LIMF returned with a new set up for the 2018 edition, Getintothis reflects on the music, controversy and happenings at Sefton Park.
Liverpool International Music Festival has become something of an institution in Liverpool.
Now in its sixth year, the festival has seen the likes of Scouse icons Echo and the Bunnymen, The Lightning Seeds and Cast take to the stage, along with an impressive list of headliners from further afield such as Basement Jaxx and Labrinth. It also gives valuable exposure to scores of Merseyside new and emerging acts.
The LIMF Academy offers some of Merseyside’s most promising young artists a slot, with Luna, Raheem Alameen and KYAMI benefiting this year.
All of this is, of course, extremely positive. But this year there has been something of a fuss. Where all previous LIMFs have been free and open, this time the decision was made to erect a fence and make the event ticketed. Plus there was a blanket ban on bringing alcohol into the festival.
Assistant Mayor and Cabinet Member for culture, tourism and events, Councillor Wendy Simon, said in the build up: “Due to government cuts totalling 68% of our budget, the council simply can’t continue to fund it in its entirety. Introducing tickets allows us to off-set some of the costs of staging a festival, and paying just £5 for nine hours of live music each day, performed by a top quality line-up means that without a doubt LIMF remains one of best value music festivals in the UK.”
With ticket prices set at a fiver, there is no doubt that, while it is not free anymore, it is incredible value for money compared to other festivals.
Perhaps more pertinently, Simon went on to say “We realise some people may be disappointed that it is no longer free, but we hope they understand that we have to think differently about how we stage events if people want them to continue.”
It is perhaps this aspect that the ticket system and fence have sought to address. There have been horror tales about gangs of kids fighting and creating havoc in previous years, to such an extent that it seems the future of the festival itself was in doubt. By charging a nominal entrance fee and adding security, LIMF’s organisers looked to end the problem before the problem ended them.
Given the cost of adding the fence, the £5 fee may not even cover this extra layout. But what price do we put on safety? What price do we put on LIMF being able to continue?
There are pros and cons for both sides of this debate, but the reality is that LIMF has changed and we now have to part with our money or stay away.
That all said, LIMF 2018 offers a staggering range of music and proves, once again, that Liverpool is a city that makes an effort to provide as much top class entertainment for its citizens as it possibly can. So, what was it all like?
LIMF has become a castle town, separating festival goers from the park strollers and dog walkers. The queue is filled with nervous smugglers, carefully hidden vodka suddenly a ton weight.
Stepping inside from Gate 1, you’ll see the layout has changed from previous years. Immediately you’re met with a huge red tent blasting out Grime and its more pop tinged relatives. Across the field is the same, a yellow tent with sets leaning more into House and its plethora of subgenres.
Caught in the middle is the main stage. Between the acts the two DJs keep the crowd lively. The overall result for the central portion of the festival is an inescapable and obnoxiously loud wall of Saturday night radio.
Journey past a row of food trucks though, and in the back you’ll find the It’sLiverpool stage. It takes some finding at first, but serves as an odd oasis.
At any other festival this stage would be for the younger crowd. Curated by BBC Introducing, the lineup is made up of the pop and rock hopefuls, with most recognisable for any local music news outlet regulars.
Day one of LIMF has a clear laser focus on its target demographic, ironically the one more likely to hop a wall. It’s unapologetically a pop festival and at least offers something more, albeit well hidden, with the It’sLiverpool stage. It’s easy to lament a loss of more typical stages in favour of DJ tents, but we get more than enough festivals the rest of the year frankly. Let the glittery, neon painted amongst us have one too.
We caught a little of Joel Culpepper on the main stage and he got plenty of punters moving and scored some points from us for sheer energy and commitment for an early afternoon show.
Mahalia was a big hit with those hanging off the barriers, especially given that many could probably relate to angst-ridden raps about teenage years, I Wish I Could Remember My Ex seemed like a favourite.
Not3s flew in from Ibiza and brought a little sunshine and a lot of bass, anyone lucky enough to there are unlikely to forget the tremors that we reckon had to register on a Richter Scale somewhere close by.
The thing more offensive than the fence was that Fosters was the only beer on tap. That said, the crew from the Jacaranda were providing the sounds in the VIP garden and gave the chilled atmosphere a perfect soundtrack.
Stefflon Don flew in from L.A. For her show but flight delays meant she only managed a short set, but she went down a storm.
Her dancers had more energy than the lads in the field having a dance-off, which is saying something. We applaud the inclusion of her track about how awesome her mum, and all mums, are. Mums are great. Even when you’ve only got 15 minutes on stage.
James Hype is the deck option of a hype man, with everything from the Eurythmics to Massive Attack in the mix he had everyone within earshot of the main stage in a massive singalong that was a joy to behold.
