Opening night at Threshold Festival sets a fine tone with big tunes and larks aplenty, Getintothis’ Emma Walsh, Chris Burgess and Ash Turner joined the rather sparse crowds in the Baltic Triangle.
Celebrating their fifth year as torch bearers of the best in grassroots arts and music from Merseyside and beyond, Threshold Festival kicked off in grand style in the city’s cultural hub, the Baltic Triangle. There was a jovial atmosphere at Friday’s launch party with free wine a-flowing as the curtain raised at Unit 51. Tireless organisers Chris and Kaya Carney, along with Andy Minnis verbally cut the ribbon on the festival with thanks to the extensive team of volunteers and supporters who make the festival possible.
Despite the ongoing mumble of the exuberant crowd Lyons & Le Zel did manage to rise above mere background noise with their trip hop, beatboxing magic. Winning favour with an interpretation of Screamin’ Jay Hawkins’ I Put A Spell On You, the duo made sure to plug their later performances with BeLOey and Fire Beneath the Sea, self publicity at its absolute finest.
A wise investment that DeMille could learn from as they opened early evening proceedings at Constellations to an embarrassingly sparse crowd, a “lucky few” according to the stage host. And it was a shame that so few were there to witness the band’s lounge music take on modern classics – it’s just the kind of warm up set you need after work on a Friday, Beyonce’s Drunk in Love and Kelis’ Milkshake with jazzhands. The dough spinning pizza chefs certainly appreciated it.
The five piece of Tiger Factory provide a great start to Baltic Social’s Threshold weekend, delivering an expansive and well-crafted sound, with layers of keyboard and rich vocals, despite singer Harry Murell’s claim that he was losing his voice.
Finishing their set with King of the World they were powerful enough to drown out the always-noisy Social crowd. There’s a certain maturity to their music beyond their young appearance.That is, unfortunately, until the very final song – a minute long, horrid, aggressive funk-rock jam that undid all their good work.
Later, with all their moody tunes and grumbly vocals, Seprona never quite caught light during their set. Their bassist, playing rather lumpily, wore a turtleneck and leather jacket combo that must have been roasting, given Baltic Social’s stuffy atmosphere. Not that it seemed to bother him, his glazed expression showing no signs of emotion whatsoever – quite a funny sight when he moved to maracas.
Overall the band were quite leaden, and although their singer was obviously trying his best, they didn’t engage the crowd with their jangly, melodic tunes.
Bandito Rey were supremely spectral, and magnificently at home among the visual and performance arts space of the ever popular 24 Kitchen Street. The three piece, relative newcomers to the Liverpool scene, provided one of the first day highlights, their spaced-out guitar noises and tight rhythm section accompanied by the paint splashed, silver-leotarded dancers in front of the stage.
Their long instrumental pieces were intensely powerful – with echoes of Japanese dynamic maestros Mono – leaving vast amounts of space and building to magnificent climaxes. With singer Ioan Llewelyn joining them for the last few songs, the band suddenly shifted gears, with a strong and impassioned final few tunes.
Over the evening Kitchen Street saw an incredible electronica line up on its refreshed stage with Belgian-based duo Melatonini, Liverpool quintet The Baltic States and Wirral based producer Lo Five bringing their luxuriously rich, harmonic and atmospheric electronicato the space, closing with the fast rising Berlin-born producer Modig bringing a more dense electronic house set out to play.
Back at the Unit 51 folk-fest with Johnny Sands, Eliza Shaddad offered another potential highlight of the night with her cheery persona, charming voice and seriously sentiment in her songwriting. Good Man and Wars both left an impression but it was her newest, and as yet unnamed track that had us goosepimpled and teary eyed. Clearly a deeply emotional and personal song, Eliza was granted a rare, respectful silence. From the verge of tears to laughter and foot tapping tunes, Eliza Shaddad brought us on the full emotional rollercoaster, one we will definitely be queuing up for again.
Following the noise down the street we called into District to catch the end of Jazzhands in typically chaotic, orange glory. We’ve purposely kept our distance from this lot recently in the vein hope that when we eventually reimmersed ourselves in the beautiful discord of drums and sax it would reignite that initial buzz of excitement in the novelty, but sadly no. Still the same old bollocks. It may be a word completely paradoxical to their enthused performance but we’re sorry to say it’s all a little tired now.
