Liverpool has suffered sad loss of many well loved and iconic venues in the past year; currently in flux, need the mother of invention has blossomed new breed of community based ventures, creatively, inventively ingenious they radiate new hope with their handmade, New York Bohemian Village feel, back to nature, bare wood a common theme. But what is given with one ‘altruistic’ hand; long empty properties eventually ceded by desperate landlords; is easily snatched back by avaricious other, tempted by long reach of greed, rejuvenation reaping investment interest from those with more nefarious interests, or an university seemingly flush with new budget cash, eager to boost its ever growing portfolio of student accommodation, carelessly crushing the very attractions which lure. Like foraged mushroom, one minute they are there, the next vanished into night air, stolen away in flurry of scattered spores and cocaine dusted notes.
Even given this intransience, venues participating in Sound City 2013 did not fully encompass the usual surviving suspects, reduced in number, including a few which like the plucked mushrooms, seemed to have sprung up over night; some from ashes of the past, paint barely dried, first pint barely poured; others commandeered especially, requisitioned from normal mundane duties, re purposed for pleasure. Despite this diminution; in addition, imagining heaving hordes of hirsute ‘hive collective’ journalists, sharpening their wit to pithy points, frantically extending zooms, to capture every grimace, straining at the bit, ready to be released by the likes of Bido Lito; I was still intimidated by the number of acts and events listed over the three day festival, which has become a highly anticipated annual celebration of music in many of its varied forms. So, gathering courage, clutching faithful friend; who polished her lens, while I polished my boots and licked a few pencils; we ventured out for some intensive flashing.
These boots are made for stalking: Thus these kitten heels clicked purposefully off, to prowl Liverpool streets, crawl its bars, cruise it clubs, in the cause of Mudkiss; leather cuffs turned up serving dual purpose, as knee pads, for grovelling at feet of burly, surly bouncers, and hands free pocket for notebook. Though adept at malingering, I am not entirely a lady of leisure, so much of Sound City’s non gig activity passed me by; a pity, because Tracey Thorn, a favourite musician of mine, was one of the conference speakers.
However, Friday afternoon found me temporarily released, tempted beyond redemption, succumbing to three particular fetishes of mine; twiddling knobs, seeking out rare breeds and indulging in the fantastical. Apart from these deleterious deviations, I otherwise largely devoted myself to attempting a musical marathon; wishing I had winged boots; which rapidly descended into blurred flurry of missed moments and hazy recollections; the mostly 30 minute sets, too short for introductions, both prior and during, too tediously long for gap between bands, too panic inducing when fleeing between venue; not helping to make an easy time of it. Nonetheless, a hugely enjoyable festival which, touching only the edge, I know I do no justice to, so apologies in advance. Take my hand and follow me through stumbling recollections of my favourite mementos, which left me short of two nights sleep but full of inspiration, memories and especially magical music, looking forward to Sound City 2014.
Spanish Seduction and Well Loved Knobs: I think I have a fetish for analogue mixing decks, the bigger the better, star ship deck; All those knobs, begging to be twiddled, faders ready for caress, decibel lights surging, rising, falling, cool green peaking to red, umbilically connected to tremulous effects, faintest moans amplified to fervid excitation, monitor membrane heaving chest, emitting essence of ecstasy in purest sound, shaken to core by throb of deep throat bass. Many moons ago, as an aspiring sound engineer, my soul shivered with palpable thrill every time I stepped into the studio. Sadly, life and time took its toll on dreams, so I seized opportunity offered by my Sound City pass, to enter hallowed portals of the S.A.E. Liverpool, where only a well endowed wallet may usually step, for their Sound City talk:
'All Hands On Faders’, an introduction to Audio Engineering. The dockside location took a bit of finding, blustering wind at my heel, blowing me like limp rag, up and down The Strand, before landing me at door of ex Blind Institute, where buzzed into sacred sanctuary, heady scent of electronica beyond my wildest dreams, analogue supplemented by digital, was enough on its own to make me faint with delight.
