Liverpool International Festival Of Psychedelia 2017 Review: “Experimentation, Innovation & Creativity”
Planet Slop’s Paul Riley, Brian Sayle and Vicky Pea present their review and photo gallery from this year’s Liverpool Psych Fest.
We just spent the weekend in the company of a bunch of utter fucking weirdos, in the nicest possible sense, and it was boss.
Liverpool’s International Festival of Psychedelia has destroyed us. Again. This, ladies and gents, is how to run a show. Perhaps, in the wake of such utter clusterfucks as the now infamous Hope and Glory and the ability PZYK has for continually raising its own bar, this was it’s most important year yet.
It is our festival; home-grown, run by people who have a long-standing stake in the health of our music scene, and so this year’s event felt like a statement of intent. We don’t need chancers from outside the city coming here with bland, poorly-planned and insipid festivals – we can do it much better ourselves, thank you very much. And how.
While the overall theme is certainly lysergic in feel, with trippy visuals and tweaky art installations throughout, in terms of performance the net is cast very wide. It can be difficult to escape the shackles that defining a festival as a genre can bring, however psychedelia has a range like no other. It’s not so much a musical genre as it is a mind set, something that always shines through here.
The thing that seems to link all of the acts together is experimentation, innovation and creativity, which is why PZYK has, over the past few years, become one of our favourite musical fixtures – the mind-bending high point of Liverpool’s musical calendar.
The really gritty end of the spectrum is well-served by the two smaller venues, Blade Factory and District, while Camp and Furnace provide the backdrop for the headline acts. The refreshing mix of all four stages, combined with the fact that for the most part there is always a performance happening, means that it is practically impossible to catch your breath.
Our favourite venue has to be Blade Factory. It’s stark interior and small stature lends itself well to the most challenging acts; those who push boundaries to the extent that it is sometimes a challenge to know how to write about it. Plus we could spend hours just watching the DIY visuals working their magic. Pie trays filled with glitter, over head projectors and video recorders from by gone decades.
Up above the Blade Factory sit a range of weird and wonderful installations, as well as the PZYK Cinema. Roundtable talks are encouraged as passers by take seats alongside strangers as they pass through to thumb through the record stalls.
A strange worm-y tunnel with a face sized opening at either end marries audio and visual senses, a strobe light sits directly in front of one spaced out attendee as another flashes inside a spinning sculpture casting moving shadows across the face of its participant.
VR headsets are passed around as people enthusiastically convince others to share in their experience. They may appear as extra add-ons to the festival, but they’re actually key to encapsulating the true psychedelic experience. One that puts all the senses to work and uses both advanced and surprisingly rudimentary ways to change ones perspective, from something as simple as a flashing light to groundbreaking as augmented reality.
Audint‘s A Century of Zombie Sound presented a future world of sonic manipulation, through holograms that move beyond music industry uses such as reanimating dead performers and into the realms of AI and extra sensory experiences where musicians combined with tech and drugs could literally “take you out of your head”. A terrifying yet intriguing and often darkly humorous look at the future.
WH Lung were the first truly outstanding group to take to the stage at Blade Factory, and we mean that in the truest sense of the word. It takes a lot to stand out as weird at PZYK but the front man in this band is something else. In a baggy silk shirt he gesticulates, gambols and frolics across the stage in a manner that left us grinning with bemusement. It would feel awkward if it was conscious and contrived. Rather, it feels as though he is channeling himself, un-self-consciously, and the resulting effect is one that is absorbing and endearing.
Musically, the band are wonderfully thought out; with so much going on they could easily be too much but their arrangements provide the space for their songs to breathe. At a festival where the craft of songwriting can sometimes lose out to the visual and aural aesthetics, WH Lung’s songs set them out as one of the discoveries of the weekend.
The Pattern Forms add to the venues reputation for experimentation by sporting a bewildering array of knobs, cables, synths and pedals with guitar, mandolin and uke thrown in for good measure, their name was well fitting. A lush, gorgeous wash of kaleidoscopically-evolving music.
The other smaller venue of the weekend District tends to, as it has done in the past, play host to the heavier and doom laden acts. With less emphasis on the visual elements (still a pretty large stage installation that being said) it provides a dark and dingier surrounding that feels just about right all weekend.
But, every rule has an exception. Aquaserge, a well-established band with a brand new bass player – this was his first performance with the group – were one. We chatted to said bass player later on in the day and he tried to describe to us the meaning of the band name. It is a play on words in French that loosely translates to ‘What am I for?’, we think. At least, that is what we got from the conversation. Said bassist apologised for his poor English, while holding a conversation perfectly. If the tables were turned we, shamefully, would have a hard time doing more than asking directions to the nearest swimming baths.
