Across The Threshold: Baltic Triangle, Liverpool
Threshold Festival use their fallow year to launch a more compact event. Shaun Ponsonby spends two days in the Baltic Triangle for Across The Threshold.
We’ve had it so good in Liverpool for so long.
We have so many large events and quality festivals, and it sometimes feels like we don’t have the time or the money to attend them all. Friday night alone there were about four or five major events happening at the same time, and this came just one night after XamVolo launched his mind blowingly excellent new residency, The Art of Dffrnce, at Constellations.
But maybe we have taken it for granted.
It’s probably no coincidence that 2018 sees LIMF begin charging £5 for entry, Psych Fest takes a fallow year and Sound City return to the city after three years at the docks. It seems there isn’t a bottomless pit of money to draw from.
After some well publicised funding issues last year, it is this environment that Threshold presents their scaled down event for 2018; Across The Threshold.
In previous years, Threshold has been a three day grass roots extravaganza, presenting everything that could reasonably be presented around the Baltic Triangle. It is almost the focal point for the entire Liverpool music scene. You can’t walk five paces without finding yourself deep in conversation.
It has a particular feel, it is a community more than any other event held in the city, and we really do need it. It would leave a gaping hole if it was to disappear, and would probably be missed more than anything else.
It was a relief to us that, rather than take a year off, they decided to launch something a bit different.
They took over just two main venues; Unit 51 and District. This at least meant it was just a dash across the road to see different acts rather than a trawl around the entire Baltic area.
We arrived in District on Friday night in time to catch the end of Nikki and The Waves’ set (no relation to Katrina, as far as we’re aware). They were a pretty jazzy start to the weekend, and definitely lifted our spirits after walking through the rain.
But they were the only act of their kind that played District that night. Much of the rest of the line-up consisted of rather middling indie or alternative rock bands, which did get a bit monotonous after a while. One of the things we love about Threshold is that you never quite know what you’re going to stumble across, but District seemed more ordinary than we are used to.
Simple Fiction proved they have great melodic ears, and clearly understand the power of good harmonies. They had a bit of a shaky start, but about halfway through their first song they started to hit a real stride. Hollows sounded good, but seem to have their eyes on arena rock. This isn’t an issue in itself, but it didn’t come across to the small crowd who gathered to watch in District.
Getting a bit fatigued, we headed over to Unit 51, where the powers that be seemed to have assembled the more experimental acts. The best of the bunch was probably Nányë, who played two sets over the weekend, one of which was a last minute replacement for Chanel – an eclectic merging of minds and style combine into something that is a real joy to experience.
It was probably the strongest performance from a purely musical point of view of the whole weekend.
That doesn’t necessarily mean it was the best performance hands down. There was a lot of competition.
There was a feeling that Across The Threshold was more of a family and friends affair. Rooms would pack out for the regulars. Emilio Pinchi held court at a heaving District, and it really could have been his own headline gig.
He seems to get better with each successive gig. Now playing with a full band for a couple of months, he has settled into the front man role alarmingly well. Though the highlight was still when the band left him alone for a solo spot, he was certainly one of the people on the entire bill with the most long term potential.
The final live band we saw on Friday night was Salt The Snail, who were their usual bizarre selves. Through a drunken haze, we can remember eating cereal during their set. We couldn’t help but compare their more madcap performance to that of Nányë earlier in the evening. Different ends of the spectrum, sure, but equally enthralling in their own ways.
Leaving Salt The Snail without a smile on your face is surely proof that you’re a professional miserablist. You don’t exit the venue with an inflatable crocodile if you haven’t had a good time.
One thing Threshold always nails is the Saturday afternoon. Friday’s opening is always a heavy one, and the chilled out atmosphere in Unit 51 was the perfect antidote, beginning with Tabitha Jade at District – who feels slightly wasted in her timeslot.
A double header of NaMo and Jazamin Sinclair really epitomised that feeling.