Example played all the hits and bounced so hard on stage there was a possibility that he might set off the confetti cannons through sheer determination. Tom Zanetti seemed to make the earth move in Sefton Park for but a few of us. His set was just a little too ‘3am club’ to fit in, just a bit too hardcore for a Saturday evening for our tastes.
By the time Wiley rocked up, the bass bins were moving anything that wasn’t tied down, we were expecting a massive reception but this LIMF crowd didn’t seem hugely moved by his set.
Jax Jones closed the main stage and brought all the whistles and bells to do just that. From T-shirt guns to confetti and fireworks he brought with him an assortment of inflatable props, while it got the crowd going (and have some of the photographers in the pit a bit of a scare) there was little life beyond the crowd in and around the stage and sound desk. That said he brought the party tunes and the park had a ball.
Best act for us was Stefflon Don, who was new to some of us but still takes the prize. The energy and scale of her set was impressive regardless of how short it was, won it for us. And she sang about her Mum, always a winner that.
Sunday is generally a much calmer affair than Saturday. We all know that. And so it seemed to be with LIMF.
Almost immediately on our arrival onsite, the friendly folk we speak to seem eager to regale us with tales of drunken teens basically passed out in their own vomit.
Having spent our Saturday night staying within the confines of Getintothis Towers we can’t vouch for the veracity of such claims, but it doesn’t seem beyond the realms of possibility.
Arriving on site just after 1pm on Sunday, we head to the True School Club House stage in time to catch Don Letts starting a 90 minute reggae odyssey. Don Letts is a legend, which makes it baffling that he played to a tent that was 90% empty.
Yes he was playing early on in the day, but still he deserves a better reception than this. Maybe a later slot would have helped a bit. Letts tries to draw a crowd in by playing reggae covers versions, some of which border on the bizarre (Led Zeppelin? Adele?), but the odds are unfortunately against him.
Next up is festival stalwart Greg Wilson, who not only draws more of a crowd, but gets them dancing as well. Wilson’s sets lately have been masterclasses in genre collision and today’s set sees hi masterfully mixing Orbital into Michael Jackson into Paul Simon into The Clash. This all makes for a DJ set which is thrillingly unpredictable and huge amounts of fun.
Wilson has a habit of uploading his sets onto Soundcloud. We can only hope he does the same with today’s LIMF set as we are simply itching to hear it again.
Just around the corner on the It’sLiverpool stage Pale Rider take their turn and stake their claim as one of Liverpool’s stars in waiting.
They play a short, impressive set, but again to a small number of people. We can count ourselves fortunate that we were there to watch them.
If you’re a rock gig regular in Liverpool, it’d be a shock if you haven’t come across this band already. Emerging from a bloated Merseyside psych scene growing faster than Tetsuo Shima, Pale Rider bring the now usual amalgam of psychedelia and proto punk to another level.
One criticism we can level at the organisers is that some of these sets are simply too short. Pale Rider were just hitting their stride when their allotted 20 minutes was up and they had to vacate.
While it is admirable to give so many local bands a platform, it does them a disservice to cut their sets so short. Maybe less acts playing a full set would be a preferable option.
On the main stage, Aurora are doing their thing. But, sat at the back watching kids play and parents picnic, their sounds don’t really penetrate the family friendly vibes and they become merely a backdrop to our people watching.
That said, her electro-pop brand would have certainly won over a lot of new fans here, and it is easy to see the comparisons made with Bjork in her performance.
— JAMES HYPE (@JamesHYPE) July 22, 2018
But then, Queen Zee take to the It’s Liverpool stage and ramp things up to almost ridiculous levels. Queen Zee are, of course, a multi-layered pan-dimensional band, and trying to sum them up in one word would be futile. But if we were forced to do so today, that word would be loud. Queen Zee are fucking loud. But they suit this level of volume, their attack and attitude needs to be all up in your face and the loudness merely reflects the intensity of their set.
Heading back to the It’sLiverpool stage, we catch Jalen N’Gonda turn in a set of superior and smooth modern soul. His voice wafts over us, picks us up and gives us a gentle massage. Hugely impressive and one of the weekend’s nicest treats.
Tonight’s headliners are Hacienda Classical, who take the now tried and tested route of reinterpreting old skool dance classics by adding a full orchestra and live singers to a set of classics. This is generally guaranteed to produce good times, but tonight the sound was way off.
We appreciate that there are obviously logistical problems in getting a full orchestra, choir, DJ and assorted extras to sound perfect at a festival, given the limitations that must be in place for sound checks, but for the first few songs all that is really audible is the four to the floor rhythms of the drum machine.
