As Sound City return to their roots, Planet Slop send Giulia Cecchi, Mikey Fell, Mark Holmes, Brian Sayle, Graham Smilie and Soulfultiz to spend the weekend in the Baltic Triangle. 

Before the main event kicked off for the weekend, this year’s Sound City+ Conference provided a host of presentations, workshops and lectures which were the main draw for a number of ticket holders. Slop was represented by Mikey Fell.

We head over to the British Music Experience building ready to kick off Liverpool Sound City‘s loaded weekend with a round of talks and sessions with some of the industry’s top experts in the Liverpool and UK music scene. It looked like an ideal set up, with the main room situated in the museum’s beautiful hall showing the UK’s rich musical heritage (yes, the Spice Girls included).

Admittedly an early start for the musician types who had come along to hear the conference, coffee was flowing, there was definitely an eagerness for the rest of the day.

Aimed at all levels and sectors within the music industry, from musicians to tour promoters, the first talk hit all aspects: ‘Passports Open & Boarding Cards Ready’ with the INES program. Ran by Rebecca Ayres (COO of Modern Sky UK and Sound City) she invited several festival organisers from around Europe including Delphine Grospiron (Midem Festival, France), Andraz Kajzer (MENT, Ljubljana), Silvia Sardeira (Live@Heart, Sweden) & Thomas Heher (Waves, Vienna) to contribute.

One of the much-asked questions from young bands, trying to expand their hits to the wider audience, was how to get around and play the world festivals. This talk highlighted the use of the Gigmit platform and the best ways to apply. It was nice to hear from Thomas that his team listen to around 2500 applicants each year, and to hear how INES is helping to bring the different festival scenes together.

With just enough time for a quick cough, the next group are up. ‘Can I Speak to the Manager, Please?’, featuring James Plester & Guna Zucika. Both had two different takes on how they manage their own bands. James, who happens to manage his partner and uses his producing background, carries his ‘low cost, low risk’ attitude with platforms such as YouNow (high production live-stream service) to help promote his artist and gain much needed revenue without having to get on the road.

Guna chose the road option: her group, Carnival Youth, opt to stay out on tour for 3-4 months at a time. She admitted that being from Latvia did help, as there wasn’t many groups and the music scene there was relatively fresh. I guess I’m moving to Latvia for my solo career.

Looking at the schedule there was plenty more to catch. On a personal note I snuck off to take advantage of the round table format where previous speakers were small-talked into submission and business cards exchanged. My own tick-list complete, Tim Ingham was just about to embark on his musical history.

With an impressive CV that spans across many publications (The Guardian, NME to name a fewwe won’t mention The Daily Fail) and his most recent project Music Business Worldwide. His humble attitude was welcomed by the audience as he informed us of his small beginnings as a chicken nugget van loader before making his way into music journalism. The timespan of his career allowed some insight into his fears that it’s now potentially just songs that are breaking and not the artists themselves, preventing ‘followings’ like he had seen in the past. I politely nodded.

Considering the location, a museum, the irony wasn’t lost on the crowd as we flowed into discussing the ‘Liverpool – The Future Music City‘ with Craig Pennington (Bido Lito) and his guests including Steve Rotherham (Metro Mayor of Liverpool City Region), Amy Lamé (Night Tzar of London – I know, right?), Natalie Williams (UK Music) & Yousef (DJ & Producer). A fairly random bunch, considering the topic, but the discussion was alive.

Amy led the proceedings and showed the need for the London Music Board – which was borne out of crisis after 35% of grassroots venues found themselves closed down in London’s boroughs. Steve spoke brilliantly about the need for ‘less reports, more doing’, and did seem genuinely eager to push on, stating that Liverpool had to do something with its labels (with reference to the UNESCO Heritage & The Beatles‘ history). Looking to recreate the success of London’s grassroots programs, there is talks of bringing a similar borough-style award to Liverpool regions in  an attempt to spread the budgets to areas slightly out of the spotlight. Future-proofing nicely sums up a mood which fortunately was optimistic about Liverpool’s future as a music & culture orientated city.

A final highlight of the day for me was seeing local entrepreneur Lee Mitchell (Sort Rehearsal Rooms & Sort Touring) welcome his guests from across the industry of touring.

