May’s perennial signifiers – a slight raising of the temperature and a giddy end-of-football-season fervour – bring an optimistic air of shorts, flip flops and the hunt for Cup Final tickets rushing through the streets of town. Since 2008 we’ve been able to add to that a rush of hazy revelry that greets the arrival Liverpool Sound City, transforming the city centre into a musical metropolis that’s bursting at the seams with sounds.
Well, it’s all change this year as LIVERPOOL SOUND CITY’s annual party moves to a whole new setting with a whole new set-up. Gone is the SXSW-style metropolitan venue orgy with which the festival made its name, as the festival site moves north of the city centre to Bramley-Moore Dock, in the deserted expanses of the once-bustling Vauxhall area. Bramley-Moore Dock was once one of the many thriving docks that line the banks of the Mersey, importing and exporting goods from and to the Empire and beyond; opened in 1851 as a coal dock, it closed in 1988 after Thatcher’s closure of South Lancashire’s coal mines. Now a part of Liverpool Waters Regeneration Scheme, this semi-derelict post-industrial dockland will be transformed between 21st and 24th May as the home of the new-look Sound City.
The site at Bramley-Moore Dock is perfectly situated to give commanding views over the river Mersey, and the main Atlantic Stage will have the perfect backdrop in the city’s iconic skyline. Warehouses will be pressed back into action to house the festival’s array of musical talent, with more tents and open-air stages erected across the site to house all that Sound City has to offer this year. Under the direction of acclaimed festival set designers STAX Creations, along with help from LJMU’s Spatial Design Programme and co-founder/curator of Festival No. 6 Luke Bainbridge, the Bramley-Moore Dock site will turned into a post-apocalyptic environment that reflects the area’s former glory days. Speaking of this year’s reload, Sound City CEO Dave Pichilingi promised a massive and credible line-up, and boy have they delivered. With enough music to keep you occupied for three months never mind three days, it is our job at Bido Lito! Towers to guide you through the myriad strands of Sound City’s 2015 programme and pick out some highlights for you.
Of all the bands tagged by certain quarters of the music press as “saviours of real rock’n’roll”, Friday night Atlantic Stage headliners THE VACCINES are the ones with the most punch. With their first two albums they made their name making uncomplicated, slick CBGBs approximations, not the lumpen lad rock usually associated with the messianic tag. They continue their one-band garage rock revival with album number three, English Grafitti (released on 26th May). Finishing Saturday’s proceedings on the main stage are glitter-ball psych maestros THE FLAMING LIPS (pictured), apparently “one of the fifty bands you must see before you die”. Most recently the Oklahoma troupe have been reworking classic albums and collaborating with a host of “Heady Fwends” on various projects, including their mildly controversial hook-up with Miley Cyrus. Wayne Coyne’s crazed antics – and indeed ticker-tape cannons and giant zorbing ball – are perfectly suited to festival send-offs, so make sure you’re well positioned to soak it all up. Indie darlings is a label applied to far too many bands, but if any one group is deserving of the label it’s Sound City’s third and final headliner, BELLE AND SEBASTIAN.
If the more sonically abrasive elements are more your schtick, then look no further than NYC’s premier avant-garde noiseniks SWANS on the Baltic Stage. Survivors of the brief but fertile no-wave scene, they have even been found bothering the UK Top 40 with last year’s decibel-heavy To Be Kind. Contenders for one of the best hardcore acts in the business, FUCKED UP were last seen wreaking havoc in Liverpool in the not-long-for-this-world Kaz at Sound City in 2011. Mr Damian et al are therefore no strangers to the wanton havoc that Sound City crowds thrive on. After slaying the Garage two years ago, fellow Sound City veterans UNKNOWN MORTAL ORCHESTRA bring some of the hazy psych sounds required at any event in Liverpool, making them an act not to miss. Other Sound City returnees include Mercury and Ivor Novello nominees EVERYTHING EVERYTHING – whose constant quest to bring a touch of ambition back to pop has paid off on their supremely anticipated third album Get To Heaven – while Sean Lennon and Charlotte Kemp Muhl’s THE GHOST OF A SABER TOOTH TIGER (pictured) received plenty of love when they played in the city in September, and you can only see that love-in increasing in intensity here.
There’s also ample room on Sound City’s stages this years for some rock music veterans to show the new crowd that they’ve still got more than enough to bring to the table. Following on from his keynote address at the 2014 Sound City Conference, Sonic Youth guru THURSTON MOORE brings his band with him this time for an ear-screeching ride. THE CRIBS are still plugging away on the sweaty venue circuit, albeit without as much vigour as they used to be able to muster. The sibling trio released their sixth album, For All My Sisters, in March, showing signs that they’re not letting up yet. GAZ COOMBES has continued his post-Supergrass run of form, with this year’s solo record Matador proving to be a slow-burning hit with critics and fans.
Liverpool is of course well known for its clubbing culture, so the powers that be at Sound City have obliged with a Late Night Warehouse Party that runs until 3am on each night of the festival this year. Punks du jour FAT WHITE FAMILY bring their “truly obnoxious stage shows” and onstage nudity to Sunday’s late night event, helping to prove that rock music can still mean something more existentially in an age when it feels like everything’s already been done before. Ellesmere Port lad and Yeezy affiliate EVIAN CHRIST – a man who is yet to put a foot wrong no matter where he plays – brings the party to the warehouse on Saturday night, while the legendary RONI SIZE is charged with setting the tempo for Friday night’s early-hours raving.
