Following a triumphant Part One last week Getintothis’ Paul Higham and Adam Lowerson soak up the second installment of FestEVOL.
With a line up boasting some of the most talked about new acts on the Merseyside scene alongside some more established favourites, FestEVOL Part Two looked a safe bet to pick up where Part One left off last week. And to the most part it did, with a number of artists living up to the high expectations on them, yet with several lulls throughout the day, it was down to some stand out performances from a few acts to keep the party spirit alive.
The real standouts were headliners All We Are, who return to the Kazimier off the back of a huge 2015 which has seen them release their debut album, become A-listed by BBC 6 Music and perform at festivals all over the UK. The trio’s slick falsetto harmonies and grooving indie pop had the Club stage bouncing, with much loved tracks such as I Wear You, Utmost Good and Stone sounding resplendent alongside some huge sounding new tracks. A cover of Caribou’s Can’t Do Without You took things up a notch, with hook laden bass lines from Guro Gikling and Richard O’Flynn’s pounding drum beats lifting the entire venue. On this showing, All We Are are lightyears ahead of many of their contemporaries within the Liverpool music scene.
There were signs of promise earlier in the day too in the form of AJHD, who kicked things off in the Club with a 20 minute wave of distortion and droning vocals. Their take on early 90s shoegaze mixed with aspects of grunge made for an intense set, but at times felt slightly too much with any hints of melody being completely lost within the wall of sound. Next up, Lying Bastards really got things going with their hard hitting, blues tinged rock and roll. Not only were their tunes great, their riffs catchy and their shuffling beats infectious, but the energy and personality given off by all four of the band members made the set massively enjoyable to watch.
Things outside were slightly more relaxed as the afternoon sun blazed down on Katy Alex in the Kazimier garden. Her smooth blend of soulful acoustic pop showed huge signs of potential for the singer songwriter, with her original tracks standing up well alongside the couple of covers included in her set. With a warm, soul filled vocals there is a fragility to her sound which gives an emotional edge to her songs. We expect to be hearing a lot more from Katy Alex over the next year or so.
The pop theme continued outside with Scarlet and Viola Beach both showing their ability to write catchy tunes, but both in their own different style. The former showcased great melodies and hooks among their punk-tinged sound, while singer Jessie Robinson danced non-stop throughout the set. Viola Beach’s sound saw more intricate guitar lines and harmonies to make for an interesting set of indie pop. Later on, Oranj Son brought a lot of hype following their set earlier this year at Sound City, and despite a couple of tunes which hint at the ability to write interesting, grooving indie, they feel at the moment more like potential than approaching the finished article.
The main difference from FestEVOL part one was the addition of a third stage in the neighbouring Arts Academy. With access from an internal door next to the bar in the Kazimier, the additional space, with its warehouse feel, provided a blank canvas for some of Liverpool’s brightest and best musical talents.
Based on some of the performances put in, it certainly did appear that the bigger stage brought out the best in the acts that played it as the stage played host to some of the stand-out shows of the night.
Best of all perhaps were Sankofa. A band whose clear talents have been much lauded in these pages, yet in surpassing all conceivable expectations their performance was nonetheless a pleasing surprise. This was swirlingly intense, full-throttle psychedelia, leagues away from the gauche promise only hinted at in their earlier work.
Grown-up, mature and smothered in belief and self-confidence, what impressed most was their use of noise. Where previously the songs would have dominated and the set would have been restricted by the limitations of the format, tonight they revelled in noise for its own sake. It was the bold and experimental sound of a band challenging themselves to find newly extended boundaries to their music.
On this showing they’ve found a new level entirely and are well placed to make the step towards a bigger and brighter future.
The opening act on the Arts Academy stage saw Bill Ryder-Jones and the Immix Ensemble debut a piece specially commissioned for the festival. While Bill is perhaps best known for his work in the Coral and his acclaimed second solo album A Bad Wind Blows in My Heart he is also renowned for his classical and orchestral work, best demonstrated on his curveball debut If and his work with the Manchester Camerata and Saint Saviour.
Tonight Bill’s electronic compositions were backed by the five-piece Immix Ensemble for a suite of intensely personal pieces that drew from the singer’s struggle with depression and mental ill-health. It was emotionally charged stuff that, amid the profundity, retained an easy and understated subtlety.
Lyrical contributions were sparse yet devastating in its precise articulation of the debilitating effect that mental illness can have on one’s self esteem and feeling of self-worth. When this affects someone as uniquely talented as Bill Ryder-Jones you are doubly reminded of its perniciousness.
Emotion tightened its grasp for the set closer in which Bill recounted his feelings of letting those closest to him down while the mournful sounds of the cello provided perfectly pitched accompaniment. It is fair to say that there wasn’t a dry eye in the room.
There are few musicians anywhere blessed with the talents that Bill Ryder-Jones possesses, that rare ability to express the profound through simplicity. His false-modesty is charming but perhaps holds him back. If he won’t shout his talent from the rooftops, we’ll be more than happy to do it for him.
In the club Holy Thursday provided further affirmation that the many plaudits have not been misplaced. Blending 60s psychedelia with delicious Beach Boys influenced vocal harmonies they revealed a swaggering confidence and an assuredness that grew with their set. Throw in some memorable guitar wig-outs and there is further evidence of a band on the rise. In My Mind, awash with synths and crunching guitar was a real stand out, leading into the juggernaut of a set closer in She.
