On its 10th anniversary, “Going back to our roots, back to the heart of the city” is the tag-line for this year’s SOUND CITY. This displays the anxiousness for the festival to perform, returning to the city after a disillusioning three-year stint at the Northern Docks. The change of scenery to the up-and-coming Baltic Triangle, along with a line-up scarce of ‘big’ names, was a bold move, but one that undoubtedly pays off. Liverpool’s modern culture will forever be associated with its rich musical heritage but the huge turnout to this year’s festival, jam-packed with up-and-comers and relative unknowns shows that Liverpudlians are as hungry as ever for new music. There is a vibrant atmosphere spanning the immense 18 stages, with over 4,000 punters (amid many more casual day-drinkers) soaking up the glorious bank holiday sunshine. The easiness of hopping from venue to venue gives the festival a refreshingly fun feel, where you can mix up your day from the outdoor stages to the intimate, from the graphics exhibitions to Baltic Market’s assortment of street food, to the main stages, or the late-night parties.
Sound City 2018 (Jessica Grace Neal / @JGNPhotography)
Nevertheless, as a young music lover, the thing that excites me the most is the real underground feel to the festival. The weekend feels how I imagine Austin’s South By Southwest feels, a festival renowned for its melting pot of exciting new music. The opportunity to discover a whole range of new artists is one that I’m relishing, and with a mammoth 400 acts performing over the two-day period, it’s a real kid-in-a-toy-shop kind of buzz. Basking in the magnificent May sunshine, Constellations Gardens proves a popular venue, which starts the music off relatively early each day. Over the weekend there’s a mix of all genres, with NATIONAL PIGEON UNITY galvanising the Saturday crowd with their raucous Korean alt. rock and Sunday showcasing promising Manc-rockers DIRTY LACES and ALEX LIPINSKI, with his acoustic melodies bringing familiar vibes; imagine if Liam Gallagher toned down his confidence and tried his hand at being Bob Dylan. Moreover, the quantity of newer venues gives the weekend an added layer of intrigue, for people not only to experience new music but experience new bars and future gig venues in this budding area of town. An example of this is the On Air stage, in whose dimmed film set backdrop Australian singer-songwriter TEISCHA shines here with her lucid sound of mellow, electronic pop, as well as one of my highlights from the weekend BILLY LOCKETT who is nothing short of captivating. The entire audience stands transfixed, in silent awe of the emotional range encapsualted in Beach House and Wide Eyed, which simultaneously show off his soulful vocals and his stirring keyboard playing.
Superorganism (Stuart Moulding /@oohshootstu)
One standout way the weekend maintains a fresh and exciting feel is among its many stages; by pithing up in venues and spaces across the Baltic Triangle, Sound City offers punters an eclectic blend from the weird to the wonderful, the local to the international. Hangar 34 presented KOLARS, an American duo whoare tantalisingly eccentric. They sound like a glam-rock Royal Blood, with Lauren Brown stealing the show with her passionate, unconventional dance-drumming and charismatic frontman Rob Kolar repeating “Is it dangerous to live like this?” on energetic set closer Dangerous. The duo’s unique brazenness could be considered dangerous in this modern era of declining guitar music, but it most certainly memorable. Displaying another unorthodox, yet vigorous performance are this venue’s Sunday headliners, SUPERORGANISM. The band are the epitome of creativity and diversity, as their eight members age from 17 to 32, coming from backgrounds as diverse as England, Korea and Australia. Tracks Something For Your M.I.N.D. and Everybody Wants To Be Famous have kick-started the band’s recognition, and their innovative sound of electro-pop is enthralling inside the small venue, infused with energy and striking Technicolor visuals. Other highlights are trio THE ORIELLES who headline District’s Saturday night with their up-beat jangly pop, and singer-songwriter MATT MALTESE at Hangar 34 with his breathtakingly emotional songs. Maltese is certainly one to watch as he spellbinds the audience while he glumly sits at his keyboard, switching from singing sweet love songs to world-crashing, apocalyptic odes to life after Brexit.
The Orielles (Lauren Jade Keir /laurenjadekeir.format.com)
Although the main stage of Camp and Furnace does look a tad bare compared with the normalised structure of festivals, it feels genuinely refreshing as it isn’t the same indie bands that you see doing the same festival circuit year in year out. In a more competitive time than ever for bands and festivals alike, Sound City has set itself apart by handing the opportunity to smaller bands to take to the main stage, such as MARSICANS, NEON WALTZ, BLACK HONEY and THE NIGHT CAFÉ that all impress in their own right, and are all audibly appreciative of the opportunity. Saturday headliners DMA’S, with their regenerative, Britpop sound, have recently garnered acclaim from the king of Britpop himself Liam Gallagher, and their performance is electric; jam-packed with sing-along guitar anthems amid more tender moments that highlight frontman Tommy O’Dell’s emotive voice. PEACE close the festival in the same room in blistering fashion the following day, as they triumphantly glide through new tracks and fan-favourites from their previous two albums. 1998 (Delicious) is a special highlight, which is difficult to describe its 10-minute live quality of quite breathtaking rock ‘n’ roll. Frontman Harry Koisser is refreshingly open about the grapples with mental health on new album Kindness Is The New Rock And Roll and his transparent, anti-rock star stance seems to strike a chord with the crowd as new tracks Power and You Don’t Walk Away From Love go down a treat. DMA’s and PEACE have certainly gathered cult followings in recent years but after these conquering performances they both show they are now budding festival headliners to be reckoned with.
For Sound City, going back to the heart of the city this year was a bold move, but it proves to be a resounding success. The atmosphere around the whole site is constantly buzzing, especially around main venues Camp and Furnace, District and Hangar 34; it has the feel of a whole new festival, unique, more accessible and more for the music-lovers. Liverpool is a city that will eternally be entwined with its rich musical history, but with its location in an up-and-coming area and its immense curation of local and international artists, Sound City’s position at the heart of the city’s current music sector is one that feels inspiring and looking to the future. With the breath of opportunity for emerging talent, as well as being a leading partner in the Keychange 50/50 gender-parity pledge by 2022, it really feels like a festival for the bands, a festival for the people, and a festival for the future.