Review: Sound City Festival In Liverpool

Art & Culture


This is me, six hours into the first day of Sound City Festival, Liverpool’s annual event spanning the weekend of the 28th to the 29th of May. Stages showcase a line up of local and global acts, most of them rock n’ roll. 

It was around this moment that I was shortly corrected by a local lady called Zoe, who finding I was from out of town, had taken me under her wing and treated me with great hospitality. 

“Neck ‘em means pash, love,” she said. Right. Got it. By this point I was pretty willing to listen to anything the woman was going to tell me. She had just (with remarkable ease) managed to convince festival security to take us for a spin in their jet boats. “Stick this in ya column!” she had shouted over the roar of the jet engine, while I was blissfully sprayed in the face with salt water. Through my beer-hazed vision, with the sun sitting low on the horizon, I peered across the site. We passed by the artist area and I saw a confused Sam Shepherd (a.k.a. Floating Points) staring at the spectacle that was Zoe, a lifeguard and I screaming at the top of our lungs. 

“Who needs Ibiza?” I thought to myself. 

This is the setting for Sound City festival. Stretching out across the historic waterside docks, the site is nestled amongst architectural behemoths of Liverpool’s industrial era and modern edifices to the city’s recent spurt of investment.

The nature of the music festival has morphed enormously in the past 10 years. The summer months in the UK are awash with thousands of them, and this over-saturated market now has to compete with popular international events. Brits are happy to fork out a few hundred quid to fly themselves cross-Europe and party on a boat in the Adriatic. Yet there is plenty of opportunity for waterside revelry and impressive international selectors that won’t cost you a kidney right on our doorstep. Liverpool, I tell you. Our very own exotic seaside destination. 

This year Sound City’s organisers appeared aware that to compete with the ever-expanding local and global festival scene, it would have to draw in a larger, more diverse audience. The festival approached this by bringing art to the forefront, and expanding their line-up. They had The Unusual Art Sourcing Company hosting sporadic life-drawing classes across the festival. Upon entering the festival site on Saturday, I was greeted with the site of two men in nothing but flesh coloured underwear. While one chap puffed motionlessly on a cigarette, eye’s shaded by speed-dealer sunglasses and a bowler hat, the other leans on a long staff. In paint on his back are the words “FUCK ART LET’S JUST DANCE.” People pick up free sketch paper and scrawl out their impressions. Also on the festival’s line-up was Japanese installation artist Ryoichi Kurokawa. Between sets on the main Atlantic stage, he projected his world renowned visual soundscapes.

However, the largest evolution to occur this year was to the festival’s line-up. Last year on the same weekend as Sound City, a local party run by FREEZE sold out a Jamie xx show. This impressed organisers who offered the company a stage at the festival. Rather than challenging the fledgling electronic music scene in Liverpool, Sound City would attempt to adopt it.

Decked with an impressively loud and overwhelmingly bass-driven sound system, The Baltic Warehouse was Sound City’s very first electronic stage. With a lineup of acts that would call for a sold out event in London, Sound City’s approach seemed to be to come out guns blazing. On Saturday the first act  2:15pm set was  Frank Wiedemann, one half of celebrated Ame. Having seen  me before to crowds where movement was near impossible, it was strange for the clock to tick past 2:15 and the vast warehouse space remain largely empty. Wiedemann seemed unfazed, and thundered out a deep house set that leant itself to the cavernous space. He closed with Robag's remix of Stimming’s ‘Alpe Lusia’, the crowd had slowly started to thicken. 

By the time Floating Points began and the sun had set, it appeared the rock-loving folk were much happier to part ways with the other stages. His live 12-piece show whisked everyone away in an orchestral cacophony. With wild instrumental riffs, the music effortlessly crossed genre between jazz, minimal classical, ambient rock and electronic. It certainly is a feat to behold and one that suited the rock orientated crowd well.

Stefan Kozalla, better known as DJ Koze, who, playing a set largely driven by his Pampa catalogue, transformed the atmosphere in the Baltic Warehouse from shoulder to shoulder shuffling into some of the most interesting dance moves I’ve had the pleasure of being lost amongst. As did Motor City Drum Ensemble’s predominantly disco and funk set. 

It was evident that perhaps putting the deeper house and techno sets of Ame, Gerd Jansen and Henrick Schwarz in the afternoon was a miscalculation by Freeze. It was sad to hear some brilliant DJing in such a beautiful space fall on so few ears. The warehouse did fill up by the end on the night on both days, and while listeners may have only partially been electronic enthusiasts, they were enjoying themselves by the time the sun set. The way the weekend played out is indicative of a potential space for electronic music in Liverpool’s more commercial music events. This year, some A-list selectors were challenged at working a crowd of people that knew them not for their names, or even for the genre promoters box them into, but purely for the music they were making in the moment. 

Elsewhere away from the indie rock, the festival hosted grime, Novelist and Levelz being prevalent features. I did manage to catch Levelz’s set. The Manchester group made up of a combination of MCs, producers and DJs has received a lot of praise for their energy onstage. Watching them live confirms they’ve struck something. Voices overlay a heavy bass line, and the group breaks off into mesmerizing individual tangents: cheeky and impressive solos, childhood, rap, hustling and fame. Sparkz whipped out ridiculously fast quips, whilst Black Josh waxed astute lyrical as he surfed an embracing crowd. Levelz was perhaps one of the most enjoyable sets of the weekend. 

Jolly and impeccably friendly, there were few incidents across the weekend: the most alarming account I heard of disorderly behaviour was of a drunken Scotsman trying to convince bar staff of his sobriety by performing a headstand. Thankfully he was not wearing a kilt. If Liverpool is not yet the capital of dance culture in the North, it’s certainly stating its claim. 

Visit the Sound City festival Facebook for more information HERE.

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