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LIVERPOOL INTERNATIONAL FESTIVAL OF PSYCHEDELIA @ CAMP & FURNACE 29/09/12 REVIEW BY CHUMKI BANERJEE

HARD CORE HALLUCINOGENS, PSYCHEDELIA COMES OF AGE, SCORPIO RISING ON AQUARIUS MOON. 

Psychedelic music: ‘A style of music that is inspired or influenced by psychedelic culture and attempts to replicate and enhance the mind altering experiences of psychedelic drugs. It often uses new recording techniques and effects and draws on non-Western sources such as ragas and drones of Indian music’

However, as we know, music is beyond definition and categorical constraints, which is why I tend not to read about bands before listening to their music, each is uniquely their own and I like to hear them fresh, without incipient influence. Perhaps in this case, I should also not have listened to sound bites prior to the event, as they hung expectation on panoply of particular musical hooks, which live, clattered to the floor in confusion, shedding multicoloured coats. More homogeneous than expected, the criteria for selecting bands, apart from sheer musicality, probably reflected particular psychedelic peccadillo of promoters, Harvest Sun and Bido Lito, favourite colours picked from its palette, rather than reflective of whole fantastical spectrum. Though the event was beautifully organised and flowed like water, it lacked ebb and flow of variety, the play on emotion which an inspiring Dj arouses, irresistibly evokes, when selecting a set. However, still a truly revelatory night; which had me wondering why my sub conscience had left psychedelia ‘Zombified’ in the Sixties, Liverpool’s first International Psychedelic Festival flew me higher than Jefferson Airplane, flinging open doors of perception, hurling me out without parachute, its drug, passion for music, pervading every pore, its message permeating my core, suffused in fog of dry ice, reality suspended in psychotropic mists for one remarkable night, proving that though psychedelia has moved on, it still has the power to exert an extraordinary hallucinatory high.

Whilst it is true, when LSD was made illegal in 1966, open acknowledgement and expression of creative inspiration encouraged by hallucinogenic stimulation of cerebral cortex, may have been curtailed, there is no doubt its effects lingered long, rainbow rays refracted into remarkable new musical genres from Bowie to Bolan to Banshee, flying high on acid fuelled whimsy, Floyd and Rush in meditative reverie, migrating to harder substances, dredging dangerous depths in Velvet Undergrounds, inner sanctums plundered , Doors prising open Pandora’s box.

Being a fan of electronica, past and present, I should have recognised  new era of psychedelia arising from the mists, in form of electronic dance music, its new acid wings MDMA, more ordered yet still euphorically enlightening serotonin high; a musical movement which ripped out my heart and held it pulsing. Looking back, the clues that betrayed its roots were crystal clear, Acid House, Acid Trance, Acid Techno, like its forerunner mutating into myriad musical movements, intoxicating rapture freewheeling, spiralling, drilling Hardcore to Darkcore deep into the psyche. And now a Scorpio moon rises on the Age of Aquarius, to forge another new psychedelia, molten maelstrom of hedonistic highs, transfused with heady cocktail, chemically concocted, intensely infused with potent intoxicants, surreal silver bullet, spinning out shimmer of sixties silk thread, blazing its own incandescent meteor trail, shot with shards of its distant past, feeding its craving with modern means, showcased tonight.

Like the drugs, concocted from increasingly complex constituents, electronica has evolved its ability to induce mind altering states of being, precisely target sentient manipulation. Now Eastern mysticism comes in a box, buzzing electrons intone its ragas and drones and ‘60’s atmosphere is captured in electronic circuits, as witnessed by proliferation of Raagini Digital Electronic Tanpura, Ravish Sitar pedals set to ‘exotic’, and Vintage Distortion pedals on dedicated sustain, liberally littered, scattering the stage, loftily observed by omnipresent Orange OR50 amp, pushed to maximum gain, radiating its vintage vibe. True to its roots, Psychedelia still seeks to embrace and exploit new technology, explore to destruction mind bending effects, solid state usurped by ‘higher state’ of digital consciousness, every whim programmed on spaceship console but ,aficionados still aspire to recreate those original Theremin, low pass filter tones. Psychedelia may have traversed universes of panning, phasing, wah-wahs and time warps, been shaken asunder by extreme reverb, but that oscillator sweep, 24Db per octave filter slope, reverential resonance, redolent of home, signature arpeggio of psych, still shivers the soul of nearly every band here, even when hushed homage, just as the Larsen effect still looms large, feeding the loop, ethereal throwback, uniting bond.

