Sound City's global outlook and handle on what's big next is invigorating Liverpool and the wider North West - here's this year's highs
Cai Trefor
07:00 7th May 2019

Liverpool Sound City isn't afraid to reinvent itself. After years of being located in the city centre, a desire to have a bigger site and massive outdoor stage, meant they relocated to Liverpool's historic Bramley Moore docklands in 2015. The change gave them the capacity to put on huge bands such as Velvet Underground's John Cale. But the overriding feeling in the city was that the barren location was just too far removed from the heart of town.

Scrapping that site, last year, the organisers took the bold move of moving back to the city - only this time they moved to the former industrial quarter the Baltic Triangle; not exactly the heart of town, but a thriving place, growing in popularity as an epicentre for nightlife. The newly-gentrified spot features old factories et al converted into venues, bars, boutique markets, coffee shops - there's even a community radio station. But it’s not as cringe as it sounds on paper. Less garishly regenerated than some areas of its ilk, it's a stonking place for the festival: There's 16 venues within a five-minute radius. 

Unsurprisingly, they’ve stuck at this location for the second year running and it’s this place that becomes the epicenter of our music hungry universe for a few days. Interesting for this writer, whose first time it is in the new location, is how they've adapted their line-up curation since moving from the docks. It seems by utilising smaller venues and a smaller outdoor stage than previously, the emphasis is now much more on global emerging talent with some big names thrown in as opposed to the other way around. Delightfully, there's a palpable sense from the festival organisers, which that filters down to punters, that this is the best move forward for Sound City. The festival seem spurred on by partnerships and relationships with cool bookers, promoters and festivals in places such as Russia and East Asia. And, importantly, their responsibility to nurture the city's own thriving indie scene is well in-tact with plenty of local bands playing. With this well-rounded approach, it's our delight to spend three days at Sound City discovering new music and revisiting some acts we already know and love. From Taiwan and Russia’s best new bands, to Liverpool’s own rock n’ roll heroes - here's the Gigwise best of Sound City 2019: 


When we interviewed St.Petersberg’s Shortparis the other day, they said they are a stadium band in-waiting. Tonight at the packed 700-cap Hangar 34 (5 May), we’re hard-pressed to argue otherwise. Powerful frontman Nikolay Komiagin has an operatic range and keen ear for catchy melodies that draw on – among other things – distinctive Russian classical scales. And when coupled with a Keith Flint-esque flair as a rabble-rouser, it makes for an arresting experience. Doubling up the dance moves, having standing drummer Danila Kholodkov go absolutely nuts too at the front of the stage near the monitor speakers and ride off Nikolay’s example gives extra charge to proceedings, too. The best moment is seeing them make synchronized dancing cool again. You have to see it to believe it (keep an eye on Gigwise for a video of that soon).

But it isn’t all about the front two; each member feels essential to the equation. Guitarist and bassist Aleksandr Ionin is great with a slide, and has an approach in that he’s unafraid to abandon conventional tones and technique to create a sound that suits that song better. The skull-crushing atmospheres evocative of the textures used by depraved industrial goth-punk acts such as Nine Inch Nails are played by Aleksandr Galianov. Moreover, having dual drummers – both with a combination of acoustic and electronic sampled and pads – is a spectacle in itself thanks to the eclectic range and styles. What's more, it’s only their second UK gig and there's a sense we suspect is shared that we’re witness to one of the first of many great Shortparis gigs in the UK for years to come.

                                             Photo: Andy Von Pip

Confidence Man

"I've been waiting two years for this!" yells a zealous Confidence Man fan next to us, epitomising the pumping atmosphere. The 700-strong crowd at Hangar 34 give the rapturous welcome these Aussie four-piece signed to Heavenly deserve. Standing at the pit within feet of the band as Sugar Bones and Janet Planet unleash tireless dance moves it becomes a feast for the senses: Not only are they able to blast out bangers that are a lampooning of celebrity culture (check the track ‘C.O.O.L Party’) and hopeless relationships (‘Boyfriend, Repeat’) - which, sound somewhat a cross between Fatboy Slim and Weatherall-era Primal Scream; they're able to build an immersive Confidence Man world with costumes changes mid-set. The switch into lazer bras and lazer shoulder pads from a white dress and black rollover gets the biggest cheer. Rising to the occasion and then some, having the crowd, dancing themselves senseless and give them everything back gives the feeling of a mutual love-in of epic proportion. Perfectly chosen headliner for the Hangar 34. 

                                              Photo: Andy Von Pip

Queen Zee

Liverpool's own rock n' rollers Queen Zee aren't on the bill; instead, they take the late-night secret slot at a tiny back street venue called Best Before. "Let's fucking have it Liverpool!" roars cross-dressed lead vocalist Zee, before karate kicking the air and pounding the guitar with the wild energy you want from your punk heroes. Their in-between track stage banger is gold, too. Whether Zee is saying: "I got my tits from Primark" and chucking the material into the crowd; or taking a dig at local leather jacket Miles Kane – Zee and the tight-knit band backing him are up for causing a bit of a stir. For stage presence and unabashed fun they're among the best in the business.

