Photography: Michael Kirkham / @mrkirks2 Photography: Stuart Moulding / @oohshootstu Photography: Jessica Grace Neal / essicagracecreative.com/ Photography: Michael Driffill / @driffysphotos

Sound City 2019

Baltic Triangle 4/5/19

If 2018 was a year of self-discovery for SOUND CITY, re-finding itself once more in the Baltic Triangle, then 2019 was to be all about restabilising confidence. The wide spanning programme of headline talent, international and burgeoning artists serves as a good starter. It’s up to the music to fill in the blanks from here, and only good things can follow.

Manchester-based trio ELEPHANT TREES treat the crowd that have squeezed into Ditto Coffee to a stripped back performance of their usually energetic shows. Their quality isn’t lacking: lead singer Martha Phillips belts out acoustic versions of tracks such as Uncomfortable and Monster with enough energy to wake everyone up on a Saturday morning. Ending a brilliant set on a positive note, Phillips sends everyone on their way with: “It’s Saturday morning, enjoy yourself. It’s not often you get a day off, so spend the day in a beautiful city listening to some music.” Wise words that we all go on to follow.

The beauty of festivals is that you may stumble upon something entirely magical. Seoul shoegaze outfit DABDA give a performance that would make some headliners blush. Infectious guitar lines and African rhythms are peppered throughout the set, like the lovechild of Totorro, Chon and Paul Simon’s Graceland. Kim Jiea channels Elizabeth Fraser of Cocteau Twins and Bilinda Butcher of My Bloody Valentine, casting a spell over the audience with her heavenly voice and Korean lyrics.

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Constellations is the setting for a heartwarming performance from THE FLORRIE GUITAR CLUB. The local jam group consisting of people of all ages, backgrounds and ability overflow the stage with their guitars. Led by The Tea Street Band’s Timo Tierney, the group treats the crowd to renditions of some classics in a performance that shows off everyone’s skills to much applause.

The great thing about Sound City is the variation of genres across all the stages. Over at Love Lane Brewery, the party duo TOO MANY T’S spit out lyrics reminiscent of old school hip hop of the 90s. Encouraging the crowd into the middle of the room, the London duo do a stellar job of starting a throwback rave in a brewery.

SOPHIE AND THE GIANTS are another stand out act of the weekend. Packing out Hangar 34 to no surprise, the Sheffield natives put on a hell of a show with their retro pop/indie rock inspired tracks. Bulldog is definitely a track to look out for.

Completely throwing rockism to the wayside, HUSKY LOOPS embrace dance music and hip hop to a degree that is unmatched by most rock bands in this day and age. Husky Loops have the audacity to straight-up cover Lift Yourself by Kanye West. And why shouldn’t they? Like a punk interpretation of Death Grips, stuttering samples and a demonic pitch shifter on guitarist/frontman Danio Forni’s voice as he screams, “What’s up Liverpool!” The Italian band are a talented bunch, with Forni and bassist Tommaso Medica switching instruments, while drummer and quasi-DJ Pietro Garronev plays as tight as a drum machine. The trio are heading for bigger and better things, with their song Everytime I Run being included in the FIFA 19 soundtrack. Hopefully they return to Liverpool soon for a big blow-out party.

“This is a festival that has its eyes fixated on bringing a full spectrum of sounds into the heart of the city”

SHAME are swiftly on their way to becoming titans of the rock world. The paradox of a punk show is that, sometimes, the worse the show goes the better it actually is. Bassist Josh Finerty had technical troubles from the start, with his bass amp coming crashing down mid-song. He sends his bass flying and soon follows suit, flipping and cartwheeling across the stage like a madman. “We’re not getting paid for this show,” frontman Charlie Steen jokes. The crowd feeds off the wild energy from the band, there’s a feeling in the air that anything could happen. They are conducted into a mosh pit at the wave of a hand. Plastered behind the band is a blown up image of EDL founder Tommy Robinson from the infamous milkshake incident in Warrington just days prior. Inadvertently, their set serves as the perfect metaphor for the political climate they rail so hard against: in the midst of adversity, the youth rally together when the odds are stacked sizeably against them.

