BBC 6 Music Festival 2019Multiple locations, Liverpool 29/3/19
BBC Radio 6 Music’s titular Festival has been roving around the UK for some years now. It’s the embodiment of the increasing reach and popularity of the radio station, something that almost disappeared from the airwaves all together in 2011 – hard to believe given that the station now brings in over two million listers each week with its blend of cult classics and contemporary craft. Liverpool being a host city is undeniably a cultural coup. Sure, its weighty line-up bursts through the saloon doors of the city, facing up to the regulars in their usual spots draped around the bar. But with the cast of artists, presenters and cameras in tow, all here for a scoop of Scouse culture, the city stands to benefit.
Opening the festival on Friday night at The Olympia, SHE DREW THE GUN prove that Liverpool is onto something special. Wirral native Louisa Roach, and the rest of her band, kick off the night with a classic pop hit Resister; a stand-out track from the group’s second album, Revolution Of Mind. The melodic, cosmic pop tracks continue with Something For The Pain. A Scouse, “Alright, Liverpool?!” from Roach results in a heart-warming wave of cheers from the crowd. From the sexy melodies of Since You Were Not Mine to the grungy riffs of Paradise, each song they perform adds a different layer to their set. Roach introduces Pit Pony as “a three-minute critique on capitalism” and picks up on a theme which runs throughout a lot of their lyrics. Ending with Poem, a politically-charged spoken word appraisal of modern society, She Drew The Gun have set the bar high for celebrating new music in the city tonight.
Brooklyn based art-rock quintet BODEGA are next as the crowd in The Olympia starts to swell. Bursting onto the stage to the pleasantly noisy Bodega Birth, from their debut album Endless Scroll, like She Drew The Gun, there is definitely a theme to their post-punk crusade. Their songs lean towards a critical narrative on our 21st-century relationship with the internet as they chant “This is documentary!” to war cry-esque drumming. Their energy on stage is electric and mesmerising to watch as they work their way through Name Escape, which reinterprets The Smiths’ Heaven Knows I’m Miserable Now. It’s all pop culture heavy, as Jack In Titanic and Truth Is Not A Punishment end their set with a rousing performance of heavy riffs and pounding drums. It’s an absolute rager.
Nu-folk favourite MARIKA HACKMAN adds yet another sound to the mix as she treats the crowd to a few classics. Beginning with the more traditional folk track Wonderlust and straight into the angsty Blahblahblah, her range of styles keeps the audience on their toes. While her tracks fall under the folk genre, she throws in some heavy guitar solos on a few new songs. Accompanied by her backing band, Hackman puts on a show you can tell the crowd have turned up for in their droves.
Closing the evening is ANNA CALVI who appears on stage from a backdrop of mist and dimmed lights. A fitting entry for the dramatic show that’s about to ensue. The English singer-songwriter bursts straight into a spine-tingling guitar riff as her haunting vocals blend in for the track Hunter, off her new album of the same name. Calvi’s hour-long set continues in much of the same vein: intense guitar shredding, a heavy light show and melodic vocals that have the room captivated from start to finish. Calvi owns the stage, and other than two backing musicians, the spotlight is hers – quite literally. A finger bleeding guitar solo marks the end of her set as she uses every inch of the stage to prove how she is one of the most exciting guitarists around. With no words and guitar held aloft, she finishes the first night of the festival to a roaring applause and great success.
By Saturday evening, the festival is in full swing again, and judging from the hype in the build up, it seems as if tonight’s Olympia bill is the main attraction. IDLES as an opener is an assured move. A massive following already established following their album Joy As An Act Of Resistance. Instantly, you get the hype. It’s all there to see, from their dry wit lyricism on the political climate, accompanied by ferocious riffs and an explosive energy; guitarist Mark Bowen even jumping into the crowd at any given opportunity. But this punk isn’t just snarling, it has a heart. Joe Talbot dedicates one song to his wife and any mothers in the audience (on the eve of Mothering Sunday). This is a punk that has a statement, one that supports the marginalised. It’s punk that isn’t just style, it has substance too.
