Liverpool International Festival of Psychedelia 2017

by Ian Fraser Rating: Release Date:

Psych Fest seems to have been on a health regime of late. This year’s line-up weighed in a fair bit lighter than usual and had shed a few more pounds between the announcement of day splits and stage times. Only time would tell whether this new leaner Liverpool was fitter or just more skeletal.

There was but one way to find out, I suppose.

FRIDAY

Grey skies and intermittent rain signalled a change in fortune for the usually charmed PZYK when it comes to the weather. With several layers of clothes to ward against both climate and a lingering bug and with no room in the starting eleven for either the paisley shirt or the poncey one it was straight indoors and down to business with (almost) festival openers Yassassin. Decked out in their bounty from the dressing up box the girls blazed a trail with their choppy, knees-up rhythms, a playful approach belying the occasional more serious note and a real hint of rebel rousing chorus. Stick with it and you feel they won’t be propping up festival bills for long.

Over in Furnace and it was down to Is Bliss to ease the hinges on the main stage. With a couple of mini-albums to their credit the Portsmouth band’s template appears to be shoegaze with hobnails. It can seem a bit telegraphed but it did the job in clearing dust out of the old place and, judging by the reaction, set up the crowd like a mug of satisfying if unspectacular java.

Sonic Dawn may have the look and sound of early 1970s California but had the benefit of only having to travel from their native Copenhagen. Saves time I suppose. A refreshingly heady old school blend of West Coast melodies and nicely crafted blues rock this was a timely reminder that psychedelia is a pick ‘n’ mix variety available in all shapes and colours (black included) and that old flavours are still capable of giving intense satisfaction.

I’m a sucker for the Gallic pop charms of Laetitia Sadier (here with Source Ensemble) but they are more conducive to intimacy and cabaret style seating arrangements/lighting than big old factory buildings. It never did me any harm of course, but, luxuriate in it as I did from start to finish, I could not but help notice certain compatriots becoming distracted by thoughts of beer and what might be found in other corners. Guys?...Guys?

Having been mightily underwhelmed by the new Telescopes album I decided not to stick around for them. It’s a decision I may have regretted once or twice since as people whose judgement I generally trust reckon they nailed it. Regrets? I have a few, but then again. WH Lung provided the lure and a first foray into the Blade Factory, a great little venue if there are no more than 50 of you in there but an immensely stupid one otherwise. The lurgy, which does not like confined space, keeps tugging at my sleeve and making sharp glances at the exit until I could stand it no longer. It was perfectly passable while it lasted, mind. The Manchester band has only been playing live a matter of months but have already played Green Man, End Of The Road and are being touted as Ones To Watch. Hype or not, they do early 1980s very well (pre-stadium Simple Minds anyone) even down to the singer’s hair and mannerisms. I’m watching. Male Gaze from Californi-i-a on Camp offered more room and boy did they need it as they sure have sound-a-plenty. This is cloven hooves to the floor gear but not without a certain catchiness not entirely drowned out by the famously decibel thirsty sound guys at the Furnace. Nice Joy Division undertones (that’s three bands namechecked in four words by the way) beneath the energised rampage, too.

One of a clutch of must-hears this year, NYC’s Endless Boogie were also the most appropriately named band of the festival. Locking into a titanic blues rock groove we were treated – and I mean treated – to three dirty massive helpings of almost unassailably epic proportions, a pyramid of perfection, pretty much. Paul Major’s bourbon-through-the-bong growl is not dissimilar to Captain Beefheart, the all-round playing a more than fulsome tribute to the John Lee Hooker album from which the band take their name. I’m still pouring swamp water out of my boots. I also refuse to believe that they aren’t still playing.

