There are a lot of festivals to choose from nowadays, but very few are as unique and brilliantly executed as the Liverpool International Festival of Psychedelia. Holding its fifth annual event at the Baltic Triangle’s Camp & Furnace warehouse, the weekend of 23rd and 24th September saw the cold, hard industrial heartland of the city transformed into the finest audio-visual celebration of all things psychedelia in Europe, if not the world.
With over one hundred artists and DJ’s from around the globe appearing across the four closely positioned performance spaces of Camp, Furnace, Blade Factory and District (five if you include PRYZM), this year was also supplemented by an array of stunning visual displays, tripped-out virtual reality art installations, a psych-inspired cinema, a four hour chat-show and a record shop courtesy of Dig Vinyl.
Psych Fest began with the sad news that Nawksh were unable travel over from Pakistan due to visa issues, unfortunately leaving the Guruguru Brain: Narrow Road To The Deep Mind showcase one act down. However, the other three bands more than made up for the absence of their label mate with some blistering performances to steal to show on Friday afternoon.
Taiwanese experimental noise folk five-piece Prairie WWWW got the ball rolling, sparking a quiet and dimly lit Camp into life as curious crowds poured in to witness their nature inspired sounds. Japanese krautrockers Minami Deutsch then took things to the next level, blowing everyone away with a face melting performance under deep red lights. Tokyo-based label owners Kikagaku Moyo finished off the showcase in style with a fantastic set of their own, featuring an upbeat blend of fuzzy and folky psychedelic raga rock.
As the main stage, Furnace was home to some of the most mesmerising psychedelic projections of weekend, with the superb work of Innerstrings accompanying solid showings by Mexico’s Lorelle Meets the Obsolete and Sweden’s Josefin Öhrn and the Liberation during the late afternoon and early evening. However, it was the psyched-up Welsh-language electronica of Gwenno which went down as one of Friday’s finest performances. Playing songs from her politically-inspired 2015 album ‘Y Dydd Olaf’, it was her the last live show before she takes a well-earned break.
A headline set at Furnace by Super Furry Animals was the only time a one-in-one-out system had to be enforced over the weekend. Being the biggest draw of the festival it wasn’t at all surprising. They certainly lived up to their reputation as one of Britain most consistently brilliant live acts, with fans along the front row going absolutely “APE SHIT!” even before a Red Power Ranger helmet sporting Gruff Rhys held up his cue cards during set opener ‘Slow Life’. And it pretty much stayed that way until the very end, as the Welsh five-piece belted out a lively selection of songs which leaned heavily on their debut ‘Fuzzy Logic’ and its follow-up ‘Radiator’.
After a thrilling opening day, Friday night would still have plenty more to offer. Misunderstood mid-90’s soul-gazers The Veldt provided a stunning but short set over at the cosy District. Looking visibly pissed off, they had the audience on their side and were duly allowed to perform what was probably the only encore of the weekend. But if you were after something a little more unsettling, Camp played host to its own psychedelic effects with the PYZK Colony. The 360-degree visual installation was making its Psych Fest debut and was at its finest during an interesting set by dark ambient techno duo Demdike Stare.
By far the heaviest band playing after midnight were the bass-led sludgy grunge duo MDME SPKR who quite literally blew the roof off an incredibly sweaty Blade Factory. While the best was certainly saved for last over at District, with a jam packed room treated to a colourful performance by multi-cultural psych-folk experimentalists Flamingods. The five-piece more than justifying the hype that’s been building around them since the release of their fourth album earlier in the year.
Those with day tickets were typically the first to arrive on Saturday, being in a much better condition than those who had partied hard the night before. If you were feeling a little tender and wanted to ease yourself into the day then it was a great time to check out some of the Musings In Drone talks situated on the first floor in the PYZK Cinema area. And if you got there early enough, there were nice big cushions scattered across the floor awaiting your weary head.
With a chat-show format featuring guests like six-time former World Snooker Champion Steve Davis, fresh from his Friday evening DJ set, and Super Furry Animals illustrator Pete Fowler, whose virtual reality art installation Perambulator V. 1 was located in the PZYK Gallery next door, the entire first floor was a great place to spend a few of hours drinking coffee, conversing with some very friendly fellow festival-goers and perusing the records on offer at the Dig Vinyl hosted Psychedelic World of Wax Wonders.
The first truly great performance of day two came from Pure Phase Ensemble 4 who were performing a UK exclusive show. Formed as a revolving experimental collective at SpaceFest in Poland on the Baltic coast by former Spiritualized saxophonist Ray Dickaty, the latest and most successful incarnation has been led by Mark Gardener of Ride. Their usually chilly blend of space rock, shoegaze and psychedelia was more like a big and beautifully warm embrace at Furnace during their tea time set.
The Horrors put in an incredibly loud but pretty uninspiring headline performance at Furnace. Besides being virtually inaudible for large parts of their set, they were also barely visible from behind a thick cloud of mist and bright white lasers. Coming after The Moonlandingz had just rocked the very same stage with a fantastic performance full of all kinds of antics, people could hardly be blamed for making their way towards the exit to see what else was on offer, either next door in Camp, or a couple of minutes down the road at Blade Factory and District.
One of the most intriguing artists to appear over the weekend was Eartheater, who performed at Blade Factory in what was the final show of her European tour in support of last year’s two album releases. Her detailed, collage-like compositions saw her shifting almost seamlessly through a number of different styles, from psychedelic folk and electronica, to noise and hip hop, creating an experimental sound that was both challenging and stunningly beautiful. Throw in a bit of performance and visual art and you have something that will stick in your memory for a very long time.
After midnight, Camp played host to former Stereolab sonic architect Tim Gane performing alongside former Stereolab drummer Joe Dilworth and Holger Zapf on synths as Cavern of Anti-Matter. Holger Zapf was reluctantly given mic duties but words were are hardly needed as the electronically-infused instrumental krautrock trio put in an absolutely superb performance. With the PYZK Colony visuals in full effect, it set everyone up nicely for a very late night of partying with three of the festivals finest DJ’s.
Andy Votel kept things alive at Camp with a superb set in the early hours between performances by The Oscillation and Acid Washed, while The Horrors keyboardist/synth player Tom Furse could be found spinning tunes in the Atrium area until fairly late. However, the best was saved for the official after party over at Blade Factory, hosted by the fantastic Cherrystones who kept everyone’s feet moving with plenty of amazing material until sometime after 5am.