Two of our reporters attempted to explain the PZYK phenomenon by experiencing as much as they could over the two days. The 80-something bands and myriad visual experiences on offer left these indelible marks on their minds. Here’s what Tom Bell and Georgia Turnbull made of it.
When entering Liverpool International Festival of Psychedelia, there are a few things you need to know: expect the unexpected; expect an interactive, mind-blowing weekend; expect to discover so much new music you never knew was out there, from all over the world; expect to enter a completely unique environment, surrounded by the most interesting characters you can imagine.
Every year, Psych Fest opens my eyes to the ever-changing face of psychedelia, revealing iterations that can sometimes be forgotten. On the Friday night within Blade Factory, I reacquainted myself with NOVELLA, an East London four-piece well established within the shoegaze spectrum of neo-psychedelia. Playing a selection of songs from their two LPs Land (2015) and Change (2017), their live show truly encapsulates the hazy, girl group psychedelia that you hear on record, with striking visuals throughout the set adding to their dream-like noisescapes. And there are more than just bands warming the stages: within the nearby tents there are some amazing DJs to catch, such as Finders Keepers Records’ ANDY VOTEL’s set spinning only Turkish disco tunes, an unexpected highlight of my Psych Fest weekend.
Friday night is topped off with a groove-laden headline show from SONGHOY BLUES, the Malian desert blues heroes proving that there’s more danceable groove to be found in this genre than you might at first assume. This is stretched further in ACID ARAB’s late-night showing in District, where the Parisian DJs stretch out their North African beats in a thrilling techno party.
On the Saturday, I make my way to the shimmering Furnace stage – dominated by video walls suspended from the ceiling – to catch L.A. wanderers COSMONAUTS, who describe themselves as “too psychedelic to be punk, too punk to be psychedelic”. It’s dark, it’s booming, and it gets you hooked: just like superior shoegaze should do. I turn around at one point away from the stage to see someone dressed as a panda dancing with random punters on the front row, which can tell you a lot about the spontaneity and madness of Psych Fest (or PZYK, whatever you want to call it).
Outside District, a queue is forming for PIGS PIGS PIGS PIGS PIGS PIGS PIGS, who I’ve heard a lot about but never properly listened to. I manage to catch a few songs of their set, and it’s enough: a doomy juggernaut of sound hits me when they get up to full speed, the Newcastle five-piece kicking, screaming and half-naked as they take PZYK for a trip into the heavier side of psychedelia, bordering on doom and stoner metal.
Later on in the evening things take a turn towards the mellower end of the spectrum, in the company of Chilean dreamscape lords THE HOLYDRUG COUPLE. Like most bands on the Sacred Bones label, they certainly don’t disappoint. The Latin duo create an ethereal soundscape of noise that hypnotises you from the first chord, and stays with you forever. This is followed by the long-awaited appearance of THE BLACK ANGELS at this festival, which comes in the charged atmosphere of the Furnace, a setting purpose built for their earthy-yet-trippy rock aesthetic.
Just when I think I’ve seen all the festival has to offer, I poke my nose inside the Bold Street Bedouin Boudoir tent to catch a secret set from ACID HOUSE RAGAS (aka Rishi Dhir, sitar player from Elephant Stone). Comprising a traditional Indian sitar jam session set to otherworldly drones within the Moroccan shisha-tent atmosphere, this is a breath of fresh air from the assault of sound coming from the festival’s four stages.
And then, like that, it disappears, leaving you wondering if you’ve imagined it all.
Georgia Turnbull / @jurrjurrtbull
There are people in this world who say you can’t put pineapple on pizza, but who can really say for sure? How do the rest of us learn their rules, do they even want us to, and are they happy now? It’s the kinda thing that can stalk a niche-fest reveller, rarely more than here, this time, which seems to take a more serious breed of dough-head to truly master the toppings. Margherita psych, despite going down pretty well last year, is not on the board.
Which arguably is where the field levels and all things are possible again. First case in point: an accidental sortie into some chugging, swirling mountain bop or other. Now, we’d probably fall somewhere between the Psych For Fuckwits textbook and being safe to roam the streets of Camp, Furnace and so on unaccompanied, and it’s briefly got us running for the hills: we don’t know what it is, but we feel we’ve seen it somewhere (here) before. This time, it turns out to be the exception that proves the consistently flouted ‘rule’ (we think).