But then came ultimate aphrodisiac, an expert in electronic musical manipulation and recording, Miguel from Barcelona, his dirty pillow talk, delivered with entirely enchanting Spanish lilt, a passionate, erudite and concise synopsis of skills which a recording engineer should aspire to, for success. For those dreaming of a career in sound recording or electronic music production, from what I heard, while drooling over his massive console, Miguel seems to be a very safe pair of guiding hands and, apparently for those eligible, grants are available. For cash strapped musicians seeking quality recording space, ask to be included on S.A.E.’s book for live recording assignments. (http://liverpool.sae.edu/en-gb/home for more information)
Tracking Scent of Wombat Riding Roaring Head Wind: ‘All Hands On Faders’ exerted such a fascination and flurry of questions, mostly from me, it generously overran, finding me running, leaning into fierce head wind, fighting its rage, folded umbrella ballooning at will, Sound City Pass flapping, slapping me in face, desperately seeking ‘Wombats In Conversation’. It proved harder than expected to track down this rare beast; with little clue to habitat, beyond ‘The Penny Lane’, a location previously unknown to me, I had assumed a new Liverpool One bar, but investigation and interrogation revealed its true co-ordinates, a conference room hidden deep within The Hilton; long and winding road of corridors leading me breathless to their door, just as heaving hiatus hit haranguing crowd spilling from the room, hanging on last words of a weary, wilted wombat.
Having a passing acquaintance with Wombat mother of the Haggis variety, I was disappointed not to spot her in the throng, my hope of eliciting an extended Wombat encounter evaporating in disappointment. Instead, it was a Haggis dad who put up his hand, seeking to reignite interrogation. As Murph was podium Wombat, I guess this wasn’t a Haggis husband, sent in her stead; posing as stranger to his son’s career, his final observations, in praise of the band, brought things to a humorous close; me unenlightened and an estranged Wombat visibly pallid and drained. I did not have the heart to cross examine the wretched creature, ready to run free, but did manage to glean that a new album is due out, later this year, an occasion for which I will save my many unasked questions , while burning with eternal hope, that once more we will dance to Joy Division.
Exfoliated EXPO: Rewinding my steps, through what felt like miles of claustrophobic, corporately carpeted corridors, I paused to gasp breath at sadly depleted EXPO, stands exfoliated of attendants, scattering of pamphlets and empty sandwich boxes locust remains left in their stead, peopled largely by cluster of participants chatting amongst themselves, deflated balloon, energy already spent, a place to peruse my guide for pleasure which might lie ahead, glimpse of which materialised before my eyes; in form of an enigmatically alluring guy, playing impromptu guitar, perched on stool, shop front eye candy at the only stall which seemed to have kept the ‘Faith’; Patrick James Eggle’s ‘Artist’s Guitar’ stand, where I lingered awhile to admire his impressive upstanding display (of ‘Faith’ guitars).
The Cult of Horse pops up prancing, while Dwarves get high and fuck some sluts: Though I first encountered Screenadelica’s stunning screen prints at Liverpool’s first International Festival of Psychedelia, the Man They Call Horse actually started to round up an ever growing corral of Mustang artists for Sound City 2010. Now numbering over 25 artists from all over the world, including three from America, these horse whisperers speak music through their extraordinarily interpretative art, commissioned by bands as wonderfully evocative gig posters. Running wild and free, they have been propagating new cult of ‘popping up’, at festivals far and wide; untamed, untrammelled by shackles of internet, currently the only way to obtain one of their limited edition poster artworks, is for fate to deliver you in the right place at the right time.
So, I was ecstatic to find them stabled a short while, champing at the bit, at the Liverpool Academy Of Arts, where I was captivated by a spellbinding display. Each vibrant poster has a fairytale to tell; if pecuniary poverty wasn’t an issue I would have purchased every single one, but am particularly covetous of the poster which captures Siouxie Sioux’s signature stare, the Swan’s surreal giant fly, settling unnervingly on wooden house, and one for a band called ‘Dwarves’, whose politically incorrect, yet appealingly disingenuous slogan, seems to be ‘Let’s Just Get High And Fuck Some Sluts!’. (www.facebook.com/screenadelica)
Masquerading Masque not worthy of NO Ceremony: Loving inventive electronica, I fell head over heels in love with No Ceremony/// when reviewing their single; 'Heartbreaker'/'Breaking Hearts' : ‘....provocative whisper diving dark, deep and hard into grinding synth and gloaming drums of doom, 'Heartbreaker' stole and broke mine from first seductive sneer, impossibly, irresistibly intoxicating, I knew there was no escape from fervour, however fetid, snow queen trancey vocal and pealing piano, siren call through turbulent menace....’; since which I have been an avid follower of this Manchester duet. Using music as their expression to extent of eschewing other forms of communication, they have retained an air of mystery, a purity which shines through their intense, bitter sweet, highly melodic music, deliriously euphoric, rent with distress, an artwork of skilfully applied, deeply throbbing electronic heart, mixed with conventional instruments and sweet, clear vocal, an intoxicating mix. So, I was excited to hear whether live, they captured that clarity and depth which defines their music, and I wasn’t disappointed by engulfing impact of their performance, exuding mesmerising mysticism of dark thunderous beat and floating angelic vocal, cutting through reverberations of a slightly woolly sound system, which though it robbed some nuance so clearly articulated in recorded performance, added touch of club like grit to songs like stunningly beautiful ‘Hurtlove’ and ‘Feelsolow’; modern classics, Cocteau Twins combined with Everything But The Girl and Ladytron.