Saturday night makes way for the first headliner of the weekend, MABEL. The pop star is currently working her way through the charts with her new single Don’t Call Me Up and she puts on a show stopping performance at the New Bird Street main stage worthy of her chart positions. Armed with backing dancers and a set list of all her biggest hits including Finders Keepers, Fine Line, Ring Ring and a cover of Drake’s Passionfruit, the stage is made for her. With vocals permanently on point, the crowd join in singing and dancing along. Having not even released an album yet, she shows her worth and proves to be a perfect headline act to be championing new music.

The night is not quite over yet, however, as Liverpool rockers QUEEN ZEE have been announced as the late night secret gig at Best Before. Fans who got wind of the news have packed out the tiny venue as one of the most energetic performances of the day ensues. However, the secret is surprisingly well-kept, especially for a few at the front chanting for Miles Kane. The eyeliner-drenched Queen Zee take the stage and absolutely give it their all. In keeping with the punk-show-paradox of the worse the show goes the better it actually is, Queen Zee’s raw power is too much for Best Before’s electrical systems to handle during I Hate Your New Boyfriend, causing a full scale power outage. This doesn’t stop the crowd as they pick up where the band left off, chanting the chorus at the top of their lungs. It’s a sweaty ordeal, with three out of five members ending up shirtless by the end of the set, despite bass player Frank drenched in an all-white turtleneck. Queen Zee doesn’t go out looking for severed mannequin legs, they always seem to make their way to show on their own. Frontwoman Zee holds it up like a Tusken Raider holding a rifle, shouting “this is the second time someone’s brought a fake leg to our show”.

Late on Saturday night, an interactive experience is brewing within District. Curated by GWENNO, Both Sides Now is a cult-like silent disco, encouraging you to immerse yourself in sound. There’s a mix of synthetic sounds and also organic folk vocalisation coming from my channel – with two selections on headphones across the venue, meaning you’d hear one half of the set, bizarrely. There’s rapping, there’s poetry, there’s classical instruments and chanting. It feels amazingly innovative but also a bit of a left field choice for such a big festival. Very experimental and atmospheric, but once the headphones are removed someone can be heard muttering “is this just them warming up?”

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Sunday afternoon welcomes a whole load of great acts. Proceedings kick off early at Birdies Bar, with Canadian rock ’n’ rollers MOTHERHOOD taking the stage. The crowd at this time is sparse, but the band are having a great time anyway. Their sound is very likeable when it works, but does have a habit of sliding into twee. There’s a sense that there’s not much substance behind it yet, but the pieces are all there and with a bit of work they could fall into place nicely.

SCALPING take things up to a whole other level at the Baltic Social. Their techno-punk sound is ferocious and brilliantly unrelenting. Their graphic presentation captures their mood perfectly – contorted bodies tumbling through a warping blackness. It does feel particularly incongruous that it’s only 2.15pm – this is music for the small, dark hours of the morning, and the crowd seem to wish it was too so they could truly let loose. Ones to watch, these.

As a showcase festival with a focus on discovery, it’s great to see the Levi’s Music Project feature heavily within Sound City this year. The talent development programme hosts its own packed out showcase at Constellations on both days, and it’s heartening to see the crowds being so supportive of the artists. Having built a studio in Anfield where the handpicked local talent have been mentored by festival headliner LOYLE CARNER, the project brings them into the bosom of Sound City where their new fans await. SSJ gets a great reaction from a crowd keen to deliver on his request for “energy”. You can hear the poetry in his rhythmic delivery, with lyrics based on everyday life.