                                             Photo: Andy Von Pip

No Party For Cao Dong

The tiny Brick Lane venue is full to the rafters with people clamoring for space to see the hottest new band to come out of Taiwan. No Party For Cao Dong's strength lies in a Smashing Pumpkins-esque grip of the loud-quiet dynamic, jazz-y math rock verses, and Bloc Party-esque guitar licks. Seeking translation from Chinese for most of the songs bar the one English one they play, we’re told by a Chinese fan in the crowd that their heartfelt, honest lyrics about the hardships of class immobility in Taiwan - in an era of comparatively little opportunity for young people compared to their parents’ generation - are truly resonating with thousands of Chinese and Taiwanese young people. It’s a rebellious thread through some of their songs and fits with angst-y instrumentation and an injection of Grohl-esque conviction on the vocals. One of the most convincing guitar bands we hear all festival.

                                             Photo: Andy Von Pip

The Homesick

There's sheer joy in seeing Dutch band The Homesick deliver their eclectic post-punk influenced guitar music. Pounding basslines, Neu-esque rhythms, jangly lead guitar arpeggios, explosive hacks of rhythm guitar, and life-affirming drum fills - they've got it all. Stage antics are kept ot a minimum as they let the music do the work. Co-frontmen Jaap van der Velde and Elias Elgersma's ability to switch who gets the limelight on any given track is a dynamic feature of theirs each vocalist is equally compelling. The track that gets us most every time is the hit lo-fi anthem 'The Best Thing About Being Young Is Falling In Love With Jesus'; a blatant mock at the doctrine of Christianity that was surrounding them growing up in northern Friesland, taken from debut album Youth Hunt. 

After the set, we catch a few words with the band and they tell us they're expanding their sound. The second album they tell us is lot more Beach Boys and Animal Collective influenced stuff but they don't offer much more infor than that for now. Big things to come we suspect.

                                              Photo: Andy Von Pip

Average Sex

Tim Burgess is a big champion of London indie pop five-piece Average Sex and has them on his stage shortly after his set at Tim Peaks. Lead singer Laetitia Bocquet is one of the most enigmatic on the UK indie scene right now and will surge ahead knowing they've absolutely slayed their opportunity here as they begin to take on the festival circuit all summer.

                                             Photo: Andy Von Pip


Phobophobes' debut album Miniature World is a perennial spin on the Gigwise stereo so it's with immense gratitude we hear its tracks such as 'Child Star', 'No Flavour' and 'Where Is My Owner?' live at Sound City on its opening day. They mix in new material, too, that were not that familiar with; but, throughout, the haunting psychedelic melodies, hell-for-leather drum playing, heart-wrenching and, occasionally, dark-humoured lyricism is brilliant. The six, piece, led by poet, artist and baritone singer Jamie Taylor, are, ultimately delivering one of the truly great rock n' roll shows around at the moment. Don't sleep on these. A Youth-produced second album in the works, too.

                                               Photo: Tomas Adam


Hull punks LIFE are well-placed Saturday (4 May) afternoon New Bird Street stage, getting the crowd fired up ahead of fellow politically charged punk band Shame. Frontman Mez Sanders-Green gives Charlie Steen a run for his money with his stage moves and sonically there's enough might in there to see them rise in the ranks. Strong championing from Steve Lamacq heading there way regularly at the moment, too, which is doing them a lot of good.

                                                Photo: Tomas Adam

Black Futures

Industrial noise punks Black Futures don't skimp on stage antics. The show is a completely nuts affair that's invigorating after scoping out music that takes itself a bit more seriously. Dressed in boiler suits, which are perhaps indicative of a sci-fi nightmare aesthetic they want to create, the band have infectious sing-a-long anthems that have their hardcore fanbase completely enthralled. It's one of those gigs that has us feeling; 'Yes. This is what we are looking for. These are the small back street pockets of raucous entertainment that we come to rock n' roll festivals for'.

                                              Photo: Andy Von Pip

Los Wilds

Black Lips-esque Spanish garage rock band Los Wilds are a formidably entertaining live force, largely thanks to their frontman providing the kind of misbehavior that rock n' roll festival need more of. Stripping off to his kecks and climbing the roof, doing hand stands, it’s a fun manifestation of their highly-charged power-chord, reverb-laden sound.

                                                Photo: Andy Von Pip

Pom Poko

Bella Union-signees from Norway Pom Poko are crafting some of the most inventive indie rock around at the moment and headline the Birdies Live Room. Clever vocal melodies from charismatic, confident lead vocalist Ragnhild combine with arresting, eclectic guitar patterns featuring liberal amounts of harmonics. Unrelenting power from a drummer, whose strong enough technique implies a jazz background, tops it off. The drummer applies it with so much ferocity that it rebels against the conventions set about by any prior education, though, and it's a raw, primal feeling that transpires.

                                               Photo: Tomas Adam


Growing up using Fat White Family's rehearsal space at the Queens Head in Brixton hasn't done Shame any harm over the years. They're still applying that explosive energy and anti-austerity ideology that epitomized the 'Yuppies Out' Brixton punk scene circa 2013. Except, like Fat White Family they're no longer skint reprobates: Serfs Up! And the world's their oyster. They clean up with many major festivals at the moment and the debut album didn't do half badly did it?

                                             Photo: Andy Von Pip


Hope are one of our surprise discoveries after being recommended them by Shortparis who they shared a bill with in Germany. Sure enough Shortparis are true to their word and all pile in to witness this incredibly inventive band at the Baltic Roastery. First impressions are a satanic Sigur Ros mixed with Cocteau Twins - references that fit their monochrome dress sense, analog synths, and creepy reverbs. They've toured with Algiers and Idles on the continent but are still massively underground in the UK. Ones to watch, these.

Photo: Tomas Adam and Andy Von Pip