Confessional moment coming up, folks. Don’t tell anyone I’ve told you this but I cut out a little early from Endless Boogie’s astonishing performance in the interests of variation and spread of coverage. Bad move. The Once And Future Band, another of the Castle Face showcase, offer up a curiously retro-brand of clever and melodic 70s prog, jazzy AOR and Todd Rundgren-style arrangements. On record and in the comfort on one’s sitting room, this works well enough. In the Camp it was the aural equivalent of a chimp’s tea party. The sound was all over the place so it was hard to tell who was playing what or if they were playing the same song and the vocals when not indistinct seemed distinctly inharmonious. In a word, unlistenable. Maybe they got the sound right in the end, but with so much going on at these event you have to get it right quickly or you lose your audience.

There was something about this year’s line which lent it something in common with those holiday camp 60s theme weekenders. Loop and W.I.T.C.H now boast only one original member these days. So too legendary Swedes Trad Gras Och Stener (which doesn’t translate as “stone, paper, scissors” much as I’d like to tell you that) now augmented by, among others, members of more recent Swedish phenomena Dungen and Hills. Just recently they were playing to rave reviews in the intimate environs of London’s Café Oto. Here, to a sumptuous molten backdrop they are playing in a space several times the size. Could they pull it off? Affirmative captain, or rather they could when it worked which is to say enough of the time. When it clicked it was the most beautiful, intense and most transcendent of experiences. To get there you had to ride out some turbulence in the form of noodling introspection, which is perfectly ok in a Dalston art space but I’m sure had me checking my navel for fluff at one point.

By the time the day’s headliners Songhoy Blues took the stage your scribe was flagging badly. Lurgy is such a drag for company and I vowed not to bring it with me again. What ought to have been a joyous opportunity to get up on one’s toes while sporting a comical and unending grin probably was for most people. Yet despite those infectiously tight, repetitive Afro-rhythms (original motorik, peeps, who says it’s not psych) and visual entertainment the end was nigh. Half way in and there was nothing for it but to beat as dignified a retreat as possible. If nothing else it would resolve that interminable Gnod v Loop question - for some unfathomable reason they were scheduled for exactly the same time. The answer came loud and clear: “neither for you matey, it’s back to bed you go”.

SATURDAY

The imperative to get back on some sort of even keel before embarking on Super Saturday meant regrettably missing another on the “must” list, the splendid Cavalier Song. God as if I wasn’t already King Grump by this stage. Still I at least made it into the poncey shirt this time. Well you’ve got to make the effort haven’t you as Saturday is when the day trippers show up who’d spent the whole morning making sure their look was just right.

But just what was that queue that awaited me on arrival? The one for the beer tokens, perhaps, or for one of the remarkably few food outlets, maybe. No, it was the one of people lining up to tell me how bloody fantastic Gnod were last night. I tried countering that I got the best of them for Terrascope (with AcemanSpaceman) in Cardiff at our Election Night Special but that seemed to cut no ice with anyone.

Zofff was a name I’d come across many a time and oft, usually on the posters for more niche, what we still like to call “hippy” festivals, but had never knowingly had the pleasure. I had it on good authority that I’d like them. That authority was indeed good. Comprising former members of 90s favourites The Cardiacs, Leviathan and Dark Star their brand of cosmic (kosmische) beats and space rock maelstrom delivered with an often bewildering dexterity was the perfect uplift and must rank as one of the weekend’s top slots. When a drummer drums ‘til a drummer can drum no more you know you’ve been entertained. Where the hell have I been all these years?

Over in the Camp Il Sogno Del Marinaio matched legendary bassman Mike Watt with Andreas Belfi and Stefano Pila. It was a short visit between Zofff and what would come next, but the finely balanced mixture of jaunty, sinewy rock and comfortable fluidity sounded very attractive indeed. So much so they may well need to be checked out properly while they are still over here.

However, nothing was going to get in the way of me and White Manna. In fact the first five rows seemed to be populated with so many familiar faces that this must have been a general consensus. They didn’t disappoint in the slightest despite missing stay at home guitarist David Johnson (seamlessly replaced by the band’s driver). Their set was volcanically intense – I’ve used the term “scorched earth” probably once too often in the context of their albums but it still holds true – with some material with which I am not yet familiar. That’ll be the new stuff then. I am familiar with Dune Worship, though, and feel I’ve just witnessed the mother of all sandstorms and been thoroughly cleansed as a result.

