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Liverpool Sound City 2015: Day 1 Roundup (Part 1)

 
By on Wednesday, 27th May 2015 at 2:00 pm
 

Liverpool Sound City is in its seventh year and for the first time has moved from its spiritual home within the centre of the city. Before, the music was irretrievably mixed up in a maze of streets within the heart of Liverpool; the festival turned the already vibrant area into a thronging haven of musical activity, with bands popping up in warehouses and on the street in a metropolitan mezze of musical delicacies to amuse any palate. This year still served up a veritable banquet to satisfy any taste buds, but this time festival-goers needed to travel 20 minutes outside of the centre of Liverpool for the event.

Bizarrely, this report from Liverpool Sound City 2015 comes from the Docklands this year. The setting is quaint, if you manage to block out the industrial sprawl you’ve walked past to get there. One of the unique selling points of Sound City in its earlier guise was its central location. So the decision to plonk it way down the road has left many, including this writer, scratching their heads and with sore feet from walking to the secluded site.

Luckily, I found a solution: Liverpool’s version of the ‘Boris Bike’ to get me from the centre of the city where 99% of the hotels are to the festivals site. Again, the site is a departure from the dotting of venues around the city, as now in a more conventional festival manner, each stage is within a set perimeter.

My first impression of the actual layout of the site was one of confusion, but in such tight confines, after 15 minutes of ambling around with a dazed look on my face I managed to get my bearings on where everything was. The most striking feature was, understandably, the giant disused warehouse that was being used as The Baltic Stage. The first band up in the vast venue were Barberos, a three-piece from Merseyside, but not exactly one straight out of the textbook.

Yes, all dressed head to toe in sparkly silver morph suits, Barberos feel like they’ve been transplanted out of the realms of science fiction and onto a stage where their primary aim is to creep the shit out of you. From almost start to finish, their tribal roars and wave of drums echoed furiously around the disused warehouse, while the screech of their synths worked to either drive people from the venue or numb them into a stupor. Their sonic assault on almost every one of my senses proved too much and after three songs I felt my eardrums literally splitting in two and decided instead to go and sample less screechy and space age music. Perhaps they’re just scores ahead of their time? To quote Marty McFly, “your kids are gonna love it’. (5/10)

At the end of Stanley Docks, where the festival now calls its home, was The Atlantic Stage, which was acting as the Main Stage. Scottish band Neon Waltz, who’ve recently been snapped up by Noel Gallagher’s management, were first on and whilst they drew a good crowd for the first band of the day, their performance was all a bit glib and dry. It felt like for the 30 minutes they were building to something which might be a little more exciting, like the second time you sleep with someone, but in the end you just realise the exciting bit is never going to come, despite how much promise is shown at first. Plus the lead singer, whose mum then tried to banter me off on Twitter, *does* look about 2, despite being 18 or 24. I’m not sure really. (6/10)

Despite a classic seafront breeze chilling everyone on the docklands to the bone, a rather large crowd had amassed at The North Stage for Francopop artist HollySiz, not least because her outfit left little to the imagination. Immediately, HollySiz had the crowd fixated on her, throwing herself around the stage like a ragdoll. Opening with the inflammatory ‘Tricky Game’, she already conjured up images of your early ‘80s Europop with strong synths and a staccato pace.

It wasn’t exactly Kraftwerk but HollySiz had an air of authority that she demanded from square one on The North Stage. The closest mainstream comparison of the last few years I can give to her was Gossip, although I’d argue HollySiz had an air of the rock and rolls about them. She had the presence of Beth Ditto though, but without the hairy armpits. She finished the set by leaping into the crowd and taking a leaf out of the Slipknot / Frank Turner books by getting everyone to sit on the floor and leap up. Now, anyone who can do it as successfully as she did before the sun goes down at around 6 in the evening on a chilly Liverpudlian day has definitely made an impression. (9/10)

Briefly, I stumbled into The Cavern Stage, to catch a glimpse of old-fashioned Derry four-piece The Clameens. It was light-hearted spiky pop guitar riff driven music, with influences like Arctic Monkeys, Two Door Cinema Club and The Undertones shining prominently through. Songs like ‘She’s Got My Heart’ and ‘Follow’ had the crowd swaying and jumping up and down, whilst their happy-go-lucky demeanour meant the audience all had a well needed dose of summery smile injected into them before they faced the gloomy Liverpool skyscape on the way out of the tent. (7/10)

Bad Meds were next on my port of call (get it, I’m at the docklands and I just said ‘port’) in the setting of the Baltic Stage. Within the confines of the giant disused warehouse, their reverb laden rock sounds utterly enormous and the sheer simplicity of their songwriting works to make the unconverted thoroughly converted. I mean, what’s not to like about songs where you remember how you died in 1995, or that one about how you left a cult?