Idles are a hard act to follow, but STEALING SHEEP come out onto the stage and offer something completely different. Synchronised movements, robotic voices and glittering gold jumpsuits. When Shaun Keaveny describes their new sound as “perfect glittering pop”, he hits the nail on the head. Playing only songs from their upcoming album Big Wows, Stealing Sheep transport the audience to what can only be described as a kawaii disco in space. The set is infectious, it’s beautiful. Mostly, it really makes you want a gold jumpsuit.
VILLAGERS offer a moment of shrouded tranquility before THE GOOD, THE BAD AND THE QUEEN. This Dublin group offer bring Irish indie folk you can sing along, with rich songwriting and songcraft. With dark lyricism but a tune you can tap your feet to, this is the sound of the spring time reeling from winter. They get the audience involved, and feels like the perfect set up for a band looking back to old England.
A super group including Damon Albarn and Paul Simonon of The Clash, you’d expect some aggression and political commentary, no? Well they offer both, but perhaps in a subtler way than they have in previous years. The Good, The Bad And The Queen have been on hiatus for 12 years, and Damon Albarn warns the audience his voice isn’t in top condition, due to him screaming with Slaves earlier that week. But Albarn is as charismatic as ever. His stage presence brings a certain melodrama to the proceedings, reminding me of the likes of Scott Walker and Nick Cave. This is matched well with the band’s grand sound, a mix of bongos, violins and synths and piano. The Good, The Bad And The Queen aren’t offering the charged presence of Idles and Stealing Sheep, but they offer bring a peak to the atmosphere, with no shortage of melody.
After JOHN GRANT had taken the roof off Mountford Hall 24 hours previously, tonight is set for more musical pugilism. Even though the ‘stronger’ set maybe about to begin up the road in Kenny, this is the place to be for the cool kids.
There are none more cooler than Northampton’s SLOWTHAI. There’s a palpable sense of expectation as he enters stage left, mic screwed into his face scowling and prowling the front lines of the crowd. He gets four songs. Four. Let’s not blame anyone here as it’s better than no songs at all. Polaroid is a rasping intro and he’s into the crowd. He wants to party and so does his DJ, resplendent in black hoodie and matching black balaclava. It could be construed as menacing but the pop brilliance of Doorman takes the darkness away, Ty now spending the remainder of set in the bouncing crowd. As he is beckoned off he screams “I love Liverpool! I’m a Liverpool fan. You’ll never walk alone with me!” The hoot of disappointment that they only got four songs was palpable. He’s going places this kid. Go with.
LITTLE SIMZ is also something else. A young North London MC/rapper with a huge talent for choruses, that by the end of the end of the opener has the crowd in her palm. Her band are no slouches either. A three-piece that surf her waves of pop-hop with such laconic ease, it’s obvious to see why Simbiatu Ajikawo is ripping it up in the capital. They play the beats effortlessly, with more than a hint of nu-jazz as she toasts and dip dances across the stage. It’s a cop out to suggest that the single Selfish was the highlight, but it soars and Liverpool is a sea of hands and quick feet. A stunning set.
Finally, as the bar is recharging everyone’s batteries, the lights dim and JON HOPKINS ambles on. Facing two laptops and a huge amount of expectation, Hopkins opens with Light Through The Veins and everyone goes ballistic. There is no slow build, it’s just straight in and how it works. There is no time to engage: Hopkins is knocking all the tracks from the new album out into the crowd and it’s being lapped up. The screen behind spews out films, images and shapes that mingled with the woozy IDM beats. Moments of club land dynamism coupled with Arovane and Autechre-style programming mean this is a blaze of an ending to night two. A wonderful night’s entertainment.
JULIA JACKLIN’s name is on everyone’s lips at the moment, so it’s disappointing that her live performance falls a little flat – but put that down to an earlier than expected start in the cavernous Camp and Furnace on Sunday lunchtime. While her voice is undeniably beautiful, her performance fails to convey the power of the lyrical emotion that marks out her recent LP Crushing as one of the records of the year so far. Staring into the middle-distance, Jacklin seems to distance herself from her nonetheless enthusiastic audience.