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Over in Brick Street’s garden, SAMURAI KIP are wafting along jazzily just as the clouds come across, which feels unfair, as their retro-inspired sound is perfect for the sunshine, blending cosmic jazz with punchy lyrical delivery. Retreating somewhere warmer, Hobo Kiosk is the home of the day’s acoustic sounds. MK PATTERSON are a fascinating trio: with double bass, cello and violin, accompanying an extraordinary vocal performance, they tap into folk’s stranger depths.

Back at Constellations it’s KAGOULE’s turn to take the stage. These guys know how to make a sound that is slightly grungy: bass-driven and stripped back at the right moments. But what makes them great live is their stage presence. Bassist Lucy Hatter is a particular draw, and it’s the contrast of her sweet harmonies against the big chorus riffs that defines the core of their sound.

A rainy Sunday evening welcomes Loyle Carner, perhaps the most critically acclaimed hip hop act in the UK at the moment. Through albums Yesterday’s Gone and Not Waving But Drowning, he’s captured the hearts and minds of people across the UK, especially within Liverpool. Even if you haven’t heard a note of his music, it’s clear to see he’s a master of his craft. No matter how far you are in the sea of people in front of New Bird Street’s outdoor stage and how many rucksacks clash into you, the energy and soul is still there, reverberating off the walls.

By the time CONFIDENCE MAN hit the stage late into Sound City’s endurance-testing run, Hangar 34 is still bouncing, proving that the crowd’s appetite is still to be sated. Two people in cloaked hats emerge and blast out a hypnotic beat, sucking you in before the gig has even properly started. The bonkers Aussie disco quartet’s debut album Confident Music For Confident People gives off the air of Talking Heads at a Zoolander after party. Somehow the live show exceeds that mad expectation: perfectly choreographed dance moves throughout; the constantly infectious beat; various costume changes, including flashing bras; the sleek monochrome aesthetic; and the cheeky, well-composed dynamic between the joint leads Janet Planet and Sugar Bones is unmatchable. You won’t have seen anything like it before, and neither will have anyone in the audience. There’s a fun energy in the air, especially when their hit Boyfriend lands, making everyone get down to the ground and jump in the air. They’re the perfect mix of disco, house music and drama that we all need in our lives.

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The show goes on, and opening the Levi’s × Noisey after party on Sunday night at Constellations is Levi’s Music Project participant REMÉE. Projecting her voice with perfection over the melodic, electro RnB tracks proves to be the correct way to warm up a crowd. To follow is fellow participant and Ellesmere Port rapper THAT’S JUVEY? From the bouncing boom-bap of Modern Science to the grittier grime and fast flows of Land Of The Poor, Juvey’s creatively charged vernacular creates new atmospheres with each song in the set. The third act of the night is the hotly anticipated AYSTAR. The up and coming Scouse rapper instantly turns up the vibe with his signature flow and trappy beats and a few of his popular tracks – 86 ’oz, Trap Mode – get the crowd fully involved and the energy is real. Aystar sets a high bar for celebrating Liverpool music in the city tonight.

Next to come through is the queen herself, MS BANKS. The crowd adore her, especially when she drops the remix for arguably this year’s biggest drill anthem, Gun Lean. Suitably tasked with closing proceedings is SLOWTHAI. The king of Northampton makes a royal entrance on to the stage, greeted by a room screaming at full lung capacity. He initiates what feels like a riot with his hit Drug Dealer. The feeling of being at an after party hits; the set is a literal shut down. Mosh pits, crowd splits and Slowthai’s face contorted inside a Donald Trump mask are memories to treasure. This year’s Sound City finishes with a sweaty, satisfied audience, a wave of excited screams ringing in the ears.

Back to its best as a three-day musical trip into the established and unknown, with a clear focus on the next generation, this is a festival that has its eyes fixated on bringing a full spectrum of sounds into the heart of the city.

Sophie Shields, Joel Durksen, Georgia Turnbull, Julia Johnson, Iona Fazer

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