Threshold FestivalBaltic Triangle 31/3/17
he theme of this year’s THRESHOLD FESTIVAL is Darkness And Light: an exploration of the many contrasts within and around us. The weekend aims to express it in many forms – from the arts installations and multifarious musical acts to the locations hosting them, and the emotions running alongside and underneath.
Red Brick Vintage is an Old Curiosity Shop-nook of a pop up venue where, early Friday evening, the 18-year-old ASTLES quietly stays safe and swaddled in the comfortable world of the sensitive singer-songwriter; a gentle nudge of a start to the Threshold weekend.
Saturday afternoon and it’s up to Unit 51 to check out the Soul Inspired Events stage. We start with FAMILY RANKS, a Manchester-based collective with powerful lyrics and a reggae-infused beat, enhanced this afternoon by intricate hand-clapping. They’re clearly enjoying themselves as they deliver rhythmic tracks like the soulful Better. Next up is Londoner CHINCHILLA, who gets down to some urban pop/RnB musings on relationships and life, such as in Crazy Boy, when you think you know someone but actually… She then introduces Stuck In The City, which showcases her lyrical and vocal range and even draws some participation from the appreciative crowd. Remember her name.
MARY MILLER is late arriving at the same venue on Saturday afternoon, her soundcheck stretched out even more by a fan asking her questions, intently. That’s the nature of Threshold, a melting pot of Merseyside’s characters. However, sadly, her set is cut to just five songs. Her simple set up of vocals, guitar and laptop is deceptive; wearing her guitar up high, the mix of melancholy and understated sweetness goes too quickly. But, it leaves a mark; songs Angling and Felt are particularly strong.
HEY COLOSSUS – Loner Noise/WRONG stage headliners – suit the industrial setting of District down to the ground. They perform a riff-tastic, tight, highly professional show, contrasting death/sludge metal with something approaching a more melodic rock (although Paul Sykes’ heavily distorted vocals remain fairly constant throughout) to an appreciative, head-nodding audience. OVVLS announced themselves with a concept show at Threshold 2016, and tonight they step up to headline the Unit 51 stage, and do so to great effect. Pain Is Beauty with its dark, Gothic throb builds in orchestral majesty, keys and vocals powering it on. A huge sound for just two band members playing synth and drums, supplemented with well-utilised samples, it’s just a shame that there aren’t more people here to witness them.
Over at Constellations, HANNAH PEEL prepares for her festival-topping set. Peel is, perhaps, a curious booking for Threshold, a festival that prides itself on representing the grassroots. I looked up the definition of grassroots – the buzzword of everything positive from arts to politics – and found that it relates to the ordinary. Yet Peel, even with tonight’s stripped-down performance, is anything but ordinary; her silver space age dress twinkles pink and blue under the lights, reminding us that she is very much the pop star of the night. The elegance and sadness of Invisible City is a thing of true beauty, All That Matters kicks off some cracking freaky dancing, and Peel’s party piece – The Blue Nile’s Cars In The Garden – adds even more fragility, as drummer Daisy effortlessly takes on Hayden Thorpe from Wild Beasts’ harmonies.
On Sunday, there’s just time to catch DELIAH, the first act on the Merseyrail Sound Station stage, with their soulful yet funky, bass-driven RnB. They play a short, melodic set including Marble Heart and Better The Devil, which are a perfect vehicle for Michelle Harris’ crystal-clear vocals.
Having successfully harnessed the goodwill of its supporters in reaching a crowdfunding target prior to the festival, Threshold 2017 feels like a cathartic event, with relief and gratitude mingling with fans’ enjoyment. The grassroots are strong here – but does Threshold need something more extra-ordinary to avoid the same fate next time round?