Across the Threshold took to Liverpool’s Baltic Triangle, Getintothis’ Kieran Donnachie and Peter Goodbody assessed the weekend’s art and music.
Across the Threshold is the pick ‘n mix aisle of Liverpool’s grassroots festival scene.
We see similar faces on stage again and again, each time with a totally different sound – yet this is the brand new face of Threshold Festival.
This year’s festival is spread over the Hobo Kiosk Pub, District and Unit 51. Each venue is brimming with musicians.
They sun it up outside Unit 51 and watch their peers with glee, always the first to start dancing along. But it’s a little telling when the line up and crowd are one and the same. Being the same weekend as Aintree’s Grand National slims the audience, at an already purposefully smaller festival.
“This is our fallow year,” says Kaya Herstad Carney at the Across the Threshold Town Hall. As well as leading her band, Science of the Lamps, she’s part of the Threshold Festival core team. During the talk they’re surprisingly frank about their struggles putting the festival on year after year.
It’s downsized since previous incarnations, so much so, it necessitated a name change to Across the Threshold. Once the defining Baltic Triangle festival, it’s been drowned out in the flood of new events in the area. And it’s not only new events, but established ones too.
Exciting as a more centralised and back to basics Sound City is, is it worth the cost of such great communal grassroots festival like this?
The Town Hall discussion turns to funding going forward.
While there’s some enthusiasm about a Patron style subscription service, the extras that would inevitably entail is a sticking point.
Would this be smaller events put on throughout the year? Podcasts and video content? The desire to continue is clear, and with as little change as possible. Despite Arts Council funding being denied them in 2017, for being too similar to previous years, Threshold want to remain the artists’ festival.
The size reduction turns out to be a boon this year, the short walk between stages making it impossible to miss anyone.
Our inner completionist is more than happy to ping between the venues, walking back and forth with the same few faces certainly underscores the intimacy of the festival. A sense of community pervades the whole weekend, everyone knows everyone and it’s hard not to feel included.
There was some trepidation before the first band on, Operation Lightfoot, a thin and muted crowd compounded our already tempered expectations.
Commissioned for the European Week of Astronomy & Space Science, their Above Us Only Stars project oozes cosmic expansiveness. Their math rock ballads are paired with artsy projections. It’s enough to reinvigorate our enthusiasm.
Nikki and The Waves open the District stage as one of the biggest, and youngest, bands of weekend.
All eight file out and serve up a set in their self proclaimed indie big band style. They’re a little rough, but their melting pot of influences ranging from 90s American Ska Punk to Indie Folk Pop hold a hefty promise.
District continue on with the indie rock adjacent theme, with sets from Simple Fiction, Hollows, man-about-festival Emilio Pinchi (who turned up with a full band – all the better for that) each great palette cleansers from the increasingly disparate Unit 51 line up.
Tilly Valentine eases us in with lounge-like trip hop, and a great Kate Bush cover. VIDEO take the bass driven synth pop of New Order and mix in some disco for good measure. They deftly avoid the usual eye rolling at rose tinted 80s nostalgia with a darker undercurrent reminiscent of a John Carpenter score. The synth player being a real life anime character probably helps too.
Nányë are the first eye, and ear, catching band of the weekend. When your usually meticulous notes are just “experimental, gooood”, something has gone right on stage. Experimental is certainly the prevailing aspect of the band.
Duo Tortusa / Breistein, another personal highlight, offer a total sea change with some wending ambient electronic jazz. Breistein on saxophone is initially similar to Colin Stetson, but stands himself apart with ingenious use of his key presses as percussion.
Fick as Fieves and Mono LPs hold down the indie fort over at District, with Monos continuing the trend of having a cello in every other band. Foxtrap get a sizeable crowd dancing with their euro brand of electronica and trance, laced with some gothic vocals from singer Helen Morrison.
In a similar vein Ovvls finish up in Unit 51. Topping out a diverse line up does Ovvls a disservice, lacking the edge or the pure dance grooves of their predecessors. The obvious comparison is to Chelsea Wolfe, but without the doom metal grit the music feels far too clean compared to their dark exterior.
Doubling down on said grit over at District is Salt the Snail, far removed from the goofiness of their Always Sunny in Philadelphia namesake, they blast wigs off with their distortion heavy hardcore punk.
