Gone are the days of missing your favourite bands at Liverpool Sound City because their sets at opposite ends of the city clash, the formerly metropolitan festival has taken on much more of a traditional festival feel with its re-location to Bramley Moore Docks, and its two main stages are now just a five minute walk away.
Although this inevitably comes with the drawbacks of festivals of this nature (such as £4.50 pints) it’s so much easier to get excited about the re-branded festival than it previously has been, and that’s without even mentioning the line-up, which this year was by far the most impressive it has ever been.
It was clear that Sound City were pushing the city’s local bands with the likes of Gulf (pop structured neo-psychedelia) playing the scenic Atlantic Stage. Elsewhere, the brooding and confrontational garage psych of Strange Collective and Hooton Tennis Club’s impossibly catchy melodies and surprisingly strong songwriting were some of the Baltic Stage’s highlights. All of these bands are well worth keeping an eye out for as the year progresses. Aside from local bands, Sound City offered the opportunity to see the likes of The Thurston Moore Band which was incredible for me, given that it was Thurston Moore that provoked my interest in guitars, John Robb’s wonderful punk outfit The Membranes. Anyway, here’s a roundup of the top ten sets over the weekend.
10 Jane Weaver – Gracing the Atlantic Stage on towards the end of the afternoon on Sunday, Jane Weaver set about entertaining a relatively small main stage crowd. Showcasing her wonderful 2014 LP The Silver Globe, Weaver effortlessly conveys the essence of Krautrock and synth-heavy pop. Her cosmic imagery echoes over the Mersey, bringing in dozens more spectators with each track. A pretty immersive set for 4pm on a Sunday.
9 Stealing Sheep – The undisputed darlings of Liverpool’s psych scene, Stealing Sheep were never going to be anything less than wonderful. If being third only to Thurston Moore and The Flaming Lips on the bill put any pressure on them, they didn’t show it. Straight from their effortless melodies captivate and charm, despite the truly unique set up ‘Shut Eye’ and ‘Not Real’ are the standouts as it’s completely impossible to tire of the stunning A capella harmonies.
8 The Cribs – The Cribs rush onto the main stage like excited puppies, and, like clockwork, the first chord of opener ‘Mirror Kissers’ sparks chaos from the first third of the crowd. I was surprised to see the likes of ‘Our Bovine Public,’ and ‘Cheat On Me’ make the setlist, the focus was clearly on pleasing a crowd which clearly adored them, rather than pushing their latest record. About half way through the set the backdrop changed to Lee Ranaldo performing his epic monologue for ‘Be Safe’, there are very few things that are as special as Be Safe live. As ever, the chorus is completely overwhelming.
7 Yak – “Still I never said that romance was dead” bellowed out of huge warehouse as I arrived on site at Sound City, I was relieved to see I’d only missed the opening of Yak’s stunning second single ‘Smile’. As overwhelming as the surrounding was, it was Yak that I couldn’t take my eyes off. The London trio look far too innocent to be writing songs as visceral as these, yet they still manage to do justice to the Nick Cave-esque songwriting with an intimidating stage presence. The distortion freak-out that leads ‘Smile’ into ‘Plastic People’ blew me away, and the overdriven organ solo that ended the set left a pretty huge crowd completely stunned.
6 God Damn Staying on the theme of intimidating visceral acts, God Damn’s Baltic Stage set on the Saturday pretty much killed off any hearing abilities that anybody had left after Swans headline set the night before. The two piece take no measures in making their feedback-heavy onslaught any more accessible for a festival atmosphere. At one point their vocalist steps away from the mic and shouts his lyrics ferociously at the crowd, and it’s just as overwhelming without any amplification. A little dig at Foo Fighters pretty much cements their place as my favourite duo in music at the moment.
5 The Ghost of a Saber Tooth Tiger Disregard the barrier being hogged by an arsenal of middle-aged people sporting John Lennon t-shirts, and you’d never have known Sean Ono Lennon’s motive for playing Liverpool Sound City as one of just two UK tour dates. “This is our return to the fatherland” announces Lennon through his heavily distorted mic. “We’re really big in Kazakhstan” jokes his partner Charlotte Kemp, the band’s bassist, as they effortless stroll through ‘Animals’. The organ-driven sound of The Goastt more than proves that Lennon could be bringing in capacity crowds with any other surname.
4 Iceage Having released a record with his second band, Marching Church, earlier this year you’d have forgiven Elias Bender Rønnenfelt for not tackling foreign festivals with Iceage, but the Danish post-punks attack the Baltic Stage like there’s no tomorrow, whilst maintaining the intriguing darkness that surrounds them. The guitars are more much jangly than the last time I saw them back in 2013, with newer tracks such as ‘The Lord’s Favourite’ almost juxtaposing Elias’ snarling vocals. It’s still a mystery to me how the frontman manages to seem so worked up every time Iceage play a show, yet the way he portrays the nature of Iceage songs is incredibly immersive. “Where’s your morals?” he growls with alarming integrity, it feels so natural that it’s improvised, and the new, un-recorded track showcased in Liverpool is more than enough to spark excitement about new material.
3 The Flaming Lips How do you go about talking about the current Flaming Lips live show? Wayne Coyne, dressed as a frog, rolling around inside a huge ball and joined on stage by an inflatable Father Christmas. You really do have to see it to believe it. All gimmicks aside though, Yoshimi Battles The Pink Robots pt 1 sparks a mass sing along, which is pretty incredible given the experimental instrumentation. It’s heart-warming to see a band manage to nail the balance of pushing boundaries whilst remaining appealing to a mass audience, the Lips have honed their craft over time, and it’s hard to think of a more perfect headliner. The psych freak-out matched with the intensely personal lyricism in ‘Feeling Yourself Disintergrate’ is a highlight of a very special ninety minutes of music.
2 Swans Unlike The Flaming Lips, the experimentation that Swans showcase live is anything but family friendly. Even with just percussionist Thor Harris on stage, Swans reach a volume more comparable with a jet engine than a live band. It’s become a bit of a mantra for Michael Gira recently, but it must be said that this is much more than noise. The alarming gong rhythm is built upon steadily as Gira and his army of noise-pioneers grace the stage one by one. At this point, my clothes were physically moving from the vibrations. Gira recites his shopping list of drugs on ‘Frankie M’ at which point the steady outflow of people from the Baltic Stage begins, it lasts the whole set. Those who stay, however, are rewarding with the screeching feedback section of Bring The Sun/Black Hole Man. As chatty and friendly as Gira was to fans outside the stage earlier on in the day, his band’s live show is equally the most overwhelming, terrifying, and incredible thing I have ever witnessed, all three hours of it.
1 Unknown Mortal Orchestra Having given up any hope of The Thurston Moore Band sparking any real kind of excitement beyond the fact that Deb Googe and Thurston Moore were on the stage, I headed over once more to the Baltic Stage to catch