FestEvol 2016: Juliette Lewis, Blossoms, Hooton Tennis Club and more: Camp and Furnace, Liverpool

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Juliette & The Licks

Juliette & The Licks

Bank holiday weekend. Round to your mothers’ for Sunday lunch? Bottle of wine and a good book? Not for Getintothis and hundreds of other up-for-it punters as they took in Liverpool’s FestEvol all-dayer.

Following the success of the double-header summertime event at the Kazimier last year, festival organisers rehomed this year’s event to the Camp and Furnace’s venues. The closure and subsequent razing of the Kazimier hasn’t quite had the effect that we all feared, with venues old and new admirably taking up the slack, ensuring Liverpool’s live music scene retains the facilities to truly prosper.

If the Kaz hasn’t been as missed as we thought it would be, FestEVOL was the acid test. A stellar line-up of the cream of up-and-coming musical talent from Merseyside and beyond was duly assembled, but the venue dropped the ball at times; most notably for Steve Mason, but more on that later.

FestEVOL is a marathon of music. At almost 14 hours, it’s a stern test for even the most hardened festival-goer, so you could be forgiven for delaying your arrival until later in the day. With Hollywood actress Juliette Lewis topping the bill, the focus looked very much towards the later hours, but the dedicated few there from the get-go were treated to a solid beginning.

The day in Furnace kicked off before the initial queue to enter had subsided, as opening act Little Triggers’ blend of 60s classicism, old fashioned rock ‘n’ roll and a driving Springsteen vibe got the day off to a tight and loud start with their bristling energy.

Possibly one of the strongest undercards FestEVOL has ever had graced the Camp stage, with early sets from Feral Love, Year of the Fiery Horse and the subtly stately drama of alt-pop five piece Pumarosa getting the day off to a belting start, with a decent sized crowd slowly starting to build.

Feral Love – fronted by Adele Emmas, previously of Bird – showed signs of massive potential in what was one of their first performances. Their thumping brand of electronic pop was a fine match for Emmas’ soaring vocals, and she really seemed in her element. Definitely an act to keep an eye on. Year of the Fiery Horse also impressed, with their Darwin Deez-y indie pop featuring a couple of real standout tunes. There is some refinement required, as their sound was slightly inconsistent from song to song; Fiery Horse could be a very good group, but did feel as though they had been transplanted straight from a TopMan playlist in 2006.

Getintothis’ FestEVOL One’s to Watch: How did they stack up?

Alibis inaugurated Blade Factory with a set of sharp pop finesse which got the early birds moving in a well-received set. The masses started to arrive for Red Rum Club to a fanfare of trumpets and screaming guitars, an overwhelming wall of sound barrelling over anyone harbouring uncertainties as to their abilities. Those who moved streets between sets away from the Camp and Furnace found Venus Demilo’s Foals-ish chime. Playing blissed out and radio-ready indie dance pop in District, anyone yearning for a return to the chart successes of the likes of Friendly Fires were bang in luck.

Indigo Moon followed, and staked a big claim as one of the standout acts of the morning with a squally set of mysteriously theatrical art-punk. Sounding as if a glammed-up Dirty-era Sonic Youth were playing in a nuclear wasteland, they were fronted alternately by Kate Bush and Siouxsie Sioux in frontwoman Ashley Colley, whose dynamism we couldn’t peel our eyes off.

Indigo Moon

Indigo Moon

Alas we had to, as up next on the Furnace stage were exciting prospects Bathymetry, presenting a meatier, fuller sound than when they emerged on the scene winning a career-altering competition to support The Jesus and Mary Chain. Wistful and ethereal nods have been replaced with a harder edge as scuzzier indie-influenced sounds married effectively with their joyous melodic intent.

Things were calmer back over in District, for those who basked in the delicate ethereal glow of Minnetonka’s layered laptop pop, as melancholy and as uplifting as anything The Xx have tried so far. Not to be forgotten, Blade Factory was getting warmed up nicely with the effortless sleekness of post-punk thrashers LUNGS, followed by Man Made, who provided a sterling set with equal amounts of glamour and energy in a well-crafted set of slacker tunes.

Mind bending psych-pop and marvellous bandstand jangle tones followed from Tom Low over on the District stage, like the most acidic Beatles moments mixed with their most suburban.

Fans of C Duncan’s parochial bedroom pop should seek out Low’s Phone EP

Tom Low was followed up at District by Scarlet, who could be heading somewhere with their post-punk informed take on skyscraping emo-pop. Their fluid guitar lines were certainly clean and catchy enough, and the same could be said of Welsh punk-pop outfit Estrons over at Furnace. Although ultimately succeeding in winning over a sceptical audience with charm and infectiousness, Estrons felt a bit too polished and too clean cut to be truly memorable. More successful were follow-up act The Orielles with their headily infectious, scuzzed-up, surf-pop influenced garage-rock riot. This was a performance high on energy, with guitarist Henry Carlyle Wade a frenetic blur of finger work and frenzied headbanging, as the band motored through a vibrantly lo-fi set that recalled the likes of The Breeders while offering a clear indication of their own undoubted promise.

