Since a 2013 article in The Guardian coined Liverpool as ‘The Great Psychedelic Capital of Europe’, the questions of what psychedelia is haven’t stopped. Trying to grasp psychedelia, in all its various forms, is like trying to hold sand: there’s just too much ambiguity, and the tighter you try to pin it down, the less knowledge you have. Given that the consensus view is that it’s a journey to higher consciousness, perhaps a more pertinent question is not ‘what is psychedelia?’, but ‘where is psychedelia?’. For one weekend every year, LIVERPOOL INTERNATIONAL FESTIVAL OF PSYCHEDELIA is the place where altered-state junkies and all corners of the musical spectrum come to unite in a celebration of otherness. If you want answers, it’s the only place to be.
For two days in September (22nd and 23rd), the hipster’s paradise of the Baltic Triangle is blown away by a sonic debauchery unprecedented in Europe. Over the past six years, the festival has become a gathering of musos, outcasts and leftfield aficionados from across the globe, renowned as one of the best gatherings of its kind in the world. Set amidst the ghosts of Liverpool’s past, PZYK (as it is affectionately known) brings a tumult of music, visual and technological discovery to Camp and Furnace and District, split between five performance spaces. Upon entering the site, you’ve no option but to be immersed in the dazzling, warm world of the festival; as a member of the PZYK congregation, you’re opening yourself up for an experience quite unlike any other.
This year’s Psych Fest headliners prove that the ‘International’ part of its name is no idle boast. Texans THE BLACK ANGELS could be considered godfathers of the neo-psych resurgence, and are virtually an industry in their own right, with a record label (The Reverberation Appreciations Society) and a mammoth festival (Levitation, formerly Austin Psych Fest) included under their banner. The Saturday night headliners have reignited an interest in the genre over their five albums, pushing it to its very limits. Fusing elements of desert rock with experimentalism and noise, their 12-year journey has been one which has gone from strength to strength, with their most recent LP Death Song lauded as a genre-defining piece of work. The Black Angels are possibly the perfect headliners for this festival, so if you see only one thing this year, make it this.
Alongside Austin’s disciples of psych at the top of the bill are SONGHOY BLUES, who round off proceedings on the Friday night. Having only released their debut album in 2015, the Mali band have already become one of the most beloved bands from West Africa in recent time, and it’s not hard to see why. Their latest album, Résistance, channels the tension of civil unrest in their home country, merging it with a club-like vibrancy. Renowned for hypnotic and animated live shows, their blues-infused Afrobeat can only really be appreciated at one of their rare stage outings.
Pioneers in sound can be found right across the globe, sharing a fundamental sense of discovery with Liverpool Psych Fest’s ethos. As well as plucking some of the movement’s innovators from the sands of time – from Sweden and Zambia respectively (see here and here for more on that) – the festival recognises those sonic diviners who are making great strides today. In recent years, France’s cultural melting pot has proved to be a fertile place for experimentation – and you need look no further than what comes under the Oui Love PZYK banner to see why. Starting life as a club night mashup by two DJs from the Parisian suburbs, ACID ARAB took its fizzing fusion of European techno and North African beats to its natural conclusion on the majestic 2016 LP Musique De France. If you want to know what the future looks like, where barriers are seen as opportunities, then Acid Arab can be your gateway drug. The members of prog-psych supergroup AQUASERGE are no strangers to Liverpool Psych Fest audiences, and this year they get to show off another string to their multifaceted bow. And no event of this nature is complete without a healthy dollop of cosmic pop – thankfully, dynamic electro hero FLAVIEN BERGER will be on duty to serve it up in spades.
The festival sees some returning PZYK favourites among its 80-strong roster of artists – Chile’s bliss merchants THE HOLYDRUG COUPLE, the pagan Brit-psych of WOLF PEOPLE and noir electrokrautsters THE KVB among them – but the majority of the noisemaking comes from a host of newcomers. Perhaps some of the most noteworthy come from CASTLE FACE RECORDS, who have taken control of their own stage this year in the form of IRREGULAR ORBITS. One of the hottest imprints in the world at the moment, the California-based label is helmed by Oh Sees’ towering band leader John Dwyer, in collaboration with Matt Jones and Brian Lee Hughes. Having released material by the likes of Ty Segall and White Fence, Castle Face present a smorgasbord of great material from artists on their impressive roster, ranging from magic-fuelled prog (THE ONCE AND FUTURE BAND) and sardonic fuzzy pop (MALE GAZE) to filthy Gallic skronk (MAGNETIX). Marc Riley’s post-punk favourites DUDS and EXIT GROUP, the new projects of Useless Eaters’ Seth Sutton, complete the Irregular Orbits spread, which lands at the festival on Friday 22nd September with a bespoke High Castle Innerstrings Psychedelic light show.
