LIVERPOOL MUSIC WEEK has gone from strength to strength since its inception in the early 2000s. Having continually grown and brought crowds from far and wide to fill the city’s venues, it seemed that the crown of Metropolitan Festival Of The Year 2016 was a more than worthy accolade for the event. Only, this year, the enterprise’s 15th anniversary, the people of Liverpool Music Week offer up a line-up that eclipses anything that has come before it. Sure enough, the announcement of the festival’s opening night show flew above and beyond anyone’s expectations of what a relatively small metropolitan festival organisation can bring to the cultural table.
The Echo Arena is packed from the floor to the top seats with groups of glitter-adorned fans smiling like children. It’s been a long time since CHIC AND NILE RODGERS have played in Liverpool and it looks like plenty of people have been waiting very, very patiently.
It’s easy to unwittingly undermine the cultural impact of Chic and Nile Rodgers. While there is so much to be said about them and their musical legacy, it’s only when you’re faced with a live history lesson that spans decades of popular music that you realise how deep that legacy goes. We’ve grown up with these people’s styles and sounds, whether we know it or not.
That lesson happens to be playing out in front of a sold-out arena crowd tonight, and the impact is felt by all. From Chic’s own Le Freak and Good Times (which segues into The Sugarhill Gang’s Rapper’s Delight, rapped by Rodgers himself), through to David Bowie’s Just Dance, Sister Sledge’s Lost In Music and the incredible Daft Punk collaboration Get Lucky, whoever and wherever you are, chances are that you’ve been moved either by Chic or one of Nile Rodgers’ millions of co-writes or production jobs at some point in your life. The crowd are, plainly put, ecstatic. This is not just a party, it’s one for the history books.
Perennially inventive electronic duo MOUNT KIMBIE star the following night at Invisible Wind Factory. Proving to be one of the more durable acts of the last decade, Dominic Maker and Kai Campos have transcended their post-dubstep origins to find themselves appropriated by Chance The Rapper and Justin Bieber. Their mass appeal and credibility is such that they were able to draft in heavyweight collaborations on new album Love What Survives, from the likes of King Krule, Micachu and James Blake.
The intimate, Tiny Desk-style concerts that characterised the duo’s Crooks And Lovers inception have been dramatically overhauled with a more performance-focused setup that sees the band flanked tonight by a pair of session musicians, on drums and keys. New tracks like Four Years and One Day further demonstrate the act’s progression with less emphasis on the button-mashing minutia of drips and blips, in favour of a more hands-on, live orientated approach. There’s a churning, motorik feel to the new material, though at some point this begins to feel a touch laboured.
Two nights later on the other side of town, 24 Kitchen Street plays host to an unusual interpretation of, arguably, one of the greatest albums of all time, as ABSTRACT ORCHESTRA take on Madvillainy. Hip hop is usually two people, a mic and some decks, but here it’s 12 on stage, accompanied by flutes, trombones and drums. There aren’t enough commas to do it justice.
Rob Mitchell, Abstract Orchestra’s de facto leader, takes us on an epic tour through MF DOOM and Madlib’s 2004 masterpiece. MC Jefferson adds his own verses to the tracks, in between watching the band in awe along with the crowd. Occasionally they stray from Madvillainy, taking in some of Doom and Madlib’s solo material, but, whatever they’re playing, it’s evident how much the band are enjoying it. This is hip hop music come full circle. Best gig of the year? You bet.
GIRL RAY’s first headline show outside London is the perfect place for us to start our journey on the breathless series of DIY Breaking Out shows that run nightly at EBGBS through LMW 2017. Predictably enough, the venue is full to capacity tonight, marking quite a step up for the 6Music favourites. Girl Ray are a band so very easy to like. Dark storytelling is concealed in deceptively pretty tunes, and slightly off-kilter, faintly mocking vocals that stay on the right side of cool.
The three women excel at, not blood harmonies exactly, but, certainly ‘best friends’ ones, and on Don’t Go Back At Ten, Poppy Hankin and Sophie Moss perform a shaky, vaguely circular Shadow’s walk as a nod to the choreographed moves in the accompanying video. Hankin’s steady vocal delivery is the focal point throughout the set – on stage, the Nico comparison makes more sense – and though their delivery is loose in parts, to everyone present, all these things combined only add to Girl Ray’s considerable charm.
