With regular indie faces on stage, and some genuinely exciting MC’s relegated downstairs, Shaun Ponsonby, Vicky Pea and Lorna Doughtery think it’s time for Liverpool’s hip hop scene to come out of the basement.
This year’s Liverpool Music Week has undoubtedly been a success.
Yes, there were some hiccups, especially with the stories that have circulated from the Princess Nokia gig and the reaction to Glitterfuck, who by all accounts could just about Glitterfuck off (that’s my version of wit, I’m aware it is substandard). But little, if any, of this was down to the promoters, who probably provided the most interesting line-up we think we have ever seen from them.
It makes it such a shame that the closing party didn’t really move us.
We wondered why this was. We were pretty tired to be fair – we had been at gigs pretty much every night since Chic, and perhaps having Chic play the opening party set a bar far too high for the closing party to match. Or perhaps it is emblematic of a deeper problem that the Liverpool arts community face.
On the one hand, Liverpool Music Week undeniably had one of the strongest and eclectic line-ups in its 15 year history. But this wasn’t exactly reflected in the closing party line-up.
This is nothing against the bands themselves, of course. On the contrary, many of them were excellent. And we know they are consistently excellent. But that was the problem. It is hard to feel a sense of anticipation and excitement for bands you see a number of times in a year anyway. All in all, the line up seemed unimaginative and maybe even idle.
Don’t get us wrong, we like Rongorongo. We like Strange Collective. We like Godonmyright and She Drew The Gun. But we have seen them more times than we can count. As a consequence, the atmosphere felt a bit damp, especially when compared to the sheer elation of Nile Rodgers and Chic just over a week earlier.
Pink Kink are consistent, and they seem like one of the few bands who radically alter their set each time we have seen them. Their progression from the first time we saw them to the main stage at the Invisible Wind Factory has been a delight, and it was a thrill to see them draw such a big crowd too.
On top of the IWF, Northshore Troubadour was used as another stage, where Jo Mary probably received the most attention. You got to hand it to them, they put on a show, which culminated in a half naked band and a stage invasion. Definitely the energy boost we needed at that point in the day.
It is a tiny venue, but one with a unique atmosphere – and not just that of a heaving intimate space. Though it is a bit of a shame that this intimacy was only shared by indie bands. This made it pretty hard to decipher who were the stand out acts, because after a while things started to feel a bit samey.
Obviously Liverpool Music Week should be putting Liverpool bands centre stage, and they are undoubtedly doing that. Therefore we cannot criticise them for choosing from a local pool. Perhaps it didn’t feel this way for those who are not regulars on the scene, for those who haven’t seen each of these bands nine times this year alone, and many of whom we will undoubtedly see at Sound City, and FestEVOL, and Threshold, and LIMF’s it’sLiverpool stage.
But then did those people come for the whole show? At around 9.30pm, a lot of people showed up, quite obviously to see headliners Everything Everything. They were of course the main draws for the party. Frontman Jonathan Higgs has an incredible voice, and they created some truly wonderful harmonies on stage. And after a day of familiar faces, it was a nice, if moderate, change of pace. But by placing the regular Liverpool bands so low down the bill meant that the only people who did see them were those who see them all the time. Was this catering for a larger audience, or just rubbing shoulders with our friends?
That isn’t to say that there weren’t surprises. In that respect, the highlight was undoubtedly Perfume Genius. You couldn’t take your eyes off him. We’re pretty sure that pretty much everybody in the room, regardless of gender or sexuality, fell just a little bit in love with him.
But the absolute jewel in the crown of this year’s closing party was down in the basement, and it felt like an opportunity wasted.
The Invisible Wind Factory’s basement was focused on hip hop, but there was no sense that they belonged to the same event to what was happening upstairs or over at North Shore Troubadour. In fact, most people we spoke to weren’t even aware that it was going on. There was no interaction between the two worlds whatsoever. If you didn’t have a guitar, you were in the basement.
This is doubly bizarre given that hip hop pretty much outsells rock two-to-one these days. Surely this would make what was going on in the basement far more relevant than the predominantly alternative rock bands playing upstairs?
Admittedly, it did fill for AJ Tracey, at which point it probably became too small a venue. But this really just underlines how we are happy to go see rappers from outside of the city, but not support a local hip hop scene. Tracey himself was actually one of the big highlights of the whole day. Harmonies don’t necessarily spring to mind when one thinks of grime, however, his were pitch perfect every time. Even if you don’t like grime, you have to appreciate that.
The basement actually could have worked brilliantly if it didn’t feel like a bit of an afterthought. All the people who didn’t bother missed out. Suedebrown, a LIMF Academy “Most Ready” artist and GIT Award nominee, started his set to almost nobody. He is rightfully critically acclaimed and the Liverpool scene claim to be supporting him. So where was everyone?
DJ2Kind is one of Planet Slop’s contributors, and he heads up the L100 Cypher – a collective of scouse rappers. Each and every person who contributed was fantastic. It was exciting, raw and real. But they were on at 6.30pm. They would have killed a midnight set more than the Tea Street Band.
It feels like as a community, we are aware that hip hop must be included, but are unaware of how to make that sit comfortably with the indie bands we are famous for as a city. But music is the least territorial it has ever been. Pop fans listen to hip hop, who listen to metal, who listen to funk, who listen to indie, who listen to reggae, who listen to pop without prejudice.
The rappers feel hungrier. The bands upstairs get a gig at every big Liverpool event. The guys downstairs are still fighting for their place.
It’s time to bring Liverpool’s hip hop scene out of the basement.
Photos by Graham Smilie, Gary Dougherty, Brian Sayle & Vicky Pea