Things pick up a little, but another problem is that the general level of volume is far too low. A shame this, as it gives off a sense of defeat snatched from the jaws of an easy victory.
Haha best LIMF comment ever pic.twitter.com/GXBU9REJer
— the wilk (@BimboLimboSpam) July 21, 2018
All in all, LIMF 2018 was an undoubted rip roaring success. All this entertainment for just five pounds seems like the year’s biggest bargain, and if this is what LIMF has to become in order to survive then so be it.
The vibes, the music on offer and even the weather all came together to make this a magical weekend. All on our doorstep. The smiling faces populating the entire audience today means the LIMF crew can hold their heads up high and give themselves a huge pat on the back for delivering.
The top 11 artists and bands at Liverpool International Music Festival 2018
Young Fathers were a great addition to the festival, after releasing arguably the album of the 2018 in Cocoa Sugar, the Edinburgh trio have been steamrolling their way through the touring circuit.
The energy this band displays on stage is mesmerising, you can’t take your eyes off when they are in full flow, the unpredictability of who will take the lead is fascinating to watch. Highlight of the set was recent single Toy.
For much of the festival the It’s Liverpool stage was the tranquil getaway from blaring basslines. It’s here were Queen Zee differed from the diverse lineup of their stage.
They came out screaming, a wall of garage punk noise. There set was a shot of adrenaline from the lazing attendees, bringing people to their feet for the first time of the day.
They close covering Dizzee Rascal‘s least bad bad song, Bonkers, with Zee Davine and Smash Molly in a mutual orbit while spitting the lyrics at each other. Kieran Donnachie
Nelson, or MC Nelson if you play him through your phone on the bus home from school, has been doing the rounds. Maybe you caught him at Africa Oye, or at the increasing number of Hip Hop gigs Liverpool manages to snag. His music blends the older styles of rap music, the political lyricism of the Public Enemy era and the chopped up lo-fi jazz beats of the early 90s.
Unlike many other rappers he wears his heritage on his sleeve, making no qualms about rapping with Scouse accent. British Hip Hop feels rare, even after the second ascension of Grime, and a uniquely Scouse sound is rarer still.
It’s thanks to the few stalwarts like Nelson that we have a scene, and with him on the verge of a breakout, it’s one set to grow. Kieran Donnachie
Fellow American, Jalen N’Gonda from Wheaton, Maryland, closes out the last day of LIMF from the It’s Liverpool stage. His take on RnB delves further into its roots than the more contemporary varieties that played throughout the weekend.
While Liverpool’s love affair with American music goes back years, Northern Soul remains one of the few relics of the African American side of things. Jalen looks to remind Britain as a whole of the genre that once filled dance halls up and down the country.
His band merges Soul, Motown and everything else your nan loves. It’s not only a skillful homage but a continuation of a practically lost genre, standing alongside the likes of Leon Bridges and Michael Kiwanuka to keep the old flame alive. Kieran Donnachie
Ironically enough the local music stage pulled some of the more international acts in, such as Liverpool based but Upstate New York borne Kyami.
She mixes in a singer songwriter style with a little RnB and Hip Hop, thankfully in the least Ed Sheeran way possible.
The result is a sound oozing with charm rather than the overt sexuality of her contemporaries, closest to a NONAME or Solange in tone and delivery. Her appropriately summery and positive vibe certainly fits a park festival, and here’s hoping she sticks around. Kieran Donnachie
If you’re a rock gig regular in Liverpool, it’d be a shock if you haven’t come across this band. Emerging from a bloated Merseyside psych scene growing faster than Tetsuo Shima, Pale Rider bring the now usual amalgam of psychedelia and proto punk to another level.
Their set is breathless, with northern vocals that for once don’t ape early Alex Turner. They’re far more suited to a dingy venue off Bold Street, but fill the stage despite this and the sun provides ample excuse to break out the black shades. It’s a little on the nose to pile on the Modern Lovers references while wearing their shirt though. Kieran Donnachie
Greg Wilson won out today for having a sense of humour, a spirit of adventure and an ear for a tune.
Effortlessly blending mismatched records and genres with all the skill and confidence of a man who has been DJing for many years.
Perfect for a sunny afternoon, Wilson was the first act away from the main stage to get the audience up on their feet and dancing. I have missed the last few shows he’s played in Liverpool. I will not be missing the next one. Banjo
I know, I know. It sounds corny to the point of cringing, but the people at LIMF made it a wonderful place to be. And let’s face it, a festival can stand or fall depending on the people who turn up.
So give yourselves a big pat on the back Liverpool, you were lovely. Banjo
Photos by Getintothis‘ Lucy McLachlan, Martin Saleh, Kevin Barrett, Christopher Flack