Pictures by Graham Smilie

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Saturday

It’s traditional that South Korea bring a few bands to Sound City and they’re always worth catching. First up this year at Constellations Garden, was Gonne Choi whose folky, sometimes operatic vibes were a perfect start to the day and we could have happily spent the whole day there. This set was quickly followed by Danny Boy and the Carriages, who kind of brought the coals to Newcastle with a 60’s Merseybeat tinged set.

Off then to see False Advertising at Baltic Market. We’d not seen them before, but had heard good things about them and wasn’t disappointed. Cracking set of high octane pop music. Pixey in OnAir impressed with her young age and her surprisingly powerful and engaging spirit. The playful mix of the keyboards with the guitars, along with the pop and smooth voice of the singer, let you pleasantly follow the flow of their melodies.

The Gigs and Graphics exhibition was a welcome break from the heat, a fine display of stylised pop posters. After this brief hiatus we decided to head to 24 Kitchen St. to catch Foxtrap, and stopped in on Nish Goyal at Unit 51 on the way.

Turns out Foxtrap had been switched with Aztex, so we watched them instead; pretty brilliant stuff and a happy accident for us, then it was back to Constellations for a bit of Dead Buttons – the last of today’s Korean contingent and bloody good too. We haven’t yet seen a Korean band that didn’t impress, so well done to whoever it is that’s bringing them over.

Next to Constellations indoors for local punks Generation with as lively a set as you’ll see anywhere. They never give less than 100%, and this performance clearly impressed the audience.

KingFast in Unit 51 at first appears to be a rather ordinary guy playing love songs with his acoustic guitar. Pretty soon, however, the set develops as he starts mixing self-created beat-boxing and keyboard notes to his soulful and melodic voice, making everyone in the room beat their feet at his own rhythm.

Mersey Wylie performed at Birdies Bar, this time with a stripped back band, no keys, drums and only one back-up singer. The fact that her show was still spellbinding only goes to show how strong the songs are. Mersey’s voice gets better all the time.

We caught a little bit of indie popsters Jekyll at Brick St and they proved to be well worth the walk. Soaring electro disco, with a singer who absolutely nails the performance, they deserve a bigger stage next time. After that, we managed to catch up with Video at Red Brick Vintage. It is always a pleasure (and a bit of a surprise too, as they weren’t on the bill) to see and hear them. Synth-pop at its finest. After that, Fernweh’s set at Constellations was utterly fantastic, and left us asking – ‘Why have we not seen them before?’

On many occasions in the past, we’ve waxed lyrical about Stealing Sheep, so why should this weekend’s performance be any different? Well, it was different. There were none of the usual songs which we love. Instead we were treated to a performance in honour of the 100th anniversary of votes for some women.

What a performance it was. A symphony of music and dance, more cowbells than you could shake a drumstick at, thundering electro pop amid a sea of bemused indie-pop fans waiting for Black Honey. It was brave, big and beautiful. We believe it will be performed at various festivals over the summer. Try and catch it, it’s fantastic and we’re still smiling at the memory.

Having seen Chinchilla perform at Threshold last year, it is great to see how much she has grown in confidence and transformed since, with such a tremendous stage presence. A very fiery performance on stage with an impressive vocal range and incredible energy. She is an artist who we like to describe as a “musical cocktail” of pop, RnB, garage, punk and rock. We’ll will be surprised if she is not snapped up by a major label in the not too distant future!  A definite future pop star on the rise who will be headlining shows very soon.

Slop’s honourable mention of the day goes to the RnB showcase hosted by DJ Ace of 1Xtra for Punch Records. First on was Sophia Lee Soul, an RnB  singer from Birmingham, who was showcased as part of DJ Ace’s record box selection. Sophia has a Ms Dynamite/ Amy Winehouse vibe going- definitely a good way to start the show.

Up next was rapper-turned-singer, Liverpool’s own Shak Omar. He performed songs from his highly acclaimed EP, “Seasons”. He is a true entertainer, his interaction with the crowd was on point. For those who don’t know, he was a rapper for four years before he became an R&B singer, and the first song he ever wrote was called Clouds. The crowd had the pleasure of hearing him perform this song as he finished his set.