Fired up once again, I look forward with heated anticipation to release of their first album on 18th July, which will surely be one of my favourites this year. Despite unutterable pleasure at hearing, for the first time live, a band I unreservedly adore, for me the venue didn’t show them off to best advantage, didn’t let them fly free. Playing at the sadly demised Masque now metamorphosed to ‘East Village Arts Club’; over past months I have woefully watched white vans come and go, carting off dank innards of this Liverpool institution which fought hard but hit the dust, briefly staggering to its feet, in Chibuku butterfly dance, to fall in final death throes.
Someone somewhere in Liverpool is gleefully knocking out job lots of heritage paint, as we are currently swimming in a lake of eau de nil, which together with felled forest of stripped naked ‘reclaimed’ wood seems to be the attractive, though increasingly ubiquitous design theme sweeping Liverpool clean, together with proliferating predilection for pulling pork.
Resurrected in New York Loft style, the ex Masque has dipped its brush in same pot, barely dry as Sound City begins, state of the art tills still a mystery, red wine in short supply. Previously, navigation round the Masque was purely by feel; even after extended periods eyes couldn’t capture enough photons to pierce all pervading gloom; where a companion sitting inches away could only be identified by phone light, and trip to bar required a piece of string for guidance back. In the dark, bat like intuition was required to traverse its convolutions from room to room, and managing to emerge in the theatre, from the ‘DJ Room’ or vice versa, was always a welcome surprise. So, to see it illuminated by standard wattage light was a shock. In the dark, health and safety bowed shameful head and exited, shuffling from building; but now exposed, the place is bewildering welter of snappy fire doors, manned by snappier bouncers, where responsible adults are required to decant from glass to plastic, in order to mount a few steps.
Though No Ceremony is thoroughly modern electronica, strangely, sticky decrepitude of old Masque would have suited their brooding style better, cloaked them in diaphanous diasporas which so suits their music. Disingenuously named ‘No Ceremony’, this duo actually deserved more ceremony than was afforded by a stage which felt like it was shoved in nicely painted cupboard corner. This area has always felt tucked away, even as the Masque’s ‘theatre’, but now with amphitheatre levelled and a ‘proper’ bar installed, it has lost its cocooned, down at heel frisson, where squashed screaming against disintegrating barriers, I once thrilled to likes of Roni Size. Somehow, in these new surrounding s, No Ceremony’s voluptuous sound sounded squashed, mystique somewhat quashed. The ‘Bombed Out’ church would have allowed their music to soar and fill the sky, but sadly, for reasons best kept between St Luke’s saintly guardians and Sound City, that venue was not on this year’s schedule. Failing that, the surprisingly atmospheric car park, which was our next stop, would probably have suited better.
Transmogrification of Gentrification: Wolstenholme Square is an odd anomaly of a once fashionable address; failed by Heritage, torn by tide of utilitarian progress, there is no more than fractured hint of auspicious buildings which once must have embraced its flanks. One side hugged by, built for obsolescence warehouses with corrugated metal roofs, the other decrepit, disrespectfully punched through to Duke Street, by equally odorous Tunnage Square; grand name for tattooed, lavatorial through pass; and pass through car park; with little remaining architectural merit, Wolstenholme Square survives by dint of musical fate; modern Messiah ‘saving’ this space, while more traditionally historic places tumble and fall around it, disintegrate in disgraced neglect, fall into wanton dereliction, succumb to sinful corporate demolition.
