Liverpool Sound City used to unfold across independent bars and venues around the city-centre hub Bold Street, with the epic-scale of the Anglican Cathedral, a brutalist car park on Duke Street and the sadly shuttered but still celebrated Kazimier as its stand-out venues. After three years situated in an enclosed venue space around North Liverpool Docks, Sound City returned to the city centre this year, locating itself in the newly gentrified post-industrial quarter now known as The Baltic Triangle, an assemblage of bars, cafes and spontaneously created art and music spaces taking residence in what were formerly abandoned warehouses.
It’s a fantastic example of a historic music city renewing a once-bleak area around the very best of its cultural offerings, as well as giving emerging artists from the region and beyond an unrivalled platform to build a fanbase. With more than 300 artists performing across 20 stages, the eleventh iteration of Sound City definitely did not disappoint.
The festival kicked off in very promising fashion with the stripped-down guitar and percussion of Australian duo Hockey Dad, who treated us to a full-tilt evocation of 90s skater-grunge. They may have lacked a little in variety, but more than made up for it with a loud, hard smash-and-grab of a set. It set the tone perfectly.
Soon after, in a lovely pivot in tone, came the ethereal and textured psychedelia of Argentinian songstress Malena Zavala. Playing at On Air, with sunlight slanting in from behind her, Zavala’s dreamy vocals and Latin-influenced melodies were soulful, heartfelt and highly technical, instantly holding the crowd-rapt.
At Kitchen Street, local Scouse rappers Beyond Average gave a highly-calibrated account of life growing up on the rougher streets of the city, with MC Jeopardy barely missing a beat throughout, and mixing humour with impassioned social comment in a way only a Scouser can. Before them, Wolverhampton rapper Vital had to kick-off his gig to an empty venue, but managed to attract a room full of followers by the end of his set with his charm and gusto.
Bristol five-piece IDLES returned to Liverpool after a recent 6Music performance in the city during the radio station’s Independent Venues week. They have a committed following in Liverpool, and packed-out Constellations with a sweat-drenched, manically energetic performance of post-punk, in which hits from their stunning debut Brutalism melded with a few teasing numbers from their follow up album, scheduled to be released by Partisan Records this September. Vocalist Joe Talbot mixed his intense, wide-eyed stage persona and powerful political perspective with frequent requests for the crowd, and people in general, to respect and love each other. It went down a storm - an inevitable highlight for a festival that has a unique regard for high-tempo guitar music.
IDLES weren’t alone in electrocuting the crowd. Earlier in the day, at a raucous and packed-to-the-rafters District, emerging three-piece rock ’n’ rollers The Blinders, whom hail from Doncaster, brought the crowd to a frenzy with a full-tilt performance full of unashamed showmanship. Their debut album isn’t due out until later this year, but plenty of the young things in the audience seemed to know every lyric. This could be an early shot for a major new force in Northern indie.
Allied to that, the immaculate Husky Loops didn’t let a small crowd at the Blade Factory put them off, launching into an intricate, tightly-executed and increasingly expansive exploration of the outer-edges of math rock, all big soundscapes and tightly-meshed phrasing.
But the Saturday, ultimately, belonged to Berlin-based collective King Khan and the Shrines, whom stole the day with a raucous, resplendent mix of soul, funk, blues and straight-up garage rock. King Khan himself, whom hails from Montreal, wore a leotard cut to reveal his bum and nipples, finished off with a feathered head-dress. But this wasn’t just glamorous dress-up. His vocal range, from screams to grunts to spectacular vocal reaches, inspired even the most introverted spectators to throw off their inhibitions and have a good dance. He was backed-up by an ensemble band whom left everything they had on stage. I felt for the band that had to follow them, local and hotly-tipped four-piece Pale Riders, whose overly-self-aware cool didn’t mesh with the good-feel vibes The King had created.
A sun-drenched Sunday helped ease a few hangovers across the city. At a packed and ebullient Brick Street, Mersey favourites Psycho Comedy grabbed the scruff of the Sunday evening with their debauched, eccentric, straight from the garage brand of dirty rock’n’ roll. Many of the musicians whom had also played that weekend were having a party in the crowd, giving the set a celebratory feel - a sense that the music scene in Liverpool is something of a village, in which everyone knows and supports the other.
Over at Camp and Furnace, headlining indie-band Peace, who received national acclaim with their 2013 debut album In Love, greeted a crammed audience with an equally impressive set. After a relative period of silence, during which they changed their management and label, Peace used Sound City to mark their return to the fold. The Birmingham four-piece played tunes from their brand new third album, Kindness Is the New Rock and Roll, composed during a six-month residency in an isolated rural farmhouse. The resulting tunes are darker, deeper and more introspective than what Peace fans might be used to - and the better for it.
But the highlight of the Sunday came in the form of Stealing Sheep, a popular female three-piece from the city whom collaborated with female students from the city’s Edge Hill University to compose a remarkable piece of modern classical-music and conceptual dance performance - a tribute to the suffragette movement’s centenary year. Performing at the Blade Factory, a temporary space filled with local art displays, the performance was minimalist in tone, quietly demonstrating a very feminine strength of resolve - a simply-executed but powerful way to mark 100 years since voting rights were first extended to some British women.