Proving that 2017’s strain of psychedelia isn’t all about guitars, the festival plays host to a range of bass-heavy innovators as well. This year, industrial dub legend ADRIAN SHERWOOD is on course to give the foundations of Camp and Furnace a test with his live sound system, while conceptual Afrobeat feet-stompers THE COMET IS COMING try to make sense of the ever-nearing apocalypse through tropicalia-infused dance. The collision of THE BUG’s groove textures and DYLAN CARLSON (of Earth)’s maximal has resulted in a fascinating study of heaviness. Their Ninja Tune-released LP Concrete Desert treads the fine line between beautiful and ugly, and witnessing how they navigate that in the context of the festival’s theme of audio extremities will be a fascinating subplot.
Elsewhere on the dense bill, local favourite JANE WEAVER will be mesmerising PZYK disciples with the krautrock-inspired analogue wizardry of latest album Modern Kosmology. There are also sets from LOOP, A PLACE TO BURY STRANGERS and LAETITIA SADIER SOURCE ENSEMBLE, the Stereolab vocalist’s latest project. As ever with Liverpool Psych Fest, the devil is in the detail, with swathes more scintillating acts to discover.
The thing that separates this festival from the dozens of similar events is what happens below the line; where the genre’s out-there artists collide with groundbreaking technology to really bring the PZYK aesthetic to life. The PZYK PRYZM space, in Camp and Furnace’s upstairs gallery, has played host to an immersive AV installation for the past two years, and will do so again for the 2017 edition. This year’s iteration of the project builds on the traditional psychedelic idea of transportation and the exploration of parallel ‘otherworlds’: using a mix of virtual reality, immersive tech and 4D scanning, this perception-bending collection will explore the idea of ‘extreme hedonism’ via a steady state visual installation. There will also be select pop-up performances in this space across the weekend – if your brains needed extending any more.
The 360-degree immersive PZYK COLONY AV environment returns this year, after a stunning debut outing in the Camp space in 2016. This transforms the room into a trance den/live space from midnight on each evening of the festival, taking the festival’s famed visual wizardry to a whole new level. The main performance space, Furnace, is getting a makeover in the form of Furnace 2.0, an extreme video wall installation of space, light, noise and colour.
Alongside all of the above are returning festival features, including Dig Vinyl’s Psychedelic World Of Wax Wonders record shop, where all of the featured acts plus the latest psych compilations will be on sale. The tripped-out chat show vibe of MUSINGS IN DRONE will be resuming its programme of fascinating conversations on the Saturday afternoon. This will take place in the festival’s Cinema space, which will be curated once again by FACT. Inspired by the themes of excess and overwhelming sensory experiences, FACT’s Too Much Is Never Enough short film programme will run throughout the festival weekend, and also across a weekly pre-festival season of screenings at their Wood Street venue (beginning 30th August).
All of the action from the various stages will be streamed live across the weekend, as the festival hooks up once more with Californian college radio station KFJC 89.7FM. With the appetite for Liverpool Psych Fest stretching around the world, this seems to be the perfect way to engage directly with the global PZYK audience. And, for those eager revellers who are in town a day early, we’re delighted to be teaming up on a Bido Lito! Social x PZYK Opening Party on Thursday 21st September. Real Estate’s Matt Mondanile brings his DUCKTAILS project to Constellations for the ideal appetite-whetter. Support comes from THE GOA EXPRESS and our own ALI HORN, with a bespoke White Rabbit light show. Festival ticket holders get in for £5.
And… breathe. With all that’s packed in to the festival this year, an unrivalled selection of audio visual delights await – all that’s required now is your presence. Destruction never sounded so good.
Liverpool International Festival Of Psychedelia takes place at Camp and Furnace and District on 22nd and 23rd September.
Full line-up and ticket details can be found at liverpoolpsychfest.com.