Liverpool Sound City 2014: Review round up and top 10 bands of the festival


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The dust has settled on Liverpool Sound City 2014, Getintothis’ Peter Guy reflects on this year’s beast of a festival.

London is shit. Manchester is okay. But Liverpool – Liverpool is amazing,’ stated Andrea in blunt, slightly broken, English.

We bumped into Andrea, originally from Milan (he supports Inter) but now residing in Manchester, around midday near Slater Street on Thursday May 1, the opening day of Liverpool Sound City.

Sporting a neon yellow Berghaus, backpack and heavy walking boots, he’d come equipped for three days of busting around the venues and taking in a wealth of new sounds. And though he’d only acquainted himself with the city on a handful of occasions (he spoke joyfully of Michael Nyman‘s ‘incredible’ gig at the Philharmonic a few days earlier) he’d sussed out what was going down. He was all set for the mania to unfold.

And how it unfolded. Prior to the seventh annual Sound City, boss David Pichilingi promised many things, but one key aspect he noted when we spoke beforehand, was that the three days would ‘present music to the audience in a way that they would normally never get the chance to do so in a city centre environment.

Not for the first time, Sound City achieved just that. But this time around, it felt even more expansive. Ever more sprawling. The ambition and scale was vast and few corners of inner city Liverpool were left untouched by what organisers proudly proclaimed ‘a beast’ of a festival.

This ‘beast’ was all consuming. Like it or not the city and its people couldn’t help but be taken in by an unavoidable feeling of animation.

When we spoke to a Russian music journalist who had recently moved up from London to settle in Manchester, she spoke with wide-eyed wonder at not just the magnitude of Sound City – the organisation, the conference structure and billing – but primarily of Liverpool itself and the many discoveries she had made outside of the event.

She spoke of a multi-faceted city which she’d hitherto not really given a thought to visiting declaring how the city itself was a cosmopolitan epicentre she’d disregarded while the event itself knocked the socks off similar metropolitan festivals in the UK and Europe. She insisted she would be returning in summer when ‘things had calmed down.’ We told her, Liverpool at present, rarely calms down.

The scale of Sound City 2014 made for many positives.

The Conference at the Hilton Hotel was surprisingly, perhaps, the greatest achievement. Sonic Youth‘s Thurston Moore conversation with Dave Haslem and John Cale‘s frank and compulsive chat with the QuietusJohn Doran were the two that grabbed the headlines but many visitors we talked to reflected on the panels and smaller round table discussions as insightful and avoiding the characteristic pitfalls of industry-related waffle.

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The Korean Rocks party in Kazimier Gardens at Sound City 2014

The venues were once again, largely, a treat. While the usual city centre suspects did the business, the return of Nation, the loft space at Brooklyn Mixer, the basement at Heebie Jeebies, Sound Food & Drink‘s bohemian rough edges, Bold Street Coffee‘s now-festival standard petite sit-off point and new additions, the Hob Goblin ale-assisted hippy cuboid of Moon Museum and concrete urban hangout The Factory (complete with nifty summer garden tables) all greatly added to LSC 2014.

And then of course, there was the Saturday afternoon selection of the John Peel World Cup (as feisty as ever) alongside Merseyside new talent showcases at Tavern on the Green (review), the Mersey Ferry and amid the Bluecoat Gardens plus international gatherings, the Australian BBQ (review) and the Korean party (review).
With such ambition there were inevitable downers.

Gary McGarvey‘s Screenadelica felt neglected being moved up to the Black-E. A venue lacking in atmosphere, geographically was away from the main action and most of all seemed technically ill-equipped to deal with the once again smartly-curated alt-rock resulting in a failure to match previous year highs that Screenadelica undoubtedly offers. McGarvey, though, should be commended; he and his contemporaries’ screen prints lined two tiers of the Black-E lending a visionary imagery to an otherwise blank canvas.

The biggest downer, though, occurred on Saturday. Wolstenholme Square, like in the last two years, was the central hub for the festival – and this year was no different; housing the Kazimier, Nation, Worth The Waxx record fair, busker’s corner (an impromptu acoustic setting), the Moon Museum and Duke Street Garage – the buzz around the cobbled streets had grown steadily since Thursday’s opening sets. But for three crazy hours on Saturday night it all went horribly wrong.

With Jagwar Ma, Tea Street Band and The Kooks (three acts garnering widespread populist appeal) lined up to play in the Garage it signalled a breakdown of the entire area. Huge queues to enter the square back-tracked up to the corner of Slater Street, and if you were lucky to enter the Square, there was further queuing ahead. Tempers were frayed, frustration was evident and there was much disappointment.

