Liverpool Sound City began in 2008, when the city was celebrated as the UK’s capital of culture. Since then the event has built up a considerable international reputation, each year that bit better than the previous. It’s a firm fixture not to be missed.
Like Brighton’s Great Escape weekend, Sound City (May 1st to the 3rd, this year) is as much about the location as it is about the music. Liverpool is a city that makes for an exceptional experience, using its heritage to great effect by showcasing bands in bars, cellars, warehouses, cathedrals, old studios, courtyards, loft spaces and theatres.
With 350 bands from more than 20 countries, plus a range of interesting and engaging lectures, forums and seminars, you can learn about the music game and then delve straight into it. The organisers keep the keynote speakers world-class again, with the legendary John Cale and Thurston Moore talking to packed function rooms.
The line-up is a thick blend of illustrious international acts and new talent, and ambling around the city’s iconic streets in search of the next gig serves for a boss weekend. All the venues are within a five-minute walk of the Central train station, and all are distinct. You can stray into one place and catch the delicate and mature songs of someone like Megan Dixon-Hood, or try another and get Scottish mod revivalists Soldier On smashing through a raucous set.
Highlights of the unknowns include the South Korean band Asian Chairshot, who defy their early slot to get the crowd convinced with frenetic guitars and rock-heroic posturing. Others on the fringe and creating a splash are Irish R&B group The Whereabouts, whose Cavern-like setting proves perfect for their garage racket. In terms of a space, this was a venue that didn’t allow for any, as the band’s playing power relentlessly pulls the crowd out of the dark cellar corners and into their moment. They rip through stock cover ‘Louie Louie’ at the climax, grinding it into the ground with a well-heeled signature.
From that meteoric burn to something more sedate, as Ajimal’s gorgeous lilt seduces its audience with a soothing concoction of pianos, harps, and ethereal delivery. Elsewhere, Johnny Sands convinces the crowds at the Kazimer Gardens with a tight knit band behind him.
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Fat White Family
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Down cobbled streets, dilapidated Georgian townhouses and dockyard storage spaces, the night kicks in with music from every quarter. The Anglican cathedral is a strangely beautiful environment to catch a bona-fide star, and Albert Hammond Jr. (pictured, main) rises to the occasion. He arrives where others fall short, and scorches through a generous set.
Jimi Goodwin playing solo sounds too much like Doves for the crowd not to feel a twinge of regret that it wasn’t them up on stage. But he gives a good account of himself on his own, nonetheless.
Le Vasco is uncompromising – the kind of performance that works well in festivals, as they arrive to take it on. In the French act’s favour, this crowd seems to connect with that attitude, though the cacophonic approach is occasionally a bit uncomfortable, like witnessing a spontaneous maniac shouting at an invisible spook in the high street. This is tempered by the journey Nottingham’s Kogumaza take you on: Godspeed-like exhilaration narrates these tracks, which pulse through a motionless crowd.
Locals Ex-Easter Island Head craft a minimalist ambience that colours Liverpool’s night sky as the crowd sways on unsteady feet. The Amazing Snakeheads dial up the posturing and bang out a darkly decent set, while Fat White Family divide their audience, their disenchanted and shambolic brand of anti-folk rock forcing some people to leave whilst others simply gawp in wonder.
Overall, Sound City 2014 sees a strong line-up of disparate acts collude into textures of sound and psycho-geography – a weekend to lose yourself and feel fully ‘banded-out’ by the close. “Well sound,” as a Scouser might say.
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Words: Nick Rice and Howard Scott
Albert Hammond, Jr photo: Michelle Roberts
Fat White Family photo: Andrew Hughes