Liverpool Sound City Music Festival 2009
Liverpool’s Sound City Festival, still only in its second year is already being talked about as a possible future rival to Austin’s SXSW. This year the city played host to over 400 artists performing in more than 30 venues across the city. My mission was simple, to bend space and time and attend every show…..well not really. But I did manage to get to a few.…
One of the problems of a festival such as this is the logistics, it can be frustrating working out your itinerary only to discover in a moment of head slapping “D’oh” style clarity that two bands you really want to see clash. Couple that with the headache of a gig finishing within minutes of another starting on the other side of the city and it means you really need to be a highly organised, well oiled machine, and I was erm… certainly “well oiled” …One idea floated over a beer or eight involved looking into the feasibility of commissioning a convoy of rickshaws manned by a team of highly trained midgets, replete with Beatles masks to ferry gig-goers between venues, other brainwaves included the introduction of a flotilla of amphibious yellow submarines or the offer of free piggyback rides provided by members of ever freindly Zutons! Funnily enough my Sound City experience began when I inadvertently bumped into Abbi Harding and ended with me staggering down Parr Street singing “Sinful” and “The Story of the Blues” with Pete Wylie…but without further ado let us proceed to the musical highlights of Sound City 2009.
The first live music experience at this year’s fest came courtesy of an ear shredding sonic cacophony courtesy of New Jersey’s Titus Andronicus in Liverpool’s Barfly. Imagine The Clash colliding with Nirvana at a chainsaw expo (which is not necessarily a bad thing.) The band seem to be having quite a time in England, from being mistaken for hobos by doormen at a venue in Brighton, to sleeping on fans couches and floors around the UK. However such experiences are merely part of the rich tapestry of glamour and luxury that makes being part of a rock n roll band such a draw! At tonight’s gig none of the bands songs quite manage to catch the imagination like the noisy thrashing splendiferous roar of their self titled single, (called, surprisingly, “Titus Andronicus”), but there’s much to admire in a set that certainly matches energy levels with volume ….After the performance I weave my way from the venue, ears still bleeding from the ferocity of the guitars and decide against seeing another loud American, in this case Hollywood actress turned rock babe, Juliette Lewis (whom I had spotted earlier procuring what appeared to be huge feathers in the city centre, doubtless to make some sort of rudimentary “tickling stick” in tribute to tombstone toothed Liverpool “comedian”, Ken Dodd.) Instead I wander into the nearby Zanzibar Club to catch Scottish singer songwriter Tommy Reilly, who I am told, is to release his Bernard Butler produced debut album in the none too distant future. Tommy provides a nice mix of acoustic pop with bluesy folk undertones and seems a likeable young fellow; in fact this was probably just what the doctor ordered after having my senses battered like erm… a horseshoe on um…the anvil of rock by er…the mighty sonic hammer of Andronicus.
However before the set concludes I overhear a conversation that makes the blood freeze in my veins. There appears to be a suggestion that Mr Reilly is oft inclined to slip “a really good cover” of The Killers tuneless “dad-rock” dirge “Mr Brightside” into his set, this instantly invokes my fight or flight response . I recoil at the mention of these trite Vegas show-band dandies and decide discretion is the better part of valour. In short I flee the premises like a modern day Kevin McCarthy à la “Invasion of the Body Snatchers” wailing “Look, you fools, you’re in danger! Can’t you see?! They’re after you! They’re after all of us! Our wives, our children, everyone! THEY’RE HERE, ALREADY! YOU’RE NEXT! “…. Still it was a nice set.
