With smaller, more left-field festivals such as Safe As Milk failing to get off the ground earlier this year, and the promising Transformer being forced to downsize in order to hold a second event, it was an interesting decision by the organisers of Liverpool Psych Fest to go for headliners that were less high profile than the previous year. Songhoy Blues and The Black Angels aren’t exactly unknown, but there’s a world of difference between them and popular, ticket shifting acts like Super Furry Animals and The Horrors.
Despite there being less people in attendance this year, especially on the Friday, the quality of music all across the weekend was of an even higher standard that in 2016. Saturday was by far the busiest day, with The Black Angels and the much hyped LA Witch drawing large crowds at both Furnace and District. For much of the weekend however, the focus was spread out fairly evenly across the four (five for a short time each evening) performance spaces which make up the world’s greatest audio-visual celebration of all things psychedelia.
The range of acts on offer is always one of the most fascinating things about the festival, with the psychedelia element applied fairly loosely. At Liverpool Psych Fest you can find a bit of everything, there’s shoegaze, noise, drone, industrial, krautrock, stoner rock, blues, space rock, jangle pop, folk, jazz, various forms of electronica and of course, full blown psychedelia. If you like your music to be a little bit on the weird side and accompanied by some of the finest visual displays around, then this is the place to be.
With over 80 artists and DJs to choose from this year, and so much more going in the upstairs area (a cinema, a chat show, a record shop, virtual reality and various other installations), it’s almost impossible to take it all in. Even on a site this small where it can take less than a minute to move between stages, there’s only so much one can do. After all, on top of watching some of the finest underground artists on the planet, there’s drinking to be done, as well as lots of new people to meet. Here’s our attempt to relay some of the highlights from Liverpool International Festival of Psychedelia 2017.FRIDAY
One of a number of local acts performing at this year’s event, FUSS kicked off the festival almost immediately after the doors were flung open. As expected, their spacey blend of shoegaze and dreamy psych pop drew a decent sized crowd in Blade Factory. Afterwards, hoping the queues had died down a bit, it was a good time to grab some beer tokens for the day (introduced in 2016, Psych Fest uses these instead of cash) before heading over to Furnace to see what the hype around Is Bliss was all about. The psychedelic shoegazers from Portsmouth served as a great introduction to what the main stage would offer up over the weekend, with TVs hanging from the ceiling (“flying tellys” as one Scouser called them) working in tandem with visual displays on a large screen behind the band.
The temptation to head over to Camp to sample some of the Castleface Records ‘Irregular Orbits’ showcase was strong, but so was the urge to explore what PRYZM had to offer upstairs before the music (and the beer) began to take over. Included alongside virtual reality corner (not recommended with a hangover) and the PZYK Cinema (which also hosted the Musings in Drone ‘chat show’ the following afternoon) were several new additions to the programme including a number of trippy experiments and something called Talkaoke, a mobile talk show hosted by a very lovely chap called Michael Weinkove where people could debate various topics from whether our society is over medicated to who shot JFK and why?
The first of several genuine highlights across the weekend came in the form of Aquaserge, the leading light of French underground pop label La Souterraine, which hosted it’s own showcase in 2016. Led by Julien Gasc, who also featured last year as part of Aquagascallo, the experimental collective from Toulouse were absolutely perfect, bringing a well balanced blend of psych-infused avant rock, prog and jazz to District on Friday afternoon. A good chunk of the material played came from their much slept upon fourth LP ‘laisse ça être’.
Which leads us on to The Telescopes, a band who are not as well remembered as their late 80s contemporaries My Bloody Valentine, or even fellow festival performers Loop (who sadly clashed with Gnod). However, their performance at this year’s event will not be forgotten by those who witnessed it as it was easily among the most ear drum popping of the weekend. It had everything required in order to set you up for the rest of day one, with aggressive vocals and heavily distorted guitars broken up by long feedback-filled pauses, before they pummelled the shit out of you again for another five-plus minutes. It was breathtaking stuff, leaving many people absolutely beaming, if perhaps a little deaf.
With Friday gathering pace there wasn’t much time to rest, so a visit to Camp was definitely in order see what the Castleface showcase had to offer before they packed up and left. Which, as it turned out, was rather promptly the next day, cancelling their participation in Musings In Drone in order to get down to London for another showcase which was somehow overlooked. Oh well. There were two of five scheduled bands remaining, with the fuzz pop trio Male Gaze and psychedelic prog rockers Once & Future Band both putting in a solid performances that were enhanced by the kaleidoscopic illuminations of visual artist Innerstrings.
Kicking off the late night PZYK Colony in Camp (a large, rectangular psychedelic curtain which drops down over the centre of the room after 10pm each night), The KVB showed just why Geoff Barrow of Portishead signed them up to his Invada Records label. Accompanied by some suitably icy visuals (grey cityscapes, cold blues etc.), their blend of electronic post-punk with elements of shoegaze and dream pop drew a lively crowd. There would have been very few regrets from those who chose the London-based duo over the promising Italian sextet Julie’s Haircut who were playing in District and the Friday night headliners Songhoy Blues.Mancunian industrial krautrock collective Gnod are known for playing with anything from between three and fifteen members at any one time. Five of them showed up at District, but perhaps most important of all was inclusion of a rather sketchy looking Neil Francis. Not looking like he was in the best state to perform during set up, that all changed as soon as they got underway as he began screaming passionately into the mic while wearing a camo-patterned parka. Largely performing tracks from their latest LP ‘Just Say No to the Psycho Right-Wing Capitalist Fascist Industrial Death Machine’, the highlight had to be the set closer ‘Bodies For Money‘ which saw the front section of the room erupt into a mosh pit. To sum their performance up in just three words: Holy. Fucking. Shit.