As original home to Cream Nightclub, its 2006 Biennial civic reward for contribution to Liverpool’s coffers and cool kudos, is squared circle of green topped trees and gigantic bobbing, coloured plastic balls of Penelope sculpture, named for Ulysses’ wife; sop to power of dance and drugs, purposefully preserved distress and ecstatic excess ironically encapsulating in plastic and resin, an otherwise insignificant moment in time. Though Cream departed like swirl in coffee cup which inspired its name, their building remains, hunkered down, matt black slug of sarcophagus, which once a week, in term time, creaks open its cavernous doors, to revel in irreverent Medication, sedated in between, apart from intermittent revivals of now curdled Cream. Tonight its eyes are shut, just as Penelope’s illuminated balls have ceased to glow, victim of council cuts which seemingly can’t afford the bulbs, funds diverted to worthy efforts such as banning buskers. However, Sound City seems determined to light the place up, fill it with sound; commandeering quirky Kazimier, both Gothic theatre and its charmingly inventive garden bar; transforming the car park, Duke Street Garage’, and an ex paint warehouse, confusingly rechristened Art Academy ; into make do venues. Tonight we have assignations at all three, starting with:
Petroleum Spill to Gasoline Thrill: Dan Croll at the Duke Street Garage: Strangely, of all this year’s Sound City venues, the low ceiling of this car park; which by day traps noxious fumes to fainting point, even when passing through at full tilt; provided most atmospheric space for sound, lights and lots of dry ice, quickly filling up with all three in heady, ethereal mix. It was also full of an ecstatic, wolf whistling crowd, when we arrived to catch Dan Croll in full lilting swing, wielding light catching Perspex tambourine. Last time I heard him was as support for Benjamin Francis Leftwich, recently exited from LIPA his band of musically masterful merry men charmed, inspiring me to write: ‘...A polished performance of a highly musical and lyrically engaging suite of atmospheric, reflective, beautifully narrated modern day folk tales....’ (www.mudkiss.com/benjaminleftwichreview.htm).
Testament to LIPA, it really seems to hone musical talent, imbuing those lucky enough to pass through its doors with well rounded skills, necessary to garner success in chosen cut throat profession, as well as developing musicianship to master many different styles and techniques. The side Dan Croll presented to night feels all grown up, ratcheting up gears from single horse power rumination, to one thousand horse power, gasoline guzzling F1super sleek; no longer cub, tonight lion growled and roared. Melodies still catchy, still sweet, vocal soaring, twisting, weaving, venue adding vibrating resonance to both throbbing bass and drums, now there is added soulful edge; combining folk with soul, jazz and rock and roll, Dan demonstrated musical breadth to engaging effect, appreciated by demonstrative audience.
From one packed smoke filled venue to another even more crammed, one step away, across the Square, grungy, Gothic delight that is the Kazimier:
Howling at the Moon: Packed from sticky theatre floor to ruined Circle ceiling, revelling in shabby shreds of Vampiric Victorian chic, the Kazimier's usual dank atmosphere, which resolutely clings, accentuated by sour scent of wafting carbon dioxide gas, enveloped audience in low rise glower of clouds, hands raised in adulation of Wolf People, emerging intermittently from red haze, to howl at the moon in glorious riot of psychedelia, squirming with snakelike progressive folk riffs, guitars and vocals weaving like lizard; wizard kings casting seductive enchantment, mercurial spirit of wolf materialised from Pendragon mists of magical folkloric times; never having heard them, I was hypnotised by mesmeric music of the Wolf, initiated into tribe, eager to succumb, before retiring to more luxurious surroundings of Leaf.
Learned Leafing, rectal examinations in Still Corners: Relocated from warehouse wastes of The Baltic Triangle to thronging Bold Street, Leaf has turned new leaf in its tea time story. Now occupying historic Art Deco building, which has variously been Bijou Opera House, a car dealer and in the 1890's, feted Yemen Cafe; downstairs is completely renovated, according to current trends, iron girders, distressed wood and artfully applied bric-a-brac.However, behind velvet curtain, history unfolds; upstairs still retaining remnants of airy grand salon , remembrance of Yemen Cafe, overlooked by backdrop of theatrical interior bowed windows; giving the space a plaza feel; style come full circle with likes of Liverpool's current hip place to be seen, Camp and Furnace.
It is this haunting upstairs room; its ceiling hung with constellation of glitter balls; which hosts Sound City; but first, seeking quiet corner, brief respite below, reclining in ancient arm chairs with refined red wine, seeking erudition from ancient tomes, the book I have randomly selected alarmingly falls open at techniques for rectal examination, swapped for more palatable dissertation on 1930's child nutrition and education. Refreshed and topped up with useless facts, it is time to meet The Chapman Family.
