As Liverpool Music Week drew to a close with Gang of Four, Deerhunter and All We Are, Getintothis’ Paul Higham and Adam Lowerson were there to catch the action.
Catching a brief moment with Deerhunter‘s Bradford Cox just after Fraser A. Gorman‘s set proved insightful and revealing. Among various revelations was that “there are no good bands in 2015“. In many ways Liverpool Music Week‘s raison d’être has been to introduce new and emerging artists as well as celebrating more established performers that so were Cox‘s assertion of a current drought to be true what would be the point of the festival.
Surely it is the point of festivals such as this to disprove as baseless such assertions of the curmudgeonly and cynical. Certainly the week-long festival has celebrated the established as evidenced by the standout performances of Richard Hawley, Godspeed You! Black Emperor and Josh T Pearson, yet the week has also seen challenging boundary-pushing music from the likes of Holly Herndon and Darkstar at the event’s opening party as well as the pop-punk of Best Coast.
In addition the week has seen a series of break-out events celebrating the best emerging talent. It all goes to show that there remains much to admire in music and that remains worth celebrating and making that extra effort to uncover the next best thing.
As an event, although bookended by two showpiece events it does feel rather like a series of standalone gigs rather than coming together as a cohesive whole. Yet the flip side is that it resets in a greater diversity providing something to satisfy pretty much everyone’s tastes. In hosting the closing party at Camp and Furnace it also marks the promotion of music as accessible, inclusive and available to all. The free entry all night at Blade Factory gives people the opportunity to discover new artists without incurring the financial risk while combining the closing party with a general night at the venue felt like it brought different cultures within the city together as one.
It helped to create a true party atmosphere. And what a party it proved to be.
In the prime slot on the main stage at Camp, Deerhunter more than lived up to elevated expectations. With a new album drawing mixed reviews, the group made easy work of winning over the crowd, settling into an easy hypnotic repeato-groove as enveloping ambience weaved around propulsive krautrock-inspired rhythms
Newer material, however divisive on record, blended in well with older material as the set culminated in a stupendous and extravagantly protracted version of Nothing Ever Happened. A full fourteen minutes in duration the track hinged around eerily repetitive grooves that built in a relentlessly hypnotic intensity leaving those in attendance dumbstruck.
With the set over seemingly before it had barely begun, Locket Pundt and Bradford Cox ended hunched over their respective amplifiers as a haze of dissonant and droning feedback filled the venue.
With the unenviable task of opening the party were Cavalry. As one of the hardest working bands on the Liverpool circuit, the go to support act saw their efforts given little report as they played to, well, pretty much nobody on the second stage in Camp shortly after the doors opened.
It is fair to say that the late arrivers missed a treat. This was a band growing in confidence and becoming surer of their own sound. Balancing expansive and cinematic with admirable restraint the band painted wonderfully epic soundscapes which drew comparison with The National.
To their credit the group did not allow the absence of an audience to detract from their performance and even commented at this was the best they had ever sounded. On this showing, we would struggle to disagree with their sentiment.
Fraser A. Gorman was the first performer to grace the larger main stage at the end of Camp and brought an easy affability to the event, taking time to praise the sound engineers and not to dwell on his native Australia’s defeat in the Rugby World Cup Final that had been on the big screen in the neighbouring Furnace.
Drawing an interested observer in the shape of Deerhunter’s Bradford Cox, Gorman proved that Courtney Barnett might not have an exclusive claim on wryly observational and laid-back antipodean musings. In his vocal delivery Gorman strongly recalls Dylan yet musically he draws on alt-country influences if reshaped them through a 90s indie-rock lens. While not offering anything remarkable this made for a mildy diverting and gentle introduction to the party, as Gorman’s natural charm, good grace and overall positivity shone through and carried the crowd with him.
Liverpool’s Clean Cut Kid have been generating a certain buzz in and beyond the city. Performing on the smaller second stage we’re not sure it did them any favours as the sound came across as muddy and a bit disjointed. This didn’t seem to have an affect on what is becoming a loyal following who lapped up all the band offered.
The performance is characterised by songs high on energy, reminding that loud guitars can retain a place in electronically influenced pop music. Indeed what was arresting was the volume that helps to produce a distinctive sound that combines elements of abrasion with an innate tuneful melody. As the set progressed it could be suggested that the band need an injection of variety to retain interest and to really engage, yet the heartfelt nature of their songs seem to strike a chord with the band’s fans who received each song with unbridled enthusiasm.
Back on the main stage, Mercury Prize nominee SOAK proved a big draw, pulling in a big early evening crowd. This performance highlighted the many qualities that have propelled Irish singer Bridie Monds Watson to fame in 2015.
What was immediately striking was the quality of her voice which displayed a delicate fragility yet was laced with emotional poignancy. At times it recalled the likes of PJ Harvey, Elizabeth Fraser and, most notably, Waxahatchee. The set was characterised by its atmosphere built around delicate guitar work and subtle and eerie electronics. With a hazy, ethereal ambience the set was bathed in a delightful beauty suggesting that the hype was more than justified.
GIT Award winners All We Are, of course, need no introduction and we all know what to expect from them, don’t we? Well, almost. Alongside impeccably rendered material from their debut album released earlier in the year we were introduced to new material as their set closed with two brand new songs.
Expressing how much Liverpool means to the band and how they like wherever possible to debut new material in the city, the songs hinted at a more brooding and darker direction. The tracks built on the distinctive mellifluous poly-rhythmic sound yet with added intensity and a sinister depth. Pretty much perfect for the Hallowe’en occasion.