The noisiest band we’ll see for a while yet. We head home, to repair and prepare, before Mixnots’ rotating door DJ set. It’s an earlier start on the Saturday and we’re in need of some desalination.
Two more stages get added the next day, a small acoustic stage in the colourful Hobo Kiosk Pub and a rather confusingly located District Stage 2.
It started in the yard out back and then winding up to the right of District’s main room. It works out in the end, as the returning Secret Circus prove ample compères, keeping the crowd entertained with their wonderfully varied cabaret acts in between the sets. Just don’t tell your mam what you saw.
Indeed Saturday brought a very different atmosphere. Gone was the drizzle of Friday night. The sun was out and a balmy 16° was enough for Unit 51 to throw open the big floor to ceiling windows and the music to the outside world.
Hobo Kiosk was a welcome haven tucked away from the main action in a basement at the other end of Jamaica St. As we arrived for a pre-action beer, there was an acoustic set from Sarah Jones entertaining the 20 or so punters. Her rendition of the Paul McCartney penned Step Inside Love even managed to generate a sing along from some of those present. It’s the little vignettes such as this that really add the finishing touches to the main event.
Unit 51 keeps it largely acoustic, and local, early on the final day.
Appearances from Daisy Gill, the politically charged Francisco and Mugstar’s frontman Peter J Smyth serve to remind us of the strong singer songwriter scene on Merseyside; a definitive full stop is provided by Ellie Rose Smith. Wirral’s answer to Sufjan Stevens, she unequivocally has the best voice of the festival; condolences to everyone else.
District once again holds the rockier side of the bill and set off with Connah Evans, who seemed a little disappointed with the turn out.
With a little less youthful expectancy, worldly assortment Mardhys bring a unique blend of European folk rock sounds that we begrudgingly leave early to catch the other stages. The Secret Circus introduce the “heaviest band on the bill” C.O.W., we assume they didn’t catch Salt the Snail. With alt rock touchstones like Dinosaur Jr and Grandaddy they’re a sight to see, albeit with an all too common band name. They do, however win the prize for the worst joke of the weekend: “We’re COW, spelled C.O.W. We make Moosic“. Ah, well. Stick to the tunes, lads.
Meanwhile it’s getting soulful over the road, with a string of artists seemingly picked to please everyone’s favourite Takeshi’s Castle presenter. Bridging the genre gap, Jazamin Sinclair merges singer songwriter sensibilities with balladic soul. One step further into the oncoming rush of funk and soul, Mersey Wylie and her band put on a incredible show, including a great version of Solange’s Losing You. Armed with a looper KingFast magics his way through some contemporary RnB, flipping between piano, guitar, beat boxing and vocals.
It’s Mica Jane who garners the first dancers of the day, infusing folk with lover’s rock and afrobeat is guaranteed to get people on their feet after all. Local on the rise Sub Blue, platformed by BBC Introducing along with Connah Evans this year, showcases his natural aptitude for american style Pop RnB. The set has flickers of Frank Ocean’s honesty and Yasiin Bey’s forays into soul, it’s no wonder he’s going places.
You can hear the tap tap of salsa dancing in District, just managing to pull us away from Sub Blue’s closing tracks. Salsa Dance Familia are out in force with percussion, and dance instruction, from Francisco. They give a grand tour of the latin worlds varied salsa music styles, from Spain to Cuba. There’s many a couple giving it their all but no one quite matches those on stage.
Festival organiser Kaya Herstad Carney’s band, Science of the Lamps, follow soon after with their utterly idiosyncratic style. They’re impossible to pin down, with an amalgam of artists that have played throughout Across the Threshold already. A Threshold supergroup. Their songs are simultaneously funny and insightful, but most of all fun. It’s a wonder where they find the time to practise among all their other projects.
We guiltily duck out to catch Ray Wills at Unit 51. Again backed by other band members, his psychedelic garage rock and eerily familiar Kings of Leon vocals make us wish those Nashville rockers stayed good. Thankfully he manages to squeeze in a very extended encore.
Then we come to the final bands of the weekend. The Soul Rays make good on the promise of a funk and soul day at Unit 51. After Ray Wills sat everyone down, The Soul Rays get the place dancing all over again. They don’t let up, even sliding in a Sugababes cover just for fun.