Just across from EBGBS on the same night, Leaf sees a celebration of 20 years of record label Bella Union. Founded by Cocteau Twins members Robin Guthrie and Simon Raymonde, the label has consistently promoted artists who excel in self-revelatory songwriting of the most honest kind. Raymonde has been back in the studio alongside former Dif Juz drummer Richie Thomas: the subsequent album Ojalá, under the name LOST HORIZONS, sees the pair joined by a plethora of guest vocalists. On prior to the seven-piece Lost Horizons band though is Bella Union’s disarming crooner BC CAMPLIGHT, who indulges us with a relatively short set which showcases his rich, soulful voice, melodic strength and varied subject material.
The onstage multi-tasking by Lost Horizons is mesmerising, with Chris Anderson, Ed Riman and Helen Ganya-Brown all sharing guitar and keyboard duties at various times, while Raymonde lurks in the shadows, occasionally smiling, and adding quietly gorgeous guitar lines. On Amber Sky, Beth Cannon and Ganya-Brown’s voices intertwine beautifully and the song encapsulates the overall feel of Lost Horizons’ sound: at times a wall of sound, at others, a veil of sugar coated crystal so fragile you could shatter it with a whisper.
The never-ending World Eater tour devours Liverpool the following night, Benjamin Power’s solo show as BLANCK MASS billed as a ‘Halloween Summoning’: an audiovisual head wreck of a Tuesday, for which 24 Kitchen Street is very well attended.
Power is one half of the ‘Rainbow Rock’ duo Fuck Buttons, but his work as Blanck Mass is fast overshadowing even that. Live, it becomes dance music from the depths of your favourite nightmare, techno for the deaf generation. The excitable Power climbs, dances, runs, bobs and weaves his way through 65 minutes of ear-splitting, industrial beats, almost sermon-like in its sheer strength and screaming delivery. The dancing can’t keep up and the crowd end up shuffling agog as the overhead screen belches out blipvert imagery, and the set descends into the glorious throbs of single D7-D5.
It’s been four years since JUNGLE’s elusive founders J and T (Josh Lloyd-Watson and Tom McFarland) first enchanted listeners with their contemporary take on funk and soul; now performing as a seven-piece collective, Jungle draw a euphoric crowd to the Invisible Wind Factory for day seven of Liverpool Music Week.
The collective bound straight into House In L.A., as a wall of light bulbs sparkles and beams to life. Each track is delivered with exuberance, powered on by the intense spirit of the dual frontmen. The bittersweet Drops changes the pace to a moody and velvety lull, before Busy Earnin’ and Time throws us back into a whirl of irresistible rhythms. Joyous favourites are greeted with an uproar of falsetto hollers from the crowd and an inclination to dance, sway, nod your head, hug your mate; whatever it is, Jungle awaken an instinct to move.
South London’s GOAT GIRL show EBGBS how bright the forecast of punk is looking for 2018, at yet another bustling Breaking Out showcase in the basement venue. Coming a night after Jungle’s intense theatrics, this show highlights the eclectic feast LMW’s line-up serves up – for those with the stamina to keep up, that is.
Goat Girl have had a change to their live setup, with the addition of a violist and synth player giving them a Raincoats-esque dimension to their already simplistic, post-punk sound. Lead singer Lottie’s lyrics about a creep on a train cut no corners in dealing with the everyday sexism women face. Although they’re the only female-fronted band on tonight’s line-up, the mix of artists across the whole festival bill is fairly even – which is reassuring given that some major festivals have foolishly neglected the plethora of talented female artists touring in the UK when assembling their line-ups.
The festival’s cosmopolitan mix of acts is testament to the wide-ranging promoters operating in this city who LMW collaborate with. Case in point, reggae legend DAWN PENN, who performs across town at District on the same night, courtesy of Music Week And the folks behind Positive Vibration Festival. Penn’s 1967 song You Don’t Love Me (No, No, No) marked her out as one of the top Rocksteady artists of the mid-60s. The song was a world-wide smash upon its 1994 re-release, one of perhaps only a handful of reggae records (Marley aside) to cross over to a wider audience.