Over at Constellations and Observatory, the crowd was unfortunately yet to pick up as the unmissable Liverpool-based sextet Kalandra started proceedings at the indoor venue. With a turn out that was undeservedly small for a band with such a large musical footprint, Kalandra showed their professionalism and ability to perform at the highest quality no matter the numbers in the crowd. A highly talented, well developed, and ever improving outfit with great things in their future.
The Observatory also saw the musical home of Threshold organisational queen Kaya Herstad Carney as Science Of The Lamps hit the stage with force with sublime harmony quartet The Usherettes proving themselves once more to be an exceptionally well versed outfit comprised of some of the heaviest local talent. Kaya fronts the band with such a bounty of charm, passion and personality and displayed time and time again why she is so widely regarded as such a one of a kind songstress.
Chester five-piece Chemistry Lane also performed well in front of an undeservedly small crowd at the Liverpool Craft Beer Space, their slowly unfurling tunes filling the room with large, atmospheric sounds. There may have been more people enjoying the excellent gallery space at the side of the building than watching the band perform. It was their loss though, as Chemistry Lane put in a wonderful display, singer Simon Jones‘ vocals soaring high above their moody melodies.
Alex Hulme and Joni Fuller both delivered sterling sets back at Unit 51 both making use of electronic loops to bump up the sound from their individual performances. Hulme got right into the mix with the crowd, geeing up the audience before Fuller took to the stage with a few more nerves than her predecessor. Frantically building up the loops, we were worried she wasn’t going to find her feet at all but Fuller left us pleasantly surprised as she sounded off with the epic Hayley You’re a Star.
With intelligent lyrics, fantastic visuals and a sharp sense of humour, Statement Haircut also provided a first-day highlight. Opening with the shifting and twirling Parachute Test, a bold introduction to their set, the band held sway right from the off. Guitarist Darren Reynold’s sharp playing and vocalist Michael Stevenson’s breathy delivery shimmered as their tunes grew and built. The band’s shifting beats, smart loops and growling synth bass won the crowd over easily, with their visuals flashing modern cultural references that removed from context seem absurd; “No friends found” and “Chat failed to load” for example.
Over in Kitchen Street, James Lyons made his second performance of the night with BeLOey who treated us to some nicely flowing hip-hop and expert flute playing, before running off to perform with Fire Beneath The Sea. Imagine Ron Burgundy, if he was from Dingle not San Diego. A bit rough around the edges, like the best hip-hop bands, they put forth political, often hippyish views that left the crowd feeling perky and upbeat.
We just about caught the tail end of Fire Beneath The Sea’s set but it was clear that the ska-punk troubadours had the bouncing Observatory crowd in the palm of their hands – the brass section putting in their usual magnificent display as the volley of MCs worked their manic mayhem.
Also packing the Observatory stage – with at least five horn players and kimono-wearing singer – Nubiyan Twist’s smooth afro-dub and hip hop grooves got the already energetic crowd dancing, singer Nubiyan Brandon providing a rather sexy focus to their set. If comparisons can be made, it would be to Amy Winehouse, as the rose-crowned singer draws the focus of the band together with superb vocals and a swaying of the hips with echoes of Cuban cool throughout their superbly soulful set.
Meanwhile Super Fast Girlie Show were waking the dead down at District. Aesthetically imposing with their trucker caps and rocker beards, the trio blazed through a flurry of punk and headbanging tunes, pausing to explain to the again, sadly, sparse crowd, “This songs about buying weed. He hates it and I’ve quit. Theres literally no point in singing this anymore. But anyway. This is called cheese.” Awesome.
And epitomising the theme of the evening it seems, great music, great fun, but sadly not all that many people to enjoy it, a hard truth that hugely impacted on the general atmosphere of the opening night. It seems a shame, especially when the whole weekend is so reasonably priced, that it doesn’t quite draw in the masses. Threshold continues to carve itself out a tidy little niche, doing an honourable service by helping to breathe life into the once derelict and ever expanding creative quarter of the Baltic Triangle, but it seems, sadly, that they may still be preaching to the converted. The festival may be expanding year on year but it remains to be seen whether it’s drawing the crowds to fill all the fantastic warehouse venues and spectacular beer gardens this corner of the city has to offer.
Photos by Getintothis’ Tom Adam, Martin Saleh, Michael Kirkham and Michael Hegarty: