To find out how the bands mentioned in this report sound, check out the accompanying Playlist here.
I recently received a comment on the website suggesting that the bands that I write about here were not psychedelic at all, and that the only true psychedelic bands were those who emerged in the wave of the 1960s counter culture. I disagreed and explained why I thought differently. One of the reasons for this, I suggested, was that although ‘psych’ and ‘psychedelic’ are often used interchangeably they aren’t necessarily the same thing. I also suggested that, actually, we can get too hung up on genre in music (it can be a good descriptor but that’s it)… if music is good it’s worth listening to; and my definition for whether I write about something on here is that “it should interest me, move me emotionally, and take me somewhere else when I listen to it closely.” That’s it.
I’m mentioning this because it was fresh in my mind as I went to the sixth edition of the Liverpool International Festival of Psychedelia (Liverpool PsychFest). This is a festival that also takes a very broad view of what ‘psych’ is, and I dare say that many would disagree with their choices… and omissions… and have legitimate arguments for doing so. However, my correspondent did me a favour in getting me to think afresh about the music I listen to, which had me going into the PsychFest (this is my fifth) with a renewed sense of openness. Yes I wanted to see my favourite bands there, but also take the opportunity to stretch for something new. I’m glad I did because this was once again a magnificent two days of music, meeting like-minded friends, and making new ones.
Friday’s programme for me opened with Is Bliss, a three-piece who call themselves a ‘psychedelic shoegaze trio’… but there’s really more to them than that. They played a great high-tempo yet mellow set that was a really good way to ease my way into the festival. As their name suggests they are more chilled than dark, and the latter would have just been too much of a cliff-edge to go straight into.
The same can probably be said for Magic Shoppe, whose take on jangly psychedelic rock… with the emphasis on the garage reverb… took things up a notch in the intensity stakes, especially appearing on one of the smaller stages. Marking the end of their European Tour, the band really went for it helping me to get properly into the festival mood.
The Telescopes are a band that I have dipped into in the past but never really immersed myself in, which is why I took up a friend’s offer of a band playlist ahead of the festival. In many ways it left me none the wiser such was the eclectic nature of the band’s music, but when you looks at the roster of musicians who’ve played with them that’s hardly surprising. It seems that these days the band is principally the work of founder member Stephen Lawrie, with members of the band One Unique Signal providing the rest of the live band. Between them they delivered dark and hugely intense set that was everything I hoped it would be, at times ferocious and disjointed, at others fluid and coherent… but at all times massively heavy. The first of many pummellings this weekend.
Next up was Endless Boogie, one of the bands I had been really looking forward to. To say that they didn’t disappoint would be a massive understatement. From the very first bar they were away with there unique slant on blues rock with a performance that was intense and fluid. Playing just three tracks in just short of an hour they delivered massive grooves that just kept building and building until you think that they could not go any further… then take it to a whole new level. Certainly my band of the Friday, and probably the festival… just outstanding!
Träd Gräs och Stenar are one of those bands who really need no introduction, and who I have been wanting to see for sometime now. Massively influential as part of that group of Swedish bands who emerged from the sixties counter culture mixing traditional Swedish music with new techniques and left field music such as that coming out of German at the time. Without them we may not have many of the great Swedish bands of today (see my Swedish playlist for examples). Although not all of the original members are now playing under the band’s name that does not matter because the spirit of the band is kept alive by musicians from these contemporary bands. As such they gave a totally mesmerising performance that will live long in my memory. At times slow and considered, at others heavy and totally locked into a groove this set suggested that the band is still very relevant in exploring new horizons today. I suspect they never play the same set twice embracing the improvised nature of music that has always been their trademark, and here they were great.
I had been particularly looking forward to seeing JuJu after having immersed myself in the two albums that Gioele Valenti has brought out. Despite being in a poor position in one of the small rooms I enjoyed the first half of the set which reminded me just how good those albums are. I suspect, however, that a festival isn’t perhaps the best place to experience this music because of it’s emotional intensity and I hope I have the opportunity to see a stand-alone JuJu gig to get the full experience at some point in the not too distant future.
One of the more unfortunate clashes of the festival for me was that of JuJu with Julie’s Haircut, but having been blown away by the band’s album earlier in the year I really wanted to see them (I agonised over this for weeks). They turned out to be one of the highlights of the festival for me turning out a set that was a brilliant mixture of the off-beat and melodious, bringing an additional hard edge to their sound that really brought the album to life on another level. A that despite some real technical problems.
I finished of Friday with a small audience watching Denmark’s Grim Brides, an extreme noise band who put on the sort of chaotic show that was just perfect for that time of the evening. The rest of the festival missed out…sporting makeshift death masks they acted out what was looked like a most bizarre wedding rite that was placed precariously on the edge of the deeply dark and the massively fun. Either way they achieved a great balancing act of appearing both threatening and entertaining at the same time.
I have realised this year that there is something of a regular flow that goes with attending the PsychFest, at least for me. Friday always feels slightly fragmented as you settle into the festival vibe. Always some fabulous performances, but they tend to be more like a series of gigs. Saturday is something else as you drop straight into it and the day seems to just build as you go along. This year was no exception beginning with a red hot performance from dreamherbs who immediately blasted the cobwebs out of the Blade Factory stage, and of the minds of people watching. The band started early meant that I avoided a clash and was able to enjoy almost the whole of their set of fuzzy reverbed garage rock which was full on from the first minute, a great way to start the day.
I’ve been listening to Autobahn quite a bit over the last few weeks and have been really taken with their mix of punk and post punk, with some later elements of synth music added in for good measure. Live they didn’t disappoint with a punchy and tight set that featured new and released tracks.
