An undeniable triumph, this year’s Psych Fest was something truly special, Getintothis’ Jamie Bowman, Laura Coppin and Patrick Clarke have their minds and eardrums blown on day one.
As gates open at this year’s instalment of what’s fast becoming yet another Liverpool institution, there’s already something special in the air – a feeling that Psych Fest is a festival like no other, a ‘had to be there’ moment that’s drawn psych-heads from across the globe for a mindblowing menagerie of music at its most magnificent.
Kicking off the festival at a cramped Blade Factory, there’s something endearingly brilliant about Manchester’s Purple Heart Parade (not a Prince tribute act sadly); it seems kinda wrong to praise a psychdelic band for their enthusiasm rather than their head nodding lethargy, but it’s hard not to get caught up in the sheer energy omitting from the tiny stage, especially when frontman and star in the making Pete Cowap describes appearing at the festival as “like being at Spike Island” .
There’s a huge streak of all the great North West front men running through the stick-thin Cowap as his skyscraping vocals soar all over his band’s trippy mess of shoegaze rock ‘n’ roll. Think early Verve mixed with the more modern stylings of Tame Impala and you’d be getting close and in debut single Painting Pictures they’ve got something of a space rock classic.
Opening at the Camp stage, meanwhile, are PLANK!, a Mancunian trio who made quite a stir when they first played the festival in 2012. The buzz surrounding them is such that despite the early hour the band attract a surprisingly large crowd – one which only grew as their mesmerising riffs began to weave through the air. The repetition of Grasshoppers From Mars a stirring cosmic high.
Bearded, behatted and armed only with a laptop where his billmates come generally in flamboyant gangs of multi-instrumentalists, Al Lover might appear a little underwhelming to the sizable crowd as the Furnace takes its first plunge of the weekend. It’s a good job the music’s impeccable then, one unending flow of swaggering boom bap beats a backbone for emphatic, attacking segments of hypnotic noise, a lush, expansive and triumphantly massive opener in this cavernous of surroundings.
After Purple Heart Parade bring light to the Blade comes the shade of Formes who, quite appropriately for a band from the goth heartlands of Leeds, bring a lot of black to proceedings. Defiantly heavy metal they even come equipped with a little fella dressed as a goblin to add to the unworldly horror of it all. With lesser material, theatrics like these could serve as a distraction but Formes do a fine job of sucking such cynicism into a dark, doomy hole full of reverbed drums and leather gloves. Fantastic.
Plank! made for an impressive opener at Camp, and have set the bar high for second act Spindrift. Purveyors of an unusual mixture of psychedelic rock and acid Western, watching Spindrift is unnervingly like being trapped inside a Quentin Tarantino film soundtrack. Whilst that’s not necessarily a bad thing, the novelty was quick to wear off and their set rapidly became monotonous.
Black Mekon, meanwhile, steer clear of such tedium, the group sparse on sonic expenditure but deafening nonetheless. Centred around a tried and tested garage rock formula, the vocals are appropriately hoarse and the guitar expectedly scruffy, the band trying their best to set themselves apart via caterwauling harmonica and howling vocal showpieces, which by energy alone they just about manage.
Judging by the number of Spacemen 3 t-shirts being worn by the festival faithful, the legendary drone pioneers are being rediscovered by a new generation so it’s apt that one time bassist Pete Bain is here to pick up the plaudits. While Bain may be the George Harrison to Jason Pierce and Pete Kember’s Lennon and McCartney, his one man show of delightfully spacey loops and Velvetsy riffing is one of the weekend’s understated highlights. While Bain seems rather overcome with the technology surrounding him and apologises at the set’s conclusion, he needn’t as tunes like Small Town Illusion revel in the glories of the 3’s Recurring.
Similarly brilliant are The Asteroid #4, whose dreamlike cosmic Americana has the audience enthralled. Rightly tipped by Getintothis’ Richard Lewis, as an act to watch out for, the group’s Liverpool debut doesn’t disappoint. Following them at the Camp are Holy Wave, a group of Texans who didn’t seem to get quite the same crowd reaction as those before them but who nonetheless impressed with their airy vocals and echoing drum beats.
Sudakistan are more measured, relaxing straight into a surging groove and Herculean riffs. The band take much from fellow-swedes Goat, particularly in the uniform assault of their vocalists, and unsurprisingly come off second best against the dizzy heights of those particular Swedes. That said their infusion of garage-rock snarl is a welcome one, and they teem with the character that suggests their potential to step out of their countrymen’s shadow.
Succeeding them to the Furnace are labelmates Les Big Byrd, the fourth and final of PNKSLM Records‘ roster showcase, and a band who suffer no such fate; rather they are simply magnificent, one of the day’s indubitable highlights. Hints of a Screamadelica aesthetic meet Brian Jonestown‘s penchant for stirring momentum, while Berlin-era Bowie-esque synths stab at an angle atop a thick, krautrock rhythm for a result that’s nothing short of rapturous.
So far so bloody brilliant and the quality doesn’t let up with Montreal’s Hellshovel turning in a stunning set of echo-crazy pop psych that calls to mind original San Francisco greats Moby Grape while also having the knowing garage rock sensibilities of XTC’s Dukes of Stratosphere side project. So catchy are the tunes that a fellow hack is moved to compare them to She Moves in Her Own Way hitmakers The Kooks (what?!? – editor’s note) but that would be doing this great band a disservice.