Dark D.N.A.: Another band I have been looking forward to hear live, having previously enjoyed and reviewed The Chapman Family's EP, 'Cruel Britannia' as : '....gratifying glut of gloom from gloaming of melancholic mind, five definitively disconsolate songs in the same key of life, morosely minor....Morrissey misery magnified by Joy Division desolation, buzzing with Radiohead despair....' (www.mudkiss.com/chumkijune12.htm).
They didn't disappoint; passionate, tormented intensity of their music pulsating meniscus of enmeshed, throbbing sound; shrouded in darkness, cloaked in black, outlines illuminated in red, wandering convoluted, desolated corners of the mind. Though not related, The Chapmans stand like warriors as one, true to their musical selves, rather than trends; diving dark waters of tremulous, tortured soul, I stand by my description above, to which I would add, new wave punk spirit of Velvets; not diluted live, rather magnified by raw energy emanating from physical presence and resonant gloaming of midnight bass.
Loving as I do, darker twisted side of music, worshipping as I and they do, Bowie, The Chapman Family is one I cannot help but adopt; they are instilled in my D.N.A. a distillation of so much that excites me in music. I hold in my inbox, straining for release, together with their new single 'This One's For Love', a truly inspiring interview with them, to share with you in June.
Intending, at this point, to sprint back to Wolstenholme Square to catch Everything Everything in the re-sprayed 'paint shop' Art Academy, we were waylaid by mellifluous strains of Still Corners, glimmering, gently bobbing, casting mesmeric dreamlike soundscape, shimmered with hypnotic, hymnal vocal, weaving mists of entrancement, enticing us to linger longer than intended, imbuing me with intention to listen out for them again.
A Little Less Of Everything: So, by the time we reached least amenable of the Sound City venues, its longwise layout was wall to wall with swooning girls, leaving little room to wriggle to the front, and Everything Everything had all but given their everything, which was a pity, as impression they left floating in the air; as I battled with elbows, drowning in sea of what seemed like giant people; was highly intriguing, vocal soaring, swooping, gritty electronica sparking imagination; tumble of instrumentation in offbeat counterpoint and vocal scat, snatching melodic scraps from spaces in between, more jazzy and enigmatic than I had imagined; their many accolades leading me to expect more generic, populist sound. In fact, even little I heard was provocatively evocative of tortured yet enigmatically sweet tones, which attract my adoration to likes of Radiohead. Not in same league but a band I would like to hear more of, in more sympathetic surroundings. Grabbing what photos we could, from awkward, neck straining angles, it was time to retire to final venue of the night.
Tired and Emotional: Loving Hallucinatory Aliens, on Quaaludes and Red Wine, in Studio Two: Like its well worn leather seats, Studio Two, part of renowned Parr Street Recording Studios, embraces like old friend, perfect place to rest weary feet and ears, last post of the night for many, invariably worn out and weary; in ‘village’ Liverpool, this is where old acquaintances are bound to surface, if you sit still long enough. True to form, a few emerge to engage in increasingly nonsensical, cyclical conversations, this night, for some obscure reason, conducted in pigeon French. Sitting in sound proof room of former studio, converted to bar, expecting quiet musical wind down, I thought I was hallucinating when gyrating gesticulations of what looked like exotic creatures from Hitch Hikers Guide, at End Of Universe Party, caught corner of my eye. Though not beamed down from outer space, these enigmatic apparitions had steered their Galaxy Express a long way, as part of 'Korea Rocks'. Leaping from soundproofed silence into maelstrom of highly strung noise, swept up in tornado of movement and sound, Psycho Killer meets Ramones, my mind was in no state to cope, reeling it could not compute, could not move; so I just let Galaxy Express run me over with roar of its customised, tuned to perfect performance engine, fuelled by raw energy and virtuosity, harder than titanium nails heavy rock; to emerge synapses shredded, senses wrung, but strangely refreshed; determined to add another 'Korea Rocks' gig to my Sound City agenda, when more prepared to absorb its kick ass blow.
Returning to my now rather worse for wear, approaching comatose companions, when asked what they thought of Galaxy Express I was impressed to get any response, especially this: “Surfboarding on Quaaludes, whilst capsizing Sound City’s zeitgeist”, which perfectly summed up their sound, and with glass of red wine in my hand, Bowie brought to mind, a nice summing up of my night.
Review by: Chumki Banerjee
Photos by: Felicity Wren and Chumki Banerjee