Returning for it’s sixth year, Threshold took over Liverpool’s Baltic Triangle with three days of music, arts and theatre, Getintothis delivers our verdict on the feast of festivities on offer.
When you enter the Baltic Triangle and are greeted by a gathering of ghouls that playing sea shanties, it becomes obvious that Threshold had arrived.
Now in it’s sixth year, Threshold has become a cornerstone of the Liverpool calendar; a coming together of music, art, theatre, dance and anything else you could possibly throw at them. It has settled very quickly into its familiar and welcome kaleidoscope of colour and sound, and arguably the most important weekend for grass roots art in the city, with platforms available for just about anyone to do just about anything. For some of us, Threshold is a much more interesting weekend than, say, Sound City, or Liverpool Music Week because there really is no telling what you are going to walk into next.
The sheer amount happening at Threshold is such that we had to send an army of writers and photographers out over the weekend, and even then we only witnessed a fraction of what was on offer, which is definitely to Threshold‘s credit rather than our detriment, which can be verified by our tired feet following our sprints around the Baltic Triangle. So, without further ado, here is Getintothis‘ day-by-day breakdown of the highs and lows of Threshold 2016.
As the proverbial starting gun is fired the Baltic is buzzing with people eager to get their bevy on with friends, family and the creme da la creme of Liverpool’s musically gifted. The addition of the Black Lodge to the ever expanding list of Threshold venues means that the corner of Kitchen Street is the place to be, and exactly where we find the Mono Sideboards kicking of proceedings. They scale the opening act slot like an effortless mountain goat ranging from the depths of melancholy to the great heights of euphoria, of which we absorb as much as we can, keen to carry it with us through the night. The Lodge is brimming already and seemingly remained so for the rest of the weekend, the new venue already creating an atmosphere many are reluctant to leave.
With spirits high we shimmy down to District to catch Shamanarchy where we instantly surrender to their groove. A little later, Schoolboy Death Trio undoubtedly ooze an insatiable funk to get the whole audience dancing in what is a genuine feel good moment of the night. With serious messages to their jive, this is British modern funk at its best. Delivering hit after hit of catchy psych, they are a highly addictive act to say the least.
If you havn’t seen Lilium yet (and there’s a good chance you haven’t seeing at their still first half dozen gigs) we advise you to rectify that as soon as possible as they soon become the talk of the Triangle for those that caught their short but sensational set at the Lodge.
Over at Unit 51, Silent Cities are wooing a captivated audience, slowly cocooning us in their beautiful tapestry of crystal vocals, not a soul is left untouched by them. Luna bring beautiful ambient vibes with piercing vocals that enchant round stirring harmonies. Moving at times, they twine together to stunning effect.
Taking a stroll over to Baltic Social, we walk in to find The Haze. Initial signs of promise fade fast into a murky mess that sounds more like a jam session going over the top. There are dashes of hope but overall it feels a little ramshackle. By far the loudest act of the night was Rival Bones. It’s hard not to compare them to Royal Blood or the like, but they deliver every track with gusto and are a true force. This is something that The Boston Shackers lack during their set. There’s no denying their energy and bravado but it feels all a bit disjointed throughout.
Flip the coin however and you’ll find Faitala delivering their sickly sweet pop in simply brilliant fashion. It’s the type of music that can take 10 years off you, reminiscent of a time when The Temper Trap, Yeasayer and Miike Snow dominated our airwaves.
24 Kitchen Street takes on a new life for Inkbeat’s performance and suddenly it’s like walking into a New York loft circa 1969. The smell of aerosol paint spray is in the air as dancers pose against dangerously balanced canvasses and their outlines are drawn, a TV sits atop a white suitcase crackling images of the dancers on the floor who are moving in and around a white sculpture, a giant crystal formation straight out of a Dr Who set. It’s this type of multi-arts performance that adds so much to the Threshold oeuvre. In fact every darting journey between venues becomes a battlefield for your attention where you risk finding yourself distracted, halted and occasionally enthralled with visual spectacles, provoking performances and no abundance of weirdness.
Another one of our perilous transitions sees us back at the Black Lodge where Natalie McCool draws one of the best crowds of the evening, as the songstress pours her soul out, it is obvious why. Despite a broken string and borrowed guitar, her stage presence is such that there are few over the weekend who can match her. The crowd falls eerily quiet as they hang on every line, of every song.
Despite McCool‘s listed headline status, another band wait in the wings to play. Unfortunately for Brighton’s Hot Moth much of the crowd left the building with McCool and the Lodge thins out, which makes plenty room for the hella noise the trio pack, even after some bass related technical issues that a pint of 6.5% Black Lodge special may or may not have been responsible for.