Next up was Lauren Ackie. This was her first time performing outside of London and she drew in the crowd and held their full attention as we can only describe a storyteller would. They were truly captivated. Lauren had a real sense of innocence. Her set consisted of songs from her two EPs Runaway and Genesis. Mark our words, she is definitely one to watch.

The second singer to come out of Birmingham, Gambimi, graced the stage next. He started off with a great song he wrote two or three years ago, called Shoulda Known. He was hitting some crazy notes – he definitely has a Trey Songz vibe about him, mixing it up with an Ed Sheeran cover of Shape of You.

The best performance of the night award has to go to Ricardo Williams. It was so great to see how well he carried himself on stage, and it is rare to see someone still releasing some real grown-folks R&B these days. The best way to describe him would be 90’s R&B with a modern twist. His mix of Sam Smith’s Stay With Me and Bonnie Raitt’s I Can’t Make You Love Me was something to behold.

The final performance was very special guest, Xam Volo. He began the set with Lose Love from his latest EP, A Damn Fine Spectacle. He then performed a very jazzy 60’s version of Gnarls Barkley’s Crazy, which we loved. It sounded like something you’d hear in a basement jazz club in 1965. Anyone watching Xam perform live can see that he truly lives and breathes music. He ended his perfect set with one of our favourite songs, Old Soul.

With such a strong showing from everyone on this stage, we feel that the R&B Showcase was a fitting highlight of Saturday’s music, and after witnessing all that talent it fair to say that UK R&B is in a very strong place.

Sunday

Walking to Baltic Triangle and Cain’s Brewery Village, we were bathed in such glorious sunshine. It was credit to the line-up that we were happy to head indoors and pocket the sunglasses. Looking at the festival schedule it was clear a bit of route planning was in order and fortunately, from the bands that I saw on the Sunday, the timings were pretty accurate too (for the most part) which was a delightful change.

We started at Birdies bar, which seemed an unlikely venue for the cacophony that was about to unfold, but hey-ho. The hungover hens had the perfect accompaniment to a boozy hair of the dog as SPQR took to the stage.

One of our favourite current Liverpool bands, they set about their business with venom. They’re blessed with an abundance of tunes, passion and good humoured character. The songs blast through fast and slow, loud and quiet, never letting you relax; just grabbing your ears at full volume and dropping you off at the end. Fabulous. They really deserve a longer set next time, 20 minutes really wasn’t enough.

Heading straight over to Camp & Furnace, we experienced YungBlud‘s captivating stage presence. Straight out of a punk handbook and a perfect mix of passion and creative drive, we were singing the chorus from one of his first singles Anarchist as his guitar was flung at the drum kit. Plenty of stage antics followed but even his most punk-infused songs couldn’t hide the songwriting talent, powerful lyrics and catchy melodies.

Blinking as if exiting the cinema in the daytime, it was off round the corner to District. Fortunately, a slight time delay meant catching the back end of Cassia and the start of Geowulf.

Following this we popped round the corner for a bit of Dishpit at Baltic Market – a fab power-pop/rock trio who we look forward to seeing more of sometime soon. Back to the Wrong Festival stage at Birdies again, we were treated to a typically intense and blood-spattered Elevant set. If you go jumping off speakers and thrashing about with electric guitars you’re going to hurt yourself. Nice one!

Bill Nickson in Kitchen Street transmits his naturalness and simplicity. His band makes us think of some talented teenagers practising in their garage, except now they have a bunch of people in front of them moving their heads in perfect time with of their instruments. Bill’s timid and melancholic voice would transports you straight away into his lyrics, letting you dream about some teenage experiences.

Mad Alice at Brick St. were a real highlight of the afternoon. She’s not called Alice and she’s probably not mad, but she can’t half belt out a tune. We have seen them a few times now and they don’t disappoint. Further to this, we also think that Brick St. is going to be an interesting little venue. Straight after this we managed to catch some of God On My Right, and Mary Miller along the way. Both excellent.

Sometimes, bands can get a little exhausting, so it was nice to see that Sound City‘s programmers provided us with lots of opportunity to give our ears and brains a few moments of rest before diving back in. We spent a little bit of time at Liverpool Arts Lab’s thing at the Blade Factory. Delia, Tristan, Larry and the rest looked like they were having lots of fun.