Cavalier Song were one of my must sees of the festival. I’ve seen them a couple of times before and they have never disappointed. Now with the excellent second album released this month I was looking forward to hearing how it sounded live. Well as far as I’m concerned they absolutely nailed it. For me they are one of those bands who are best seen in a small room, such is the intimate nature of their music and so were well placed in the Blade Factory. It’s a word I’ve been using quite a lot here, but they were intense… really intense. The spoken vocals of Mark Greenwood complimenting the music wonderfully and the quiet moments well observed (as was the case for most of the weekend) by an appreciative crowd.
After a fairly long break I once again found myself in the Blade Factory for Zofff, another band I’d really been looking forward to on the back of a release from earlier this year. I was aware that that they were a band who played long jams, but that didn’t quite prepare me for the absolute tour de force from this four-piece. Getting straight on it from the very first minute they hammered through a series of bewildering time and tempo changes, in between getting in the sort of groove that left me breathless. This was improvised rock of the highest order and when, after forty minutes of constant pummelling, the drummer said he could go on no more the crowd just went wild; and those who saw it continued to marvel at this stunning performance for the rest of the day.
There’s nothing that I can say about White Manna that hasn’t been said before. Seriously what a band, even a man down (David Johnson was unable to travel) they put down the sort of scorched earth set that just confounded even my highest of expectations with the new tracks sounding absolutely brilliant live. But I’ll leave the last word to the wife of an old friend of mine who had never even heard them before seeing them. “Wow”, she said. “they sandblasted my face”. I couldn’t have put it better myself.
Jane Weaver was one of those acts this year that I had never really listened to before. So in the run up to the festival I had a few listens to her ‘Modern Kosmology’ album. After seeing her perform a set mainly based on that album I went out and bought the thing today. It was one of those occasions, and not for the last time this weekend, that seeing someone live really helped me to understand their music. Suited to the biggest Furnace stage the set was slick and punchy, Weaver being well served by a superb backing band. But it was the quality of the songs that really marked it out, with that motorik beat never far away Weaver’s confident performance was excellent; topped of with just a hint of vulnerability breaking through on occasion.
One of the things about this festival is the sheer breadth of acts on offer. This year I made more of conscious effort to vary what I saw this year. So after Jane Weaver I went to see Blackash, quite a contrast and another chaotic performance that left me feeling thrilled. After a slow start because of technical issues the band gradually picked up the pace so that by the end no one wanted them to stop what had been a shortened set. What we got was a great mixture of repeato beats, ice cold synths, blues and crazy vocals… there’s even a bit of glam in there… that were mixed in the right qualities to go crazy to… and so began an evening of mad dancing as the fantastic performances of earlier in the day were built on and just kept coming.
Baltic Fleet were next up for me with a live set that was so tight that you would have never guess that it was their first live performance in three year. Principally performing from the excellent ‘The Dear One’ album Paul Fleming and his band punched out track after track of highly infectious and intelligent music with the ingredients changed to make it more high tempo and high energy. So as techno beats competed with jazz rhythms and psychedelic journeys the whole thing came together in one blissed out sound that left me buzzing and wanting more. another great discovery!
It’s hard to imagine how the next band could have been so different. While Sex Swing are also a genre destroying band, bringing together elements of noise, punk, psych; well.. you name it… they are also extremely tight and intense. Essentially a sort of ‘super group’ containing members of other bands they are a largish collective that I have struggled to get completely having listened to their album quite a few times and failing to access some of the tracks. That all changed in the 45 minutes that the band ripped through a series of numbers that required the collective dexterity of seasoned musicians. This was an amazing performance that drilled right into you head, burrowed down into your cerebral cortex and shouted “dance you fucker!”. Of particular note was the ‘new song’ that they played, and which bodes well for a future release, and the final number which was utterly immense. The PsychFest strap line wasn’t wrong, this festival was destroying me.
I went out for a walk around for a brief respite from the unyielding programme on the Camp stage (not for the first time on a Saturday night), and came across Krautwerk; two seasoned musicians (Eberhard Kranemann and Harald Grosskopf) having an absolute ball in the pop-up PRIZM area. Having spent a very satisfying fifteen minutes of so watching the masters at work I returned to the scene of my eventual destruction, the Camp stage, for The Comet is Coming a band that I knew very little about before hand other than they came highly recommended. Bloody hell what a great decision that was! Comprising a drums, saxophone, and electronics this was a superb late night performance that just kept on hitting those highs. By that time of night my lucidity stretched little further than swearing at the wonder of it all, but as far as I can remember the combination of heavy beats infiltrated by techno moments and jazz flourishes, especially from the sax, left my body mainlined into the music. Was it psych? No one asked and no one seemed to care.
It was now well into Sunday morning, and the final live performance of the festival from Fujiya and Miyagi. If, like me, you were expecting a Japanese electronic duo you were very much mistaken. Instead what you did get was a hard-edged beats band primed to party. Actually they were more than that with their fusion of Krautrock, dance music and electronica which really got the early morning crowd moving. For me it was a great way to end the festival on a blissed out high, with music you can lose yourself with, yet music that still has a brain and make you think.
This, for me, is one of the essential things about the Liverpool PsychFest. Yes its about having a good time, about losing yourself in the weekend. But, for me, its also about expanding your mind, expanding my musical taste, and getting to know more interesting people who share my passion. I realised this time that one of the reasons why I really like this festival is that while it is ostensibly put together around the single ‘genre’ of ‘psych’, it does not use the term as the lowest common denominator. Rather as a meeting point for music and ideas. This is a festival that helps to diminish your musical prejudices not build them up. As always it was an intense and mind expanding experience, and I have once again come away knowing more things and people that when I went. Psych is most definitely not dead, it’s changing and evolving bringing in new forms and mixing up old ones… that’s what makes it hard to define, so let’s not… let’s just enjoy the trip… and what a trip it is.