Returning this August bank holiday weekend with what’s being billed as Europe’s biggest free music event, Liverpool International Music Festival’s Summer Jam, situated in the verdant surroundings of Sefton Park, promises “an inherently different festival representing the latest chapter of an ever-evolving global music community”. This year’s line-up is as diverse as ever, with performances stretching from Echo & The Bunnymen’s mouthwatering hook-up with the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra, to Labrinth, Basement Jaxx and the remarkable Laura Mvula. Surely we can all agree that LIMF is indeed “inherently different” to its surly, tribute band-loving predecessor, but how is the re-brand, now in its third year, representing the latest chapter of our evolving music community?
LIMF curator Yaw Owusu has always had an eye for recognising potential. Alongside nurturing the development of his musician cousin KOF, he co-founded urban youth champions URBEATZ, a platform for engaging young people through media and the arts. It is no surprise then that, since taking on the role of curator, Owusu has placed considerable onus on ensuring that the latest chapter of an evolving music community is very much central to LIMF’s identity. “A vital element of Liverpool International Music Festival is about nurturing upcoming, young talent from the local area – and that’s why we launched the LIMF ACADEMY.”
In its basic premise, the LIMF Academy gives unsigned artists from the area the unparalleled opportunity to perform alongside the superstars at the LIMF Summer Jam, in front of thousands on an international platform. On top of that comes the Elite Music Development programme, which serves to create a legacy that lasts long after the final plastic beer cup is cleared away from the green fields of Sefton Park. Each year three of the Academy’s participating musicians – deemed the Most Ready artists by a panel of judges – are invited to attend workshops and masterclasses on performing, songwriting and production, and an open invitation to a series of expert-led workshops is extended to any interested aspiring musicians. Since launching in 2013, the LIMF Academy Elite Music Development programme has continued to grow in stature and support: last year, two thousand young artists attended workshops and fifteen bands performed on the LIMF Academy stage at Summer Jam. Yaw Owusu believes this year “the Academy will be bigger and better.”
Applications for the programme were judged by a scrupulous panel of experts, which included Owusu himself, BBC Introducing Merseyside presenter Dave Monks, PRS Momentum Fund manager Joe Frankland, and Grammy Award-winning producer Steve Levine. Recording legend Levine tells us how he was “truly impressed by the variety and quality of the applicants in this year’s Academy. The number of entries had increased substantially, which is a very positive sign of the value that musicians place on this initiative”.
After great deliberation, another fifteen artists were selected to perform at the Summer Jam (see page opposite for the full list). In addition to these there will also be special performances from this year’s Most Ready artists –AMIQUE, MICHAEL SEARY and JALEN NGONDA – who were deemed by the judges to be the three applicants most likely to pursue professional careers, under the guidance of the Academy. These three acts will be given the opportunity to develop their specific skills, as well as a bursary towards career development supported by the PRS For Music Foundation, slots on regional festivals, press and marketing expertise, and a live session and feature on BBC Merseyside’s Introducing show.
Graduates of last year’s Elite Music Development Programme have set the bar high for the incumbent LIMF Academy class. Neo-soul rocker Xam Volo has stepped out of the shadows and became one of Liverpool’s rising stars since reaping the benefits of the programme. Earlier this year he turned industry heads with his inclusion on the 2015 GIT Award shortlist – and stopped everyone dead in their tracks at the GIT Award final with a jaw-droppingly good performance. Singer-songwriter Luke Cusato is also an alumnus of last year’s Elite Music Development course, and the gifted songsmith has enjoyed support from influential tastemakers BBC Introducing and XFM. Both artists are on the verge of signing major deals to further their careers and are therefore exemplary success stories for the festival’s flagship initiative.
While the preparations are still underway for the LIMF roadshow, with its cornucopia of events and happenings around the Summer Jam and Commissions, the three Most Ready artists have already begun their journey through the programme by stepping in to the studio with Levine for some one-to-one recording sessions – and we were invited along to be a fly on the wall for one of those sessions.