Second case in point: TRÄD, GRÄS OCH STENAR. Too old to be facsimiles, too lengthy of track to form a pattern, too locked-in to fit in. Having yet to complete the ‘prog’ chapter of the set text let alone sit the module on jazz, we take those terms in vain – but impressions are nonetheless made. These ever-evolving Swedes (per second-hand ‘knowledge’) build their world around you, no map provided, no sense of direction, to a beat rendered with a physicality that suggests playing backwards while being reversed in real time. It’s glorious, and new around here. Maybe to know more, to know even what, would be to feel less.
If that’s lesser-trodden terrain, IL SOGNO DEL MARINAIO speak a zombie language. Their intra-band roleplay, skew-whiff vocalising, not-of-this-parish mannerisms and, again, originality of physicality (the bass is attacked like a drum) are a fruity twist for the palate, a moment of sweet Aloha. But, why?
Out we spit, towards Blade, towards the flame, at some point before or after. Therein, masked figures stare us down – faces melted of flesh, who played too close to the fire, who came to show a picture of tomorrow when the wind could change. White noise encircles these porcine avatars. It’s a battle of wills, abominable feedbacked scarecrows vs folk who enjoy nightmares, with delirious consequences. This was GRIM BRIDES – no, still is. No one’s playing but no one’s twitching. Maybe these statuesque onlookers are too scared to run, too psyched to “psych”. It isn’t “psych” (per assumptions), so much as a lesser-trodden pathway in psyches. Some people out there are iffy about seafood on pizza but more would balk at adding human flesh, which is more or less what we’re assessing. It isn’t some accepted, tasteful genre-tick. Grim Brides’ masks become them, or put a lens on our eyes, or offer a way of seeing.
By all means keep in mind the great mistakes of your life up to now. There’d been an approach to PZYK cuisine, for instance, that held sway at one time: that of the quickest fix. Mug’s game – the path of least resistance was undercooked and overrated. No, no: good things come to those who commit to a long-player, which on days like these isn’t dead time. Things that matter are chopped and cooked. Analysis, in that corridor of uncertainty between Furnace and Blade, is worthwhile. Issues from genres past are resolved. We find a place in history for a former star of the American Hot scene, who we’ve seen here psyching away.
You once knew – or at least found uptown 18 months ago – GNOD to be a repository for all your mistakes and regrets. They’d been depleted uranium, scrap metal, all your waste product, all your worst traits in ghastly proximity. Now, with a different vocalist, they’re enunciating the space surrounding the painfully contorted shapes they threw last time. They’re blasting a black hole that we hurtle through as they stand guard unwilling to help. They’re overloading your Meatball Feast. They’re laughing attendants of a gruelling torture-ride, rattling the cage, yet you feel so small that the rattles are distant tremors. You’ve heard them louder, but never so imposing. Gnod are a towering house of hollows you’ll never hear the end of. The zombie linguists, however, are about to be rationalised.
Three different players are teaching the malleus, incus and stapes to multitask. Keys manipulate your innards. Squiggly motifs have you seeing stars and samples of memories.
Oh, but there actually are, earlier, stars about your bonce, birds tweeting and space hurtling by. You’re interacting in the PZYK PRYZM, cowering from yourself. There are suckers on your forehead like a retro time machine.
Snares rap the outers of the innerspace Gnod show(ed) you in your past/future. THE COMET IS COMING, reads the programme. Ain’t it just? All that you see in a lamp shone on your closed eyes, you’re told, is yours – this cosmic mania is yours. Your brain powers the visuals, and the readings boffins are processing. Mentally we’re clinging on – life seems fast.
The sax is your spirit chimp, charmed by woodwind overtures, floating like the simian shaman you ‘are’ on each dancefloor you disgrace. There’s a point where we’ve a sense of standing outside of ourself, looking at the back of our head. We’re wowed but pray for it to end. Afterwards, they’ve the gall to say the data showed a tranquil mind.
.eseehc eht fo tuo yldlob ,erehwon ruoy otni ,aniter ruoy hguorht thgir sedirts – seltitbus tuo gnippat uoy dniheb gnidnats ,namsdubmo lanretni ruoy ro donG fo dlihc – tlem-ecaf fo erugif a dna ,edalB otni nrut nehT
So, you’ve got the base and you’ve got tomato and whatnot: they’ll always be around. But to change your ways, to go beyond, you can and should put near as hell anything and everything on pizza.
Tom Bell / @WriterTomBell