Constellations probably hosted the main event for the night, as Threshold took on Liverpool SoulFest with a mixture of funk and soul, alternating between two stages that shows exactly how diverse the city’s output is. Beginning with a bizarre art-dance-multimedia piece from Lemon Collective, which to our uncultured eyes resembled Luke Skywalker having a light-sabre battle with himself in a gay club, highlights from the night included ever-reliable acts such as The Soul Rays and particularly Amique, who seems to get better with every performance.
The massed ranks of Galactic Funk Militia continue to win over every audience in the city. Walking back from front of stage, empty cup in hand, a bemused punter looks at us and says: “The bass just blew my beer over”.
Headliners Baba Soul & The Professors of Funk have about half the members of GFM and their sound is unsurprisingly more sparse, but they are no less funky. Hailing from Lisbon this is their first foray to these shores, and they immediately re-engaged the crowd. The feel of James Brown and Stevie Wonder pours from the stage fuelled by a Stax-like horn section. Baba Soul is a charismatic performer; his voice gritty, equally at home during some slower, soulful moments as he is screaming Brown-like over the funk. They end on a blow-out of Sam Cooke’s Shake, ensuring Friday ends on one hell of a cosmic note.
Saturday morning just decided to appear without any warning. One minute we were seeing in the early hours with Bear Growls and the next making the decision to start the day at Constellations, which proved to be a poor one as Shamona greet us with ballad after ballad of bile. Only Bryan Adams was needed to make this any more unpleasant. Thankfully, the surf driven pop charms of Hers are more to our liking and whisk us on a summery hip shaking flow of simplicity.
Dragging our sorry bodies over to 24 Kitchen Street reflected a better choice as The Shipbuilders play a blinder of a set as their blues-fuelled Coral-ish Mersey sound gets everyone’s feet stomping. Ranging from straight up rock n roll anthems to more neo-psychedelia sounds, they prove their worth to an already buzzing crowd. LUMEN becomes an early stand out of the day. The GIT Award nominee captivates everyone within ear shot by casting a lonely but sincere portrait on stage as he displays exactly why he is held in such high regard and impressive company as a nominee.
Chanel & The Circus might actually be too much fun. The songs are upbeat and stay upbeat, and then get more upbeat. Elevant wake the crowds to a ferocious clatter of disjointed audio assault and they proceed to shake Kitchen Street to its very core. Indigo Moon do not disappoint. From the get go, they send the crowd into a mess of nodding heads and slamming bodies.
Yet Pink Kink are not ones to be out-shone. Where there is a tidal wave of glitter, flashing LED trainers and more colour than a chameleon on a pocket full of Mandy, this is a band with plenty boot – and depth. They get better and better with time and have proven themselves to be Liverpool’s brightest rising stars in 2016.
Taking a brief rest bite at the Lantern, or so we thought, we’re soaked in milk by Margaret Thatcher who grinds to Kelis’ Milkshake while throwing semi skimmed everywhere. A true highlight of the weekend as we celebrate her demise in an “it could only be Threshold” moment.
Threshold is just the start, check out our guide to all of the North West’s Festivals in 2016
Glossom produce some astonishingly crisp sounds in a set so damn tight we start to question the existence of psychic connections. The art rock jazz group played to a moderate, but enchanted audience at District where Barberos soon enter sporting their usual anonymous Lycra. No time is wasted as they get right to work beating the living hell out of drums and keyboard with the speakers appropriately cranked. It’s a masterclass in organised chaos. The crowd are gradually swept away by the madness and head banging ensues. It’s a bewildering show in the best sense of the word and one of our highlights of the day.
Back in the Lodge, Michael Seary delivers brilliant phantom future pop at times, but vocally it is lost in to the beat too often to make any true impression. At the Baltic, Halem are electro splendour and breath-taking in their precision. Initially poetically hypnotic, Ovvls cast a mysterious shadow over the Black Lodge with their take on experimental goth psyche. Bewitching yet puzzling, it leaves us slightly bewildered as to what we have just heard.
Playing to a busy Unit 51, Jalen N’Gonda was an afternoon delight. The sound however was not the best and at times the artist had to compete with rattling of barista’s for our ears at the back of the room. Even so his effortless blues guitar and vocals found a way and swarmed around the café, filling it with the sweet sounds of organic rhythm and blues. Originally set to play earlier, we almost missed Lying Bastards, but a last minute phone call saved the day, close to midnight. We hurried down to the venue already packed out and bouncing. Their energy infected all in attendance as they sweated and grooved their way through the set, throwing down some sexy moves and climbing atop the furniture. Judging by the amount of people singing along, this is a band that has successfully won the hearts and minds of the city.