NaMo possessed what was probably the most soulful voice of the entire weekend, and performed solo acoustic with the sun beating down outside. He was quickly followed by Jazamin, who brought along Dawn from Dawn and the Embers, and were more folky than the soulful NaMo, but it was another perfect Saturday afternoon at Threshold.
A few paces down the block, the festival had also taken over the pop up Hobo Kiosk for a few acoustic performances. The atmosphere in there was more of a hang-out place.
It wasn’t until late on Saturday that the usual Threshold scramble began – where you’re running between venues desperate to catch someone who has pipped your interest.
From early evening, we had to catch snippets of Mersey Wylie, Sub Blue, KingFast, C.O.W., Salsa Groove Familia, Ray Wills, The Soul Rays, Science of the Lamps, Emergency Tiara and a DJ set from Galactic Funk Militia.
Each brought something different.
At Unit 51 the highlights come thick and fast; Mersey Wylie brought some danceable soul that kicked us into Saturday night mode, an on a weekend when the world was talking about Beyonce, managed to sneak if a cover of sister Solange’s Losing You. Multi-instrumentalist KingFast takes us down a step, and lets us chill one more time before the dancing starts.
We’ve been tracking Sub Blue for a long time, and he is pretty much ready to take it to the next level. His song writing is observational, and doesn’t once have the odious self-righteousness to step into judgement. He voice is occasionally heavenly, as his presence instantly likeable. Like Emilio Pinchi the previous night, he is an artist we feel just improves every time we see him.
Ray Wills is more on the experimental side, before The Soul Rays bring Unit 51 to a triumphant close. Curiously quiet on Liverpool gigs recently, they have a certain hunger to them tonight that suggests they have missed the stage. It was the soul rave up that the day deserved to close with.
Their usual layered quality had the room bouncing. That is those who had not yet been magnetically pulled to the double stage beat of Circus delights and dance inducing sets building at District.
In contrast to the previous evening, District was by far that more left of centre for Saturday, from Salsa Groove Familia who brought sweet, flowing latin dance vibes from start to finish, to Science of the Lamps almost acted as a “best of the weekend” montage.
Apparently Kaya – Threshold co-founder and the brains behind Science of the Lamps – was a bit under the weather, but you wouldn’t have had an inkling from the performance. They are regulars at the festival, and this was probably the best that we’ve seen them; the sound, enthusiastic crowd and packed out space entwined to build a palpable energy.
Emergency Tiara brought arguably the quirkiest girl group vibe we’d ever seen (and we do love a girl group vibe).
“We have a few dance routines for you,” they exclaimed . Yes they did and plenty of playful, fun nostalgic mashup, including an encore cameo from Chris Herstad Carney, earnestly busting out his likely mirror rehearsed moves. Huge fun.
To finish off, we handed over to the city’s resident funk experts, Galactic Funk Militia – who appeared to be featuring Lost Inhibitions on stage – with Mook being his usual enthusiastic self as he took us on a cosmic journey, laying down the rules of gettin’ it on.
And that was Across The Threshold.
Overall, they did a pretty good job of condensing the full Threshold ethos to multipack size. The only real negative thing to put across is that perhaps it would have been nice to mix the acts up a bit more over the two days; switch around some of the Friday and Saturday acts and make it feel as eclectic as Threshold always does. But, of course, this is probably down to the availability of the artists themselves and out of the festival’s hands.
It didn’t feel exactly like Threshold – it was nowhere near as frenzied, and there was obviously much less going on. There were no bigger names to bring people in who might not ordinarily have attended, there was no Mad Pride Parade. It felt low key, but it maintained the atmosphere and ethos, and for an event like Threshold, that’s really all we can ask for. This is why we love Threshold.
As we stated earlier, it has become a vital part of the Liverpool music calendar, one that we would miss far more than any other if it disappeared. We would much rather they did something than have a fallow year. It was worth it.
Pictures by Mark Holmes