Prince-ly pop auteur Amique, inspired by the likes of Sly Stone and Miles Davis, weaves from a charming canvas of future funk and raw soul sensibilities. The openly androgynous composer, who describes his sound as “unfettered and full of frustration”, certainly caught the ear of the former Culture Club producer during their session. “Amique is a remarkable artist whose musical style is hard to define, but he is really creative, especially with vocals and harmonies,” Levine enthused after their initial bout of studio time together. Describing the session as a “day of fun”, Amique appreciates having the chance to hone his craft with people who believed in him. Explaining what drew him to the opportunity, Amique says that he applied to the LIMF Academy because “I trust the vision of those behind it; everyone involved really wants to support unknown artists. I think my career could seriously benefit from their support.”
Amique’s views will make compelling reading for the event organisers, who have prioritised the LIMF Academy as one of the festival’s unique selling points. Of course, there are other festivals on the national landscape that recruit their line-ups from the surrounding area but few, if any, offer a sustained development programme.
LIMF Academy’s commitment to nurturing young talent is best represented by the winner of this year’s One To Watch accolade. At fifteen years of age, ELEANOR NELLY has been given an incredible chance to further her musical aspirations. The exuberant songsmith has been determined to play the big occasion for some time, too. “I attended the final Mathew Street festival, and then LIMF from then on. I have always said that I really wanted to play and so I never gave up and applied every year.”
Her determination is admirable. Eleanor is understandably “absolutely made up” to be named this year’s One To Watch artist, which has been awarded to Tyler Mensah and Dominic Dunn in previous years. The budding songstress considers her sound to be derived from country, folk and acoustic-driven pop music and this is reflected in her inspiration. “I was always influenced by Dolly Parton, The Beatles and Johnny Cash growing up but my main influence has been Sandi Thom. She gave me my first guitar and that was the starting point for me.”
Against a backdrop of abundant opportunities for unsigned artists (offered by the likes of Sound City, Merseyside Arts Foundation and Merseyrail Sound Station), the LIMF Academy has retained its appeal through the reward of the Elite Development Music Programme. The defining task of representing the latest chapter in our evolving global music community is in the capable hands of Yaw Owusu and within the purview of the Academy’s established industry patrons. If Amique and Eleanor Nelly are anything to go by, the LIMF Academy class of 2015 will continue to raise the reputation of this unprecedented opportunity.
LIMF Academy at Summer Jam
ALI INGLE – A fearless singer-songwriter whose wise-beyond-his-years lyricism marks him out as a special talent.
SEATTLE YACHT CLUB – Bouncy art pop hooks abound in the harmonious sounds of this Southport duo.
IDLE FRETS – Indie pop scoundrels from Chester who specialise in slick, dance-inducing nuggets of gold.
DROHNE X VEED – These downbeat techno masters find the sweet spot between high-octane beats and swells of reverb.
PADDY CLEGG – Continuing Liverpool’s proud line of guitar-toting troubadours with a penchant for rough and ready skiffle.
RANGOON SONS – This band of melody-makers connect with you through their heartfelt and heart-warming slices of indie rock.
BRASSHAUS – A trio whose swagger comes with a flurry of riffs and sneering vocals, all pumped up with good-time energy.
THOM MORECROFT – An honorary Scouser whose raspy, gravelly tones bring an air of captivation to his honest tales of the city.
SPXKEN – Expect the poetic lyricism of this elusive rap duo to take the hip hop world by storm when they hit their stride.
OR:LA – DJ and electronic beat queen who’s established herself as one of the finest mixers in the North West.
DELIAH – A classy contemporary RnB duo with a seductive sophistication in their soulful vibes.
MARI HAJEM – Enticing industrial pop from a Norwegian artist with a huge voice and heaps of soul.
GO FIASCO – An alt. indie five-piece whose sound is defined by their trademark roaring, scuzzy guitars and punchy vocals.
POLAR STATES – The energy of this guitar-driven quartet is like a head-spinning endorphin rush that you don’t want to end.
SHAMONA – Earworms abound in the sets of this joyous indie trio, with rootsy Americana flashes giving them definition.
AMIQUE – One of the most fascinating voices and songwriters to come out of the city in a long time. Soulful, spiritual and deeply funky.
MICHAEL SEARY – A prodigiously talented dubstep/DnB/house DJ who has lent his production techniques to brilliant remixes of dozens of local acts.
JALEN NGONDA – Effortlessly smooth soul singer and songwriter from Maryland with daring jazzy flourishes.
One To Watch
ELEANOR NELLY – A precocious singer-songwriter who, at fifteen years of age, has all the talent and attitude to have a successful career in music.