Liverpool Sound City’s musical offering begin, Getintothis‘ Peter Guy reflects on the day’s highlights.
With the Titanic Hotel overlooking Bramley-Moore Docks, it seemed apt that a musical vessel weighing in around 52,310 tonnes should apply serious metallic force into the ears of those attending Sound City day one.
Michael Gira‘s New York leviathan SWANS didn’t so much career down the docks but plunge with profound languid monolithic broad strokes obliterating the vast timber warehouse they were stationed into smithereens. Lungs were drowned slowly, overcome by seismic clangs of steely, pranging percussion and thick cavernous riffs. Gira orchestrated everything from the off; like a leathery preacher in a deep South Western, his white captain’s armband wrapped around his taut frame as gong-attendant and cymbal thwacker Thor Harris perched atop the backdrop malevolently chipping in with uneasy cello and bone-shuddering Iron Age chimes, all the while bass player Christopher Pravdica and drummer Phil Puleo locked into an unrelenting seemingly bottomless thud.
Procession-like, SWANS are no heavy metal outfit, more rooted in ambience, and it’s their elongated repetition which doesn’t necessarily build but merely sustain – gripping you tight until your being is entirely throttled by a cosmic vice. There’s barely any release – simply two and half hours of unremitting Gira mantra. If there’s a criticism, it’s the context – given a festival environment, the volume – albeit still incredibly loud and machine-gun like – the band’s characteristic breezeblock of sound is tempered and lacks the punishing violence we experienced on their last tour. That said, there’s no escaping this is a special moment for Liverpool Sound City; SWANS represent a genuine coup and a genuine moment – it’s a genuinely titanic victory.
Earlier in the evening, The Flaming Lips‘ Wayne Coyne entertained delegates in the Titanic’s Conference centre over the road; eating spaceships, $2500 inflatable bubbles for stage shows, Nick Cave impressions, Neil Young and citing Miley Cyrus (a collaborative album is due soon) as the most inspirational artist he’s ever worked with were all topics of conversation alongside his affable manager Scott Booker and the ever-reliable Dave Haslam – he himself closing a weekend of marathon in-conversation offerings.
But it was down on the main festival site were the real noise was being made; Barberos were tight and mean at the Baltic Stage, Neon Waltz were slightly lost amid the early evening wind at the Atlantic, JoyCut propulsive and frenetic at the North while Lithuanian’s Garbanotas Bosistas stunned onlookers with some soaring psychedelic whirring and exotic pantaloons. Inspired. Surprise addition Circa Waves cause a bottleneck nightmare in the new festival site as hundreds cram around the North Stage to lap up their pop rock skittles as another hundred or so bemoan weaving through the crowds as Iceage turn in a set of controlled aggression and gnashed teeth fist-punk back in the Baltic. On a day when the new talent truly shone, M.O. prove an unexpected treat with a brace of golden pop nuggets which has the Cargo Stage thrusting its hips off while The Lytics‘ four-prong attack of verbose, muscular hip hop is an early evening head-wrecking high. Ones to watch, indeed.
As the darkness descends we pop over to The Atlantic and take in The Vaccines for what proves to be a brief and quite diabolical interlude of leaden turgid gash. It’s the only blip on a superlative day of intelligent conversation, provocative and punishing new music – and a Grade A Sound City classic set from Michael Gira‘s band of sonic warlords.
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Photographs by Getintothis‘ Martin Waters, Martin Saleh, Tom Adam and Chris Flack