Anyhow, Aquaserge were wonderful tongue-in-cheek Gallic whimsy, grooves led, unusually, by bass clarinet, they were one of the lighter musical helpings of the weekend and delivered their set with a smile and a twinkle in the eye. It was all very pleasing.
Some of the acts at PZYK just defy lowly wordsmiths such as ourselves. Friday night quickly devolved into something straight out of the mind of Heironymous Bosch, and our attempts at description must perforce move towards more irregular means. The hellish triptych of Grim Brides, Gnod and then Container, one after the other, was borderline insane. It was at this point that the phrase ‘THIS FESTIVAL WILL DESTROY YOU’ became an actual health and safety warning rather than a cheeky marketing phrase.
Scrupulous note-takers that we are, we hereby report our initial reaction to Grim Brides in its entirety: ‘Who the Fuck KNOWS’. This was quickly followed by GNOD, of which we wrote ‘GNOD – ARE GLORIOUS’, and, showcasing the peak of our literary prowess with our last act of the night, we merely wrote down ‘CONTAINER’ and left any further composition for the cold, hungover light of our post-PZYK Sunday.
If you missed these three, you missed out.
Information on Grim Brides is sketchy to say the least, but we gather that they are an all-female four piece from Denmark. They play, in their own words, ‘fuck noisy music’. Properly disturbing latex masks and a battering ram of attritional, punishing noise to go with it, they made Slipknot seem about as perverse and threatening as Postman Pat.
They smashed the shit out of everything and then stormed off 15 minutes early, leaving instruments throbbing, screeching and humming. One member remained onstage. Her mask on back to front as though a second face was growing out of the back of her head, she stood completely still for about five minutes. Some of the braver audience members got onstage, tried to shake her limp hand, one even took a selfie. She remained, disturbingly, still and silent.
Reeling out of that, we went straight into GNOD. Titanic. Crushing. One wonders how a band that sound like a tuneful avalanche actually practice. Perhaps in a nuclear shelter somewhere. For the Douglas Adams/Hitch-Hikers Guide fans out there, this is perhaps the closest you’ll get to hearing Disaster Area, and handily for this writer, Adams’ description can be used here:
“Disaster Area was a plutonium rock band from the Gagrakacka Mind Zones and was generally regarded as not only the loudest rock band in the Galaxy, but also as being the loudest noise of any kind at all. Regular concert goers judged that the best sound balance was usually to be heard from within large concrete bunkers some thirty-seven miles away from the stage, whilst the musicians themselves played their instruments by remote control from within a heavily insulated spaceship which stayed in orbit around the planet – or more frequently around a completely different planet.”
Shell-shocked, chastened but grinning like idiots who have just escaped something cataclysmic by sheer dumb luck, we staggered back into Blade Factory in the hopes of something else approaching the chaos of the previous hour and a half. We weren’t disappointed.
Container, a producer from Rhode Island, completed a night of musical exfoliation with a battering techno set. A pugnacious concoction of a four track cassette recorder, a Roland MC-909, delay pedals and distortion was weirdly groovy and sensual one moment, and downright abrasive the next. Again, words aren’t really sufficient. PZYK hadn’t finished for the night by that time, but it certainly had finished us off.
We’re exhausted all over again just trying to write about it.
As the weekend progresses District becomes the venue of peak paranoia at the back of your mind, constantly checking the time because you know if you don’t get there early, you won’t get in at all. Because of this it’s been able to lay claim to some of the best and most frantic Psych Fest performances of recent years. Add PigsPigsPigsPigsPigsPigsPigs to the list.
Getting in 20 minutes early there’s a rather nice man on stage, politely asking for incredibly specific amounts of delay, reverb and rotations. Shirt buttoned up and tucked in he could have quite easily come straight from the office, which made what followed all the better.
The thumbs up from the tech was all they needed to rip loose and get on the business end of a bottle of Buckfast (or two). Their front-man who was before so smartly presented rapidly unravels as he attacks the microphone, which has no problem fighting back, at one point coming close to lynching the singer. A crowd of heads begin to punctuate every beat and barely fault for the sets entirety.
At the other end of the spectrum is the Camp & Furnace. It is always exciting to walk into these spaces for the first time at PZYK – you never know quite what to expect apart from being sure that it is going to be visually astonishing. This year, LCD screens hung from the ceiling throughout the Furnace, making it just as arresting to stand at the back and take in the whole spectacle, as it was to squeeze your way to the front and watch the bands up close, whilst Camp was aglow in kaleidoscopic ever merging colours.
We caught ourselves distracted on more than one occasion by the incredible live mixing of visuals. It’s no press play and stand back affair as technicians engage with the music and cue graphics and transitions accordingly to spectacular results.