My next port of call is the Korova, Liverpool’s coolest bar/venue to see Fight Like Apes, who are possibly best described as “deliciously deranged” and they give the performance of the night. MayKay and the boys crash through a blistering set from their excellent “Fight Like Apes And The Mystery Of The Golden Medallion“ album. Despite singing along I’m still left none the wiser to what song’s such as “I’m Beginning To Think You Prefer Beverley Hills 90210 To Me” “Lumpy Dough or “Lend Me Your Face” are about, (then again who says they have to be about anything)….But the live experience proves to be a gloriously bonkers affair and hugely enjoyable as a result. It concludes with MayKay being carried shoulder high through a delighted crowd …
The gig’s over and suddenly the room is spinning. …. I awake the next morning with a strange sense of disquiet, a sore head, and rather disturbingly I seem to be missing my understrides ( Tom Jones hadn’t made an impromptu appearance had he ? ) plus I have absolutely no recollection of how I’d arrived home …..Filled with post alcohol self loathing and disgust I take solace in the fact that I’m neither Jeremy Kylie nor David Cameron and this thought alone is enough to coax a smile back on my face. After the hair of the dog it’s time to “Ferry Cross the Mersey” to catch more live bands.
My return to Soundcity kicks off with set by a band we have featured in recent weeks Levelload (interview here) , in Liverpool’s “Bumper”, a venue that to be honest, I’ve never exactly seen packed to the rafters and with so many other bands on around the city tonight’s no exception. However Levelload give a fine performance which features superb guitar work and plenty of attitude. The set includes goodies such as “HND in RNR”, “Yellow Fever” and ace new single “I’ve Been Thinking.”
They say a pessimist is never disappointed and with this in mind I set off across town again, to the Academy 2 in order to catch an artist who, at this moment in time, is just as famous for a certain four letter word as she is for her music. The four letter word in question is “hype”, the artist, Little Boots (nee Victoria Hesketh). Don’t get me wrong LB has some decent pop songs but her record label’s PR machine has whipped up a crescendo of hysteria which quite frankly, has reached ludicrous new levels of overstatement. Will she live up to the hype or crumble under the pressure of being given the preposterous title “the future of pop?” To be fair nobody can live up to that sort of hyperbole, but judging by the heaving swarm gathered here tonight, the PR machine has certainly garnered Miss Boots an army of loyal fans. Not bad for an artist who aside from a couple of limited promo offerings has yet to release a single, proper. Proof that hype maybe evil but it works on a short term basis at least.
Little Boots takes to the stage wearing, not little boots at all but high heels, complimented by a rather sexy, rather tiny, black dress, and in no time at all she has the assembled throng of adoring fans in the palm of her hand. The place is rammed, the heat is stifling, and I start to resemble Ted Striker preparing for an emergency landing in Airplane. But guess what? Little Boots gives an exceptionally entertaining performance. If this is “pop” then call me the weasel, because Miss Boots really does engage with her audience, employs sharp, witty banter and doesn’t come across as some sort of big label puppet but a nice girl who really enjoys what she does. And let’s face it if your handed a big opportunity by a record label you’d take it… wouldn’t you? It’s a polished set and the highlights are predictably her best known songs, the hypnotic Blondie meets Goldfrapp electro monster, “Stuck On Repeat” and the disco-pop-tastic “Meddle”. Does the other material from her debut album “Hands” (released in June) cut the mustard? Will it help give Little Boots the legs to march to the top of the charts? Difficult to tell on first listen here, but there appears to be quite a few songs which definitely have the potential to lodge themselves in the nations consciousness, not so sure if the slightly flaccid debut single “ New In Town” is one of them but hey, what do I know?
What her performance at Sound City emphatically proves is that she can certainly cut it live and has the ability to appeal to a wide cross section of music lovers if tonight’s eclectic looking crowd is anything to go by. Let’s hope the record label ease up on the hype and give Victoria time to grow eh …of course they won’t, for they have been carefully grooming her to be launched as England’s answer to Lady Ga-Ga, ( although master of exploitation Simon Cowell would have you believe we already have one the shape of Susan Boyle)
I leave the stifling confines of Liverpool Academy, and am embraced by the cool night air but alas a sprint across the city centre to Liverpool’s Korova is required to catch a band I’ve wanted to see for an age. I arrive ruddy faced, dishevelled and sweaty and grab a quick pint which I somehow manage to empty all over my T-shirt,( all I need now, I reflect, is to loose a front tooth and nibble on an ear of corn!)When God was giving out cool I obviously overslept! Ironic really as I am about to see a band who are the epitome of glacial sophistication. Ipso Facto produce what could be described as brooding dark pop noir; they are a band whom we have long predicated will cast their formidable shadow over the pop landscape in the very near future. The NME (who make Jilly Goolden’s description of wine seem almost sane) have helpfully described Ipso Facto as “monochrome psychedelia”, which may be very clever but actually means bugger all. “So what’s that new band like Dave?”… “Well in essence it’s monochrome psychedelia in its purest form”…Erm Ok thanks for clearing that one up.