At District Emergency Tiara don their primary coloured wigs and take nostalgia to its extreme, coming out the otherside with a pitch perfect recreation of Motown with some Cali rock ‘n roll thrown in for good measure. The only thing missing is more than the backing of two teddy boy musicians.
Getintothis’ Beyond The Threshold 2018 best artists and bands of the weekend
Hollows – District
An unenviable early slot on a damp Friday wasn’t really kind – “Can you step forward and pretend it’s a gig?” – but it was decent indie rock worthy of a bigger stage from the band who will admit only to being “from the north west”. There’s a confident swagger about this lot and we’re sure they’ll generate a decent amount of attention in the coming months. – Peter Goodbody
Tortusa / Breistein – Unit 51
Absolutely gorgeous sax noodling from Inge Breistein backed by a kind of eerie soundscape created by the synth of Tortusa (John Derek Bishop). It was moody, atmospheric and quite mesmerising. It was straight out of the William Basinski school of sound as art and seemed to represent the Threshold ethos perfectly. PG.
The Mono LPs – District
Guitar bass drums and cello. Yup, cello. And it rocks. Just fine. Strong bluesy tunes finally had the crowd in District dancing along. Bringing new tunes from their as yet untitled second album, this was a welcome return to form from the band. PG.
Nányë – District
Ray Wills and Nányë stood out as two young groups carving their own path in music. Nányë’s stand in set for Chanel and the Circus was the arguably the most impressive of the weekend, with Ray Wills stepping in to drum. Having never drummed with them before, it was improv the whole time and blew us away. Both acts brought a jazz-like experimentation with them, often seen crouched over their guitar pedals. Pure talent wise, it’s hard to recommend anyone else from the weekend. – Kieran Donnachie
Ellie Rose Smith – Unit 51
In Merseyside’s, and the world’s, ocean of singer songwriters it’s absurdly difficult to stand apart. Ellie Rose Smith manages this. There’s depth to her songs that have her on a path toward rivalling personal favourites like Joni Mitchell and Mount Eerie. Seeing her play also makes us feel less ashamed of telling people we’re from Wirral, so thanks for that Ellie. KD.
Sub Blue – Unit 51
Speaking of packed genres, none are more so full than RnB. At 20 years old Sub Blue shows more than just promise, but a tight grasp on what makes a good RnB song. He’s personal and honest avoiding the tendency for generalist lyrics designed to reach as many listeners as possible. Our only hope for him is to stretch out into more artistic styles akin to Kelela or Blood Orange. KD.
Science of the Lamps – District
We’d be sinning if we didn’t mention Science of the Lamps. Such an idiosyncratic band, whose members populate the Liverpool music scene in various ways already, shouldn’t work. They’re a medley of genres that effortlessly does seem to work. They’re the manifestation of the Threshold festival, a convergence of art and culture from around Liverpool. Still don’t know what the name means though.
Jazamin Sinclair – Unit 51
A sunny folk-punk blended set in Unit 51 seemed a perfect soundtrack to the weather on Saturday. Her acoustic guitar playing was powerful and urgent, offset beautifully by her accompanists on cello and xylophone. There were country twangs of Lindi Ortega at times. A cracking little gem in a crowded line up. There’s an EP out soon and we’re keen to get our hands on it. PG.
C.O.W – District
One of the heavier sets of the weekend and bringing a definite grunge feeling to the proceedings. C.O.W. powered through half an hour of pure energy. “This song’s about drugs” – “Ha!” says an audience member. “It’s not a laughing matter mate”. But, we’ll admit, it may have been the “Moosic” non-joke that made us like them. It was a piece of Seattle brought right here in District. PG.
Ray Wills – Unit 51
Like some crazed Hendrix / Nirvana lovechild Wills pulled not a single punch on the (non) stage in Unit 51. Tight guitar playing and complex rhythms from his drummer, we can’t really decide if it was jazz, rock, blues, indie or what, such was the wealth and breadth of influences at work here. But it was awesome and it drew one of the biggest crowds at Unit 51. “Music’s a beautiful thing and it brings people together in harmony. Literal harmony”. The stand out set of the weekend. Absolutely stunning. PG.
Images by Getintothis’ Peter Goodbody