Since its inception in 2008, Sound City has prided itself on presenting a line-up that finds the right balance between up-and-coming artists and international names of some repute. It’s one of the strengths of the festival: big names draw in the crowds, but everyone leaves with an insight into the country’s – and Liverpool’s – buzzing music scene. With such a diverse range of acts on offer, and a multitude of venues and stages to see them in, it’s hard to know what to prioritise. So, to help you out, we’ve delved deep into the line-up and picked out some of our favourites.
The festival’s first ever female headliner, MABEL is part of a wave of new British pop storytellers who are taking the charts by storm, mixing old school RnB and clubby rhythms. Her smash single Don’t Call Me Up is the perfect showcase of her huge vocals, and sets up the release of her debut album this July as a moment to watch out for. Following the pop thread, London-based soulstress KARA MARNI and Liverpool’s own pop sensation KATY ALEX occupy the warm-up slots.
Mabel headlines Sound City on Saturday night, playing the new outdoor stage on New Bird Street. This stage will also host afternoon headline performances on each day, to give you plenty to look forward to over the weekend. On Saturday, gritty South London punks SHAME bring their ferocious live show to this afternoon slot; and on Sunday it’s the turn of local stars CLEAN CUT KID, whose clean, sharp rock stylings will be the perfect thing to ignite the crowds in the afternoon sun.
Sound City’s Sunday headliner, LOYLE CARNER, is one of the hottest acts in the UK right now. His involvement with the Levi’s Music Project, mentoring local musicians, adds an extra strand to this year’s festival. All of the artists involved with the programme will be performing across the festival weekend at Constellations, and the breadth of talent on offer is a sign that the future of Liverpool music is in safe hands. The party is capped off on Sunday night with an afterparty in association with Noisey, featuring Northampton rapper SLOWTHAI, one of the most interesting artists operating in the UK right now. He is joined by award-winning grime star MS BANKS, and Liverpool’s own trap titan AYSTAR. This will be one of the weekend’s hottest tickets, so make sure you know how to get hold of yours.
Constellations will serve as the hub of this year’s festival, with music and activity taking place across its indoor and outdoor stages, as well as its cosy new sister venue Best Before. Tim Peaks Diner will be taking up residence in Constellations’ garden, bringing some fine coffee and DJs to proceedings. Their line-up on the live stage is unparalleled, with the host himself, TIM BURGESS, performing there on Sunday night. One half of Factory Floor, NIK VOID, will also be in situ on the Tim Peaks Diner stage, bringing a clubby atmosphere to proceedings. Genre-bending multi-instrumentalist DANIEL O’SULLIVAN adds even more edge to the Sunday night bill, with his blend of hypnotic prog something to behold.
The Aussie invasion isn’t quite as all-encompassing as we’ve seen at previous editions of Sound City, but the Antipodean presence is strong nonetheless. The razor-sharp wit of STELLA DONNELLY comes to District on Saturday night, and you’re not going to want to miss it. Courtney Barnett left a lasting impression on the festival when she stole the limelight at The Zanzibar in 2014, and this could be more of the same from Donnelly. Disco oddballs CONFIDENCE MAN are in charge of the grooves on Sunday night at Hangar 34, and we can’t think of anyone better to lead the dancefloor charge. Janet Planet, Sugar Bones, Clarence McGuffie and Reggie Goodchild are people to put your trust in.
There’s a healthy presence of guitars on the Sound City line-up, with two of the brightest sounds in UK indie leading the way in Hangar 34. BLAENAVON are part of Transgressive’s massively interesting stable of artists, and their grunge-fuelled new material marks a return to the squall of previous efforts. Blaenavon play on Saturday, and THE MAGIC GANG hit the same venue on Sunday. The Brighton four-piece bring a lovelorn edge to their fuzzy, jangly hooks, and represent one of the gems hidden within the dense Sound City bill. Both PIP BLOM (District, Saturday) and OUR GIRL (Birdies Live Room, Saturday) will be familiar to Liverpool audiences, having played well-received shows here recently, so you can bet their sets will attract the crowds.
Following on from last year’s show-stopping live performance and parade from Stealing Sheep, Brighter Sounds’ Both Sides Now residency returns to Sound City to highlight the work of female musicians and further the debate around improving access to the wider music industry. Heavenly Recordings’ GWENNO is leading the residency this year, and will be working with eight local artists in the week-long programme to develop a new piece of work to be performed at the festival (District, Saturday). The artists working with Gwenno this year are Abbi Woods, Annabel Grace, Eleanor Cheetham, Evja, Niki Kand, Rachel Nicholas, Sarah Grundy and Stephannie Stokes.
You can rely on the range of Sound City’s showcases to bring a high level of support right throughout both days, and those who get in early and indulge in the festival’s sense of discovery will be rewarded. Legendary label Bella Union are taking up residence in Birdies Live Room on Saturday evening, with enigmatic vocalist REN HARVIEU heading up their stage. There are also stages programmed by performance rights organisation SESAC (Constellations, Saturday afternoon), music education institution BIMM (various stages, Saturday), Leeds College Of Music (The Cavern Stage, Saturday) and South Korean festival Zandari Festa (various stages) across the weekend.
Global distribution and publishing body CD Baby are hosting educational sessions for artists on Saturday at Best Before, followed by a storming live showcase that features PEARL CHARLES and BLACK FUTURES. Pirate Studios are hosting a takeover at District on Sunday afternoon, which features a headline set from PIZZAGIRL, and a live set from the winners of their Pirate Prodigy talent competition. BBC Wales’ Horizons platform will be pitching up at 24 Kitchen Street on Saturday and Constellations Garden on Sunday, bringing some of the finest breaking talent from Wales to Sound City (definitely catch CAMPFIRE SOCIAL); and the Lithuanian Culture Institute are hosting an event that introduces you to the sounds of an emergent scene on Friday at 24 Kitchen Street, as part of Sound City+.
As well as a host of Merseyside’s finest woven in – THE TEA STREET BAND, BILL NICKSON, NATALIE MCCOOL – you can take in a whole host of music and art by wandering along Jamaica Street and popping your head inside the variety of stages and pop-ups. You might even catch ERIC’S CLASSICAL, an ensemble of local musicians performing classic hits from the Eric’s era; or drop by BE ONE PERCENT’s pub quiz at Hobo Kiosk on Sunday to find out more about their amazing work. (Be One Percent is a charity partner for Sound City this year; the festival will be donating one per cent of ticket sales to the charity, to help them continue their work supporting projects in the world’s poorest communities).
Whatever you get up to, make sure you get the most out of Sound City by getting stuck in to all that’s on offer!