Of course, crowd safety is the most important factor to consider but with Nation and Kazimier way below capacity, hundreds of music fans missed out on the likes of Eyedress, Mixhell, Bang Bang Bang, Public Service Boadcasting and the closing street festivities. Up until that point, Sound City was the most organised it’s ever been, but for several key hours it lost momentum.

That said, momentum had been built considerably during the two and half days prior, and, this year’s Getintothis music review round up and subsequent top ten list is a snapshot of our festival. With so much new music to absorb and often at the same time, we were miffed to miss many.

But it was sets by the likes of Gambles, Lizzo, Orval Carlos Sibelius, Lucille Crew, Raleigh Richie, Gengahr, and especially Radiophonic Workshop, that left this writer kicking ourselves (click on each of them, for Getintothis writers’ reaction).

However, like our new pal, Andrea of Milan, we crammed in an exhaustive amount in three hugely special days at Liverpool Sound City 2014 these are our best bits.

Shangaan Electro at the Kazimier
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Factory Floor live at the Kazimier during Sound City 2014

1. Factory Floor

Timing and context is everything during a festival – and on Friday May 2, Factory Floor‘s 1.45am billing at the Kazimier proved Liverpool Sound City‘s defining moment.

As we alluded to in our day two round up, the night’s offerings had simmered with intent; a raft of new music discoveries (Theo Verney, Folly and the Hunter, Tennis, Taylor Fowlis) plus several solid staples (Drenge, Wolf Alice) whet the appetite, however, it wasn’t until Fuck Buttons‘ audio lawnmower-meets-chainsaw beat frenzy in Nation that the night shifted into third gear.

However, FB’s Andrew Hung and Benjamin Power‘s serrated disco ball platter merely served to tee up a quite phenomenal 70 minutes of live music next door in the Kazimier. When Club EVOL brought Factory Floor to the Kazimier in December 2013, the band were in mesmeric, metronomic form, however, nothing could prepare us for their return.

Where their Liverpool debut was a lesson in measured, incessant rhythms which reached an ecstatic plateau their Sound City show developed their characteristic rigid thunder and ramped proceedings up into wave after wave of relentless highs. Without pausing, their breathless workout time and again reached new levels of hysteria.
Percussionist Gabriel Gurnsey was central to everything.

Almost unassuming in his manner behind the kit (no OTT sticks action here) his style is akin to phalanx of soldiers moving in military precision, growing in number, slotting into place as row after row of concrete crashes rained down around the Kazimier.

Gurnsey’s partner in percussion is Dominic Butler, whose terrorising modulated synths and driving electronics merely add to the momentum. As the pace gathers, stage right, Nik Colk flanked by a wall of guitar pedals aloft her banks of samplers adds to the disorientation with warped horrorcore vocals straight from the Dario Argento handbook.

The effect is contrastingly visceral and numbing, deadening almost heart stopping yet thrillingly euphoric.
Factory Floor are often labelled clinical – indeed their superlative eponymous for DFA Records – is exactly that, an exercise in almost faceless, angular precision, yet their set at Sound City, while not veering from their mathematically honed algorithms felt transcendental – here was music at its colossal best – music to make you feel completely and utterly alive.

Getintothis Peter Guy reviews Factory Floor at Liverpool Sound City 2014.
Getintothis Adam Lowerson reviews Factory Floor at Liverpool Sound City 2014.
Getintothis talks to Factory Floor.

Mixhell tearing it up at the Kazimier during the final day at Liverpool Sound City 2014

2. Mixhell

If Factory Floor‘s superlative set was an exercise in sniper-like sonic execution, Mixhell was the festival’s supreme pick & mix scattergun finale – an exotic electronic clash of abandon and punch-the-air delirium. And yet, judging by the energy levels inside the club you’d never guess that this was to prove the closing set of Sound City 2014.

This was pure serotonin shipped in from Sao Paulo. Steered by former Sepultura sticksman Iggor Cavalera (given his seismic background his titanic thwacks made perfect sense) and partner Laima Leyton they fuse hip hop sampledelica, electroclash and robo-punk culminating in monumental sheet-metal beats, oodles of spearing percussive stabs and BIG driving grooves – the Kazimier lapped it up in spades – and come the close, around 3am, there’s a dizzying psychosis for more.

An inexplicable desire to continue. Mixhell were simply divine.
GetintothisAndy Kelly reviews Mixhell at Liverpool Sound City 2014.

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Jon Hopkins on the opening night of Sound City at Nation

3. Jon Hopkins

Hopkins’ opening night set, was for many, their Sound City pre-festival selection – and boy, did he deliver.

