This May, Liverpool’s Sound City returned for an early Bank Holiday weekend of live music and arts-based action. Experiencing a creative and cultural rebirth, the festival moved its operations to the Baltic Triangle: an area renowned for its modernist takeover of the historic part of town. Spread across two days, the event gave attendees an immersive but manageable panorama of the fast-paced, gig-hopping climate of today’s Metropolitan festival.
The venues—all within a short walking distance of each other—varied in size and stature, whilst some scheduling and organisational issues arose (as expected due to the nature of the event) the majority of the weekend’s festivities ran smoothly and without a hitch, a credit to the excellent forward-thinking of the venues, the crew and the organiser’s.
Arriving in the city as the festival opens, we made our way to the Cains Brewery village—an area of densely populated warehouse space recommissioned as an arts hub that holds many of the festival’s chosen venues—where lies a feast of culture and activity: spoken word, live performance, art exhibitions, vintage stores, tiki bars and crazy golf. Heading directly to Birdies’ outdoor stage, this is where we start day one.
The gorgeous vocal stylings of Mathilda Homer immediately stand out, catching that contemporary R&B/Soul vibe so perfectly, think a mix of Jorja Smith and Lianne La Havas. Her style is relaxed and subtle, allowing more focus to gaze upon her outstanding songwriting. Visiting the Baltic Market stage (hosted by Pirate Studios) we join False Advertising for the gnarliest set we’ve ever seen from them. Filling the room with their ’90s alt-rock, the Manchester trio make easy work of their slot and draw a big crowd: Jen Hingley owns the stage passing riffs and hair flips in motion with an unrelenting, riotous confidence. It’s been a journey for this band but the formative years have been more than good, flaunting the progressions of their live set this performance confirms False Advertising’s standing in the guitar scene, front-running and significant.
As the midday sun raged on, we decided to make Birdies our base for the next couple of hours, taking in sets from Ireland’s Maria Kelly and HAWK, alongside music from Bristol-based singer/songwriter Sean Christopher. Unfortunately as the day carried on, with the nature of the stage setting, the softer acoustic sets were overthrown by the unnecessary ambiance of background chatter and hum of the city. The chilled tones of Sean Christopher‘s first tracks didn’t strike much recognition but after pulling out a few bluesy numbers, enthusiasm grew, as did the room’s attentiveness. His music tells stories, the kind that transports its listener and reaches far beyond its physical space, trained on a vocal of slight husk but still clear and unhurried, Sean Christopher’s voice can easily whisk you away—as will his charismatic presence.
For her first performance in the city, Maria Kelly runs through a few already released tracks and a nicely chosen Dido cover. The staging wasn’t as smart as it could’ve been here, Kelly’s songs are intimate and her voice is of a gentle gossamer that doesn’t mix as well with rowdy midday drinkers, this performance would’ve worked much better in a cozy backroom somewhere, possibly On Air. Away from the obvious drawbacks, Kelly is a marvelous artist; her songs feel lived in, untouched by the world and unnerving in their presentation. Kelly’s range expands from soft, wispy tones into a sprawling transporter of emotive expression. So Far Below is our favourite of the set, taking her best attributes and producing a masterpiece of thrilling sensation.
End of the Trail Creative‘s showcase opens at the Baltic Social with Pining for Sunshine, a soloist from Brighton. Although technical issues force a late start, the set continues with a bunch of new and unreleased tracks from the artist’s catalogue. The songs are mostly melancholy and are written from a very personal place, so it’s not surprising that when performing the artist gets lost in the moment and his body writhes with feeling. A standout is So Little Time, an ambient requiem of heartfelt console, delivered here by a resounding electric.
In the largest venue of the festival, London’s Park Hotel have the audience captivated in a funk disco fanfare of high energy and upbeat revelry. Camp & Furnace is another venue that celebrates Liverpool’s industrial heritage, the re-purposed warehouse space combines a modest stage with a large viewing room, the perfect platform for any up-and-coming act to make their first impression, like Park Hotel. Who transform the venue into a full-on dance party, their music references LCD Soundsytem and Talking Heads, equally sophisticated and light-hearted at the same time. This is a band that knows how to have fun and make a statement while doing so, take closer Make it Happen that speaks of purpose beyond gender confinements: “You’re more than just a woman, more than just a man.“
In Constellations, Honey Lung emblazon in capitals their ferocious brand of alt-rock: loud and life-affirming. Their songs range from melodic to caustic, this dichotomy provides great nuance within the set, and we leave feeling exhilarated about the band’s future. Walking across the road to Hangar 34, even before The Slow Readers Club take to the stage, the patrons are roaring with anticipation—giving singer Aaron Starkie a big yelp after a short soundcheck preview of I Saw A Ghost. It’s a monumental time for the band, having just released their third album the day before which received rave reviews across the board. The enthusiasm carries through to the performance, treating the packed room to an assortment of old and new, opening with Lunatic and Supernatural, the calibre of songs present is testament to the band’s evolution. Starkie initiates and maintains showmanship with his larger than life mannerisms and potent vocal prowess, unfortunately the heavy strobing and smoke clouds do their best to cover the rest of the members, so we only see flashes. The set moves fast, allowing Starkie conversational interludes but the focus here is on the music. As the venue’s headliner, the Slow Readers Club steered a fantastic show—one well worthy of its placement.