The highlight though is undoubtedly ‘It’s Grim Up North’, their take on the Justified Ancients of Mu Mu song. The concept: a list of lots of cities in the North and how grim they are. It’s just about that offensive that you can probably say its genius, and it’s not half true too: I mean, have you been to Crewe? It’s grim. 10/10 for originality. Probably less for friend-making in the region though… (8/10)

Stay tuned for the second half of John’s day 1 report from Liverpool Sound City tomorrow.

 

Great Escape 2015: Day 1 Roundup (Part 1)

 
By on Wednesday, 20th May 2015 at 11:00 am
 

Ah yes, Brighton. London by the sea, rainbow flags a-flyin’, the smell of skunk hanging in the air if you walk down the wrong alley (or most places if it’s sunny), a place populated by way too many aggressive seagulls. It has been 2 years since TGTF last stepped foot in the seaside town to cover the annual emerging music festival here, which of course is The Great Escape 2015. Some things have happened since John and me were last in Brighton and due to some things in 2014 transpiring to keep us away (and I think for good reason too, if you want to get all moody and astrological about it), it was time for my return.

Model Aeroplanes @ Brighthelm Centre (Showcasing Scotland)

Within 30 minutes of leaving the flat I’d booked for the duration, the Great Escape 2015 wasted no time to remind me of my first rain-drenched event here in 2012. Like a scene out of Mary Poppins, my brolly turned inside out, pieces fell off and yes, it became entirely inoperable. Somehow after getting my photo pass from the press centre in the Dome, then getting lost (a recurring theme when I’m running behind schedule) I made it to the Brighthelm Community Centre without looking like a wet cat; the place is connected to a church and it was where the Creative Scotland afternoon showcase would be kicking things off. First up were the rough and tumble Model Aeroplanes, who you readers are aware I’m a big fan of. You might think that at 12 noon on as dreary of a day as it was, they were unlikely to draw a sizable crowd.

Model Aeroplanes at Great Escape 2015

Wrong. The lively four-piece all the way from Dundee were raring to go, and a pretty packed out room awaited them. ‘Deep in the Pool’ is their latest single, and as their past releases, it’s a fun little guitar number that I expect will go down well in front of festival crowds this summer, as will recent tropical-tinged single ‘Club Low’. However, I still have a soft spot for earlier songs such as ‘Whatever Dress Suits You Better’ and the lovely honeyed way ‘Innocent Love’ has about it, and their guitar-swinging energy was just what Brighton needed on the rainy start to the festival. The band also brought me a gift: bottle of very special Dundee marmalade down with them, which was a very sweet and nice touch – thank you lads!

The Merrylees @ Brighthelm Centre (Showcasing Scotland)

From the footloose and fancy free and sunny indie pop / rock of the opening band, The Merrylees couldn’t be more different. Having already supported the likes of legends Paul Weller (in town to play a not so secret show on Saturday) and Richard Hawley, the Merrylees are clearly on to something, but what that is might be marmite for at least part of the British population, the six-member strong band finding themselves galloping away on a country/western-themed bent for most of the set.

Confusingly, lead singer Ryan Sandison of the group has a haircut and dresses all in black like Alex Turner, yet when he opens his mouth, he sounds nothing like the Sheffielder, instead alternating between a croonery vocal style (ah, so now the Hawley connection makes sense!) and the theatrical, as if he’s playing to a cabaret in the West End, not a community centre rec room this afternoon. The cautionary tale in ‘It’s Catching Up With You Now’ is dark Hawley-esque territory, as is the haunting beautiful ‘Turn for the Strange’, and their debut single produced by Bill Ryder-Jones, ‘For You’, barely skirts the psychedelic line until heralding horns kick up the dust. Definitely unique, but I wonder if they can really make a go of it. I bid my adieus to new Scottish friends made and master of ceremonies, BBC Radio Scotland’s Vic Galloway, and emerge to head down in the direction of the seafront to immerse myself with music from another part of the UK. (Hint, not England…)

What used to be known as Audio on Marine Parade was just recently refurbished, turning into another nightclub called Patterns. I’m actually disappointed that I can’t tell you the place has changed dramatically and for the better – all that really obvious to me was that the stage in the upstairs performance space was rotated 90 degrees and the actual stage was made lengthwise longer. I’m never in a club long enough nor do am I there to check out the cocktails or the clientele. The upstairs area Thursday afternoon was host to the Gorwelion Horizons showcase being put on by Music Wales. No stranger to the funding project after meeting funding recipients The People the Poet at SXSW 2015 in March, I was eager to see who else was on the Welsh music radar and also to meet BBC Radio Wales presenter Bethan Elfyn, who appreciated the work I’d done in reporting on their show in Austin.