Interestingly, though, for the opening third of his hour at Nation (didn’t it feel great to be back?) he teased with a simmering set of diced mini segues which threatened to break out into something bigger but rarely did. However, from the moment Collider spliced through the venues’ speakers, everything suddenly made sense. Everything kicked on harder, Collider, Breathe This Air and various other delicately textured drones from his Mercury-nominated album, Immunity, lifted the packed crowd off their feet as the intensity, which had been steadily building, broke free into a heady rush of weighty slabs of gleaming propulsion.

It was the stand out set from a strong opening evening – marking a triumvirate of electronic acts at the very top of their game.

Getintothis Peter Guy reviews Jon Hopkins at Liverpool Sound City 2014.
Getintothis Andy Kelly reviews Jon Hopkins at Liverpool Sound City 2014.

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Ballet School teaching everyone how to get their groove on in Brooklyn Mixer

4. Ballet School

For sometime Berlin-based trio Ballet School‘s Sound City moment looked like it would never happen. Scheduled to appear in Duke Street‘s Garage at nine bells on Thursday we learnt they had to ‘rearrange’, and dismayed fearing the worst, it wasn’t until an announcement early doors on Saturday that the stars realigned and a 10.15pm billing gave us the ideal reason to make our first festival stop at Brooklyn Mixer.

T’Mixer has provided ample previous LSC goodies (GhostChant and Blizzard last year, two that spring to mind) and Ballet School are another to add to the list. Marrying Michel Collet‘s looped guitar exotica, Louis McGuire‘s deft-by-turn-demolition-job drumming and this year’s finest new pop star find, Rosie Blair – a tumble of swirling vocal yelps and growls, dance workout queen and thrift-store wardrobe raider – you have the union of something quite special.

The impossibly catchy Yaoi and Crush is only trumped by the skipping pop dancer of Heartbeat Overdrive which marries all their finest assets; huge choruses, an air of enchantment and the undercurrent of something quite dark ready to be unleashed. Unleash it they did. We’re holding out for another lesson.

Nozinja and Shangaan Electro at the Kazimier

5. Nozinja and Shangaan Electro

A heady day last July at the Kazimier was for many their music moment of the year. When Nozinja, Auntie Flo and the Shangaan Electro collective rolled into Liverpool with their dance workshops and late night party they were the talk of the town for much of the summer.

Come 1.30am on the opening night of Sound City, there was a distinct impression the Kazimier was alive with those itching to relive it or indeed see what they missed out on. And Nozinja was determined not to let anyone down. An hour of vibrant hip-shaking, wide-eyed fervour and the joyous sound of Soweto folk music fused to ecstatic electro closed Day One in celebratory fashion.

Getintothis Peter Guy reviews Nozinja at Liverpool Sound City 2014.
Getintothis Michael Fowler reviews Nozinja at Liverpool Sound City 2014.

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Bernard + Edith – another great find at Liverpool Sound City 2014

6. Wild Cub

There’s simply few things better than walking into a room and *BLAM* being smashed in the face by your new favourite band.

That’s exactly what happened when we clambered into East Village’s loft to be met with a packed room and the urgent rush of chiming instrumentation. Fusing almost every Factory Records band imaginable into one track while splurging out Vampire Weekend‘s zippy summer vibes the next, they worked the crowd with melodic fervour and a easy-natured charisma courtesy of frontman Keegan DeWitt.

Most impressive though, is Dabney Morris, the frenzied figure behind the kit holding the whole thing in place. It was over too soon, Nashville’s Wild Cub were our international discovery of the festival.
Getintothis Peter Guy reviews Wild Cub at Liverpool Sound City 2014.

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Jungle live at the Factory for Sound City 2014

7. Jungle

In the build up to Sound City much of the jibber jabber concerned Jungle. Everyone was familiar with their infectious street jams Busy Earnin and Platoon but there was a hesitancy of how it would translate, mostly wrapped up in the mystery of who the fuck these guys actually were. The greatest fear that this was a collective of blaggers who would wheel out a couple of laptops and press play.

We needn’t have worried. In the shoebox surrounds of The Factory on Seel Street – another fine venue addition to Sound City which played host to similarly notable hype bands Wolf Alice, Bernard + Edith, Wytches, Bohicas and Tennis – Jungle wheeled out an eight piece outfit complete with brass, full band and leading the pack two fellas who are simply in love with soul music.

For all the talk of their musicality, it was their honey-soaked falsettos which shone through the condensation filled fug recalling Hurts had they a penchant for Run DMC or D’Angelo rather than Depeche Mode.

It feels effortless, and sometimes has more akin to the detached cool of James Blake, than the heady funk of their breakthrough numbers, but their clever enough to tear out into some belting neo-Blaxploitation bangers when the mood takes them. The crowd were won over early doors, any doubts over Jungle‘s boogie immeasurably cast aside – this lot are feverish.

Getintothis Adam Lowerson reviews Jungle at Liverpool Sound City 2014.
Getintothis Emma Walsh reviews Jungle at Liverpool Sound City 2014.

