There’s few cities that can match Liverpool in the self-mythologising stakes. Football, art, camaraderie, that (in)famous ‘sensa yuma’… yes indeed, in terms of towns that loved to toot their own horn, the focal point of Merseyside would be up there with the best of ‘em. Maybe it’s down to the rich history as a port town; the former gateway to the United Kingdom. Perhaps it’s an extension of the embattled siege mentality that developed during a certain former government’s attempts to crush the industrial towns of the north. Who knows? But if there’s one area in which this place can truly claim to know its stuff, it’s pop music. Forget what you know about jingly-jangly Scousepop and cheeky chappie stoners; we’re talking about an area that’s experienced a genuine cultural renaissance in the past decade, and it’s pretty darn thrilling to see the place in such fine form.
Ok, we’re nearly done with the rhapsodising, but Sound City is as close to an encapsulation of Liverpool’s pop prominence as you could ask for. For Gigwise, the festival kicks off with a brief look at local lads Coffee And Cake For Funerals, whose silky r’n’b-tinges attract an impressive crowd early on day one. It’s about as far away from Merseybeat as you could imagine: subtle guitar chimes float spectrally atop dubstep-informed basslines and complex rhythms, making for an unexpected treat. Ok, some of their choruses sound as though they’ve been lifted from The James Arthur Guide To The X-Factor, but one suspects their ambitions are somewhat different to those of, say, James Blake. Either way, it’s a solid start.
We amble enthusiastically up the hill to the cavernous Anglican Cathedral, where The Loved Ones take advantage of their surroundings to break a few hearts with their understated folktronica. It’s cheating really – just as you think you’ve had all you can take of beardy fellas playing sad songs on acoustic guitars, along comes a band who nail the whole shebang perfectly. The ethereal cry of ’Wonderful Life’ sends us sniffling into the early evening, just in time for Kepla’s addictively weird set at The Kazimier. Electronic pulses bleed organically into one another, twisting and turning almost unnoticed into completely different rhythms before you’ve even had time to notice, while jarring blasts of sheet metal strafes keep you on your toes. The set ends with a wry grin from Kepla dude Jon Davies, and our toes continue to tap long after the beats have subsided.
Across to the Garage, and Esco Williams has the crowd eating from the palm of his hand. His brand of r’n’b is slick, commercial as hell and phenomenally catchy, but for all his gratitude and nice-guy smiles, it’s easy to see that his mind is set on bigger things. To that end, here’s the Gigwise conclusion: these songs are fun right now, but they won’t quite set the world alight – stick him in a studio with Andre 3000 or Frank Ocean on production duties and let’s see some sparks really fly. By now we’re just about ready to check out one of the acts hailing from beyond the city boundaries, and we trudge back up to the Cathedral for Noah And The Whale. Such an easy band to dislike, what with their university lecturer dress sense, unerringly affable politeness and propensity for inoffensive melodies that your mum probably likes. And it’s difficult to imagine that a band named after Wes Anderson’s head cameraman would do their best to be anything other than self-consciously odd. Luckily the band’s neat line in morose grandiosity proves to be their strength, and whilst they may not be the most mind-bendingly out-there beat combo on the block, their budget Arcade Fire- isms sure get the crowd going.
Timetable disruption means we only catch the final song of PINS’ set, but a stirring rendition of ‘Luvu4lyfe’ demonstrates why so many people are coming round to their feral, Lydia Lunch-indebted howl. Meanwhile Oneohtrix Point Never proves to be one of the day’s highlights, blasting other-worldly collages of fractured noise over glitchy, textured electronica. Like all the best acts who propped up the Warp and Rephlex stables in the 90s, Oneohtrix keeps one ear firmly to the future, but by removing the breakbeat, he allows himself space and scope to let his imagination cut fully loose. In short, he’s fucking ace.
There’s time to check out the slackered-up fuzz of New Zealand’s Popstrangers – all feedback-drenched squalls and nonchalant wails over chunky pop melodies – before Stealing Sheep set to repairing hearts broken by The Loved Ones several hours earlier. Sound problems onstage leave the band frustrated, but out front there’s nothing to worry about – songs are played out as whispers on the wind; ghostly apparitions that charm and soothe in equal measure. Lovely stuff. There’s just time to catch the end of Lunar Module’s analogue rave back at the Kazimier, providing further fuel for the argument that electronica has truly won the day today.
There’s a few murmured enthusiasms about Leeds’ own Blacklisters, which seems wholly inappropriate given the shape, size and indeed volume of their riffs. The Jesus Lizard mastered this sort of horribly brilliant chaos years ago, but it’s an absolute joy to see this lot breathing new life into it. Frontman Billy seethes his way through every last note as the band snarl around him: jagged, visceral, hypnotic. Just the sort of thing you wanna see on a Friday night. The synth-led drama of Bastille is always going to fall a little flat after that, but they still manage to turn a beer-sozzled Garage into a full-on party. The band feed off the good vibes pinging around the room, with the immaculately-coiffeured Dan Smith bouncing majestically around the stage. All in all, not a bad way to kick off Sound City 2013.