Liverpool Digital Music Festival Rise

Online 27/2/21

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Predictable playback issues aside and although, like everyone else, I’ve just about adjusted to living mostly online, I wasn’t sure what to expect when experiencing a two-day festival via my laptop. After the aforementioned streaming issues are ironed out, Liverpool Digital Music Festival Rise begins with an inviting scene on the screen courtesy of AMELIA WALLACE.

Sunlight beams into the centre of the room and refracts into a rainbow splodge for a welcome contrast to the dark currently outside my window, and the first song is in progress. The natural light gradually fades in seemingly perfect sync with the closing phrases of increasingly sparse piano and softer vocal to finish to the performer’s enticing, relaxed opening number.

A quick switch to acoustic guitar and brief intro leads into Where (Do We Go)?. The refreshing change of accompaniment allows Wallace’s voice to explore a wider, impressive register and timbre. Beginning delicately, as though blending out from the previous song, the dynamics of the performance peak with a hearty vocal power that successfully expresses a calm, comfortable performance to listeners. Sticking to guitar, Wave follows, with more intimate lyrics woven into agile melody underscored by bluesy chord progressions delivering an effective ebb and flow in emotional force again. Along with the calmness and clear enjoyment coming across in the performance style, listening to a controlled, skilled voice with accompanying instrument calibrating together with ease commands attention, even via a wi-fi connection. The final song encapsulates the warm essence of the set, but with more pace, keeping a healthy connect between music and the imagery it invokes.

"It’s a satisfying aesthetic mixture of burlesque, steampunk and gothic influences that somehow makes sense."

On the Sunday night we experience an eccentric highlight of the festival. Instead of verbally announcing the band, SWEET BEANS utilise a humorous gimmick by way of introduction. Their empty living room is greeted with a clumsy leap into frame by the drummer, as the guitarist followed by two brass players enter in sequence. On screen text of name, instrument, or niche nickname accompanies their entrances like a modern pastiche of a retro swing band. An interesting start, though somewhat unstable. The timing in the opening playing of the trombone and sax’s syncopated groves aren’t fully together. It reminds me slightly of The Nightmare Before Christmas when the ghoulish instrumentalists wonder what’s up with Jack.

Though they are connected as performers, and clearly having fun, I’m unsure if I am too at this early stage. But like consuming enticing baked goods that transpire to be mind-altering edibles, it at first tastes a bit strange, but you can’t help but keep eating. The performance becomes moreish and weirdly too interesting, then the goodness seems to exponentially kick in. As trombone switches to bass guitar in this continued chaotic adventure, otherworldly tonality, rhythm and an ambitious soundscape advances this eclectic set and quickly traverses from lukewarm and uncertain, to bizarre and intriguing. Densely packed ideas make it tricky to decipher where one idea ends and another begins. The growing sonic kaleidoscope paired with sprinkles of odd theatrics between band members has switched me from a tentative listener to happily bewildered by the end of their act. This band definitely stands out for a mixture of mostly good reasons.

Sharing a similar sense of authentic and creative practice to Amelia Wallace, NATALIE AND THE MONARCHY first greet the festival and mentions being in New Jersey, thereby introducing the theme of the first song. We’re given a humble but alluring set-up with a background of vintage cloth draped like the dusty curtains of a forgotten theatre hall, with some delightfully tacky Christmas lights wrapped around the mic stand. It’s a satisfying aesthetic mixture of burlesque, steampunk and gothic influences that somehow makes sense. This self-assured individuality translates to an engrossing musical flavour. When The Ice Melts Away exudes this well with nostalgic melancholy in lyricism, guitar texture, and manipulatively emotive vocals.  Natalie’s accent and chatty demeanour as she announces (perhaps improvised) set choices feels assuring between songs. One cover song interjects the set, giving more variety not just through the keyboardist’s accompaniment and fun costume change, but with a more storytelling angle behind the voice that nicely highlights the theatrical personality of the band. Though saying that the final song Take Me As I Am is a “lovely pop song that’s a bit out of character for me”, a strong sense of artistic direction doesn’t abandon the set. Through a softer change of pace, the musical forms and performance retains this artsy, vague sentimentality.

Initial hesitancy diminished; the festival has provided a fine substitute for the in-venue expeditions for fresh music we all long for. Lending us hope for what lays beyond, a well-packaged reminder of surviving creative activity is uplifting.

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