Sound City FestivalLiverpool Waters, Clarence Dock
SATURDAY 27th May
There is an excitable atmosphere to the Clarence Dock setting of this year’s Sound City festival, whilst the surreal tone set by JOHN CALE’s historic performance on the previous evening still seems to linger in the dusty air. One of Saturday’s first points of call is John Cale in Conversation, where he discusses the history of The Velvet Underground, and sheds light on why he decided to retread those iconic songs.
Shattering the insightful tone set by Cale, QUEEN ZEE AND THE SASSTONES take the stage in the Time Peaks Diner tent, getting the first official day of Sound City well and truly rolling with some raucous glam punk. It’s a short set from a relatively new band, but the rawness and the vigour of the performance is intoxicating, providing the perfect precursor to one of the weekend’s biggest draws, SLAVES.
The mood seems to have shifted as the overpriced beer flows and more people arrive, and the duo burst on stage to a rowdy reception – that energy only increases as they roll through the best of their super-catchy punk rock anthems. The crowd reach a tipping point as the band lead into The Hunter, and the bodies begin to swarm and clash as Isaac Holman (Vocals, Drums), powering through a turbulent swirl of dust, hammers at his snare and screams, “You keep it / We don’t want it”.
Over on the Cavern Stage, Irish band AE MAK possess the sort of quirkiness and quality combined, one observer commented, that they could enter the Eurovision, win, and Ireland wouldn’t be embarrassed, not one bit. It was last year’s single I Can Feel It in My Bones that pulled the crowd’s attention, but add to that the simple yet effective stage theatrics and choreography – lead singers Aoife McCann and Ellie McMahon dressed in white and cream, jerky hand and arm movements and body twirls – and you have an arresting, Bjorkian sight. Mix in the percussive harmonies and the un-ashamed embrace of pop and AE MAK were a pleasure to accidentally happen upon.
Heading to The Baltic Stage, I happen upon the second half of THE JAPANESE HOUSE’s set, whose sparkly dream pop serves a startling contrast to the main stage brashness, creating a suitably summery ambience. Subtle layers of sound hold up the melancholy, vocoder-filtered vocals of Amber Bain, the brain behind The Japanese House project.
Staying at The Baltic Stage to solidify a prime spot for PEACHES, the Canadian artist wastes no time in getting involved with the crowd, climbing on the barrier, scowling and shoving her boot into people’s faces. She is an unbelievably charismatic performer, and it is amazing to see how the slightest of facial expressions can captivate an audience.
She makes her way back into the crowd during her performance of Dick In The Air, this time via the vessel of a giant inflatable condom. It’s clear that she’s done this before as she effortlessly crawls to the tip of the prophylactic, sending the crowd into frenzy, as everyone bustles to get a touch of her through the plastic. Suddenly it’s all over in a dizzying haze of flesh, and everybody heads out to catch what remains of the evening.
‘I didn’t know Liverpool had a desert,’ quipped METRONOMY’s Joe Mount over on the Atlantic Stage. There of course was a downside to all the dust, but the wind whipped up swirls of the bloody stuff so robustly during Metronomy’s set it looked vaguely apocalyptic and like it was planned and part of the visual theatre.
‘Is anyone from Warrington? Is anyone from Widnes? Is anyone from… Liverpool?’ the front man continued, proving he’d done his geography homework, part two. Metronomy’s power is their extreme feel goodness and danceability; electronic music deftly avoiding the chill, it has a real warmth to it; Olugbenga Adelekan’s pounding bass and Mount’s cheesy bordering on Eurotrash banter kept the party going, despite an audience criminally smaller than they deserved.
SUNDAY 28th May
It seemed quite apt that, upon entering the Sound City site the next day, FORMBY BRASS BAND were playing Queen’s Another One Bites The Dust. Makes one wonder if the song choice was honest to goodness serendipity at work, or the musicians had been up all night rehearsing it specially as an ironic tribute of sorts. Either way, it raised a wry smile or two.
Where the bleak, post-industrial space of Clarence Dock suited the likes of Slaves, LOCAL NATIVES feel somehow out of place on The Atlantic Stage, as if they should be playing on a beach, with their shimmery guitars and soulful melodies. But they soon get into their stride, providing the crowd with some bright, easygoing indie-pop. The California outfit are a very tight band, and they string together some impressive harmonies, though the ultra-clean, choirboy vocals become a little grating after a while. Some of the newer, more ambient tracks, resonate well, and there is a surge of excitement during the performance of Villainy off their 2016 album Sunlit Youth, as Taylor Rice (Vocals, Guitar) dives into the crowd to finish off the song.
One band that certainly feel at home on the desolate docks of Liverpool are WHITE LIES, with their darkly atmospheric brand of post-punk. White Lies are another group that rose to prominence back in 2009, and this performance shows how many of the older songs have aged well over the decade: the timeless post-punk sound and affirming power of the songwriting still feel perfectly suited for a festival setting. The sound may become a little monotonous as the set progresses, but there is always something great about hearing a joyous festival crowd banging out an anthem like White Lies’ Death.
Proudly carrying the dance-punk torch, CHK CHK CHK offer a funky change of pace over on The Baltic Stage. The shimmery synths and disco-inspired guitar riff of set-highlight One Girl/One Boy makes it almost impossible to stay still. Nic Offer’s dancing is infectious, and the frontman seems to take a page from Local Natives’ book as he leaps over the barrier in his patented short-shorts with a wide smile across his face to dance amongst the crowd for the remainder of the track.
THE CRIBS, housed within The Baltic Stage tent, wasn’t even standing room only – more stand outside and listen, if you didn’t get there early enough. Their audience are a lusty crowd, ready to burst into song at any moment, so they do. It takes a while for them to settle and observe the minute’s silence for Manchester, before they are off again. The Cribs are in fine sweaty form tonight, proper rock ‘n’ roll boys up to no good, Men’s Needs doing the business, with vocalist Ryan Jarman strutting about. He’s a lively one, alright.
THE KOOKS were a surprisingly jolly and fitting end to proceedings. I for one expected a bit of a lightweight let down after the full in your face Cribs blast, but The Kooks kept their end up nicely. Bad Habit was made for events like this, with that chorus, and She Moves In Her Own Way the same, plus the latter gets fans reminiscing about “I remember when”. Both The Cribs and The Kooks are bands who many of those present went to see when they first started going to gigs, and, although it’s a bit disappointing to see nostalgia coming from the mouths of a crowd in their mid-twenties, The Kooks played their role well. They looked like pop stars, delivered the songs, but did nothing whatsoever to frighten the horses. Ultimately, The Kooks were a very apt way to close the festival.