As Positive Vibration stage their most successful weekend yet, Paul Riley and Shaun Ponsonby wonder if, after just three years, the reggae festival has outgrown the Baltic Triangle.  

Reggae and all of its iterations have the ability to sound sincere and humble when talking directly about politics, morals and difficult issues, which is sometimes almost impossible for many other genres.

It is an integral part of the music, like no other genre, and we are in need of its positive messages so much in the world today, which is why Positive Vibration has fast become an essential event in Liverpool’s musical calendar.

Positive Vibration is a dream event for many reasons. For a music reviewer, one of the reasons for this is that every PV event literally reviews itself. Whether it is the yearly festival, or a smaller show such as last year’s visitation from Horace Andy, this crew always produce something beautiful, welcoming, vibrant and healing.

This year’s festival was the largest and strongest so far, and has undoubtedly put Positive Vibration into our top music events of the year. At the risk of sounding a little spiritual, the energy of this weekend is still coursing through our veins, and feels like a superfood sunshine smoothie straight from the cradle of humanity.

People from all walks of life, all colours, all ages; love, music, art, food and happiness – just what your holistic doctor ordered, Positive Vibration is good for what ails you.

There was an expected chill atmosphere as we arrived and explored the site. There was a makeshift Jamaican themed market place just off – and surely this is no coincidence – Jamaica Street. People were mingling, chilling out. We sat in Constellations garden for a while, just soaking up the atmosphere.

It wasn’t until we headed to District to check out Dreadzone, that we started to realise what Positive Vibration has become.

To say District was packed would be an understatement. Security guards were forced to turn people away. When we entered, we could only just barely get through the door. The crowd spilled out into Yard, and even that felt pretty much at capacity.

It was kind of a shock to the system, and we figured that if it was so packed here, then perhaps the other venues weren’t quite as full yet.

But, nope. Hangar 34 was packed too.

We made our way over there to find the bass was firmly rooted in Hangar 34, thanks to the impressively-sized spectacle that was Sinai Sound System. One entering the building at the start of Channel One Soundsystem‘s set, we were drawn irresistibly towards the front in order to get the best of the impact of those gigantic bass bins.

The wobble which reverberated through your head, nose, chest and throat was viscerally hypnotic, and left most of the audience meditatively dancing with themselves, eyes closed, with a smile on their faces. Magic.

Channel One provoked a meditative stage, and then Roni Size kicked off a rave. His set started slowly, with more of a nod towards the reggae and dub side of life, but as it built to a frenetic crescendo the drum and bass element became ever more prevalent. It was explosive, carefully put together, and something quite clearly crafted for Positive Vibration – and a perfect way to bring Friday to a climax.

Back at District, you could argue that Dub Pistols weren’t exactly like the most ‘authentic’ act on the bill by a long stretch, but that didn’t stop them from delivering a fun-filled set that was possibly the scene for the liveliest dancing of the day so far.

Lots of sweating, skanking, and jumping about, both on stage and in the crowd – they are a little bit of a guilty pleasure, perhaps, but they were pleasurable all the same.

But of course, PosVibe managed to pull one of the most legendary headliners they could have possibly booked.

Subatomic Sound System played their own set at 9pm, but after an hour they were joined by the legendary Lee “Scratch” Perry.

Constellations erupted when Perry entered the stage. Dressed as eccentrically as you might expect and at 83 years young, he owned every moment. Subatomic Sound System provided a slightly different backing than one might expect from Perry – in particular the conga player seemed to add a whole new dimension to the music rhythmically, and the horn players created some genuinely gorgeous sounds.

At one point, Perry produced the biggest spliff we’ve probably ever seen and handed it around the crowd. It may have achieved the biggest cheer of the festival!

Oddly, one of the highlights of Saturday afternoon was a youth poetry slam hosted by Levi Tafari. Even this packed out Constellations Garden, and in a sense it spoke to the heart of the festival. There was a warmth to the entire section, and it was hard not to smile as a succession of youngsters took to the mike (some with the help of parents) to read poems they had written about subjects that were important to them.

As Saturday drew on, it became more difficult to get into District.

Early in the afternoon, we managed to catch Capital Letters who seemed to be having some technical difficulties and started pretty late. When they finally got going though, they seriously brought it. At one point they encouraged us not to pick up guns, but pick up one of these, with a guitar held aloft. The instrument is more powerful than the gun.

We also caught Adrian Sherwood and Creation Rebel, who smashed a live set that was one of the highlights of the weekend, despite the further sound issues causing problems.

We were in good time to see the legendary Macka B, and were not at all disappointed. For this writer, trips to PV events seem, quite often, to coincide with going through difficult times in life, and this weekend was no exception. Happily, as noted already, if you are struggling then a PV show is one of the best places you can be, and Macka B exemplified that this weekend.

A quite brilliant MC whose message of positivity and respect sings through his music clear as a bell, it is a cleansing experience to watch him live. Hits such as (A Woman is More Than a) Sex Machine, Natural Herb and Cucumba really lifted an already buoyant crowd, but the highlight for was certainly Step Up, a version which, including Macka B‘s introduction, felt like it was directed at me and was exactly what I needed to hear at that time.

Even against a background musical tradition of powerful, meaningful messages, Macka B has an outstanding ability to craft lyrics that stick to your heart and your head, and this abundantly joyful set was one of the biggest highlights of the weekend.

But a surprise highlight of the weekend was the wonderful Resonators, who we stumbled across while waiting at the bar in Constellations Gardens, and quickly made us forget about that beer itch until they finished playing.

A large band fronted by two female vocalists, they were absolutely incredible. Elements of Massive Attack and Pink Floyd‘s Great Gig In The Sky, but, of course, with a Reggae Dub slant. There was also a heavy dose of trip hop evident throughout the whole musical range, but these were most evident in those spellbinding vocals, and a lengthy reverb on the snare which sounded like Phil Collins playing drums in the 80’s whilst stuck down a well. In a good way.

As we left the site, aside from the elation of the previous two days – not just the music, but the people – there was one thought that we couldn’t shake; Positive Vibration may soon outgrow the Baltic Triangle.

In a very short amount of time, it has almost become a national reggae hub. The caliber of the acts throughout the weekend was incredible, and each and every one of them played to packed houses. It didn’t matter who they were up against. It has become not only an important part of Liverpool’s calendar, it has become one of the biggest reggae festivals in the west.

And if anything can prove this, it is the surprise sets that cropped up over the two days.

Like Roni Size finally meeting his hero Lee “Scratch” Perry and gushing about it over social media.

Or a surprise appearance from Festus Coxsone who, at around six o’ clock on the Saturday, just jumped on the decks in Constellations Garden unannounced. Not even the team at PosVibe knew he was there. He came as a spectator, and was moved enough to want to become involved.

Or how Horseman stuck around long enough after his set with the Upper Cut Band at District to appear after midnight with Manudigital at Constellations, which only underlined a palpable sense of community.

All this and it doesn’t even feel like Positive Vibration has hit its hit its peak yet. In just three years, they have managed to create something truly special. Things like this don’t come along very often, and when they do, we should cherish them.

Images by Brian Sayle and Vicky Pea