It wouldn’t be a Liverpool festival without a super healthy dose of local acts, and there is an inordinate amount of gems to check out over the three days, not least of which being festival regulars, GIT Award winners and Domino signees ALL WE ARE, who’ll be bringing the blissed-out Abba-on-acid vibes. They are joined by local darlings VEYU and HOOTON TENNIS CLUB, experimental weirdos and all-round good eggs STRANGE COLLECTIVE, up-and-comers THE VRYLL SOCIETY and GULF and tonnes more. It’s May, so obviously you are gonna want something that goes down smoothly with the sunshine, and THE SUNDOWNERS are worth a punt if you like Skelly brothers-approved summer-of-love folk rock. But if you prefer your tunes to come with a healthy dose of otherworldliness and brooding darkness, look no further than scene stalwart JANE WEAVER. It’s always nice to see a familiar face in the veritable sea of bands, and that’s the case here as a few former Deltasonic Records lynchpins rock up to the party in shiny new guises. SERPENT POWER (the current project of The Coral’s Ian Skelly and The Zutons’ Paul Molloy) and DAVE MCCABE AND THE RAMIFICATIONS both have brand-new albums out in the summer, and there’s no place like home when it comes to introducing your new material to the world.
One thing Sound City has always has a reputation for is breaking the next wave of huge acts, and 2015’s bill isn’t short of buzzy acts ready to be embraced by your ears. Radio 1 regulars SLAVES (pictured) may not quite fit in to this category any more, but the world seemingly can’t get enough of two-man bluesy grunge right now. The comparisons with Royal Blood end right there though, as these chaps are a whole other visceral kettle of fish. Standing head and shoulders above a hyper-saturated market in the recent resurgence of rock’s harder side are ALLUSONDRUGS, and Leeds-based upstarts FIZZY BLOOD, who return to Liverpool after their raucous debut in the city at Maguire’s in April. Brooklynite TEI SHEI provides some respite from the noise with her Noisey- and Annie Mac-approved glacial loops and elegantly-blurred melodies. King of the hype, however, is GEORGE THE POET, whose live performances muddy the line between spoken word performance and lecture. His skilled oratory is full of biting social commentary on his inner city upbringing, and has caught the eye of the public and a Brit Award judging panel (make of that what you will). We’ve also got outsider tips of gems to catch on the Saturday: pastoral rock quarter FOSSA (Cargo Stage) and French noise diviners AQUASERGE (North Stage).
There’s so much music on offer that you could get lost in it for days, but you’ve got to remember Sound City packs a load of non-music offerings in to its festival experience. Tim Burgess and Howling Rhythm have curated a whole raft of activity around the TIM PEAKS DINER housed in the Baltic Warehouse, where a Northern Soul Dance Class and damn fine cups of coffee served will be served alongside DJ and live sets. SCREENADELICA’s pop-up gig poster shop will be on hand too, this year hosting a retrospective of main man Gary ‘Horse’ McGarvey’s work. The now traditional JOHN PEEL WORLD CUP football tournament will be contested on the Sunday afternoon, on a drop-in Theatre Of Dreams on the festival site. There’s also comedy on offer, and THE RECORD STORE are hosting, well, a record store, which will feature live performances from breaking acts. And watch out for the daily spectacles and processions, from BRAZILICA and the LANTERN and SPACE CADET parades, which will light up the site in a whole new way.
So yeah, they’re just some of the highlights for Sound City this year, but there is so, so much more to check out. Only a fool would miss it, and we know that none of you are fools…
Each year Sound City runs a high-quality series of conferences alongside the music, with industry insiders and keynote speakers chewing the cud of what’s going on in the business today. Taking place in the Titanic Hotel over Thursday 21st and Friday 22nd May, the general theme of the eighth year of the Sound City Conference is the unsung hero.
Auteur, experimentalist and leader of festival headliners The Flaming Lips, WAYNE COYNE delivers one of the SOUND CITY CONFERENCE’s keynote speeches, discussing a freewheeling career of pushing the envelope in terms of musical and artistic performance.
Former Orange Juice man and indie hero EDWYN COLLINS (pictured) will deliver the other keynote address alongside his wife Grace, who helped him return to form after a debilitating stroke in 2005. Collins will leave no stone unturned in talking of his life making music and the inordinate influence he has had on generations of indie poppers, as well as his incredible comeback from the setbacks he has faced.
The Conference will also feature talks from some of the music world’s most intriguing minds. Acerbic wit and journalists’ nightmare MARK E. SMITH will be having his say during his In Conversation event, and Cream founder and director JAMES BARTON will be talking from his status as one of EDM’s most influential voices. Musician and artist VIV ALBERTINE will also be bringing her thoughts on the male-dominated punk era in which she was working when The Slits were at their peak.
As well as performing at the festival, a host of musicians will be taking part in various In Conversation and How To? sessions, giving an insight in to their own experiences of the industry. The Vaccines’ Justin Young and Freddie Cowan will be taking part, as well as Everything Everything and Renaissance woman Jane Weaver.
Beyond these conversations, industry veterans and various experts from across the music spectrum will be sitting down to lock horns on panels that look to discuss and dissect the nuts and bolts of life in the business, as well as a wide range of hot topics.
Words: Laurie Cheeseman / @lauriecheeseman