Next up, GIT Award 2015 nominee Xam Volo made for a nice change from the usual of indie, rock and pop with his modern take on soul. Standing behind a vintage microphone and clad completely in black, the songwriter has the look of a superstar already, and if tracks such as Sapphires and the enormous Breathe Slowly are anything to go by, it’s surely only a matter of time before he is one. His rich, dynamic vocals hint at What’s Going On era Marvin Gaye, and soar above his band, who themselves have a huge, full sound with walls of guitar accompanied by an impressive saxophonist.
It wasn’t a night free of missteps however. We’ve long had a soft-spot for LIVES and considered them one of the best emerging talents in our city yet tonight felt like an unwelcome evolution of their sound. There was a newly found confidence and clear definition to their sound, it was just that it didn’t quite do it for us.
It was difficult to see past the singer’s affected American drawl and urbanised vocal delivery. It was slightly off-putting and wreaked of disingenuous inauthenticity. We’re not writing them off though, as they are clearly a talented bunch, but might urge them to be confident in their own voice rather than someone else’s.
Clearly a talented bunch Gulf always seem a band threatening to take the next step but never quite seem to make it. Tonight’s performance offers an indication of why that might be. Often likened to Tame Impala yet there was little evidence of Kevin Parker’s technicolour theatrics on display.
Perhaps their performances seem too reserved and too polite, never quite able to thrill, the resultant effect leaving the audience slightly disengaged. While restraint, when used correctly, is no doubt an admirable quality we were willing Gulf to step up, to entertain and to justify their late-order billing. On this occasion their risk-free, safety first approach left them just unable to deliver.
Far more engaging were the exuberant London-based Pink Film who flitted effortlessly between psych pop and the sleazier end of the garage-rock spectrum. They recalled White Denim and are one to keep an eye on. Broken Men brought their distinctive sound to the Kazimier club stage. Drawing on a range of influences, they are characterised by an artful blend of pop and funk that recalls the heady days of avant-garde New York.
Back in the Arts Academy were garage rockers Strange Collective, who despite showing off the gnarly, raucous rock and roll sound which has won them over a lot of fans in the past year, fell victim to the echoing sounds and deadening concrete walls of the warehouse venue.
Outside, RongoRongo enticed the garden crowd with a set of dark, 80s inspired post punk, with gritty bass grooves, and snarling guitars. What really made their performance stand out however was the unpredictability of frontman Mick Chrysalid, who now away from behind the drum kit has evolved into a great frontman. Wearing latex gloves, sipping passing audience member’s pints and at one point leaving the stage to embrace this writer with a hug mid song, it was hard to look away at all, always wondering what was going to happen next.
Two acts coming to the Garden stage with big reputations were She Drew The Gun and Esa Shields, but sadly tonight neither quite lived up to their usual high standards. She Drew The Gun have great songs in abundance, and tonight performed with their usual charisma and floating melodies, but feel as though they’re much more suited to the warmth of acoustic guitars than the full band sound they show off here. Quirky, avant-pop songwriter Esa Shields set on the other hand fails to grab the attention of the audience, with his delicate, minimal electronics and soft vocals feeling slightly lightweight for this time of night. He was followed by singer songwriter Natalie McCool, whose new electronic direction, possibly inspired by her collaborations with duo DROHNE, shows signs of interesting potential with a move away for her usual guitar led sound.
After performing one of the most impressive sets at this year’s Sound City, Stevenage’s Bad Breeding tore the Kazimier Garden to shreds with their furious hardcore punk. However, in the settings of Liverpool’s loveliest beer garden, the aggression and frontman Chris Dodd’s hurling himself around in front of the Garden grill all felt a bit contrived. Back in the Arts Academy, Manchester’s Spring King brought their rowdy rock and roll to fire their way through an impressive set. It’s easy to see why their popularity is rising as quickly as it is.
Sugarmen will be massive for sure. Displaying a big sound that has filled many a stage bigger than this, this summer there is an understandable confidence and assuredness to their performance. However the inescapable feeling was of a one-dimensional outfit, a little bit too straightforward and predictable to be of enduring interest.
At the right time however, their irrepressible brand of pop-punk can hit the right note. With the clock hitting midnight as they took to the stage, their boundless and infectious energy provided suitable tonic to the flagging souls in the Kazimier club.
Before the restorative effect of Sugarmen could wear off, there was still time for Tea Street Band to work their magic over in the Art Academy where, earlier in the night Moats’ Joy Division influenced pop-noir had made a mighty impression. With the crowd lapping up Tea Street Band’s infectious blend of melody and big beats there was a quickly a party atmosphere.
Bringing proceedings to a close in the Garden were When I Am King, who unfortunately played to a much smaller crowd than they deserved due to clashing with the Tea Street Band. There’s a feeling of melancholy throughout the set, with frontman Joe Hazlett’s heartfelt vocals really adding to the bands soulful R&B sound.
Finally, after a solid 12 hours of live music, The Kazimier’s own Dogshow ended the night with their pummelling electronica. Without ever really stopping, their set is a voyage of music through hard hitting beats and wandering synths, backed up by an impressive light show to bring the atmosphere in the Arts Academy to boiling point. Despite our disappointment at the lack of revolving stage from their Invisible Wind Factory launch show, the duo were the perfect way to end the festival.
With this being the last FestEVOL in this venue, there was a sad tinge to the atmosphere as the realisation dawned that things might never be the same again. Certainly those in attendance were making the most of the diminishing opportunities to enjoy everyone’s favourite venue. The room was awash with people dancing with carefree abandon. Hedonism had taken over. The Kazimier might await the bulldozers but we’re damned if that is going to dampen the party spirit.
Photos by Getintothis‘ Marty Saleh, John Johnson and Simon Lewis