Last year’s SOUND CITY was met with trepidation by many, unsure about the relocation to Bramley-Moore Dock and lamenting the move away from the old city centre-based arrangement. However, the feast of music served up in 2015, featuring a legendary performance from Saturday headliners Flaming Lips, convinced many of the new site’s potential. With a few tweaks to the site’s layout, the second year of Sound City 2.0 looks set to be on the right course for a special.
Sound City+, the conference element of the festival condensed to one jam-packed to one day of industry talks, DJ demos and a label market, whets the appetite for the main event. The Titanic Hotel, down the road from the festival site, is buzzing with wide-eyed students looking to get ahead in an industry still adjusting to the digital age. Older heads like ALAN MCGEE talk about bygone days of record labels and Britpop while panel discussions navigate through the tricky worlds of streaming and sync.
The festival proper arrives on Saturday and Sam Shepherd’s FLOATING POINTS get things going. He and his band occupy most of the stage in the Freeze-curated Baltic Warehouse, his music resting upon impressive live instrumentals. The delicate bursts of violin and ascending woodwind and brass sounds create a meditative euphoria against the backdrop of the striking cosmic light display, anaesthetising the crowd into a rhythmic trance. The set is capped off by the emphatic Silhouettes (I, II, III) from his last album, Elaenia, resulting in a powerful crescendo and cacophony of sound. The atmosphere in the Baltic Warehouse doesn’t really let up thereafter – an early evening MOUNT KIMBIE set of trancey, deep bass sees some eyes glazing ecstatically over and some euphoric dance moves break out.
It’s been almost four months since the car containing the four members of VIOLA BEACH – Kris Leonard, River Reeves, Jack Dakin, Tomas Lowe – and manager Craig Tarry tragically crashed near Stockholm. The band’s last recorded performance is played over the speakers on the Atlantic Stage in the slot the band would have occupied. The last song, Swings And Waterslides, allows a perfect opportunity for the Sound City crowd to celebrate and pay homage to the young lads from Warrington.
Over on the North Stage, BLICK BASSY’s unique voice erupts, with no support from anything but his microphone, and it feels like the first ‘moment’ of this year’s festival. It’s a literal call to arms: before the minute’s singing is up, a throng of punters with eager ears is gathered. Bassy begins to play his golden banjo, his voice vaulting higher and higher. They are small, mellifluous songs, sometimes accompanied by banjo or parlour guitar, sometimes a cappella. More than once, there’s a blue note, the kind that are James Blake’s secret weapon. But Blick Bassy’s money notes are not the sound of the blues – this is no lament, it’s a joy on a Saturday afternoon, looking out to sea in a city that looks out to the rest of the world.
As the sun sets beyond the North Stage, colouring the sky the same pink hue as your favourite monthly magazine, Manchester’s LEVELZ bring the noise, a great noise. Frenetically paced, skilfully observed and absolutely infectious, it is a show of such force, and again, such humour, delivered with so much charm and character, it is hard not to love what they do. Plenty more bounce to the ounce, this crew, and a love of crowd surfing to boot. Prime lyricist Black Josh is happy to be held, triumphant at the end of the show, as the crowd go nuts beneath him.
The Cavern Stage hosts some of Liverpool’s most exciting emerging talent this week and here is the weekend’s first appearance of the dreamy FERAL LOVE, collaborating with Montreal/New York-based electronic duo WAKE ISLAND, on a piece that was written only the previous day. An interesting piece; analogue synth lines building and weaving their way through layers of earthy samples and old-school beats before giving way to twin lilting vocals, and some funked-up guitar stabs.
Less dreamy are Andrew Fearn and Jason Williamson of SLEAFORD MODS. The juxtaposition between the gentle silent swaying of Fearn and the sporadic rants of Williamson proves powerful. Like a starting gun, the infernal drumbeat sends Williamson into a red-faced narcotic rage, as though he’s just had adrenaline shot straight to the heart. As he flicks his head between a florid string of expletives, beads of sweat glimmer in the light as though the anger that has permeated the performance has turned into steam. Despite a large proportion of the crowd being more interested in chatting and getting intoxicated in whichever way they see fit, the set proves captivating.
YOUNG FATHERS have found fame in their genre-bending sound. Arriving on the North Stage a little early for their headline set, the Edinburgh trio make no introduction, falling straight into a sea of brutal electronic drumbeats. They make the most of the festival’s second stage, bringing huge energy to it with an onslaught of a set that is one hit after another. There’s no audience interaction or witty remarks. They just stick to what’s important: the music. This approach seems to only drive the audience crazier, as the band flick rapidly between gentler RnB moments and the almost tribal Shame.
