From the Cunard Yank to the Cosmic Scouser and beyond, Liverpool and its people have a long and intimate association with music. It’s a trait that runs deep, not just in the blood of the city’s inhabitants, but also woven tightly into our cultural make-up. This was recognised when UNESCO bestowed City Of Music status on Liverpool in 2015, citing the city’s “extraordinary musical heritage – known worldwide as the birthplace of The Beatles – where all forms of music are celebrated and cross-genre activity is the norm.” How many other cities have mutated as often, and as well, between successive musical movements as Liverpool? From Merseybeat at The Cavern, punk and post-punk at Eric’s, EDM and rave culture at Cream, the Bandwagon and Zanzibar years, right the way through to the contemporary Kazimier collective, there have been so many faces to the region’s musical activities.
Liverpool is renowned for its musical influence and the UNESCO City Of Music status is the ultimate, and appropriate, accolade for a city which lives and breathes music. But what was primarily taken into account in its awarding was the here and now, and the importance of “music’s place at the heart of Liverpool’s contemporary culture, education and the economy – from the vibrant live music scene to tourism, music management courses and digital businesses.” Few cities can boast an infrastructure as supportive and comprehensive around its musicians as we can: even London, an international hub of the music industry, has a detachment from its homegrown artists. You only have to look at the opportunities available right here in Merseyside to see this: Liverpool International Music Festival and its Academy programme, which is currently nurturing the fantastic talents of LUMEN and ELEANOR NELLY; the funding of Merseyside Arts Foundation, which has provided a leg-up to acts like SHE DREW THE GUN, CAVALRY and BEACH SKULLS over the past 12 months; institutions such as LIPA and SAE that constantly bring talented artists to the city to study; businesses like Sentric and Ditto that offer professional industry services to budding musicians; Edge Hill University’s The Label Recordings, which kick-started HOOTON TENNIS CLUB’s rise; and all of this documented by ourselves and Getintothis, whose annual GIT Award highlights some of the great work by homegrown artists over the past year, with MUGSTAR, TRUDY AND THE ROMANCE, THE VRYLL SOCIETY and BILL RYDER-JONES among the highlighted acts for 2016. Music is our cottage industry.
Each year, Sound City shines a light on all this amazing work, bringing an international focus to our community’s musical happenings. Last year’s debut outing at Bramley-Moore Dock was a special affair, which scooped Sound City the Best Metropolitan Festival gong at the UK Festival Awards. I’m looking forward to seeing them build on that for this year by adding even more life to the site: watch out for dance performances, aerial acrobats, breakdancing and various curious little pop-ups all across Bramley-Moore Dock over the weekend.
The Docker’s Clock will once again be a focal point of the festival, as it looms above the main Atlantic Stage between us and Liverpool’s impressive skyline. The Grade II listed Gothic revival Victoria Tower was nicknamed the ‘docker’s clock’ because its six clock faces enabled workers and ships to synchronise their timepieces with ease and accuracy as work flowed up and down the river, bringing commerce to the city of Liverpool through its extensive dock network. Standing at the entrance to the Salisbury Dock, the Victoria Tower was once an important visual landmark for seafarers entering the city via the Mersey’s heaving waterway; now, it is an enduring symbol of Sound City embracing Liverpool’s maritime heritage, and merging it with its modern business and music focus.
Beyond music, the city is thriving at the moment, with a genuine sense of positivity floating on the breeze and infusing residents and visitors alike with infectious optimism. This is in large part down to the wave of emotion unleashed by the results of the Hillsborough inquiry, a shrugging off of a decades-long cloud of injustice, and a solidarity that has been forged by an unrelenting pursuit of truth, justice and vindication. This has spawned a renewed, fierce sense of civic pride, the type that isn’t always palpable elsewhere in the UK. The feeling reminds me of Clive Martin’s fantastic 2014 article for Vice, when he wrote about the catharsis running through the city’s veins: “The city gushes pride, violence and sentimentality at a time when the rest of the nation seems content to sit in the corner quietly staring into its empty pint glass.” In summing up his appraisal of Liverpool’s people, Martin said that, “they see a city with New York-esque architecture, an immense musical heritage and a modern, people-led history that’s a bit more relatable than London’s kings, queens and Victorian serial killers. Liverpool is a city that is often accused of living in the past. It now has a great chance to escape it.”
There’s something a little bit different about Sound City: it’s not ‘just another gig’. It’s frantic, hectic and anarchic, a festival where old faces and new collide in a blur of sounds and colours, and we wouldn’t have it any other way.
Enjoy the festival; what’s more, enjoy Liverpool.