With sets beginning in the early evening, day one of Sound City was meant to be a warm-up, some light precursor of the following weekend. Instead, it was an all-out assault. Swans broke decibel level records, Yak announced themselves as a fully-fledged force - nobody left the Bramley-Moore Dock festival site feeling remotely normal.
Day two has things getting even stranger. Peter Crouch aka #indiepete makes an appearance. Giant, spiked inflatable balloons race past stages pointing towards The Flaming Lips’ headline set. People are giving away pies on boats. Sound City’s edging towards being spectacular. As it turns out though, it’s the names closer to planet earth - and Liverpool itself - that steal the agenda.
“Geographically, we’re the nearest band to this festival,” beams Gulf’s frontman Mark Jones. gesticulating towards a harbour opposite Sound City’s main stage. “Our practice space is just over there.”
Gulf might take a few cues from standard-fare psychedelia - woozy pedal-muddied guitars and all-you-can-eat buffet portions of reverb - but somehow they render the haze crisp, and immediate, too. Already a polished live outfit, and with an impressive catalogue of singles quietly stacked up, Gulf are a band to keep a beady eye on.
Photos: Astronomyy and Gulf.
Tei Shi arrives on The Cargo Stage welcomed by more than enough people to keep Valerie Teicher beaming throughout a short but sweet set. Opening with ‘Can’t Be Sure’ and ‘Nevermind The End’, the Brooklyn-based singer doesn’t hesitate for one second in maintaining undivided attention. One moment prowling the stage, the next attending to manipulating her voice, Teicher provides a faithful and flawless performance of Beyoncé’s ‘No Angel’, before unravelling woozy renditions of ‘Go Slow’ and ‘Bassically’. She has a crowd hanging on every word, beat and step. An early marker for the weekend’s sharpest showcase of uninhibited and spellbinding pop music.
Photos: Klo, Moats and Tei Shi.
Hailing from just down the road, Hooton Tennis Club are local gems ready to go skywards. Sound City being the starting point, this Wirral four-piece are taking the easy-does-it route to the top. The Heavenly signings pen song titles longer than the tracks themselves, and there’s a style to their slacker vibe. Lazy isn’t the word. Everything they deliver is done so with a flourish. Bassist Callum McFadden - who works on a boat on this very Mersey river - likes to perform pirouettes midway through licks. Ryan Murphy and James Madden share vocal duties like they’re passing a baton, and together they sharply deliver don’t-give-a-fuck songs like Parquet Courts after being given a deadline.
Photos: Hooton Tennis Club.
Day two belongs to the local favourites. Whether it’s Gulf’s practice space connection, or Hooton Tennis Club’s fast-rising status as Liverpool’s most exciting new band, there’s a belief that the closer you are to home, the more likely you are to triumph (that’s unless you’re on another planet - paging Wayne Coyne).
All We Are have an HQ nearby, and it was this space that afforded them enough time to craft the stirring, funk-inflected songs making up their self-titled debut album. They’re in a celebratory mood. Drummer Rich O’Flynn spends half of the set time with his arms in the air, reaching out to nobody in particular. They’re welcomed by hundreds, playing to one of the biggest crowds in their short but more-than-promising career. Closer ‘Keep Me Alive’ is a dramatic thud, but it’s in the more gentle ‘Utmost Good’ and ‘Something About You’ that they truly woo, spiralling guitar lines going way beyond the local confines.
Photos: All We Are and Bad Breeding.
Dutch Uncles arrive on stage as the sun is high, promising a surprise filled set to an already lively crowd. There’s some unorthodox dancing taking place side of stage, Pete Broadhead starts clapping to herald in “festival season” - everything’s gone a bit loopy at Sound City.
During a brief break, Duncan Wallis laments that he and his band couldn’t eat some pies in the VIP area, but it turns out to be a blessing that they weren’t left feeling a little lethargic. Focusing mainly on material from the latest album ‘O Shudder’, the group ensure there’s enough jerks, lunges and playfulness for them to forget skipping meals. Dutch Uncles are just as eye-catching when they play their so-called “slow jams”, and there’s a surprise performance of ‘Flexxin’, before a member of Outfit helps out with additional guitars towards the end of their set. Another day, another evergreen and consistent set from Marple’s finest.
Basking under blue skies, Liverpool locals Stealing Sheep are onstage with their strange, unwieldily take on folk. Slick visuals form the focal centre - costume jewellry and detached fingers whirl around on the backdrop - and Duncan Wallis of Dutch Uncles gets up on stage too to quite literally shake his maracas.
Photos: Dutch Uncles, God Damn and Stealing Sheep.
A few songs into his set, the man playing Sound City’s main stage pauses to address the assembled revelers. “My name’s Thurston,” he explains, and it’s slightly unnecessarily given the percentage of ‘Goo’ t-shirts present in the crowd. Thurston Moore’s set, after all, couldn’t really get any more Thurston if it tried. He flops lazily about the stage like an overgrown teenager plugged into a fuzzy mini-amp, and his finest moments touch on the genius flare of ‘Dirty’-era Sonic Youth. Thurston also refers casually to his bandmates Debbie and Steve. Really, he’s up on stage with Debbie Goode of My Bloody Valentine, and his former Sonic Youth drummer Steve Shelley. Quite the supergroup are out in force.
By the time Unknown Mortal Orchestra take to the Baltic Stage, they’re greeted with an incredibly busy and baying warehouse. Before launching into ‘Swim and Sleep (Like a Shark)’, Ruban Nielson makes a humbled smile and gestures a faint “hello” towards the crowd, but it’s anyone guess as to what comes next.
‘So Good At Being In Trouble’ and ‘How Can You Love Me?’ are performed pitch-perfectly, boosted by the extra live member and a new set-up UMO have going for new album ‘Multi-Love’. It’s all elaborate jazz notes and thrashing, ‘Whiplash’-nodding drum solos.
Closing the proceedings with ‘Multi-Love’, ‘Stage Or Screen’, and ‘Can’t Keep Checking My Phone’, Nielson sings the title-track with such delicacy and poise that everyone’s in lieu to each of his aching lines. Sadly short-lived, the appearance is still every bit of a triumph, the beginning of what could be a huge year for UMO.
Photos: Black Honey, Spring King, TGOASTT, Thurston Moore and Unknown Mortal Orchestra.
Fucked Up arrive in stark contrast to the kaleidoscope pop of Unknown Mortal Orchestra, and Damian Abraham is as formidable as ever, clutching at his head, swinging his microphone in dangerously wide circles, doubling over, and then throwing himself at the barriers like a stair-borne slinky. There’s a modest, but intensely focused crowd gathered in the DIY Baltic stage for the onslaught, and Fucked Up rise to the occasion.
The band’s triple dose of guitars - Mike Haliechuk, Ben Cook, and Josh Zucker - power forward, and Jonah Falco’s drums are muscular, relentless pistons. Meanwhile, bassist Sandy Miranda is the storm’s rhythmic epicentre. Abraham is often the main draw of Fucked Up, but add a roaring, unstable frontman to the unshakeable foundations the band has tonight, and you get a class hardcore act that’s hard to beat.
Photos: Fucked Up.
Photos: Emma Swann. Words: El Hunt, Jamie Milton, Sean Stanley.