It’s late Friday night and our ears have just taken a welcome lashing from the first wave of bands from Liverpool’s International Festival of Psychedelia 2014. We find ourselves slumped together in the PZYK Gallery gazing at Dan Tomb’s VDTWRBBL installation. Essentially a pyramid of old TVs, transmitting sketchy, multihued images that look like Teletext having a breakdown, it’s ensnared us in a moth-to-a-flame fashion.
Against the static hum of 8-bit, we find ourselves faced with two questions. One, how has it taken us this long into our adult lives to discover something likes this? And, “… I can’t feel my legs, how long have we been sitting here?”
As this year’s spoken-word programme, Adventures At The Outer Reaches, demonstrated through its focus on up-and-coming international psychedelic scenes: a musical subculture forms from a crowd’s common and pressing need for something different. So it makes sense that when the people of this part of Britain and beyond prayed, their united voices would eventually be heard. The supreme PZYK elders answered, with, as their Facebook profile puts it: “A global psychedelic village focused on the celebration of a culture very much at the vanguard of artistic exploration.”
Inspired by the sights and sounds of those foreign, obscure club nights and occult subcultures, the festival is broken up into three performance spaces within Camp & Furnace – a reanimated skeleton of former industry, with workrooms stretching across the first floor, ideal for delving into the deep recesses of psychedelia.
San Francisco DJ Al Lover kicks off the weekend’s proceedings with his latest concoction, ‘Sacred Drugs’. The bass echoes off the cavernous walls of the Furnace and agreeably whets our sonic palate. Next we hear the transporting spaghetti western falsetto of Los Angeles outfit Spindrift, followed by the layered soundscapes of Spacemen 3’s Pete Bassman, who despite the odd technical mishap lives up to his rep.
Members of Les Big Byrd take to the stage in heavy make-up, one wearing a fluorescent jacket, looking like a health and safety drop-in on the set of the ‘Thriller’ video. With white light emanating from their fingers, the Swedes’ melodious riffing soon wins the crowd over. Using a guitar pedal as a slide, riotous psych-rockers Spectres put on a chaotic show. In contrast, Amen Dunes are slow to start, but go onto exhibit the softer, subtler side of psych fest with their standout tune ‘Lonely Richard’.
Fan favourites and ’60s psychedelic purists Allah-Las perform instrumentals, ‘Yemini Jade’ and ‘Fergus Gallery’, to a packed out, buzzing Furnace, as two unravelling roads are projected above them. Jagjaguwar’s The Besnard Lakes soon woo the crowd with the anthemic, dream-pop air of ‘Albatross’. The deep, palpitating bass of Suuns brings Friday night to a berserk close, as they tear through the disorientating movements of ‘2020’ and ‘Music Won’t Save You’.
Then: back to the TV pyramid crossroads, sounding like Pac-Man gargling a dial-up modem. And I forget the rest…
The next morning, after consuming all the tea we can find, we again venture into the overwhelming abyss and catch the end of Mazes’ set. Drawing Pavement comparisons, their loose sound is warmly received. Hangovers are soon forgotten as Islet’s heady mix of AV and ADHD sets in. With female vocals resembling the cries of tUnE-yArDs’ Merrill Garbus and offstage antics, included the petting of certain cameramen, they are able to deliver some of the heavier choruses of the weekend.
The Janitors’ “stökpsych” sound resonates throughout the Furnace, ahead of Psych Fest regulars The Lucid Dream, who draw their biggest crowd yet and seem truly humbled by the audience’s rapturous response. Sleepy Sun later storm the stage, dedicating songs “to all the people with mushrooms stuck inside their brains”.
Quilt’s woozy, folk-leaning psychedelia comes just at the right time, stirring some from potential slumber – maybe the result of the festival; more likely their diet of the day before combined with a shortage of sleepy time – and is succeed by Brooklyn’s Woods. With two additional members enhancing their sound, they through an extensive back catalogue, finishing with the mesmerising, nine-minute sprawl that is ‘With Light And With Love’.
There is no napping through Goat. Try it; it’s not possible. Goat (pictured, main) laugh at your attempts to sleep. The Furnace fills to maximum capacity, so much so that there’s a lock in. There’s a great deal of hype surrounding the band – is it all warranted? Yep. They’ve been compared to Slipknot and Black Sabbath crossed with Fela Kuti and Sun Ra, but what does all that mean? Saying “seeing is believing” is a bit of a cop out, but if you dig the expansive, neo-psychedelic world sound of the albums, they’re just a different breed live. Clad in various tribalistic garb, they’re an eruption of cosmic disco flair and arresting experimental fusion.
There’s so much more that deserves recognition at Liverpool Psych Fest, like the pop-up Piccadilly Records store, the visual trailers before the festival and the hypnotic audio-visuals of the weekend. If you’re after further insights you’ll have to wait till next September, when Liverpool’s Baltic Triangle will once again warp into a panorama of wavering geometric shapes and sensory euphoria.
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Words: David Weir
Photos: Paul Humphrey