If you were looking for something to get your feet moving alongside some great human beings then sticking around for Parisian duo Acid Arab in the same venue was probably a good idea. At just under an hour their set was about as close to perfect as you can get, containing a psychedelic blend of strings, percussion and melody from the Middle East and North Africa alongside house and techno beats from the West, predominantly of the acid variety. It was all put together with great taste and a genuine love for the music of the Arab World, with no hint of cultural appropriation present whatsoever. The only disappointment was that it had to come to an end.Competing with The Telescopes for the loudest performance of the weekend was perhaps The Bug vs Dylan Carlson. Taking place during the early hours of Saturday morning in Camp, the crowd may have been light on numbers when we arrived but it certainly wasn’t lacking in intensity. More along the lines of the industrial doom metal that Dylan Carlson’s Earth are known for than the dub/dancehall sounds of The Bug, their apocalyptic collaboration has been primarily inspired by the urban dystopian writings of J.G. Ballard and the state of modern society as a whole (they’ve definitely read ‘Days of Destruction, Days of Revolt’ by Chris Hedges). The experience was very similar to a Sunn O))) live show but ultimately less nauseating, featuring red lights, a stage filled with thick smoke and the odd lunatic throwing their arms around like a windmill at the back of the room.
A heavier than planned first day on the PZYK Lager, with only four hours sleep, meant that day two began a little sluggishly. Much like Ultimate Painting in 2016 (whom James Hoare is also a key member of), The Proper Ornaments were the perfect way to begin the recovery process. Their more mellow rock sounds with a nice seat on the astroturf covered wooden steps at the back of Furnace, a few PZYK Ciders and some good company helped restore some life back into our weary bodies before we threw ourselves into something a bit more challenging.
With their largely improvised, Can-inspired sound which also borrows heavily from psychedelia and space rock, ZOFFF are the sort of band who are pretty much made for psych fests and live shows in general. Made up of members of Cardiacs, Dark Star and Levitation, their heavily rhythmic style was driven by perhaps the finest drumming performance of the festival. Repeatedly sending their sound into overdrive, he pounded away at his drum kit for a good 40-minutes until he could pound away no more. Excellent stuff.
Blending together elements of space and garage rock with psychedelia, drone and a touch of doom, Californian five-piece White Manna also love throwing a good old Stooges-like dirge into their tracks. Beginning their set just after 6pm in Furnace, it was around this point when the crowds really started showing up in their droves and these guys were clearly a big reason for that. They put in an superb showing alongside some unexpectedly colourful visuals featuring a mix of oranges, greens and pinks. Day two was up and running.
In one of the most highly anticipated shows of the weekend, the Brixton-based Meatraffle played a short but unforgettable set in Blade Factory featuring a new look line up which included perhaps the best individual performance of the entire festival. Their new second guitarist/noise maker (who apparently goes by the name of ‘Steaks’) had mischief in his eyes from the very start and we absolutely loved every damn minute of it. Set closer ‘The Horseshoe’ had to be among the highlights of the weekend, and as promised during their interview over the summer, Zsa Zsa Sapien even got them to perform ‘Psychedelia Smith’ for Marc Riley of BBC 6 Music. It’s now much easier to understand by the Fat White Family have declared them “the greatest band in the country right now bar none”. You had to feel for the sound guy though, who was left with the job of denying the hyped crowd an encore.
Saturday evening/early morning was all about the sax and the psychedelic curtain. Not really knowing a whole lot about Sex Swing prior to the festival, that all changed after their pre-midnight set under the illuminations of Camp. A blend of post-punk, noise rock and free jazz, their sound was not only dark and brutal but also incredibly danceable too. Featuring some utterly crazy sax playing, their set was also accompanied by some of the finest visual displays of the weekend, with Innerstrings being let loose in PZYK Colony for the first time this year. The only place to be was right in the centre of the room. Dazzling dissonance at its very best.
The Comet Is Coming were easily one of the most exciting additions to the line-up this year and they more than proved their worth with a fantastic midnight set in Camp. The cosmically-inclined nu-jazz trio were formed in 2013 when Sons of Kemet and Melt Yourself Down saxophonist Shabaka Hutchings joined Soccer96 synth and drum duo Danalogue and Betamax on stage during a show. Two EPs and one Mercury-nominated album later, their fusion of Afrobeat, jazz, electronica, funk, dub and psychedelia becomes almost rave-like when performed live. Propelled by the hard hitting and dynamic percussion work of Betamax, the intergalactic electronics of Danalogue and the seductive sax work of Hutchings, the chemistry between all three is quite incredible to witness.
There was very little about Fujiya & Miyagi that stood out during a good pre-listening session prior to this year’s event. However, any presumptions about what to expect went out of the window when hearing this band in the flesh. The final performance of the weekend was also one of the most fun, with their intelligently crafted and funky dance-rock designed for a party and that’s exactly how it went down. It’s just a shame that a disjointed early hours DJ set by Andy Votel (who was tremendous behind the decks in 2016) couldn’t keep the party going a little longer. After attempting a gin and tonic at the after party, it was finally time to admit defeat and stumble off to your hotel. See you next year Psych Fest. And every other year thereafter.