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All We Are’s Luis live at the Cathedral during Liverpool Sound City 2014

8. All We Are

There’s no doubt Liverpool’s Anglican Cathedral is a phenomenon in itself. Merely walking up St James’ Mount and basking in it’s gothic grandeur is awe-inspiring in itself. And over the last couple of years it has been embraced as a specialist concert venue reserved for a variety of touring artists and boutique events.

However, the question remains – is it a suitable gig venue? Can a band really translate inside a setting which can overpower and become the marvel rather than the music itself? Low, Laura Marling, Dexys, TOY, Daughter and The Walkmen have all featured with varying results. Ironically, though, it’s the venue which oft becomes the talking point after the artist has left the building.

This year’s Sound City was no different; Clean Bandit lacked the nous, charm and songs to conquer the longest Cathedral in the world while Say Lou Lou on the opening night literally fell to bits inside its vast expanse.
Fairing far better were a band who have but two singles to their name: All We Are. The Liverpool-based trio showed musicianship and performance skill beyond their years by knowing when to hold back and let their sound waft throughout the colossal empty spaces and when to go at it full throttle.

They allowed the space to work to their advantage highlighting Guro Gikling‘s vocal range twinned to Richard O’Flynn‘s luxuriant breathy delivery and softly-softly tribal drum rolls. Feel Safe and Utmost Good were the spine in a 25 minute set of tempered rhythms and shoulder-rolling grooves but it was their closing epic, Go, which marked them out as a band fit for any stage as Luis Santos applied a medley of cyclical guitar riffs to textured dissonance – it truly soared. Magnificent.

Getintothis Josh Gorman reviews All We Are at Liverpool Sound City 2014.

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Fuck Buttons’ Benjamin Power live at Nation during Sound City 2014

9. Fuck Buttons
We’ll be honest. We kinda fell out of love a tad with Fuck Buttons. After two albums which pretty much defined our listening habits – and gave us some of the finest memories from All Tomorrow’s Parties – we didn’t really warm to third album Soft Focus and the last few times we caught them on tour they didn’t match up to those early incendiary offerings.

The new tracks seemed diluted and the gigs flat lined. It all felt a little tragic. And yet on Friday in Liverpool, settling in after the liquid noise of East India Youth, they nailed it. With just an hour to play with the duo launched into a full frontal savaging of the senses. No slow builds, no plateaus of noise, no extended outros – just a mauling of twisted pneumatic loops which carved into your cranium. Such was the outpouring at one point it felt like being at a Pantera gig. Heavy blows.

Getintothis Peter Guy reviews Fuck Buttons at Liverpool Sound City 2014.
Getintothis Michael Fowler reviews Fuck Buttons at Liverpool Sound City 2014.

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Hooton Tennis Club proved a winner in the Kazimier Gardens during Sound City 2014

10. Hooton Tennis Club

If Sound City 2014 was notable for just one thing, it was the amount of new music talent brought to our doorstep once again. It’s pretty ridiculous when you’re faced with a schedule like this…

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…to take it all in. And that post-festival feeling you’ve been left with coursing through your very being is all the mental and physical aching after trying to. For us, finding the new gems is what its all about – and Hooton Tennis Club, on the newly-formed Label Recordings, are one of our favourites.

Their give-a-fuck songs married give-a-fuck slouch won us over the first time we heard them earlier this year – and their Kazimier Gardens Friday afternoon slot was the ideal warm up for a big send off.

Carefree and trashy all the while exuding rich melodic goodness they’re tailor made to step it up. And in Kathleen Sat On The Arm Of Her Favourite Chair they’ve a slacker anthem in waiting that warrants repeat plays – if you can be arsed. Like a young gang of Jonathan Richman‘s they’re supporting Parquet Courts in June – we suggest you sign up fast for one of the stand outs from a festival dripping in fresh new sounds.

Getintothis Michael Fowler reviews Hooton Tennis Club at Liverpool Sound City 2014.

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Closing night Sound City street party in Wolstenholme Square

Getintothis would like to thank the Liverpool Sound City 2013 dedicated writing and photographic team: Tom Adam, Jamie Bowman, Michael Fowler, Gaz Jones, Andy Kelly, Simon Lewis, Adam Lowerson, Alan O’Hare, Joel Richards, Matt Thomas, Jack Thompson, Emma Walsh, Sakura Zilla.

Getintothis‘ top 10 bands of Liverpool Sound City 2013.
Getintothis‘ top 10 bands of Liverpool Sound City 2012.
Getintothis‘ top 10 bands of Liverpool Sound City 2011.
Read all of Getintothis‘ extensive reviews and picture galleries from Liverpool Sound City 2013.