Liverpool Sound City is undoubtedly one of the most popular and successful inner city music festivals around.
The event has grown year on year since CEO and music business veteran Dave Pichilingi first launched it in a small scouse pub in 2008. Sound City soon outgrew the boozer itself and eventually filled the city centre to bursting point. Even amongst these moments, however, 2015's instalment of Liverpool Sound City will be seen as a seminal moment in the festival’s history, as it begins a new chapter in the Liverpool Docklands.
Naturally, concerned were raised about this bold and ambitious move. The joy of previous events was ambling around the city centre, from one venue to another, enjoying an eclectic mix of live music in each – basically a brilliant pub-crawl with added bands. Moving the festival away from the city felt, to many, like an unnecessary diversion.
But the simple fact is that Liverpool Sound City had to change: the festival had become a victim of its own success, with lengthy queues meaning that some festival-goers were missing out on bands they wanted to see. Add to that civic safety issues and constricting noise abatement rules and it’s clear that Liverpool Sound City, despite the opposition, simply had to evolve.
Surveying the thousands of people merrily swarming around the industrial landscape of Bramley Moore Dock, surrounded by Liverpool’s rich maritime history and the fabled Mersey river rolling by, it seems the move is being embraced and it may yet turn out to be a master-stroke.
As always, Liverpool Sound City kicks off with two days of keynote talks, panels and practical How? sessions with some of the most renowned and influential figures from the music and digital industry. Amongst many other speakers, Wayne Coyne talks about his 32 years fronting The Flaming Lips and his firm ‘fwend’ Miley Cyrus. Mark E Smith is at his inimitable best, Julian Cope expounds on his acclaimed books and cultural activism, Viv Albertine is hilariously honest, while Edwyn Collins slays everyone with his infectious wry humour, inspiring story of rehabilitation and a moving live performance.
At the close of the conference it’s time to get down to business: three days enjoying more than 350 artists from over 20 countries. The intimacy of some of the city’s small dive bars has been recreated on the docklands by means of low capacity tents dotted around the site, which alongside a vast warehouse and numerous stages, means there’s a blend of sweaty little compact gigs and big, windswept epic sets.
Amidst the newcomers we catch some rollicking frontier rock from Western Canada with Saskatoon’s Young Benjamin’s leading the fray, some whooping, balls-out stuff from Dublin’s Raglans, pummelling noise pop from Glasgow girls Honeyblood and some bucolic melodies from Aussie duo Holy Holy.
Local lad Bill Ryder-Jones draws a receptive crowd and plays some favourites alongside some typically brilliant new material, fellow scouser Dave McCabe reveals his new project with the Ramifications, Unknown Mortal Orchestra pull out the stops with a soulful and visually arresting set and The Vaccines prove to be a crowd favourite. As do The Cribs, who get one of the best audience reactions of the weekend smashing through a set list of gems, old and new.
Of the headline acts, The Flaming Lips impress with their usual stunts but the excess leaves the performance as a whole somewhat disjointed. Belle & Sebastian deliver their best to the faithful and The Fat White Family bring a predictably raucous and grubbily exalted close to a triumphant bank holiday weekend. It’s all played out on the panoramic backdrop of Liverpool’s once world-feted docks, the derelict grandeur of the location becoming the surprise star of the whole occasion.
Words: Nick Rice