So, I come to the actual show, though not noticeably primped for psychedelic party; except for colourful wall of psycho Buddha poster art, the venue itself exudes its own suffusing , surreal glow, while clad in own clothes; recreation of an airy piazza complete with silver birch, olive trees, stage set floating facade and the odd caravan on fire, its statuesque proportions dwarfing mere mortals to Alice, after a drink, proportions My previous encounter was its alter ego, the A-Foundation art space, where I shivered in draughty chills of its unheated hangar space, scantily clad, holding a card aloft for three hours, as part of a living art installation, commentating on communist control. Rather appropriately, now converted to epitome of anti establishment, controlled by the people, for the people performance space, radically radiating warmth, in form of ecologically ethical wood fired heat, Camp and Furnace has definitively dispelled previous Gulag grim, though its concrete floor is still ruinous to feet.

On arrival, mid afternoon, unusually for start of a thirteen hour musical marathon, the place is pleasantly pulsating, with enigmatically beautiful, charming, voluble people, light hearted, appreciative, sartorially elegant, individually accoutred, though only intermittently adhering to the theme. A few spectral, half hearted Gobos roam faces and floors, but in competition with sun filtering through corrugated plastic skylight and dry ice haze, belching as befits The Furnace, they are but whispers of melancholy, forgotten ghosts, no match for nature’s own lighting system which lends the room a surrealist, watery, but less than psychedelic, backdrop for the first band.

The Shook Ups, are 6 raucous men in Patrick McGoohan black, darkly debonair, singer sporting all shook up Elvis hair, set the scene for shaking my psychedelic foundations. Supercharging sixties craft with new wave punk fuel, modulated through twiddled tantrum of geek speak, mad scientist knobs, call of Coyote vocal disarms brooding bass menace, ominously mono gloved, left handed antithesis of Lex Luther metamorphosing new flowers from psychedelic ashes and bone. True, chirpy attitude of sun blushed room, an entreaty to move forward so “...we can just about touch cocks...”which prompted shy shrinkage, rather than engorged swell, and a drummer with remarkable resemblance to Eddie Izzard, somewhat softened rumble of grumbling thunder undertow which, I am sure, would rage fiercely in more salubrious surroundings, The Shook Ups still manage to rattle these walls, an auspicious start.

Anticipation swelling with agitated nostrils, inhaling increasingly billowing carbon dioxide frozen fumes, Mel and I exit Furnace to navigate an Alice In Wonderland ‘rat run’ of a corridor, before concertinaing up amongst quite a crowd, in the second Blade Factory room, as low as Furnace is lofty, where the ‘Wild Eyes’ are barely visible through low lying clouds lending new meaning to Camera Obscura, and smoke gets in your eyes tears. Again bristling with attitude, ‘Wild Eyes’ is an appropriate name for this band, sounding like garage punk version of Wild Thing Troggs, a new psycho punk; Velvet’s feral cry issued impassioned from wide eyed vocalist, fragilely friable, highly strung, tensile frame twisted, tortured as if in pain, building Munch scream, bass deep throb of boiling blood, drummer and keyboard entranced in hypnotic sway, filtered through distorted haze of echo; melodic yet potent, entrancing, one of my favourite bands of the night. Sadly astral video backdrop does not match band’s intensity, washed out and wan.

 

Returning to The Furnace, still bathed in uncharacteristic sun, Roscoe (Spacemen 3) turns out to be one man and his purple guitar, controls set throbbing to centre of the sun, his only companion discarded guitar case, pulsating with blue astral glow, chagrin gathering moody, sinister clouds, drawling, gothic Nick Cave, needling guitar prickling spine. Apart from solo spaceman, this sets pattern for the night, bands allocated 30 minute slots, some passing faster than others and, of the ones we heard, all featuring fascinating selection of sex on legs electric guitars, bass, drums, keyboard and effects, vocals not always necessary. The sound in both rooms well balanced but erring, at times, towards muffling, mind numbing volume rather than well defined clarity. At this point, temporarily musically sated, sustenance was sought from small but beguiling menu, chalked next to image of ‘love and peace man’ flower power spaceman, who somehow summarised spirit of the night, in one endearing drawing. Magic mushroom soup considered a hallucinogenic step too far, we plumped for less potent dead hippie, succulent but slightly stringy, any hint of marijuana marinade masked by mustard relish and patchouli smoke.

So we returned to the fray, fragrantly resinous, dancing with dead man’s meat in our teeth, as well as tears in our eyes, to a warp in space/time; ‘Altered Hours’ playing where pocket programmed billed ‘Lucid Dream’, an ironic error causing momentary confusion. With an overwhelming preponderance of male artistes, ‘Altered Hours’ immediately stood out from crowd by virtue of its female drummer and front lady, with touch of Cranberries/Patti Smith/ Siouxsie perforated vocal, crack of whip turning to torrid tribal drums, sinister drawling bass and Nick Cave/Byrne , spitting, shrieked, punctuated male vocal, stridently strummed guitars, punctured with warbled effects, washed in distortion, this is dark gothic New York flavoured punk, ranting, roaring maelstrom.

