disco Volador and Come Down On Jupiter. Final song Sugar Tastes Like Salt demonstrates the band’s ability to reimagine songs stylishly and confidently as Bobbi’s Second World interrupts the final section. The set fuses together everything from indie-rock and dance to post-punk and funk all pulled together by the gravitational force of planet Orielle.
There’s something truly special about dancing to music with others that you’ve been listening to alone over various lockdowns and venue closures. A sense of something restored, of everything finally falling into place.
Words: Alice Williams, Alfie Verity, Sophie Shields, Slinky Malinki