The Destroyers are all about the vibe. There is no substance here at all, it’s all pantomime. Yet they’re fun and perhaps that’s all you have to be. They tear through a late night set of jacked up folk n roll, like a budget cast of Pirates of the Caribbean if they’d come from Yorkshire and were all pissed. They fit perfectly for a midnight slot at a festival, but outside of Threshold’s mayhem it’s hard to know where they place.
With our bodies heavy (in one case seriously injured – don’t ask) and heads rattling with the remnants of what must be dozens of performances we put our faith, and fate in the hands of the only people that made any sense. The party picked up right where it left off, and in some style by Colonel Mustard and the Dijon 5, who’s loved up vibes get a smile on every weary face in 24 Kitchen Street. The yellow army came, saw, conquered and reinvigorated this bunch with a much needed second (fourth?) wind.
As only Threshold can, much of the rest of the day at Kitchen Street involved eccentric arts pieces, including a reprise of the kind of breast-based shenanigans we saw at the Lantern on Saturday. This was followed by a transvestite in a red sequined dress and ripped tights presenting, before being heckled. For a moment it looked like it was genuinely about to kick off, until it became obvious that it was a performance piece. Most people don’t speak in stanzas. Mental health was the order of the rest of the day which, though an important issue, created a jarring juxtaposition. Perhaps this was the purpose, but it led to us going elsewhere.
In the Baltic Social, it’s a transfixing performance of experimental jazz from Dead Hedge Trio who hypnotise us with their brass assault, whilst Tosin Salako destroyed Constellations with his three-piece. The ritualistic Mamatung are perfect for sunny afternoon accompaniment after a heavy Saturday night at the Black Lodge. They sound more like they’re about to summon an ancient pagan deity than play a rock n roll festival. Sticking in the Lodge, although no denying Alex Hulme’s talent, he comes across too familiar and this Sheeran love in makes for a dull lull befitting with the general wind-down feel of the day.
The Mad Pride march sweeps us up and drops us off at Unit 51 where a similar story is playing out with Xander and The Peace Pirates. Capable players, but it’s too generic and you strain to hear any difference or depth to their tracks. We waltz back to 24 Kitchen Street for the final moments of Threshold 2016 – after stopping to see some fire-based acrobatics and observe some kind of light based street game that quite frankly we were too tired to grasp the concept of – for a set by legendary DJ Kid Blast. The end of the festival should probably have been better attended than it was, and Kid Blast dropped some heavy soul and funk much to our approval. We left at some point during The Lotharios’ set of golden oldies (we couldn’t quite stomach The Floaters’ awful 70s hit Float On), but we were pretty worn out by this point.
On the whole, Threshold is pretty much the experience you hope it to be. Though, this year it felt a little exhausted by the mid-point of Sunday – perhaps a day too far – or maybe it was just the way the weekend had been paced and structured. Not that we are complaining too much. It is by some distance becoming the finest showcase of new Liverpool talent staged in a festival environment during the calendar year more than justifying the £20 weekend ticket.
Although admirable in its inclusion much of the mental health awareness element became lost in the surrounding parties. We certainly wouldn’t suggest Threshold lose this thread, in fact we would have all festivals incorporate such critical issues, but some refinement is needed. Come day three few people were willing to choose conceptual and unsettling performances of conditions many of the attendees themselves deal with over a drink and a dance with friends that allows them the opportunity to free themselves of those issues for even a short time – a truth that many of the awareness activities are trying to ensure is made redundant, but there’s still some way to go on a national level before people will be willing to choice an option that still remains uncomfortable to many.
Another admirable feature of the weekend became apparent mid-way through Saturday. Where other events are often criticized for their lack of diversity, Threshold excels in its equality and inclusion – most noticeably the quantity and quality of female performers. Trust us when we say this is no forced measure either, the women who take to the stage this weekend showcase some of the best talent in the city and are worthy of the praise sent their way. Ask people for their highlights of the weekend and you’ll find yourself becoming very familiar with names such as Pink Kink, Natalie McCool and Indigo Moon to name but a few.
One final thing that was increasingly impossible to ignore the longer the weekend went on was the sheer amount of familiar faces we were repeatedly bumping into. Although the festival often felt like it was booming, we can’t help but wonder how much of that was the result of the city’s music and arts communities just hanging out for the weekend. How much of the general public attend events like Threshold? Is it even catered for the wider public?
Does it even matter? As it stands Threshold is still very much a grass roots festival, however there was more than enough on show this weekend to make us believe the next level is there for the taking. If they want it.
Still, our only major gripe for the weekend is thus; they ran out of cider at the Black Lodge.
Compiled by Getintothis writers Craig MacDonald, Zach Jones, Shaun Ponsonby, Janaya Pickett, Vicky Pea & Glyn Akroyd and photography by Peter Goodbody, Andy Sunley, Martin Saleh & Vicky Pea.