Such vehemence finding me reeling, welcomed warm balm spun by Dj, Tom Clarke, who, thus far, had provided a stunning set of intriguing psychedelic remixes, including Leo Zero’s  version of ‘Moonage Daydream’ and now soothed brows and jangled nerves with 5D’s Time and Space reworking of ‘California  Dreamin’’. His choices in particular impressed me, captivating and arousing my curiosity, though all Djs were impressive in providing a seamless, entirely engaging and inventive soundscape, linking bands.

Tumultuous tantrum was resumed with ‘Lucid Dream’, riotously restored to their allotted slot in space/time continuum, pouring hell’s fire of molten sound on unsuspecting heads. Belying their boy next door looks, more psycho than psych, twisting tornado, torrid, deeply despondent, drowned in Nirvana angst, lashing rain would have suited its torrent but still the sun perversely shone. One of the stars of the show for me, brain probing pneumatic drill, plexus punch sliding into sleaze, storm of savage, swirling sound, striated with soaring spaceship effects, magnetised by bass, utterly mesmerising.

‘Ancient River’, aptly heralded by mystic drone of a Dj track, singer enigmatically framed by sunlit open door, dark shades and tousled rampant locks redolent of Morrison, eyes black holes, coolly, nonchalantly flows , takes the floor, to drugged up drubbing beat, sleazy drawling growl  subsumed in wall of sound distortion, wafted with heady analogue synth breeze. Unrelentingly doom laden, hypnotised sway, laconic lizard lost in dark inner space, hazed, slipping down the snake, psychotic psychedelic, picking up brighter bluesy note, as sun sets in golden glow, sinking into despondent doldrums as dusk dawns and we squeeze ourselves back into The Blade Factory for ‘Helicon’.

Eagerly anticipated, ‘Helicon’ live were not as expected, sound settings taking an age to perfect left the band looking like they didn’t really want to be there, performing what sounded like an improvised psycho jam, sideways knowing looks excluding the audience, at times. Despite that, they ravaged the room with reverb and their powerful, six piece, butter wouldn’t melt sleekly coiffed ice maiden amongst unkempt shaggy sheep, wailing wall of  New Order twisted sound, harmonious discordance deviating from the norm, military cut and thrust infiltrated by reticent but pervading, resonant whirr of birdlike beating wings synth , repeated riffs mesmeric, bass irresistible magnetising, mimicking low frequency electromagnetic waves, enthralled, entranced, in another zone, crouches comatose on floor consumed by the beat, while all seeing video eye looks on; gristle and throb psych with a powerful grip, gloriously heavy and deep.

Plunged into indigo velvet night, the venue comes spectacularly to life, shaking out sparkling ball gown of fairytale light, painting us all in luminous purple and blue, as howling with the silver moon, ‘Wolf People’ swagger on to the stage, their dark, folksy edge, grungy guitars and touch of Led Zep, spun with mine sweep synth and mystical magic, riffled with funky riffs, Progressive Psych ,Fairport on acid, hard rock rampant sprites cavorting in the moonlight; another one of my favourite bands from the night. 

Violet vortex swirls to coalesce into next act, ‘Palma Violets’, melodic core deceptively sweet yet potent as their fragrant name, smelling salts reviving even faintest of hearts, rock in doleful doldrums, artfully sullied by garage grime, sparked with post punk fire, touched by Bunnymen bitter sweet, subtly spiked with Joy Division anguish, dancing with omnipresent devil in the dark, Cave; arousing enough to inspire topless streak, bared breasts not breaking their stride. More than a flash in the pan, highly musical, ‘Palma Violets’ tunes lilt and flow, injected with impassioned yet easily accessible hormonal angst, perhaps one of the most commercial bands of the night, smells like teen spirit psych.

On cue, heralded by twisted hurdy gurdy, another Bunnyman emerges from gloom, spot lit on high, sinister, white gloved bunny in suit, more rabble rousing, rebellious Orwellian allegorical hare than Alice’s dithering white rabbit, modern day anti establishment, cynical surrealism, mind control echo  “...are you living the dream?...”