Those who ventured Camp-wards found rock and roll duo Beach Skulls performing at blistering volume, but feeling a bit too similar to every other guitar ‘n’ drums two-piece that have gone before them, while Pure Joy’s set was tarnished by a piercing, trebley mess of a sound. The bits of songs we could decipher were impressive, though it was almost unbearable to stand anywhere near the stage, so maybe best not to judge them this performance.

Away from the two cavernous main rooms, a delicious double-header was unfolding for the fleet-footed. The recalcitrant Psycho Comedy smashed it in front of Blade Factory’s largest crowd of the day. Huge numbers turned up, and with good reason; they’ve got the swagger and the tunes to match, from their beat poet intro right throughout their 70s NY proto-punk set. If word had slipped out about Psycho Comedy, then TVAM is making headlines at this point, and District was appropriately swamped for his one-man show of industrial indie-electro. He received love from Lauren Laverne recently for his bedroom nugaze sound, and a searing live show of one man, one guitar and a fuckload of noise accompanied with analogue art installation visuals was fully awesome.

Psycho Comedy

Psycho Comedy

Perhaps Manchester’s Girl Friend, a boy/girl-fronted disco-influenced synth-pop duo, were that little bit too polished and clean-cut, their guitarist’s intricate riffs doing their best to lift an otherwise formulaic sound. Left slightly underwhelmed, we decamped next door to a joyful Blade Factory for some funky and soulful RnB with London’s Jodie Abacus. In one of the day’s hands-down standouts, he whipped the crowd into an adoring frenzy with a cracking feelgood set. He should be playing far larger stages soon, but for now found himself shaking the hands of his audience as they left Blade Factory.

In contrast to Jodie Abacus’ singalong abandon, The Probes cloaked themselves in post punk gloom and proved unappealing enough for the crowd to thin gradually in favour of other names. These included Liverpool’s Zuzu, who signalled a clear intent to build on early career promise and revealed a confident presence on the Furnace stage, no doubt honed while supporting acts such as Courtney Barnett. An early high point of the Liverpudlian’s set, Back to Me Mam’s offered ample indication of her easy on-stage manner in its time-honoured road map for the unlucky in love.

Two much-hyped acts in Cupids and Hidden Charms brought huge crowds to Camp, but only Cupids really justified it. Their swaggering rock and roll was really impressive and great fun; there were shades of early Oasis, hints of Guns N’ Roses and overall a ball of energy we couldn’t help but watch. On the opposite end of the spectrum, Hidden Charms failed to grab the attention. Their Moddish throwback routine is all a bit pastiche, and something we’ve heard all too many times before.

A band who always take us on an emotional ride were Cavalry, whose rolling jams took a packed Blade Factory on a journey through doldrums, turmoil and love. Inimitable FestEVOL veterans By The Sea followed, taking to the stage surreptitiously and providing a flawless set of melodic psych-tinged ballads.

The first of the day’s really big names was just getting cracking meanwhile over on Furnace; MARNIE, the eponymous solo-outing of Ladytron’s Helen Marnie was greeted enthusiastically. Her career-spanning set included a superlative We Are The Sea from 2013’s Crystal World, and her fragile, emotionally-laden dream-pop – a densely propulsive kosmische air lent by her drummer – felt mesmerising. Black Honey took up the relay in Camp, and had an incredibly cool aura about them. Their sound was dark and brooding, with hints of Nancy Sinatra about vocalist Izzy Baxter, and the whole band looked the part. The crowd swooned, a situation Baba Naga could only have dreamed of on the District stage. As a sparseness of hooks or clear direction showed in their lackadaisical drone psych soundscape, the crowd went spotty as most headed for Hooton.

Hooton Tennis Club

Hooton Tennis Club

Little did anyone realise that Hooton Tennis Club would unexpectedly close the Furnace stage, but they stepped up and delivered a headline-worthy set. Reminding that they have all the tunes and an innate understanding of melody and craft, the boys were in relaxed and playful form. Taking the time to introduce new numbers, the set offered an indication that their arresting debut LP was no flash in the pan. The crowd belted out old favourites like P.O.W.E.R.F.U.L. P.I.E.R.R.E. and Hooton ended with usual set-closer Always Coming Back 2 You; they held the audience in the palm of their hands.

Heading back around to District, Poltergeist proved an appropriate name for Will Sergeant‘s project whose bassist appeared to be a reel-to-reel tape recorder. Literally meaning ‘noisy spirit’, Poltergeist understood the importance of a driving rhythm in their instrumental post-rock but would work much better as a three piece, and proved bit melodramatic with their accompanying B-movie visuals. Seoul dance-punk two-piece Dead Buttons churned out the riffs over at Blade Factory in the meantime; those who were present fell hard for it, but attendees were unfortunately thin on the ground.

