Carl Jung once described Liverpool as the “pool of life”. The founder of analytical psychology would have been wise to the fact that the earliest civilizations in Mesopotamia, Egypt and beyond, all thought of the liver as the ‘seat of life’. Jung is one in a long line of unrestricted thinkers who have lauded Liverpool for being a crucible of consciousness. The likes of Captain Beefheart, Bill Drummond and Allen Ginsberg have all recognised an aspect of the elemental in this great port city.
A fitting place then for a festival that exalts free expression, unfettered cogitation and communion with all things cosmic. Located in the vibrantly regenerated Baltic Quarter area near the docks (also fitting, as the liver is the only organ in the body that regenerates), the Liverpool International Festival of Psychedelia (#PZYK) has expanded in recent years, along with many attendant minds, to fill four impressive venues with a staggering amount of artists from all over the world.
There are tonnes of things to love about PZYK, but this eclectic international mix tops the list for Clash. Where else in the UK can you spend a weekend watching subcultural legends and emerging new acts from Mexico, Japan, Russia, Chile, Australia, North America, Europe and many more places besides. Antarctica is probably the only continent not represented here.
And what music is brought to the shores of the Mersey by this sprawling melange? It’d be easier to answer what isn’t here, so broad and far-reaching is the mix of musical offerings. The term ‘psychedelic’ and the music associated with it has evolved to embody more than simply hallucinogenic drugs in the swinging sixties. There is nothing retrospective about the concept of psychedelia and its connected subcultures; on the contrary the word now connotes a pioneering spirit, a sense of exploring frontiers, both of the mind and the music it creates.
The word psychedelic derives from the Ancient Greek words psychē and dēloun, translating to ‘mind-revealing’ – and that’s the common thread here, a sense of mental exploration and its musical expression. The Beatles, Julian Cope and The Teardrop Explodes, Echo & The Bunnymen, The La’s and The Coral all mined the psychedelic seam running through the city and this fine tradition is continued with the welcome travellers convened at PSYK.
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In a predominantly colourless post-industrial landscape, under a typically overcast sky, a kaleidoscopic gathering of thousands enthusiastically wombled from the Camp, Furnace, District and Blade Factory performance spaces for 48 hours to soak it all up.
There is high octane garage rock from hip London heads Brain Washington, pastoral acoustic instrumentals from North Carolina’s Chuck Johnson, fuzz-drenched dark moody pop from Venetian dudes New Candys, wigged-out soaring guitar climaxes from Tijuana’s Ya-Ya Futuro, melodic uplifting aural trips by way of Moscow’s Gnoomes, pagan reverberations and contact-high twitching caused by Sheffield’s Baba Naga, throbbing synth explorations courtesy of ex-Stereolab Tim Gane’s new Berlin-based outfit Cavern of Anti-Matter, Cosmic oscillations by Silver Apples, Liverpool’s own garage-rattling sons The Stairs deliver filthy riffs to glorious effect, frenzied Californian surf-jam splendour from female four-piece La Luz, improvisational axe-wielding magic from Japanese astral travellers Acid Mothers Temple, and so much more. That’s just a mere blink in a naturally dilated eye... the full line up is a rama-lama get down no-nonsense kicking out of the jams motherfuckers.
Whilst the headline bands like Super Furry Animals and The Horrors duly deliver the goods, it’s the dizzying swathe of new discoveries you’ll make at PSYK while make it an utterly essential event for fans of musical exploration. Avant garde, boundary-pushing, cutting edge, experimental, innovative, new wave, pioneering, progressive – the bands at PSYK are the vanguard of all that falls under the wide umbrella of psychedelia.
These are the sounds of seers and shamans, sorcerers and seekers, droning, thudding, spiralling and shimmering up and over the streets and across the Mersey. If, as Victor Hugo said, “music expresses that which cannot be put into words and that which cannot remain silent” – then PSZK is where to go to hear it. It’s a multi-dimensional banquet of sonic delights that gets better every year. Get stuck in.
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Words: Nick Rice
Photo Credit: Keith Ainsworth - LINK.