While Furnace grooves to live music, Camp is dedicated to discussion and poetry, and proceedings kick off with Cerys Matthews interviewing ROGER McGOUGH. It’s a conversation which Matthews wants to focus on the past, but McGough’s chosen readings are about looking back on that past from the present. With a personable dry wit, his work explores the gulf that exists between previous versions of himself and who he is now.
Following McGough, JESS GREEN’s work is rooted in everyday experiences. She’s funny, down to earth, and extremely conscious that it’s the small details that can be vital to shaping our lives. Local poet AMINA ATIQ’s reading is quite different – more stylised with deliberate enunciations. Reading work about her path to recognising her dual identities as an immigrant and a Scouser, two poems feels too short.
Tom Robinson isn’t worried about over-promoting SNAPPED ANKLES, promising us “a show like we’ve never seen before”. First impressions cast doubt on this claims: white shirts, skinny jeans and eccentric headgear at first feel lifted straight from the art-rock manual. Cynical expectations, however, are far exceeded once they get going. Coat hangers and logs prove to be more than gimmicks, having a genuine role in the unique sounds of their urgently-paced, synth-led music. Their lyrics also have substance, covering the hypocrisies of gentrification and hipster culture. Thanks too to a hands-on, fully involved approach to audience interaction, they well and truly win over the initially static crowd.
But they’re outdone by PIGS PIGS PIGS PIGS PIGS PIGS PIGS. It’s quickly obvious why they’re the metal band who’ve broken through to the current mainstream (much to their evident surprise and delight). There’s no compromise to what they do – their music is heavy, dark and dirty. And you definitely can’t take your eyes off lead singer Matt Baty. His dancing may border on the absurd, but is executed with a complete commitment that gives their stage presence a bombast appropriate to their sound.
Sunday night’s festivities at Mountford Hall contain an interesting line-up. Although not packed out, those here have an expectation this will be a good night. Five-piece FONTAINES D.C. are first on with an energetic set. There isn’t one smile amongst them but the music more than makes up for that; they’re definitely talented and have great songs. There is a charm though, and there’s the feeling it’s not just posturing and that they take this rock and roll lark seriously. And thankfully so if the effect is this. Vocalist Grian Chatten barks through the set becoming increasingly confident as it goes on. They start off with Too Real and end with Big, both recognisable from repeated air time on good old 6 Music. There’s a sense of ambition and that they know they’re good. Ambition here has no negative connotations as it sometimes does: clamouring for tickets for sold out shows and a positive reaction to debut album Dogrel will surely follow.
CHARLOTTE GAINSBOURG is the last on the bill and gives a fantastic performance. The light show switches from complete darkness to harsh almost industrial lighting which is comprised of fluorescent tubing formed into arches under which the band play. It jars with Gainsbourg’s unassuming stage presence and diaphanous voice, yet it works well in terms of atmosphere. Live, the sound is harder and more electronic than on her albums. A fair few songs are from Rest and Take 2, including Bombs Away, Sylvia Says and Deadly Valentine, which is extended, cranked up a gear and made, if possible, darker, with the chorus sweeping the crowd up in a tumult of emotions. There are nods to her family heritage: the stage set is reminiscent of a 60s sound laboratory while her accompanying band all wear white tops, giving the singer who duets with Gainsbourg on some of the tracks a look of the French new wave. She ends the night, and the festival, on a high.
After three breathless days, of countless shows, fringe events and talk, the 6 Music Festival doesn’t fail to leave its mark. It succeeds in dragging the city’s creative and cultural assets to the forefront of its radio frequency and television lens, though, in terms of local benefit, it does feel like this is confined to the run-up to the weekend. Accessibility is by far the glaring issue in an otherwise seamless weekend of music. Ticket prices are just too high, confining the crowds to the station’s mature listeners; those who can afford to pay close to £40 a show on a few weeks’ notice. The festival arrives with honest intentions and an inclusive attitude, but more care might be taken in programming so many stages at such prices so as not to split audiences, or risk audiences splitting.
Sophie Shields, Georgia Turnbull, Ian R. Abraham, Julia Johnson, Jennie Macaulay