Liverpool Psych Fest: website
By: Martyn Coppack
If there was any pressure on Liverpool International Festival of Psychedelia this year, with first the announcement of Goat and then eventually selling out, it certainly didn’t show. Now in it’s third year, the 2014 edition felt like the culmination of those first two plus a tantalising glimpse at what the future may hold. As the hordes of psych fans descended upon what can now be seen as the premier psych event in Europe, there was a certain excitement in the air. A feeling that this year was going to be special. This may be one that would go down in the annals of festival history. This was Liverpool Psych Fest at a time when psych music has never been so popular or interesting.
So how to go about reviewing this festival. For an event built on creating a “feeling” rather than a bunch of bands playing their hit songs it would seem rather silly to pick the music apart and say that this and that band played that. What would be the point? Whilst the festival is about music (for the most part), it is not about individuality of bands. At least not in the sense that here are this year’s hitmakers. This will make sense don’t worry. So in approach let’s review the feeling, the atmosphere, the event itself…and of course, the music.
There have been some complaints over the use of Camp and Furnace as a venue of late but in truth it is actually a perfect place. Set apart from the city yet close enough to not feel stranded, this year their was the added expansion of a chill out area situated outside which creating a bijou feeling to a rather industrial looking street. It was a welcome of Turkish psych replete with hookahs and a fine way to relax after getting your brain melted by one of the many bands. The cleanliness was nice to see as well as wasted punters made sure to use any bins or take there empty pints back to the bar. Security was on the right side of friendly and let people get on with having a good time which is a real eye opener in these days of corporate events and when the sun sets and the bounty of delicious food wafts up into the air it could very well be some marketplace in Marrakesh.
What is there to say about the people who attend this festival. One of the defining characteristics of this year was the sheer range of ages in people. Mix this in with a complete disregard for generic conventions and throw in a hug dose of friendliness and you have what amounts to the loveliest and safest festival you will ever attend. Balding ex-mods mix with ageing hippies whilst tracksuit wearing hipsters mingle with long haired stoners. It was a festival where you could talk to anyone and they would talk back to you. They would then greet you every time you bumped into them again. It was a real community and made for a joyous experience. In fact, we could go as far as saying it was the punters who made the festival this year.
Another interesting point is that there is no boundary between musician and fan and you could spot any number of the artists mingling around all eager to say hello and talk psych or whatever you wanted. Egos were laid at the door and friendships were made. It showed that the whole “psych community” does actually exist.
This years line-up was pretty much the cream of the crop when it came to “psych” music. A jawdropping bill featuring bands from all over the world, maybe the best thing to say about it all was the way they all seemed to try to outdo each other. No small means either with the way Purple Heart Parade opened up quickly followed by a Formes who may just be one brink of something special. Both bands who have been gigging together for a while, both completely different styles. Both knowing exactly what they were doing. That was the start….now some more highlights…
Asteroid #4…competing with a jam packed Pete Bassman in Blade, Asteroid #4 were unfazed by any distractions and provided the first glimpse of what a mind bending experience this festival can be. As the innerstrings lightshow cascaded around them, their songs built up to crescendos before dropping right down to do it all again. For a late afternoon start they completely twisted some punters minds and a welcome break in the chill out room was needed.
Les Big Byrd….that break didn’t last long though as Swedish sensations Les Big Byrd showed exactly why they are being raved about. With essentially the siplest idea ever and maybe with a nod to Orbital, the band had covered themselves in tiny lights around their hands and parts of their body so that when they moved their very own light show happened. Throw in some of the best songs from THE best album of the year and Furnace was a veritable pit of dancing bodies.
Black Bombaim….taking over the much smaller Blade stage, Black Bombaim delivered what was essentially an hour long jam that just built and built and built. Taking in everything from Grateful Dead to Sun Ra with some doom elements thrown in, the pit was awash with surfing bodies as the stage got invaded time and time again. A heaving mass of swirling and dancing bodies freaked out to the skronked out psych emanating rom the stage whilst the band looked like they were having the time of their lives.
Suuns…after tripping over Amen Dunes and discovering the wonders of the rather brilliant Vacant Lots and Younghusband it was time to chill out with the Friday night headliners Suuns. Staking a spot at the back of Furnace, you could see how the whole ambience of the festival works on the mix of vicuals and music. Everywhere you look thee are screens or some sort of fractal or oil lamp and for Suuns it was a simple blissed out sun. That’s all it took..and that was all that was needed. An utterly mesmeric journey through Images De Futur, they played a set which was part psychotic but full hypnotic, the throbbing bass of the last song being a timely reminder of how simplicity is the key. A brilliant performance by a brilliant band
Mazes…..maybe one of the more auspicious bands to play the festival this year, Mazes may not be everyone’s idea of psych but from the off they delivered jam after jam as their hybrid sound which is two parts Weezer and one part Talking Heads played out at a nervy pace. When it worked it was sublime but there were moments where it didn’t quite work. Maybe it was the early afternoon crowd although most seemed to enjoy it.
Islet….and then Islet happened. Where Mazes were a sore thumb sticking out, Islet were that same thumb banged twice with a bloody huge hammer. But then after all, this is Islet and no gig is ever the same with these. Starting from the back of the crod by silencing the audience with their beautiful beginning, the band soon climbed on to stage to deliver their animalistic sound. All yelps and pounding drums broken down by moments of rapture, it s was a joly in the backside for the stoned out punters who soon got into the groove of things. If you ever get the chance to watch Islet do it. They are unlike any other band you will watch.
