The Sound City festival was breaking new ground this year, with its move from a wide array of city centre clubs, bars and other venues to the neglected Bramley-Moore Dock that has been out of use since 1988.
This move generated a lot of discussion and curiosity as to whether this move was a good thing or not. While I certainly missed the aspect of racing between venues, and the much greater choice of bands, that was traded off by the ease of getting about the self-contained site, its closer proximity to my home and the ability to attract a few bigger names to the festival. So, for me overall it was probably a score draw.
One slightly odd aspect to the site was the inclusion of the rarely-used fairground area, meaning a lot of the stages had to be crammed in together a little.
A normal day at work meant I missed the start of proceedings, but I got in at about 7.30pm. I bought an obviously over-priced and bang average pint (of Sound City Ale) before going in search of the first band I had identified as ones to see, Carnival Youth from Latvia (as they reminded us many times!).
However, everything seemed to be finishing on every stage all at the same time. That gave me the chance to orient myself and have a brief stroll around before returning to the Kraken stage to catch the next act. Fortunately, timings were so awry that Carnival Youth were in fact just about to start.
Their tuneful indie was quite enjoyable, although I was somewhat distracted by the keyboardist’s very hairy ankles and the band’s overall look of The Monkees. The drummer sang on some of the songs which was a bit of a novelty, while they were all jolly souls not overly put off by the booming bass sounds seeping in from other nearby stages – a bit of a flaw in this area of the site.
My favourite song of theirs was Brown Eyes And All The Rest, and they made for a pleasant introduction to the festival.
Likelihood of buying their next/latest album: 5/10 (A band I might see again if they play here again, but I’m not sure I’d part with much cash to hear them)
Next up for me were the three-quarters Canadian Young Benjamins at the Cavern, the tent that backed onto the Kraken. The other band member was lead singer Neusha Mofazzali who said that he came “from a place you hate called London”, which seemed a little too defensive.
Their quite poppy sound was somewhat folkified by Veronique Poulin’s electric violin.
Likelihood of buying their next/latest album: 3/10 (They just really didn’t move me all that much)
I returned to the Kraken to see Kiwi solo songstress Ivy Rossiter, aka Luckless. She most brought to mind the wonderful PJ Harvey, but I also detected some recent Billy Bragg in there. She further fit that bill by expressing her distaste at the recent General Election results in the UK, with her last song being the (non-political) Better Than Being Blue.
Likelihood of buying their next/latest album: 5/10 (I think there’s the potential for a good album in there)
It was just a few steps outside the tent to catch the next band on my list, Lithuanian psych rockers Garbanotas Bosistas at The North stage. This was proper psych rock, and the first band of the festival that I can say I really enjoyed seeing (rather than just thinking that they were OK). The lead guitarist’s flowery trousers were a sight to behold as well. I wandered off briefly to the nearby pizza stall to get a slice to stave off festival hunger pangs before returning with it to catch the end of their set.
Likelihood of buying their next/latest album: 6/10 (If they don’t give in to the understandable desire to go too far out there to forget to include some of their killer tunes)
My first experience of the main (outdoor) Atlantic stage was for Manchester-based art rockers Everything Everything, whose first album, 2010’s Man Alive, I’ve quite enjoyed over the years. This made them the first band at Sound City that I knew before seeing them.
That is the only album of theirs I knew, and as they were promoting their upcoming third release Get To Heaven, I was expecting a lot of songs that were new to me, which was indeed the case. The first number I heard was Kemosabe off the second album Arc, with the clear highlight for me being Photoshop Handsome from the debut album.
Jonathan Higgs’ vocal gymnastics dominated proceedings, while he also caught the eye with his red cape, although all the band were in matching red outfits. The evening was starting to get a little chilly, but was still OK to be stood outside in just a t-shirt.
Likelihood of buying their next/latest album: 5/10 (I could well be tempted by another album by them as I’m sure they’ve got another cracker in them somewhere along the way)
I headed back to the ‘craft beer’ stall for a pint of Peculiar IPA before venturing into The Baltic stage to hear some of Swans’ two and half hour slot! They originally formed in 1982, staying together for fifteen years before dissolving. However, they reformed in 2010 (without one of the three core members).
I’ve managed to avoid buying any of their thirteen studio albums to date, or ever really hearing anything of them beyond their reputation, as I’d been somewhat put off by their famed lack of tunes and gothic, industrial air.
I got a tap on the shoulder from Getintothis’ Peter Guy as I tried to find a good spec to see the band, but the music was far too loud and intense for any kind of chat!
They were incredibly powerful and heavier than God, with the sound enlivened by Thor Harris on gong, cello and miscellaneous other instruments, the Robert Downey Jr.-lookalike Phil Puleo on drums, Christoph Hahn on lap steel guitar, and the rumbling bass of Christopher Pravdica. However, most eyes were on main man Michael Gira who conducted proceedings with a wave of his arms, despite the impressively pointy-bearded Norman Westberg being on guitar at the far right.
A Little God In My Hands from last year’s To Be Kind album was extremely intense even by the standards of this performance, and after three quarters of an hour I decided on a change of sounds, knowing there would be time to return for more Swans before the end of the night!
I headed to the Kraken stage for the dynamic JPNSGRLS, a self-defined Canadian garage pop combo whose pop/rock was greatly invigorated by the dramatic gestures and dancing of lead singer Charlie Kerr. He was a huge hit with the ladies in the audience, and certainly knew it.
He managed to split his head open during his performance, but he subsequently declared “I bled for you, you can dance for me”.
I get the feeling that JPNSGRLS could be massive, but they really did very little for me. They’ve been compared with Arctic Monkeys and The Strokes in the UK press, but I didn’t quite get that level of artsiness from them. Instead, I would highlight some influence from the likes of Queens Of The Stone Age and Red Hot Chili Peppers.
Likelihood of buying their next/latest album: 3/10 (Just never moved me)
I returned to the Baltic for more audio pummelling from Swans, who were no less intense, with another track off their latest album, Just A Little Boy (For Chester Burnett), proving a peak.
Likelihood of buying their next/latest album: 7/10 (I think that it’s surely about time I picked up one of their releases)
Despite enjoying Swans, if that is quite the right word, I left them to it at about 11.30pm and headed off to catch the last train home as I knew the weekend would bring plenty more great music and some extra sleep would come in handy, particularly as I was due to continue my training for the Rock ‘N’ Roll Liverpool Half Marathon in the morning. I was greeted by this stern-looking face on my way out:
I had a five-minute chat with a guy on the platform who it turned out had seen five of the seven bands that I had been to, which explains why he looked vaguely familiar to me! This had been a solid start to another Sound City festival, with hopes high for the rest of the weekend’s music.
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Here is a few selections from Friday night’s bands: