Since its humble 2007 beginnings, Liverpool Sound City is a truly unique way of experiencing new and popular music. The festival which, once allowed attendees to witness the likes of Darwin Deez in the dark and dingy setting of a disused carpark, as well as the opportunity to see Strokes legend Albert Hammond Junior perform on the alter of one of the city’s famous cathedrals, it was often the highlight of any scouser’s calendar.
Last year, the festival had a complete overhaul and relocation, moving from the city centre to the desolate but charming Bramley Moore Dockland, swapping the quirky urban venues for outdoor stages and surrounding the site with the River Mersey – creating the illusion of a music-filled island. Such a dramatic change is a risky move for any well established festival, but the impressive and versatile line up of The Vaccines, The Flaming Lips and Belle and Sebastian along with an incredible atmosphere led to 2015’s event winning the UK Festival Award’s Best Metropolitan Festival.
Yet more changes have been made this year, the usual three days has been cut down to two, and at first glance at the lineup, it differs dramatically from last year’s versatile mix of genres, and is dominated by indie lad rock, as the epitome of such takes form in Saturday night’s headline act, the controversial and nme-praised Catfish and the Bottlemen. Although not to everybody’s taste, Saturday’s attendees came in abundance and the sea of black and white, almost uniformed, Catfish and the Bottlemen t-shirts gave the impression that many were here to witness the Welsh lads play tracks from both their debut album as well as their infantile record, which was released only a day prior to their performance.
The recent tragedy of Warrington band Viola Beach shocked Liverpool and its music scene to its core, and Sound City bosses decided to leave their name on the line up and host a tribute in what should have been their slot on the main Atlantic Stage – a really lovely and fitting idea to show that although the band are no longer with us, they will still be celebrated as they would have been had they performed. Expecting this to be a special and heartfelt affair, crowds gathered to witness what turned out to be quite a disappointing ‘tribute’ to the local band who were tragically in a car accident. All that seemed to occur was live versions of the bands songs were played – which could easily have been mistaken for a stage change over as there was no indication that this was the tribute, no pictures and no messages, just their music played over the sound system.
Continuing on the main stage, the latest addition to Domino Records was to show the city the reasons why they signed her, as singer/song writer and multi-instrumentalist Georgia took to the stage. Unique and interesting electronic effects are layered with 80s style synths, r&b style drum machines and her simple yet satisfying vocals seemed to win the growing crowd over.
One of the coolest and most exciting stages of the festival has to be the Baltic Warehouse, in association with Freeze this year. Floating Points were the perfect band for this setting, as their ambient, warm, electronic pulses juxtaposed with a soft, classical string section of an 11-piece orchestra fills the vacuous space of the huge, disused warehouse. The hour set allowed for musical pioneer Sam Shepard to meander through his lengthy and hypnotic trips of euphoria, leaving his disappointingly limited audience mesmerised.
The long and dreaded queue for the true festival experience in using a port-a-loo situated next to the North Stage seemed to provide not only an opportunity to stand cross-legged and regret those past few pints, but also to witness Manchester grime collective Levelz. Definitely a case of these lucky people needing to pee being in the right place at the right time as they were witnessing something special. The 14 piece bounced around the stage, creating a surge of energy as they spat lyrics aggressively to beats spun expertly. Crowds jumped as members of the group did, and enthusiasm became overwhelming as one member saw an opportunity to jump into the crowd and still manage to get his lyrics out on the beat as the audience jolt him up and down in appreciation for the completely massive sound of dirty grime emitting from the small stage.
Foreshadowed by the hoards of people dressed in their merchandise, there was no surprise that those same hoards of people gather around main stage, to create its busiest moment of the day, to catch headliners Catfish and the Bottlemen. Five years previous to this affair, the Welsh indie band had played a smaller stage of this festival, so after a whirlwind five years of nothing but good luck for the group, it certainly was a huge honour and privilege for them to be headlining.
After whipping through a few of their well known indie anthems, lead singer Van McCann kicked over his microphone in an arrogant rock and roll frenzy, met by cheers from the predominately teenaged crowd. An impulse act he probably regretted a few songs later as said microphone stopped working, a pretty embarrassing school boy error that was fixed promptly, showing that perhaps the band which seems to be dominating festival line ups this year have some growing up to do.
Unable to doubt the talent of the band, as they played their instruments with ease and comfortability, the same-y song structure can be tiresome, and having them headline does alienate everybody other than their teen demographic, however, the crowd of their fans seemed to enjoy the show, as the roars of applause following the finale of their song ‘Tyrants’ indicated.
This Liverpool Sound City review was written by Lorna Gray, a GIGsoup contributor. Edited by Natalie Whitehouse.