To Kitchen St. again, we found Ali Horn finishing his last song. What a great voice, shame the set times had been changed and we missed the rest of it. Hung about for Vain Male and Bill Nickson a mix of two bands in one. A bit odd, but both sets were good, so why not, eh? Two to watch out for.

Camp & Furnace again looked to be the best bet after this, with the new Liverpool group ‘Lennie Dies‘ securing a brilliant stage slot and rightly so. The three piece band made good use of a range of songs between rock to stripped-back bass and harmonies led by lead singer Mike Bower.

A quick 10m walk later and one of our writers arrived just in time for TVME, fronted by Thomas McConnell. We’d heard of the band before through friends so I didn’t know what to expect when faced with three keyboards. It didn’t disappoint, with the resulting sound hitting the right notes somewhere between Beach Boys style pop and dreamy soundscapes.

We decided to get into the Baltic Market early and watch Bribes and Red Rum Club as a prelude to Queen Zee. Whilst watching Bribes and RRC, we couldn’t help but notice just how awful Baltic Market is as a venue. The stage was flanked on either side by the public toilets, the bands’ prep area was a fire exit stairway and non-paying (mainly RRC family and friends) members of the public were taking up much of the space at the front. Apart from that, the bands were what they are. Bribes are a straight-up rock group who take care of business but no more. Red Rum Club are very competent pop-rocksters with a bit too much cockiness for their own good: introducing themselves as “Your real headliners”? Not cool.

Thankfully, Queen Zee came out, cleaned up the mess RRC had left on the stage and then wiped the floor with them.

This was the feistiest (is that even a word?) ear shredding set of blisteringly wonderful songs this writer has heard in a while. It’s been a good festival for us, some of our favourite bands played fantastic sets, but Queen Zee have progressed so well in the last two years and haven’t once turned in a half-arsed set.

We’ve managed to see the band several times over the last two years and they always, always turn the dial up a notch or two. This was no exception! Everything they have gets thrown in and you’re left wanting more. They have great tunes, attitude, style and sass to die for. Slopper Graham had to go home after their set, as he couldn’t/didn’t want to see another band straight after that. They were simply wonderful.

Superorganism closed proceedings over at Hangar 34. This band don’t simply express their emotions, but they somehow manage to transfer you inside of them. Their great visuals, their colourful and varied costumes, their energetic and harmonious voices, compel most of the spectators to enter their wonderful and superorganic world.

Yellowdays finished off the Sunday schedule over at Constellations. There were great vibes in the room, the singer’s rich voice was soulful but didn’t stop him letting loose in some of their slower numbers were the guitar took over with hypnotising riffs. The, upbeat and laid-back sound was a perfect end to the hot evening.

Sloppy Conclusions

Overall, Sound City has been a successful weekend, and definitely an improvement on the sound bleeds, facelessness and Mad Max dust bowl vibes of 2017.

 

The bank holiday seemed to be perfectly executed by British gig-goers and the Baltic Triangle proved again why it’s such a hit and showing off it’s many venues and moods within one small district. Sound City utilised each space from the small Blade Factory through to Camp & Furnace and everywhere in-between. It’s refreshing to see venues teaming up with each so much to offer with newcomers On Air and Craft Minded even hosting bands throughout the day too.

We had reservations. Initially Ibibio Sound Machine were announced as one of the main acts, but they were conspicuously absent on the final poster without explanation, with a plethora of run of the mill indie bands added, the very thought of which made us groan and yawn. As you can imagine, this didn’t make us happy.

But, for what it is worth, they did manage to mix things up a little further down the bill, and it is telling that the best things we saw all weekend – from Stealing Sheep, to Queen Zee and the R&B showcase – weren’t in that category.

There is still a long way to go. Similar names should be further up the bill, so it doesn’t currently feel like Sound City has recaptured what it was, and it still doesn’t feel as relevant as is should be.

It does, however, feel like a cautious step back in the right direction.

 

Pictures by Graham Smilie, Mark Holmes, Brian Sayle, Soulfultiz