Apparently a very new band (information online is scant but if we’re right they played their first show less than four weeks ago) Exit Group came from Berlin to play to the warping walls of the Camp. They’re edgy and they are at least 50% skinheads. Where five years ago this fact may have gone unnoticed in the land of Rockports and Trackies, every scally these days has developed a bonce worthy of Kevin Keegan in his perm days, so the shorn heads onstage only added to the aggression bubbling under throughout the set.
The guitarist spent most of the show twitching and spasming around the stage making noises somewhere between Devo and Tom Morello, while the vocalist, heaily distorted, gnashed and glowered away in the corner. Discomfiting, intimidating, and pretty brilliant.
The PZYK brand Cider was adorned with “This Cider Will Destroy You” and about four pints in we were starting to believe it. You know when you get a little too yawn-y and your blinks get longer and longer between scanning the room trying to find somewhere to sit down?
There are many things that have the ability to kick start a second wind (even more so at PZYK Fest) but Endless Boogie might be the best we’ve ever found as well as the most aptly named.
These dudes can jam. “How many fucking songs have they played?” one mate yells over. “No fucking idea mate.” Is our only reply. It’s a tightness on display that can only be earned from 20 years of familiarity with one another. Bloody glorious to behold live and one to separate the men from the boys when it came to audience endurance.
Where Endless Boogie tickled us with riffs and rhythms only moments before The Telescopes had hammered us. They would have been one of those bands perfect for District if not for being so popular, and for good reason. Mammoths of the stage they roam across it with equal amounts of intent and integrity. One of the Furnace‘s walks on the wilder side.
As to once more highlight the depth and variety of the weekends celebrated genre Il Songo Del Marinaio were one act that nailed the experimental brief, but unlike many others who turn to devices and equipment, did it all with a typical three piece set up. At times it was like watching a jazz act taking unexpected corners, leaving you second guessing yourself not wanting to commit to dancing to any particular beat all to aware it could change in a split second. One of the stand out acts of the weekend thanks to their memorably unique and charismatic use of an otherwise familiar bass, guitar, drum line up.
If there’s one element of traditional psych rock that can sometimes appear lacking is that of showmanship. The Camp & Furnace often showcase acts who, in typical style, just want to let the music do the work. Thanks to the appreciation of the audience this is never an issue but when something a little livelier comes along you don’t half notice.
“You want to go to the desert?” The answer is an overwhelming “Yes” from the Furnace.
It’s impossible not to feel a great amount of admiration towards Songhoy Blues after having seen the documentary They Will Have To Kill Us First and it would be difficult to say a bad word about them regardless of their performance. Luckily we don’t have to try as it was electric.
Story aside Songhoy Blues bought what some bands don’t to Psych Fest. Good old fashioned stage presence. Dancing, clapping, contorting and grinning throughout. Of course, such activities would be ridiculously ill-fitting to see most psych bands produce on stage, but with their desert rock vibes it all combined into a celebratory mood as a crowd used to mainly dancing with their necks got to put the rest of their body to good use.
Saturday made a return trip to Africa and if you want to know how good WITCH were, then just look at the guy in the bottom left of this photo.
There’s really not much more we can add to that. Heat, energy, happiness, disbelief. As they announced their final song we wondered where the time had gone.
The Furnace absolutely excels with big, headline sets. When the room is full and the lights are up there’s few places we’d rather be. We awaited the arrival of The Black Angels whilst nervously tapping our hands on our knees. Death Song has been an album on daily rotation since it’s release and everything pointed towards this being a big and pivotal set for them in front of a tougher than usual jury.
The absolute balls on them. They only went and opened with Currency. We have never wanted to be out of a photo pit and into a moshpit more than in that moment.
It was a set performed in the vain of most psych rock bands, turn up, melt some heads, leave the stage. Cool as shit and not a foot out of place and we wouldn’t have wanted it any other way.
The PZYK crew really should’ve got on stage to take a bow. The sound was without issue all weekend, everything ran on time, the venues looked wonderful, the bars were spot on. An example of excellence all round.
It’s a festival that sometimes feels swept under the rug in comparison to others in the city, but really is our crown jewel. The impact of making Liverpool the centre of the psych universe reverberates for much longer than just the weekend itself. To both international and local visitors alike it gives the city an identity aligned with ambitious visionary creativity within various mediums and showcases Liverpool’s continued desire to provide nurturing and inspiring events and communities to the betterment of all involved.
Il Sogno Del Marinaio may have put it best when they thanked the crowd for choosing to spend one of their mere 52 Saturdays of the year with them. At first, a depressing statement, being forced to consider your free time in quantitative form, but a beautiful sentiment. There are 52 weekends in the year and time and time again we’re lucky enough to spend just one of them at Psych Fest. Surely it’s worth at least three?
Sitting here watching a berocca slowly dissolve into our newly acquired PZYK cup, it definitely feels like it.
Photo Gallery by Brian Sayle, Vicky Pea and Paul Riley.