Back at Furnace Wolf People fall unfortunately flat. Jarringly mellow given the night’s momentum and unrelentingly mid-paced, their prog-rock sound feels thin on the bones, vocals reminiscent of Wishbone Ash are lacking any fire and gritless guitars fail to dovetail into the intensity boasted on their records.
With any traces of sunlight well and truly having disappeared, it’s fittingly time for Bristolian noise-smiths Spectres to unleash their uncompromising sound on the throng before them. The band manages to toe the line between oppression and melody, making for an intense but enjoyable live experience.
Lycra-clad Liverpudlians Barberos, who follow Hellshovel back at Blade Factory, are a complete contrast to their predecessors. Snapping electro rhythms crackle against pulsing synths while anything approaching a tune stays strictly off the agenda as they present a polyrhythmic assault on the senses. Unsurprisingly it’s all strangely enjoyable. Like being off sick from school with a dose of Calpol, Barberos are a disorientating treat. It’s up to you if they make you feel better.
Following hot on Spectres’ heels, meanwhile, are The Vacant Lots, a duo whose digital thrum has the audience dancing within minutes. With music so infectious, theirs is a name that will no doubt be cropping up with increasing regularity.
Old hands now at this psychedelic lark, Thought Forms continue to impress at their Blade Factory set with their combination of depth-charge sludge guitar and near-soothing psychedelic soundscapes. In reality they’re more of a post rock band than a psych one and it’s all about the drone, but Guy Metcalfe’s wonderful drum patterns still weave through the layers of noise with satisfying regularity.
Amen Dunes are tasked with rekindling the Furnace, attempting to recapture momentum via straightforward sonic assault. Detached and aloof, they revel in opaque textures and an off-kilter rhythmic lurch. They’re nowhere near the early evening’s stratospheric heights, but an enjoyable if ever-so-slightly languished watch that imbue the much needed attitude.
The stage is reset, then, for Allah-Las, one of the festival’s biggest draws, and as the crowd swell in number and raucous anticipation,they take to the atmosphere with ease. Ebbing instantly into modish, psych-pop grooves and a poised, sanguine vocal they both reclaim the night’s enchantment and affirm their popularity with aplomb.
Portuguese stoner rock trio Black Bombain come with an impressive set of friends having worked with members of the Stooges, Earthless and Comets on Fire on their various recordings. Specialising in side ling space fryers they manage only a handful of songs in a set full of sludgy, doomy riffs which perfectly replicate the name of their latest LP: Far Out.
Once The Vacant Lot’s energetic beats have died away, Young Husband take to the stage with their wonderful blend of huge melodies and jangling guitars; they give a soothing performance that nonetheless lose none of the evening’s tempo. The penultimate act to tak to Camp’s stage are The Besnard Lakes, one of the biggest draws of the festival. The Canadian four-piece issued forth their atmospheric groove to a rapturous reception, proving the hype surrounding them to be more than justified. It’s a testament to their soaring waves of desolation that they fit snuggly into the day’s bill and yet stand so far apart; noise, glorious noise yet backed with colossal harmonies and quite brilliant melodies. For Agent 13 finds Jase Lasek and wife Olga Goreas putting in the vocal performance of the day while And You Lied To Me, with it’s harrowing guitar line, literally nearly aches the red bricks from their cement. Immense.
POW! meanwhile ignite the night’s first mosh, fusing elements of kraut to an immediate, aggressive sound, driven by a brutal Ty Segall fuzz and lent texture by shimmering keys. It’s an eclectic sound that at times begins to border on nu-rave (remember that?), and that brims with ragged idiosyncracy, the perfect pump of energy to precede the night’s headliners.
Swiss duo Klaus Johann Grobe could be the perfect band to close proceedings over at the by now packed Blade Factory. With the room’s dog leg shape by this time it’s getting harder to even see the band let alone dance to them which is a shame because organist and singer Sevi Landolt and drummer Daniel Bachman do an excellent job of cooking up a psychedelic storm of garage, motoric, exotica and funk which rules out any language barriers put up by Daniel’s German lyrics. The whole feeling is one of being trapped in some strange 70s cop show about the Baader Meinhoff featuring lots of Mercedes and facial hair.
It’d be a fitting way to finish a wonderful day, but the action continues over at Furnace, where headliners Suuns take to the climax calmly, a slowburning synth line building the audience up to a quiver until launching into sheer hypnosis. Singer Ben Shemie peers over his microphone with the snarl of a man who has the crowd in his palm, his band surging from one groove to the next in consummate fashion, slipping from beguiling drones to spaced-out euphoria without a crack in their aesthetic. Put simply Suuns are masterful headliners, seizing the night by the scruff of its neck setting up closers Zombie Zombie for a marvellous death disco freakout as Etienne Jaumet and Herman Dune bring day one to an ecstatic and frazzled finale.
Pictures by Getintothis‘ Keith Ainsworth, Tomas Adam, Gaz Jones and Michael Kirkham