Sandwiched between All We Are were two contrasting electronic performers featuring on the smaller stage in Camp. Reminding that this was a party the sets offered ample opportunity for people to test out their dancing shoes.
First up was Baio, perhaps better known for his work in Vampire Weekend. The set was very sleek and rounded fusing elements of afro-beat rhythms that fans of his day band would find familiar with more dancefloor-inspired fare. While Baio clearly invested a significant amount of energy into the performance dancing across the stage with gusto it all felt a bit too middle of the road to really grab our attention.
More successful was LA Priest who seemed to offer something altogether more exciting and brimming with ideas in a highly charged frenetically performed set. Building his set around striking syncopated beats, other-worldly home-made synth sounds and electric guitar this felt like the work of a madcap psych-pop genius. Strikingly different and hugely distinctive, this was musical alchemy in the most deranged sense.
Dressed in an all-in-one white boiler suit and a home-made tinfoil hat and mask, the sense of a mad scientist bending and creating was had to ignore. The audience played its part too dancing and really engaging with LA Priest’s set. The obvious(!) logical conclusion was for LA Priest to record and loop the crowd’s cheering and to integrate into the performance. This really was a set where the boundaries between artist and audience were truly blurred.
Responsibility for closing the live music events in Camp fell to Gang of Four, with a new line-up constructed around the mainstay of guitarist Andy Gill. If there is a debate to be had around the continuing relevance of such a revered band when stripped of its dynamic rhythm-makers and iconic front-man then 1:30am in Camp is not the place to have it.
Certainly the current line-up means business playing with an energy and fluidity that did justice to the band’s memory. Andy Gill’s guitar lines still bite with an untamed anger while band effectively marry the competing influences of post-punk’s harsh angularity and the funkier, more danceable tendencies.
If criticisms were to be levelled, perhaps frontman looked too boy-band pretty and lacked Jon King’s aggressive snarls but the rhythm section delivered with such dynamism that it barely seemed to matter. If debate about relevance was to be had it was surely swept away by a pointed and downright angry version of To Hell With Poverty,a song remaining as depressingly apposite as it ever was.
Aside from the two main stages in the Camp and Furnace, the Blade Factory played host to a free event featuring the likes of Spring King, Sugarmen and Holy Thursday. Looking at the line up, it was a run of bands that should have guaranteed to be a great night. Some of the best bands from Merseyside, plus a couple of other belters from further beyond. What could go wrong?
Unfortunately, the sound at the Blade Factory was pretty poor. Awful at times. It took the shine off what otherwise would have been a brilliant night of live music. It made most bands sound a bit worse than they usually are, it was at times a struggle to pick out vocals over the clattering, echoing drums, and melodies were lost amongst a melee of noise.
The bands powered through, though. Holy Thursday kicked things off with their shimmering psychedelia, and managed to still impress despite the sound issues. They were unfortunate to be performing such an early slot, but won over the handful of watchers with tracks such as Morning, In My Mind and a real standout unreleased track, with the opening lyrics “There’s a fire starting in my heart.” Whatever it’s called, it should be in with a shout for the next single. A real pop gem.
Keeping things holy, HOLY HOLY performed probably the standout set from the Blade Factory stage, despite having just driven all the way from Bruges. Their beautiful, soaring harmonies matched with Americana tinged folk rock had the feel of Fleet Foxes meet the War On Drugs, with songs such as Heartbreaker really standing out.
One surprise was the performance by Gulf, but not a good surprise. Now only a two piece, the band have been completely stripped of their sound. The programmed drums, bass and synth is certainly no replacement for real musicians, and the sound is flat, hollow and quieter than a breeze. Unless the remaining members completely reinvent themselves, this sadly feels very much like the end of Gulf.
Lying Bastards picked up the pace with their raucous rock and roll, but once again suffered from the sound issues as the sound of the band completely drowned out frontman Henry Pulp‘s vocals. They’re still incredibly entertaining to watch however, with their infectious energy and swagger drawing a big crowd in. Broken Men and Moats follow with two solid sets showing why they’ve become favourites on the Liverpool scene. The former’s brassy rock sound with soulful vocals was as impressive as ever, while Moats‘ fuzzy, gloomy post punk shook the walls of the Blade Factory.
Energy was high from here on in, with Liverpool’s finest rabble rousers Sugarmen topping off a festival season which has seen them support the likes of the Who and Blur at Hyde Park. Again, Luke Fenlon‘s vocals were difficult to distinguish at times, yet it was still one of the sets of the night.
These boys have got swagger, style and songs to back it up, with tunes such as This Is My Life And It’s Alright getting the packed out crowd moving. It was a set that would be difficult to top, but Manchester’s Spring King certainly gave it a good go.
With whopping guitar riffs and pummelling rhythms, the four piece’s Clash-tinged punk sound closed proceedings at the Blade Factory with a bang. They’re deeply rooted in the sounds of 1970s punk, yet they feel fresh and modern, and in a better venue could genuinely be one of the most exciting new live acts around.
Getintothis Liverpool Music Week coverage was brought to you by: Adam Lowerson, John Johnson, Paul Higham, Mike Stanton, Martin Waters, Chris Flack, Martin Saleh, Zac Jones, Paul Riley, Paul Fitzgerald, Jamie Bowman, Peter Goodbody, Jake Marley, Tom Adam, Peter Guy and Michael Kirkham.
Pictures by Getintothis’ Peter Goodbody.