Janitors…. On first listen Janitors sound like a psyched up version of Interpol. About halfway thrugh their first song though you realise that they are a hell of a lot more than that. By the end of the set you realise you have witnessed something rather special. The sea of faces said it all as jaws dropped at the terrifying yet cozy sounds throbbing from the stage. It was dark, dangerous, sultry…and beautiful. Janitors were brilliant and it is easy to see them headling this very festival in the next few years
The Lucid Dream…Building on last years highlight set, The Lucid Dream had to go one better this year having finally moved up to the main stage. This is The Lucid Dream though and apart from showing shock at the size of the crowd, they delivered a mind melting experience which was one of the many intense moments that today had to offer. Playing songs from their new album, they had the bravery to go a different route and throw in a dub song inspired by King Tubby which literally brought the house down. These guys are going to be huge, they have the attitude, they are frankly scary in the way they know how to deliver psych right to your mind and they have the songs. Another winning set from who are now legends of the festival.
Sleepy Sun…whether it wad the timing or whether Sleepy Sun just knew what they were doing, the psych alignment that happened during their set was nothing short of phenomenal. Causing a mass outburst of stoned out nodding, the Sun came at you like The Doors on a serious case of mogadon exposure and through the throbbing bass lines and blasts of harmonica they powered through what can only be described as a set for the ages. The passion that dripped from the band was intense and this passed over to the crowd who lapped up every single second. Throwing all doubts to the wind that maybe they couldn’t quite cut it live, this was simply stunning and a stone cold classic.
Hills….the surprise hit of the festival was yet another Swedish band, this time laying down hypnotic trance beats over a psychedelically filled landscape. In perfect symbiosis with the environment, they worked the audience into what can only be described as a trance like stupor as people stared goggle eyed at the visuals and danced to the music of Hills. It was a truly loved up experience which hasn’t been seen since the heady days of rave and for many people, the absolute highlight of Psych Fest this year.
Woods….the variety in music this year was incredible and after the stoned out blues of Sleepy Sun and the trance of Hills it was down to the lovely Woods to bring a little Americana indie-lite to proceedings. Not that there is anything light about this band and over the course of an hour they threw out songs from their excellent new album with a super long With Light and With Love which reached proportions only hinted at on record. The audience danced and sang along (yes sang, not something you see at a Psych Fest) and Woods seemed to love every minute of it. They won a lot of new fans tonight judging from the reaction outside after the show.
Gnod…as mentioned earlier every band seemed to be trying to out do each other. With Gnod it was all bets off. Already confirmed to appear with Dave White, actually witnessing this in the flesh was spine shivering. And that was before the music started. From a dull throb they built up a cavernous echoe of noise as White stalked the stage like some demented shaman intent on delivering us all to the temple of psych. The visuals pumped up leaving White a black shape throwing his arms around beckoning you to join him. Then the music erupted with a little shimmy of drum noises around the boom and we were off. Nirvana must feel like this. Heaven must feel like this. Hell must feel like this. A sea of contorted bodies writhed to the pulsing beats as clangs of white noise washed over everyone all the time being batted back by White’s howling lyrics. You needed to be there to really understand. Words can’t do this justice
White Hills…with everyone else buggering off to see some band called Goat and having just played a blinder with Gnod it’s a wonder Dave White wanted to carry one but it showed the true rock and roll fire in his heart as he stalked the stage in his silver pants looking every inch like a rock god. And then they started. One last blast of rock and roll action and White Hills knew exactly what they were doing. Equal parts cool and raunch, bass player Ego pulled all the requisite moves whilst White disappeared into a caver of smoke and channeled the spirit of Hendrix right through a fuzzed out motorik beat. Playing off each other the set was perfectly times to pull in the rest of the crowd who had failed to get into Goat and by the time Under Skin started they had a full room. To top it all off they finished with a storming version of ‘In Your Room’ whose bleeding guitar sound just shredded the audience whilst Ego yelled out the backing vocals. White Hills looked happy, the crowd were elated and we even got a bow from all three members. A true psychedelic rock experience from one of the best bands around. Tonight belonged to White Hills.
Remaining thoughts?…..After picking up the pieces of your brain and as the dust settles parts of the festival keep coming back to you that you had forgotten. Maybe Psych Fest had reached its epiphany this yer, we won’t know until next time. The feeling is though that this year was a special one. The stars had aligned and the looks on the punters faces just said it all really. Yes, there were gripes. Many people didn’t get to see Goat…that’s an issue with getting more popular bands unfortunately. But then the pros far outweighed the cons. Far, far outweighed them. Liverpool Psych Fest proved its worth this year (and all for only £50), it proved that it really is the premier psych festical in Eurpoe…and it alslo proved that the beating heart of the psych community is here to stay. Let’s bring the curtains down on this with a final reply from one the highlights of the year. One of the questions of this years festival was what it the idea of psych? Just what is it? This reply pretty much sums up just what psych is. Psych is everything…and nothing.
“’Psych’ is a term generally used to pigeon hole bands. It is a term that is often misused and, in the current wave of ‘psychedelia’, a term that bands are perhaps ‘jumping’ onto. For me, psychedelia is the music of the likes of Syd Barrett era Pink Floyd, The West Coast Pop Art Experimental Band, music that genuinely sounds ‘psychotic’ and justifies the term ‘psych’.
The Lucid Dream are a band who without doubt have elements of ‘psych’ but it isn’t a term we feel covers us a whole, as at times we think we sound ‘anti-psych!’” – The Lucid Dream