Whilst we only caught the tail end of their finale, Team Picture‘s Birdies set was instantly enticing. Enough to stop us in our tracks and walk in grooving to their wild cacophony. Matching in marching band dress, with the exception of frontman Josh, it was a vibrant and idiosyncratic spectacle we wish we had seen in full. Ending our Saturday in On Air was the best decision we could’ve made, London’s glorious Flyte take the penultimate set before headliners Wye Oak close the stage for the day. Running through songs from their debut album, the set is familiar but still just as refreshing. Songs like Cathy Come Home and Spiral reflect the band’s versatility, and equal originality. Flyte often feel like a band out of their time, the richness of their storytelling and the intricacy of their compositions draw more parallels to groups of the ’60s, than of the now. Especially when they strip away the adornments and leave the song bare to the elements, their combined voices disarm, mixing and interlocking in a form of collaboration more pure than any instrumental could ever achieve. The audience participate a great deal, raising their voices and sharing in the performance—it’s documentation that this music has taken on a life more meaningful than anyone could have predicted.
Starting our Sunday at the Blade Factory, Sea Girls decorate the upstairs room with splashes of indie sheen and gutsy guitar-pop. They have a charisma that is easy to like and plenty of big tunes to swing your hips to, whilst exuberantly belting your lungs out. A hit with all in the room, and a perfect and refreshing way to start the day. Journeying across to the Cains Brewery site, we join Leeds’ Laminate Pet Animal for a transcendent set of expansive electronics and experimental pop. The staging is basic but purposeful, simultaneously allowing the members the facility of intimacy and distance, standing opposite each other they can interact face-to-face and vibe off each other’s flow whilst still having the ability to transition into their own self-made habitats. Programming the parts live on-stage, they’re able to put in or take away as much as they see fit, it’s a mostly instrumental set but regardless of the lack of lyrical lures, the set doesn’t feel empty, nor does it feel without substance. When the vocals do come into play, they favour the dynamics of Oh Wonder, but with an extra added three-part harmony that is just gorgeous to behold—hearing their voices catch and intertwine together is something we savour throughout. It goes beyond simple intuition, yes it’s a mixture of skill and technique but also it’s clear that the members are very comfortable together, and this translates into something more spellbinding than anyone can simply stumble upon.
In District, the programming is infinitely compelling, the day is chock full of engaging artists and talented musicians. First up for us was Brooke Bentham, fronted by storytelling and mesmerizing arrangements, the group of four head up the SESAC showcase. The songs drive the performance with Bentham’s vocal steering a faultless, emotional course through personal observations and intimate dialogues. Her soundscapes sprawl, effervesce and roar in the way that it might sound if Angel Olsen or First Aid Kit were to join Courtney Barnett for a jam session. It’s a raw, growling, unapologetic set that you just can’t take your eyes off. Brooke Bentham is a noteworthy songwriter–an artist we will follow now and forever.
Next on stage came Night Flight, a London group who craft a kindly Americana, sumptuous with detail and fragrant of texture. With songwriting depth that keeps on giving, songs like Death Rattle really benefit and lodge their rapture inside the head for days to come. Three-part harmonies add more fuel to their already engrossing appeal and allow the band full scope to make a memorable impression. Artificial Pleasure are already into their first track when we arrive in the Blade Factory, as usual we snake our way through the busy crowd and find base in one of the front rows, only to be met instantly by an emphatic hustle of movement and positivity. The band are on the eve of releasing their much-anticipated debut album, their excitement is palpable and the calibre of their material is shown with each passing song. On A Saturday Night, I’ll Make it Worth Your While, All I Got all strut with a muscular groove funk that sends twitches and pulses around the body. This set is the kind of spirited getaway that festivals are made for.
After a short interlude and switch over, Indoor Pets enter the stage. This is the busiest we’ve seen the Blade Factory all weekend, another testament to the dedicated fanbase this band has built up. Running through their back catalogue of mega hits (Mean Heart, Electrify, All My Friends, Teriyaki, Barbiturates) the essence of pessimism somehow turns life-affirming; these tracks all play a part in making this performance a significant highlight of the entire event. Their endearing leader Jamie Glass is jovial and candid, it’s easy to find relatability and revelation in the way he speaks. Altogether the whole thing is, without wanting to sound corny, sensational.
One of the last performances of the weekend is delivered by singer/songwriter Billy Lockett, as we return one final time to the theatrical surroundings of On Air. His songwriting style sits somewhere between the evocative melancholy of Luke Sital-Singh and the overarching appeal of Jamie Lawson—yet Lockett’s primary instrument of choice is the piano. The set is fairly rustic but resonates well with its audience, taking into context the ambiance of Lockett’s gentle hum and the loud tumult emanating from outside the venue, it does at times affect Lockett’s concentration yet it still doesn’t seem to take away from his music’s intention. Lockett’s songwriting is the main draw, take a song like Burn it Down, while it is a tender ballad, the power it wields to transform itself into an unbreakable beacon for positivity, must be praised. Sung from the heart and delivered with passion, it was a great set to end our trip around the Baltic Triangle on.
Sound City elevated its operations this year, while in some respects it was overachieving, for the most part it was a diverse and compelling adventure in sight and sound. One that we would happily recommend, and take on again.
Photos by Paul Dixon.
For more information on Sound City, visit their Website.