Live Review

Liverpool Sound City 2014

Locations and bands vary wildly at Liverpool’s three-day new music extravaganza.

From cathedrals to dingy bars, celebrated local staples to cafés shadowing as a venue, it’s not just the locations that vary wildly at this year’s Liverpool Sound City. Bands come in all shapes and sizes. Wander into the main square and a spandex suited group of strangers will be playing an acoustic set in what looks like a miniature barn. Peek round to the left and there’ll be hordes of queues, clambering in to see a group like Royal Blood in a crammed Duke Street Garage.

Lining up in one-in, one-out formation isn’t too much of a frustration across the weekend, thankfully. With Royal Blood, however, their DIY Stage slot might be the most in-demand. Once hundreds manage to pour inside, the pair waste no time in firing up the now noise-hungry crowd. An injection of riffed-up adrenaline at midnight, their set is packed to the brim with bolshy, swaggering rock’n’roll that induces many a headbanger into a bass-y daze.

This converted city centre car park seems the perfect setting for an impromptu riot. Last time round, DZ Deathrays were loud. This time, they’re deafening. Like two men stuck in a nuclear reactor trying to break their way out with a jackhammer, they contrast riffs perfectly with that nonchalant Aussie lilt. New track ‘Reflective Skull’ stands out a mile - a Godzilla of a beast, tonight its roar might flatten Liverpool.

Cut to the Liverpool Cathedral, just five minutes away, and you’re prompted with ceilings so high they almost touch the sky, huge stained glass windows flooding the space above with coloured light; it would be down right unholy to play here and not deliver the goods.

Looking at Olly Alexander, you wouldn’t necessarily expect that voice. Yes, Years & Years’ frontman has arrived on stage in shorts and a Ghostbusters jacket, and he may have another prolific career as a star of stage and screen, but his is the kind of soulful tone that demands to be heard. Soaring above the synth wobbles and electronic claps, this is modern music at its very best.

Say Lou Lou are certainly feeling their surroundings - easy to understand when their songs have a more than a hint of something massive about them. Velvet vocals and classic soaring Scandipop, the connection between twin sisters Elektra and Miranda is more than evident. A flicker in a guitar line here, a suggestion in a drum beat there, scale certainly doesn’t dwarf them.

Nineteen-year-old Chlöe Howl may have already joked that her set is taking place way past her bedtime, but you’d never guess from her performance. Dancing around the stage with an abundance of energy, her confessional pop songs are as addictive as they are joyous. It’s a set that’s entirely worth staying up for.

Double denim, casual white tees, scrappy solos - Superfood aren’t doing anything to knock back their 90s-adoring reputation. Frontman Dom Ganderton theatrically rolls his eyes into the back of his head as the Birmingham four-piece precede Wolf Alice with an intentionally slumbering but impressively tight-knit run through the tracks on their ‘TV’ EP. It’s in recent single ‘Melting’ that they prove their chops, though. It’s a big space they’re having to fill, but hooks like these don’t tend to hide in the corner.

Then it’s on to the hype acts, making good on promising debut tracks and early demos. Reports from Wet’s early shows in CMJ and SXSW suggested the buzzy NYC trio were capable of two hit or miss extremes. When their debut UK gig starts off, technical hitches hint at a mini-disaster, but the band persist, the crowd creeps forward and by the end, vocalist Kelly Zutrau looks like a star in the making. Minimal, post-xx pop has a new purpose.

Gengahr’s appearance on The Kazimier is about as understated as they come. Drenched in a soft blue light, the four-piece are barely visible on stage upon arrival, but they eventually open up. By the end, their moody but distinguished take on 90s-referencing rock stands up for itself. The band’s guitarist - a doppelgänger for Jonny Greenwood - plays like his heroes, while soft psych finds a new home with these mysterious newcomers.

Solids are the only band to play two sets in one day at Sound City, which given their diy-or-die, self-release mentality, seems to make a lot of sense. The Montreal duo rinse through the best of debut ‘Blame Confusion’, warts and all. A day-opening Sound Food and Drink set is all well and good, but it’s in warming up to Drenge’s slot in the Kazimier that the pair find their real cause.

With the exception of day three, music at Sound City kicks off at 7pm, roaring on until ungodly hours. But Thumpers’ giddy energy isn’t the kind to quit and head off for an early night. A 1.15am slot doesn’t bring them down, it just eggs them on. Every occasion is a ‘Galore’ occasion in their books, with the London duo joined on stage by hand-clappers, trumpeters and a lifetime’s supply of synths. ‘Dancing’s Done’ brings the best of tongue-twisting choruses, slurred drunken chants being hollered back from the crowd.

Courtney Barnett might need to work on her entourage names (the band are introduced with a “Hey, we’re Courtney Barnett and the Courtney Barnetts”), but running through tracks from her ‘The Double EP: A Sea Of Spilt Peas’, confidence abounds. These songs revel in the stuffiness and the sweat of Zanzibar, quickened in pace from their recorded form and ready to go a whole other level if required. “Our last song is going to be ten songs squeezed into three minutes,” Barnett jokes. If she pulled it off, it wouldn’t be that surprising.

There’s no stopping Slaves. After years, erm, slaving away, the London duo are now stampeding towards the finish line. Isaac Holman certainly looks the part. He’s so excited about the pair’s future he can’t stop running on the spot, thrashing away at his upholstered drum set in tandem. This is harsh, unrelenting geezerdom, cockney accents invading Merseyside and refusing to be tinkered with. They even pick up a choice comparison to the Mitchell brothers from someone in the crowd.

Before Drenge’s arrival, The Kazimier’s light system is faulty, basically non-existent. It’s been like that for the past twenty minutes. But by the time the Loveless brothers hitch up on stage, as soon as they launch into ‘The Snake’, all of a sudden they’re draped in pyrotechnics. This sums up the run of form the Sheffield duo are currently on, blitzing through the songs on their self-titled debut with unhinged confidence. With the Kazimier turned into one giant, arm-flailing mess, endless guitar shredding’s never felt so universally adored. Drenge are in rude health, but it feels like they’re on the brink of something even bigger, which makes the occasion all the more special

Of course, there’s always a bigger beast in the urban jungle. This might be Blood Red Shoes’ shortest set of their current tour, but they’re in no mood for fucking about. Tensed like a well trained muscle, when they choose to explode they’re surgically sharp and practically unstoppable. They may sound more brutal than ever - early salvos of ‘I Wish I Was Someone Better’ and ‘Don’t Ask’ both gaining new intensity - but wrapped in the smouldering embers of smokey battlefields, there will be no reply. It’s not needed. Liverpool is done.

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