The fact that there’s scarcely a cloud in the sky bodes well for SOUND CITY, as though the gods are approving of the festival’s decision to move back to the heart of the city. The change of scenery feels like a fresh start and there’s a frisson of excitement among the thousands of people bouncing between venues scattered about the buzzing Baltic Triangle. Whether it’s due to the sun, or the celebratory bank holiday weekend vibe, there’s a definite festival atmosphere in the air, a vitality that has been lacking from Sound City over the past couple of years. Theimpressive turnout (over 4,000 punters amid many more casual day-drinkers) shows that the region’s music fans are as hungry as ever for emerging music.
One standout way the weekend maintains a fresh and exciting feel is via its many stages; by pitching 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. One of the early must-sees on our list takes us to Hangar 34for the ‘Brexit pop’ of MATT MALTESE. He takes to the stage in a full suede suit, joined by Haydn Evans from Sundara Karma on drums and Alex Burey on bass, and over the next half hour gives us a preview of his upcoming debut LP, Bad Contestant. Watching Maltese perform is a very relaxed, chilled-out experience despite his intense lyrical themes that revolve around political strife and relationship drama. His retro look and songwriting style mark him out as a tad old-fashioned when cast against some of the acts he appears alongside, but none of his peers quite get to grips with modern themes with the ease that Maltese does.
The only way to describe the music of electronic solo artist NALA is that of a dreamy rave, a mix of atmospheric waves and jarring basslines that pack a ferocious beat. NALA doesn’t just demand your ears but your eyes, too – a kicking, screaming and dancing phenomenon who commands your undivided attention for every second she’s on stage at Red Brick Vintage.
Huge fluffy clouds float above the rowdy audience in Camp And Furnace before BLACK HONEY explode onto the stage, debuting a new songthat peaks with the line “Cross my heart and hope to die, I’ll break it just like you broke mine”. Frontwoman Izzy B. Phillips cracks out her quirky dance moves for All My Pride before she announces that the band’s highly-anticipated debut album is coming later this year. Somebody Better is the perfect track to follow the applause that greets this news, mixing the quartet’s ability to write a catchy pop chorus with their own brand of rock‘n’roll. The crowd are going mad, bobbing their heads and riding the wave with Black Honey all the way from new single Bad Friendsright through to triumphant set closer Hello Today.
Halifax’s finest THE ORIELLES bring an energetic zing to the late-night proceedings in District, with cowbells, whistles and bongos complementing guitarist Henry Carlyle Wade’s unique wah-wah shredding. They play songs from their debut album Silver Dollar Moment with such gusto and enthusiasm that the whole of District soon breaks out into a boogie. At the same time, headlining at Constellations are the raucous IDLES. Differing in sound but not in energy to The Orielles, their packed-out performance is as wild as their album Brutalism, a title that matches this Bristol outfit perfectly. Declaring “God bless the NHS”, their Fall-esque sound wreaks havoc on the venue, leaving you wondering if anyone can top that. KING KHAN AND THE SHRINES certainly can, and they waste no time in demonstrating it at Hangar 34 for the early hours Getintothis party. It doesn’t matter if those still hanging around the Baltic Triangle at midnight aren’t an authority on The Shrines and their influences (The Gories, Black Lips, etc.) because the atmosphere and energy is off the scale. One minute you’re tapping your toes, the next you’re completely losing your shit, just like various members of the band who end up surfing over a sea of hands, even followed by a rogue bass guitar. King Khan himself presides over the mayhem, exuding the majesty of a psychedelic Indian prince, shaking his arse at every audience member and imploring us all to sing along.
In recent years Sound City has become known for amalgamating art with music, and there are galleries and exhibitions open across The Baltic Triangle that add to that mix this year. One particularly unmissable spectacle from this artistic field is STEALING SHEEP’s Suffragette Tribute march, co-commissioned by Brighter Sounds and Edge Hill University to mark the centenary of women’s suffrage. With feminist power at its core, this performance art piece is a truly empowering vision to witness in the middle of a festival line-up. A troupe of around 20 drummers and 20 dancers (all female) in bright coloured masks and leotards accompany the three members of Stealing Sheep in a visually stunning procession down Greenland Street, culminating in a thrilling finale inside Blade Factory surrounded by epic projections. It’s an unmitigated success in heralding an empowering piece of history, one which is in keeping with both the festival’s and Stealing Sheep’s values of inclusivity.
After playing second fiddle to Dua Lipa and Mabel over the past sixmonths, it’s finally GRACE CARTER’s time to shine atUnit 51. She stuns the audience with her effortless vocals, the raw emotion on ballads such as Silhouetteand Saving Gracewinning over a crowd of new fans. It feels like a slight injustice that she isn’t playing a bigger stage here, especially when she signs off with the raw pop power of Silence– but that’s not a problem Carter will have to deal with for long.
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 packed full of the same indie bands that you see doing the 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 acts to take to the main stage, such as MARSICANS, NEON WALTZ and THE NIGHT CAFÉ, who all impress in their own right. Saturday headliners DMA’S have recently won the acclaim of Liam Gallagher and their performance is electric, jam-packed with sing-along Britpop-style guitar anthems amid more tender moments that highlight frontman Tommy O’Dell’s emotive voice. Indie darlings 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, a 10-minute epic that appeals to the mixed crowd – those searching for indie nostalgia and new fans brought to the altar of Peace by new record Kindness Is The New Rock And Roll. Frontman Harry Koisser is refreshingly open about grappling with mental health issues on the new album and his transparent, anti-rock star stance seems to strike a chord with the crowd as new tracks PowerandYou Don’t Walk Away From Lovego 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.
Meanwhile, QUEEN ZEE are completely tearing apart the Baltic Triangle: their short set of raw power and partial nudity in Baltic Market has a message of intersectionality running throughout, even containing a cover of Dizzee Rascal’s Bonkers. Displaying another unorthodox yet vigorous performance are Hangar 34’s late Sunday headliners, SUPERORGANISM. The band are the epitome of creativity and diversity, their eight members ranging in age from 17 to 32 and coming from backgrounds as diverse as England, Korea and Australia. Tracks Something For Your M.I.N.D.and Everybody Wants To Be Famoushave kick-started the band’s rise in the UK, and their innovative strain of electro-pop is enthralling all inside the small venue underneath some striking Technicolor visuals.
To end the night, Prince Of Tears BAXTER DURY completely packs them in at Constellations, drawing one of the largest crowds of the weekend away from the Camp and Furnace headliners. Currently in the middle of a tour supporting Noel Gallagher, this is an amazing opportunity to see the guy in a fairly compact venue, and his presence fills the room. With his dry, charismatic humour and off-kilter dance moves, Dury commands your attention. A Eurotronic, Gainsbourg-esque vibe fills the air, with his sublime band bringing an unexpected dimension to the set. It’s high-energy, sophisticated and even though one audience member behind me says he “looks like a history teacher,” Dury carries it off well. A perfect way to end a genuinely fun weekend of immense musical diversity – Sound City, it’s good to have you back.
Words: Conal Cunningham, Conor Giblin, Georgia Turnbull