A malign echo mugged, re-appropriated by ‘Mugstar’, gothic metal, ominous sub-light craft warping to darkest, destructive corners of universe and brain, dredging despondency.  Here at last, the video backdrop springs to life, chaotic proliferation of cells mimicking deranged, disordered mind, multi winged new messiah, hope taking flight.  The musicianship of ‘Mugstar’ is exemplary, guitar virtuosic, drums relentlessly dramatic, synth centre stage extraordinarily expressive and articulate; lost in maelstrom mind, tortured, tormented, introspective, mesmeric death star progressive, relentless rampage, tightly reined and controlled. ‘Mugstar’ are masters of palpable menace and easily the most accomplished musicians of the night, holding now heaving crowd in their thrall, stunned, in unified , mesmerised sway; Mind Mug Apocalyptic Psych. Harbingers of doom inspiring reappearance of Queen of Hearts herald in form of apocalyptic, anti Stalinist, fire brand bunny espousing democracy: “... you the people have the power...fight for a new world ...unite...”

Only the ‘Dead Skeletons’ could have followed that, pumped and primed, audience pulsating, we had to wait a while for, shamanistic rites to be completed, stage set, for most dramatic act of the night. Hailing from Iceland, ‘Dead Skeletons’ radiated Nordic folkloric mysticism, rattling their runic bones from the moment they stepped on stage; sharply angled, grim reaper face of front man, irresistibly captivating in its stark, sharply angled beauty, elaborately tattooed arms enthralling hieroglyphics, hat be-feathered, occult medicine man rummaging in scuffed black box of magic, its lid luminescent, talking head skull of the living dead; stage right, upswept, up-lit angel, intensely focused, as if in deep meditation; stage left Kurt Cobain brought back to life. Turning  medicine wheel, ritual begins; incense sticks are lit, V signs of peace; living art conjuring performance art, scrawling screaming scull, weeping black blood; singing bowl is struck , its resonant ring calling ancient spirits to feather path, in mesmeric musical mantra torrid tone upon tone, incantations intoned, dancing with ghosts, travelling deep into torment, dark night of the soul. Piling driving tribal drums, bass blood boil throb, guitar subsumed in hell fire shriek, synth scintillating menace, magnetic power of doom laden undertow crashing waves of  panic, focus tornado, hypnotise  mind to numbing trance.

The power of this group is extraordinary; at one point the core of its universe imploded, in magic box disintegration; though glowering in gloom, somehow purifying, healing chant of spiritual life; Joy Division and Doors in satanic cult forging a new religion, Shaman Psych, a revelation. Leaving lingering smell of burning flesh and singed hair, I must admit, at this point, my brain went up in smoke, wanting to curl up with comatose crush on fireside sofa, so rest of the night is bit of a blur.

‘Hookworms’ whipping feedback, exciting electrons to maelstrom of frantic frenzy, synth on full mine sweep, spectral to Devil’s shriek, disintegrating sanity, feels like an out of body experience, especially when they get caught up in voodoo vortex left carelessly swirling on the stage by ‘Dead Skeletons,  and keyboard stand suffers calamitous collapse; traumatising tantrum, with tantalising Kinky, ‘You Really Got Me’, rock and roll heartbeat; white noise, white heat,  possessed psych.

Catching last whisperings of ‘Cult Of Dom Kellar’, in the Blade Factory, spaced out, striated synth, magnetising, hypnotic electronica, drums deep drone, vocal mystic chant, sombre, sinister serenade sounding a different psychedelic tone to the rest of the night, Sinister Synth Psych, one I will seek again, sorry to have missed the rest of his set.

Ears now definitively ringing, staggering back to The Furnace, it is the witching hour and ‘Plank!’ are playing , definitely not plank like, so perhaps the exclamation marks irony. Like Mugstar, musical wizards, experimental with jazzy, folk edge, funky bass and retro synth, their clear simplicity and touch of Rush, is somewhat a relief after ear annihilation.

As a pig jumps on stage and pull off its face I fear this needs to be the end of my night, so ‘Time and Space Machine’ finds me hankering for one to fly me to my bed but, as lava lamp, coloured oil on water gel, spills psychedelic rainbow spectrum like multicoloured balm, and sensual blue Gretsch, branded with St Piran’s Cornish crest, is cradled in guitarists arms, my intrigue is once again aroused, senses soothed by that certain synth sweep, psych shimmer, ‘crystal rain’ casting ‘black rainbows’ on the Mersey. Returning to roots in Sixties mystical swing, driven by metal beat, phasers “set to stun”, sprinkled with hallucinogenic fairy dust.

As I depart into that dark night, ringing in my ears is ‘...twilight gives me power... it’s the magic hour...’fitting , end to a magical night.

It seems that the ‘Time of the Season’ has moved on, ‘White Rabbit’ burrowed out of its fantasy world; no longer patchouli and pills, this is altogether harder psychedelia, forged from our times, high on the drug of real life and a very welcome education for me.

Thanks to Harvest Sun and Bido Lito for putting on a truly wonderful event, here's to next year.

Review by Chumki Banerjee [plus photo of The Shook Ups]
Photos by Melanie Smith www.mudkissphotography.co.uk  [Full set will be added here when completed]