Ipso Facto’s stylish, vampish image would have reduced me to a quivering wreck as a lad. I probably would have followed them from gig to gig in slavish adoration and eventually they would have thought “oh dear, it’s that northern yokel again with features that seem to have been hewn from a particularly unattractive, malformed potato.” But of course I’m far too old for that sort of shallow hero worshiping nonsense, I’m here for the music, Ipso Facto may indeed look great, but they also write tunes of dark brooding brilliance. On stage singer and guitarist Rosalie Cunningham is an impressive, sultry presence, who one imagines, can reduce a chap to dust with a menacing stare, or a disapproving arch of her eyebrow, as her rich, dark vocals and atmospheric guitar work reverberates around this intimate basement venue. Bassist Samantha Valentine’s inability to remain vertical for more than a few minute at a time is certainly eye catching as she laconically lounges against walls in between prowling the stage with the feline grace of a catwalk model whilst wearing what appears to be little more than spandex and underwear. One imagines that if there was an award for being the coolest bassist in music, Samantha would be winning it hands down. Drummer Victoria Smith keeps time with military precision and even cracks a smile or two, as the band produce a set that is draped in dark, glittering beauty, “Harmonise” “Six And Three Quarters” “Queen Sophia’ and “You Don’t Own Me” all wow the crowd, who cant help but join in with the lyrically profound😉 chorus on the head banging “Balderdash”. If Andrew Eldritch and Siouxsie Sioux had produced triplets, they wouldn’t have been half as good as this band and that’s a Facto! Definitely my highlight of Sound City and a band I really hope do well.
And so the night draws to a conclusion with some inevitable after show madness in Liverpool’s famous Parr Street studios where we meet up with Pete Wylie and co. The atmosphere here is one of drunken bon’homie and the clientele includes musicians, actors, scenesters in obligatory twatty little hats, plus a smattering of folk who, if the size of their testicles was in direct proportion to the size of their egos, would have great difficulty walking …. But here I must draw a veil over proceedings as what happens on tour stays on tour (possibly, due, in no small part to the fact that people often can’t remember what the f**k actually did happen!😉 )
Sound City has been a blast and is without doubt a festival that’s growing in stature. Maybe the organisers need to employ a little more joined up thinking, possibly add a few more outdoor gigs and stages, but that will surely come in time. There’s a definite buzz around the city when the festival’s on and music seems to be everywhere. And it’s not just for the trendy fashionistas in their skinny jeans and amusing headwear, it really is for everybody to enjoy and get involved in. With Liverpool now able to boast some of the best conferencing facilities outside of London it appears that this is a Festival that is destined to get bigger and bigger. Hey, maybe next year “Mersey Rail” might even decide to undertake “structural works” at a time that doesn’t coincide with a major music festival.
And so this years Sound City concludes with a dynamic new take on Liverpool’s musical heritage. It sees Ringo Starr feted as a god whilst being carried shoulder high around the city centre before performing an energetic drum and bass version of his existential masterpiece “Octopus’s Garden”. This is followed by a moving recital of “Thomas The Tank Engine’s” finest moments, personally selected by Ringo and set to an Acid Jazz soundtrack especially commissioned by Phil Redmond and performed by the cast of Brookside … Erm my mistake, bad acid ..Or something…… Sound City was actually wrapped up with a gig headlined by the Zutons and Sound Of Guns in one of the countries most impressive buildings, Liverpool’s majestic neo-classical, St Georges Hall and was by all accounts a triumph. Me? Alas I was too busy recovering from the night before – sinful eh? ………… Roll on 2010!
Big love to Amy Woodhouse From Creative Cultures