Casi @ Patterns Upstairs (Gorwelion Horizons)

Casi at Great Escape 2015

The venue was running at least an hour late, as when I arrived after getting a bite and a drink in a pub, I assumed I would enter in the midst of Cut Ribbons’ set. No, the tall, leggy blonde Casi, with her soulful vocal stylings, had yet to perform. The Bangor-born beauty and her band crafted a very pop, radio-friendly sound that I can see having massive mainstream appeal. I prefer the icy crunchiness of a track like ‘Grace’, while Radio 1’s Huw Stephens favours for his Radio 1 programme ‘Roads’, with its syncopated r&b beats.

Cut Ribbons @ Patterns Upstairs (Gorwelion Horizons)

Cut Ribbons were to close out the Gorwelion Horizons showcase, and they’re definitely more my bag. Fusing the best elements of electronic, rock and even a little pop, the London via Llanelli group also employ alternating and harmonising male/female fronting vocals, which I can always get behind. ‘Walking on Wires’ has a relentless rhythm and anthemic quality, almost as if Kodaline had gone much more electronic and added a female frontwoman to join Steve Garrigan. If you are a fan of Prides, you will want to take note of Cut Ribbons too; the Glaswegians remixed the Welsh band’s ‘Bound in Love’. I reckon they will be future touring buddies once Prides’ debut album on Island Records is out in July.

Cut Ribbons at Great Escape 2015

This is also the kind of music you want playing while you fall in love with someone under a mirrorball in a club. Well, I do anyway, in my dreams. (I assume John has a completely different kind of fantasy, probably involving Josh Homme and Dave Grohl beating some guitars in.) Pardon the cliché, but ‘Clouds’ lets you float satisfyingly, the synth notes and guitar notes springy, while the main vocal lines are gentle until the chorus pulls you in with “…and that’s what lovers should do.” Vigorous nod. Yes.

STAL @ Digital (Clash)

After a brief break for food and drink, it was down to the Arch to check out two bands at what was formerly known as Digital. Along with the new to me dance club Shooshh and our old friend Coalition where we hosted the TGTF stage in 2011 (starring a then-unknown Foster the People, I might add), The Arch is one of several true seafront clubs in Brighton. Clash Magazine’s night there began with STAL, an electronic trio from Paris. Well, at least I thought they would be straight electronic and that would be the end of it. That would have been perfectly fine with me, because I love electronic and if they kept laying down big beats and synths, I would have been a very happy panda.

STAL at Great Escape 2015

STAL, however, had other plans for us. I’m still not sure exactly how to explain what I witnessed. I’ve never heard of the band and neither had another music editor friend of mine who was also at the Arch, and I was just gobsmacked by the amount of singing along – and screaming and squealing – there was by the girls down the front, who then went over the barrier and crawled onstage to get their set lists after the band finished. How on earth did we ever miss these guys? Upon further examination of STAL’s Soundcloud, you learn that STAL is actually the stage name of Pierre-Marie Maulini, who acts as lead vocalist, guitarist and synth player live.

Because they are both French, I think STAL will be inevitably compared to M83; nevertheless, I find the celebratory, positive feel good vibes of STAL’s ‘Gone’ to be a real winner eclipsing anything I’ve heard from Anthony Gonzalez (I know, them’s fighting words), while the interesting juxtaposition of otherworldy synths and banging guitars on ‘Burning Desire’ live reminds me oddly enough of the bombast you might feel at, say, a Muse concert. I have heard the complaint on occasion that electronic music is too fey, too feminine, not manly enough. Well, listen up. If a bunch of Frenchmen like this can make electronic sound muscular, have a listen and you might change your mind.

Neon Waltz @ Digital (Clash)

Neon Waltz at Great Escape 2015

Neon Waltz were next up on the Clash showcase. Another six-member band, it seemed trying to fit them and all their gear onstage at the Arch would be a difficult feat, but they got it to work. The band from Caithness in Scotland just released their debut EP on Atlantic Records in April, ‘First Light’, so it’s still early days for them. I really liked what I heard on the EP, so I was disappointed when I heard them play ‘Sombre Fayre’ Thursday night, the gentle beauty of the lead vocal on the records lost against the harder instrumentation. I’m guessing the mix in the club wasn’t right, since an electronic band performed before them. Or maybe having so many instruments on stage was muddying up the overall sound? I’d be really curious if they are ever in for a Sofar Sounds session or something similarly acoustically just how different it would be.

Part 2 of Thursday’s coverage at the Great Escape 2015 follows this afternoon.

 
 
 

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