Over the years, Bido Lito! and Sound City have shared a deep commitment to supporting new music in our city. Sound City’s growth and development over the past decade has coincided with the seven years of Bido Lito!’s presence in the city. We’ve often referred to each other as brothers and sisters in arms, working closely on a variety of projects in partnership. The Sound City weekend in May each year has always been a firm focus and peak of activity in the Bido Lito! calendar. As partners and advocates of Sound City, this year’s festival left us with an overriding sense of sadness, lamenting what the event has become.
After three years out of the city centre – two of those at Bramley Moore Dock before this year’s shift to Clarence Dock – it is clear that, from a creative, musical, curatorial and experiential perspective, the move has not been a success. There was a kinetic, feverish energy to the festival when it was based in the city; a rapid-paced three days of traversing the back rooms, nooks and armpits of Liverpool in search of the most fabulous new music that anyone vaguely interested in music in the city just had to be a part of. That energy has gone.
It is true that festivals, like cities, develop and shift. The issues around capacity in Wolstenholme Square that tarnished 2014’s event – leaving long queues of fans unable to get in – are problems we don’t want to see a return to. But, for a festival to be about a city – and Sound City has always placed the allure and magic of Liverpool at the centre of its narrative – it must be held within the city. True, Liverpool’s history is wedded to the sea; but, presenting a grim, overly-commercialised, abandoned dust bowl dockside site as being ‘of Liverpool’ is stretching things too far, touching on the disingenuous.
As the city changes and shifts, so the spaces and arenas available to utilise shift also. This presents huge challenges around licensing, logistics and practical delivery which we know the team at Sound City are only too aware of. We appreciate it was these challenges that helped lead to the decision to move site in the first place. But, it is the creative solutions to these challenges that ultimately shape what the essence of the festival is. The shifting collection of car parks, building sites, empty units and disused warehouses, alongside the city’s best venues, make for a completely unique site, one in tune with the dialogue of the city. It is as important as the bands embedded within them.
For Sound City to reignite its flame – and, let’s remember, there was a point when the festival genuinely represented the annual focal point for music in the city – it must be embedded back within the bosom of the city itself. When we look at leading city-based new music festivals such as SXSW (Austin), Reeperbahn (Hamburg) and Le Guess Who? (Utrecht), their cities are their canvas. With Liverpool at the heart of its vision, Sound City can reestablish itself at the same level.
Sound City has always aspired to be a world-class celebration of new music discovery. In order to achieve this, it needs to re-engrain itself back within the heart of Liverpool.
Read our review of this year’s Sound City here.