Sunday brings Portland stalwarts THE DANDY WARHOLS to the Atlantic Stage. Though you can’t help but assume the majority of the crowd are simply holding out for Bohemian Like You, the set is being met with unclouded enthusiasm. Though there may be a suggestion that the band has run its course (21 years on The Dandy Warhols may perhaps be, in their own words, “too old for this shit”), their experience seems only to aid them in putting on an effortlessly enjoyable show. Conversely, DILLY DALLY are just starting out and on a trajectory to be as big as The Dandys. As soon as guitars are strapped on the band take no time in showing who they are and what they do, hitting the crowd right between the eyes with a surge of distortion-filled guitars and the visceral cries of vocalist Katie Monks. The raw power that captured lovers of the album rings even truer live on the North Stage, thus fulfilling their statement that they must be seen ‘in real life’.
Local favourite BILL RYDER-JONES’ early afternoon half-hour slot raises eyebrows but the Wirralite’s performance is sincere and honest; the simplicity and vulnerability of his songs mirrored by his wounded vocals. The cathartic, lamenting melodies and draining guitar sounds from the second half of Two To Birkenhead are a further encapsulation of Bill’s immediacy and emotion. ‘Our Bill’ closes the set with the impressive Satellites, which gushes out of the speakers on an epic tide.
From poetic paeans to fun-loving charisma and playful rapture, we stop by the North Stage again for THE BIG MOON, who delight with bouncy, riff-laden music and at times crooning vocals. By the time the quartet punch out their chirpy tune, Cupid, the crowd are intoxicated and whisked up within their charm.
After quickly checking out HOT CHIP’s DJ set – a performance that would perhaps be better without the glare of evening light streaming through the doors – it’s back to the main stage for CIRCA WAVES. Unfortunately, festivals – or gigs in general – are renowned for things going wrong and the Liverpool lads fall victim to a power cut. A few people meander around during this interruption, and are rewarded when the band make a triumphant return to the stage, and close their set with a rousing cover of Revolution and finish with aplomb with their own hit T-Shirt Weather.
Back at the Cavern Stage, local darlings PINK KINK seem a little taken aback by the size of the crowd they have drawn. But they embrace it and go on to produce a fabulous set of shimmery pop that’s perfectly in keeping with the summery vibe. To say it’s a fun set would be damning it with faint praise – it is absolutely fun but it’s also clever, playful and bang on both instrumentally and vocally.
Over on the North Stage, a more household name is also drawing a crowd. With what is a more reserved display than most will be used to, PETER DOHERTY fumbles through his set with a relative smoothness; however, dotted here and there is the odd messy, loose guitar, and of course wailing vocals. He remains contained right up to his last song. On his encore, Doherty explodes into his former self, as the band reappear for Fuck Forever. The crowd respond as they are whipped up in a crazed frenzy; Doherty appears possessed as he continues to let loose, crashing to the floor and climbing the drum kit, before breaking free from the restraints of the stage and into the crowd. He then rushes behind the stage and doesn’t reappear, leaving a group of satisfied and exhilarated fans, capping a chaotic and driven performance.
As twilight darkens and the last rays of sun fade in the Mersey sky, the time approaches for what many will consider the weekend’s main event, as THE CORAL return to Liverpool in a blaze of heavy guitars and deep melodies. Launching straight into Miss Fortune, what is released on the crowd gathered for the festival’s defining headline set is a massive stonking throb of a sound, West Coast-style. No: North West coast-styled. The Coral’s songwriting transcends so much of the music that comes out of Liverpool, and they’ve been sorely missed. With this new harder, heartier sound, they’ve parked up much of the earlier trademark jangle, and taken their cosmic pop on fresh tangents, and to fresh fields. New beginnings to be capitalised on, we hope.
Then, four songs in, darkness and silence. Another power cut. Later, The Coral arrive back onstage, in great humour and appreciative of those who’ve stayed, and blister triumphantly through an incredible set of new and old wigged-out wonder, absolutely saving the day with attitude and style – it’s that gang mentality. It’s all over too soon though, with an encore of Goodbye, Dreaming Of You and Fear Machine, they, and Sound City 2016 are gone. It’s been a hell of a weekend, full of surprise and promise, great new music, fresh, vital and relevant. Sound City are settling into their new home – they just need to sort the electrics out.
Paul Fitzgerald, Jonny Winship, Matt Hogarth, Glyn Akroyd, Melissa Svensen, Stuart O’Hara.