The best was yet to come. Wolf People have never, ever disappointed since I first saw them supporting Dungen many years ago (and probably not before that, either). However I had wondered how their idiosyncratic but occasionally muscular neo-folk rock, harking back to turn of the 70s Jethro Tull sound tracking Witchfinder General would go down here and whether they might sound a tad fey in such company. Instead they turned in the most perfectly judged and executed set I witnessed the whole weekend, their snarling amped-up six piece delivery (they were augmented by one of the aforementioned Dungen) providing a spine tingling counterpoint to those lilting wyrd folk melodies. Just when you think a band can’t go higher in your estimations they turn it up to 11. Supreme champions of PZYK 2017.

There was, in the cavernous Furnace space, A Place To Bury Strangers. It was also a good place to strap yourself to the post, Jason-style, and have your face melted and brain fried at the same time. Blistering and thrilling in its noise and lack of subtlety they took this year’s Destruction Unit Award for services to sensory overload. Nice touch at the end when guitarist and bassist came into the crowd for the finale.

A volte face at the door was required as the security gonks were already in force applying an in and out policy barking “which way are you going” at anyone who seemed in any way hesitant. This was a wise move in retrospect as it ensured a prime position for W.I.T.C.H (We Intend To Cause Havoc). The Zamrock pioneers of the 1970s are still led by charismatic singer and raconteur Emmanuel Chanda but, aside from impassive keys player Disco Witch now has a very distinct European look. It’s a fine synthesis of up-tempo afro beat and psychedelic pop had the masses bobbing, shuffling and dare one suggest smiling? A genuine feel good moment and a nice change from having your innards pulled through your ribcage.

Which is pretty much what Sex Swing do to you if I’m honest, but then that’s the whole point of them. The alt-supergroup (Part Chimp, Dead Neanderthals, Deathscalator, Earth and Mugstar are or have been team contributors) revel in the claustrophobic and nightmarish, delivering one set-long, squalid, visceral howl. It is however pure excitement and brutally compelling, culminating here in an astonishing ‘Night Worker’ which we all lapped up. A shame then that the Camp was no more than a third full at best, the remainder either strangely in thrall of the headline act in Furnace or had gone home before their fancy dress turned into pumpkins.

Just the one more for me. The Comet Is Coming can be found in the jazz section of your local HMV. That’s perfectly reasonable given that it’s a frenetic combination of free jazz, electronica and beats all vying with each other in a life or death struggle. It lost a bit of its contrast and subtlety here but then the band were no doubt playing up to live billing. You want record you sit at home and play record. It’s what was needed as an antidote to the bleakly industrial soundscape of Sex Swing (with the utmost of respect to those guys) and festival headliners Black Angels in honour of whom it is rumoured that watching paint drying is to be made an Olympic sport. And yes, those knees were up for it this time

So going back to the head of the article was leaner fitter or were we wasting away. Well there was no doubting the quality and the feedback has been no less favourable this year than previously. Thinning out also meant that where there were clashes they tended to be two-way and not across the site as previously so you could compromise should you choose to do so. There were a couple of baffling scheduling decisions, such as the one to put Gnod and Loop on at the same time, and also to put Gnod and the ascendant Pigsx7 on in District where the crowds were queueing like it was the first day of the sales on a one in one out basis, while other acts played to sparse crowds in the bigger venues. None of us have perfect foresight of course but it would be nice to know the logic of some of those decisions. Of course it didn’t detract one jot from the experience. This is Liverpool Psych Fest after all and there’s nothing quite like it. I’m already choosing my shirts for next time.

See you there.

Overall Rating (1)

5 out of 5 stars
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