Liverpool’s own The Vryll Society meanwhile were the business, and hoovering up the crowds. Their brand of cosmic psych-rock, with epic meandering musical voyages and grooving rhythms just seems to get better every time. With tunes like Great White’s Fin as massive highlights it’s easy to see why Deltasonic are putting so much faith in them.

Juliette and the Licks were tasked with following Vryll, with Juliette Lewis on genuinely captivating form, dressed like Axl Rose, dancing and throwing herself around the stage like a redneck Patti Smith with seemingly limitless energy. It was a shame then that the music was less gripping, consisting of pretty bog-standard rock and roll, even at the set’s heights, a cover of Proud Mary followed by their own One Hot Kiss. It’s not every day that a Hollywood A-lister comes to town, and Liverpool can be proud that Vryll comprehensively outshone her. Is right, lads.

Blossoms, who felt like the most ebulliently-hyped band in the world to top off the Camp stage, showed just why legions of indie fans are getting very excited about them. They’ve got the tunes, the attitude, and it seems a matter of when and not if they’ll be the next big UK guitar band. It was absolutely chocker at Camp, and their songs, such as Blow and At Most A Kiss, were sang back at them with huge enthusiasm.

As the crowds surged to the next street to assemble for the headliners, District was left looking pretty empty, and the Hawaiian shirt wearing WACO just a touch out of place. Flattering to deceive however, the few who attended were treated to a perfect tonic for the latening hour in WACO’s excellent DC hardcore-inspired punk show. Sankofa then appeared like a shape-shifting demon over at Blade Factory, whose thundering basslines and fierce rollicking blues sounded like something heard over the dunes in the Mojave desert. The audience slowly began to whittle down, but those who remained were privileged to witness the cosmic disco fuzz of The Shimmer Band.

With the big names making a break for their tour buses, the crowds disseminated evenly to the smaller stages, to check out buzz bands Moats and firstly The Amazons at Blade Factory. Single figures gathered for the hotly tipped young garage rock quartet The Amazons, and missed out on an energetic and anthemic set. Moats followed, and brought forth an eclectic and diverse maelstrom of emotions, as did GIT Award nominees RongoRongo over at District; Rongo played a captivating set of noir pop, Mick Chrysalid clambering out into an adoring audience in the early hours. Whether it was that same lateness of hour that brought out the chaos in Ohmns’ set was anyone’s guess, but they turned in an immature performance laced with potential and sloppiness in equal measure.

RongoRongo

RongoRongo

Cash+David endured massive technical issues to begin their set late and did well to deliver their vocodered micro-pop to District, succeeded by more GIT Award launch party punks in the shape of Pink Kink. We can’t wait to see them again at a more agreeable time, but they brought the glamour and restored smiles to bleary-eyed faces, teeing District up to be closed by electro three-piece Body. Irrelevant of time or place psych weirdoes Strange Collective always bring the goods, and did so to bring proceedings to a close with chattering guitars colouring the room kaleidoscopic at Blade Factory before a mass stage invasion climaxed in a mess of audience, band members and instruments coagulating in a pool of spit, sweat and sticky bodily fluids.

The big news of night however was unfortunate, in that the headliner over on Furnace failed to materialise after an agonizing hour-plus-long wait. Having invested time and effort into booking former Beta Band frontman Steve Mason to round off the day, it was with visible disappointment organiser Steve Miller was charged with announcing from centre stage the headliner’s late-notice cancellation. The eleventh-hour pull was not down to Mason himself – the stage was set and his band were primed – but due to the venue’s mixing desk and PA failing. With even an acoustic set off the cards, a disappointed and frustrated Mason took to the barrier to personally apologise to the crowd for his no-show.

While technical issues can arise in even the best-equipped venues, live sound problems were noticeable and recurring across the day. Vocals, particularly on the cavernous Furnace stage, pitched from too high to too low in the mix while in-song tinkering served only to grate rather than augment. The sound was often muddled and lost in an endless echo, and with large events such as Liverpool International Festival of Psychedelia on the horizon, Camp and Furnace will no doubt view FestEVOL as a learning experience.

For the rest of us, FestEVOL retains its air of a maddeningly but endearingly idiosyncratic experience. Not many festival audiences see performers leaping from moving vans and taxis to ferry their gear into a venue moments prior to their stage time. Even fewer see big name artists rubbing shoulders with musicians at the very start of their careers, or catch GIT Award nominees followed by… well, future GIT Award nominees.

Long live FestEVOL – an event which truly blended ambition with a justifiable pedigree of fine new artistry.

Pictures by GetintothisJohn Johnson, Michael Kirkham, Simon Lewis, Vicki Pea and Martin Waters

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