Liverpool Sound City 2015: The View From Far Out

Far Out spent the weekend on the banks of the river Mersey, soaking up an ever-eclectic line-up at Liverpool’s biggest annual musical shindig, Sound City.

Over three days and seven stages, we soaked up some amazing performances and some that didn’t quite come off, but one thing’s for sure, there was plenty to keep us busy for the duration.

Friday

Upon entering the site at Liverpool Sound City, the scene that greets us is one that looks as if there is a hell of a lot going on within a very small space. The first noise you here while strolling down the docks of the Mersey comes from the Cargo Stage, a moderately-sized tent that hosts thoroughly enjoyable shows from new voices of hip-hop Loyle Carner and George the Poet.

The latter pulls a far larger crowd but in our opinion it is Carner who comes armed with the more impressive lyrical prowess.

With the help of producer and fellow MC Rebel Kleff – who Carner confirms as his “best friend in the whole world” – he has a modest audience loving every minute. There are a good few who drift in after hearing the thought provoking and catchy hip-hop of his debut EP A Little Late and none look disappointed.

And now for something completely different…

A matter of 20 yards from the Cargo lies the Baltic – a huge shipping warehouse that has been converted into what is arguably the festival’s biggest performance space. After a performance from Yak that starts muffled and ends triumphantly, it is time for the evening’s centre piece.

For those at the festival who are unfamiliar with Swans, which isn’t out of the question given the broadness of the acts Sound City book, they probably don’t have a clue what is going on as the band spend the first portion of their two-and-a-half set dipping their toes in with nothing but a cymbal solo.

However, what follows is pretty mesmerising. There’s an ethereal, dream-like quality to what they do, as Michael Gira leads the swaying audience like an orchestral conductor.

But on the other hand, the very nature of Swans’ music is abrasive, with ringing post-rock guitars crashing against each other. There’s a feeling that this is a perfect venue for them too as the set bounces around the warehiouse. It’s a sonic expedition that we have never seen before and may never seen again. Fuck The Vaccines.

Saturday

The second day of the festival gives us more opportunity to explore the far end of the site, where revellers find the main Atlantic stage and the other outdoor stage, the North. Dutch Uncles bring their brand of intriguing 80s-infused pop to the Atlantic, showcasing their new record O Shudder, alongside firm favourites like ‘Fester’ and ‘Flexxin’. But the highlight has to be the totally unexpected garage-psych breakdown that ends the set. Wow, that came from nowhere.

The good times keep on rolling at the Atlantic. Dutch Uncles come back to join Stealing Sheep a little later to perform their recent collaboration ‘Be Right Back’. The Liverpool trio’s trip into synth-pop has been very fruitful indeed.

Then comes the time to catch the opening segment of a bone-shaking set from Sonic Youth legend Thurston Moore, who treats the crowd to some rawer versions of tracks from his album, The Best Day.

But the night belongs to New Zealand trio Unknown Mortal Orchestra, who find themselves in their element, marking the release of their third record Multi-Love.

The riff-led, prog-influenced rock show has been retained, but with the introduction of an extra member on the live stage and some expert keyboard interludes, frontman Ruben Nielson has become a pop star over night.

Belters like ‘FFunny FFRriends’ and ‘Swim and Sleep’ sound fresh as ever, but the band exude confidence throughout and the frontman can’t resist getting in the crowd during ‘So Good at Being in Trouble’. Without doubt the set of the day.

Back over at the Atlantic, proceedings are brought to a close in typically extravagant style with The Flaming Lips. The sight of the band soundchecking reveals Wayne Coyne’s all-in-one frog suit a little too early to maintain the novelty, but they pull out all the stops and the crowd love it.

There’s confetti, inflatable monsters, a slightly menacing 15-foot Santa Claus and a huge helium balloon spelling out the message “Fuck Yeah Liverpool”, which is naturally thrown into the audience by Coyne.

But a true one-off comes when the frontman introduces a young couple named Andy and Chole to the stage. At first the crowd look puzzled, but as the former gets down on one knee it becomes he has managed to wangle the marriage proposal of the century. Her response? “Fuck Yeah” of course.

With all this excitement there is the the occasional risk that the music itself can become overshadowed. But any doubts are blown to smithereens in the encore during a mass sing-along of ‘Do You Realize??’. A sure fire way to end the night with a bang.

Sunday

After the euphoric spectacle the night before, the tempo has been taken down as we arrive on site for the last day, as local boy and former Coral man Bill-Ryder Jones brings his lo-fi brand of indie rock to the Atlantic.

Trademark single ‘He Took You in His Arms’ is an example of a beautifully subtle pop song and closer ‘Satellites’ ends with an instrumental that is encapsulating.

Meanwhile on the Cargo stage, surf-tinged rock ‘n’ roll of Hidden Charms demonstrates that you can make a very pleasant noise indeed without having to re-invent the wheel.

Back when indie ruled the pop charts about a decade a go, there were many bands riding high that have since completely capitulated, but one act from that era are proving they are just as potent as ever, as The Cribs rock the main stage.

Latest single ‘Different Angle’ nestles in perfectly alongside classics like ‘Mirror Kissers’, ‘Our Bovine Public’ and ‘Another Number’, while there is even a chance for a kind of floating head overlord-style projection of Lee Ranaldo to make an appearance during ‘Be Safe’. Those down the front go and embrace the age-old idiocies of piss-throwing and striking Ryan Jarman with a bottle. He takes it very well and lets a powerhouse of a set do the talking.

Undoubtedly the most unfortunate bands over the weekend are those who are booked to play the North Stage. This is a small, outdoor area that is again just a few yards from two nearby tents, the Kraken and the Cavern. As a result, everyone who plays there over the weekend suffers from having their set muffled by some severe sound bleeding. With a whole third of the site set aside for VIP areas and Fairground rides, it seems like a poor piece of planning that they are not more spaced out.

One act who have enough to overcome the sound clash, however, are Manchester’s Gramotones. They can count Paul Weller as a fan and it’s not hard to see why with a brand of 60-inspired rock ‘n’ roll that causes a sparse crowd to swell by the end of the set. The icing on the cake is a thrilling instrumental that proves them to be a band with the confidence to wait until the optimum time to really bring out what they have in their locker.

There have been a numerous pleasant surprises over the weekend and a few organisational faux pas that have tried the patience (the aforementioned sound, the half-hour on, half-hour off nature of the Baltic stage and the at times unmanageable queues for the toilets). But our last act of the weekend are a guaranteed crescendo as Far Out favourites Fat White Family arrive for an early hours closing set.

The shirts are off, the mosh-pit gets kicking and almost immediately Lias leers over his expectant audience. They rattle through tracks from Champagne Holocaust  with pure power and grip the room for one last time. It’s an explosive way to end a weekend that has provided some memorable moments.

Patrick Davies

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