Settling into a sound accompanied by an almost jazz-fusion flourish, before dropping into heavy dub, Penn and her band are locked in as they spin effortlessly through an exquisite version of Dionne Warwick’s Long Day, Short Night, and the easy roll of The Mighty Diamonds’ Pass The Kouchie. Penn breaks into a joyful, skipping dance as the crowd sway and sing along to her signature tune – a fabulous moment to end the night on – but, tonight Dawn Penn has delivered so much more than a one hit show.
PRINCESS NOKIA runs onto the stage at Invisible Wind Factory as she headlines the festival’s penultimate show, in association with Cartier 4 Everyone, in front of a crowd of people who all know her name. Her captivating set begins with the standout Tomboy, the besotted crowd singing back: “That girl is a tomboy!” Her hooks, like this one, are simple and catchy; her verses are jam-packed with colourful details, fast-paced and exciting, her music varied and her energy wildly infectious.
Perhaps the most exciting thing about Princess Nokia is that she thrives on the unexpected. Be that playing Slipknot in between songs or telling a story about taking her cousin to get a piercing, she keeps the audience on their toes. She is unapologetic when she has to pause to alter her top and it’s refreshing to see a woman of colour artist so at home on the stage.
Prior coverage of this event has focused on Princess Nokia’s decision to kick a white woman out, and not on that white woman’s abusive behaviour in the crowd. Using a person’s lived experience of racism to inspire ‘controversial’ click-bait articles is symptomatic of a much wider problem. Ultimately, Princess Nokia’s wish that her gigs be a safe space for people of colour, LGBTQI people and women should not be a controversial statement. As later events transpired – such as LMW’s decision to host GlitterFuck, a white DJ duo who then used dancers dressed in tribal costumes as part of their set – it became apparent that the music industry is still not a safe space for many.
The final chapter is always reserved for the manic dash between acts at LMW’s Closing Party, where local luminaries rub shoulders and share stages with contemporary stars. Split across two levels in the Invisible Wind Factory, and with early afternoon sets in the nearby Northshore Troubadour, this year’s LMW Closing Party is the whole festival in microcosm.
Down in the Wind Factory’s Substation, RICO DON and his fleet are trying their best to rouse a bashful audience. Rico ignites his own energy, his unbounded Scouse aggression clattering around the foundations of the basement space. More bodies arrive for SUEDEBROWN’s set, unwinding to his quality mix of trap/grime/soul and bass-laden hip hop.
There is a strong determination in SHOGUN as he seems intent on making his mark outside of Glasgow. The young Paisley-based MC paces the stage, demanding retort from the audience, as the energy in the crowd courses. He displays a fiery eloquence; his lyrics are considered and introspective, portraying a deep confession of angst and pain, that – in songs like Vulcan – floats close to the agony of Yung Lean.
The energy in the room is palpable for the arrival of AJ TRACEY; a wall of smartphones now illuminates the stage, their supportive limbs bob, weave and collide with each other while Tracey leans and cranes over them and delivers his old tales of young, gritty urban life in the west side of London. Having found a sharp rise in success over the past year, there seems a sense amongst those gathered that they are witnessing the unique burst of ascendency in its infancy.
EVERYTHING EVERYTHING pack the main upstairs space at Invisible Wind Factory. The crowd seem eager for the night’s headliners, and they begin with high energy and ride on this throughout. The majority of the set is scattered with songs from their latest release A Fever Dream, although they sweeten the crowd with popular hits Distance Past and Kemosabe from their past albums, and end the night with an impassioned version of Reptiles. The large section gathered at the front, in clear adoration, go away with a satisfying surfeit of indie pop.
And those who’ve attended anywhere close to all 19 of LMW 2017’s shows retreat gladly to their beds, knowing they’ve been royally treated to not just a rich selection of international music talent, but also a shining example of how capable our city is at welcoming and hosting an array of the biggest and best the world has to offer.
Words: Christopher Carr, Maurice DeSade, Kieran Donnachie, Cath Bore, Glyn Akroyd, Ian R. Abraham, Jessica Greenall, Georgia Turnbull, Maya Jones, Jonny Winship, Christopher Torpey.
Photography: Keith Ainsworth, Mike Sheerin, Michelle Roberts, Michael Kirkham, Stuart Moulding, Jessica Greenall, Glyn Akroyd.