Wrong Festival: North Docklands, Liverpool
Back for its second year, Paul Riley and Vicky Pea find Wrong Festival building on last year’s triumph and securing a unique place in the Liverpool music calendar.
The general rule of thumb for festivals is a simple matter of probability. With so many bands in one place, you are bound to get at least a few sets that are rubbish, not matter how much effort the promoters put into ensuring this doesn’t happen.
It seems that Wrong Festival didn’t get the memo. Spread over three venues in the North Docklands, this year’s celebration of the freak scene absolutely nailed it.
We start off at North Shore Troubadour where Swearwolves were first up, balancing a little psych weirdness with a little classic rock and roll, with a great, warm, punchy bass providing the backbone to multiple layers of rhythms.
Leaving this venue and heading around the corner to Invisible Wind Factory saw us face Leeds outfit Thank, who smashed out a set that belied their early 2pm stage time. The five-piece are clearly split into two parts; a hypnotic, powerful backline consisting of drums and bass provides the perfect counterfoil for the frenetic synths, guitar and vocals. Engeretic, spasmodic, with lots of shouty bits. Their EP Sexghost Hellscape is highly recommended.
Our first visit to Drop The Dumbulls introduced us to Patchwork Guilt, the brainchild of Bristolian Phoenix Mundy. At first the overall impression was one of melodic, dreamy pop, but at points the band got unexpectedly heavier, invoking a grungy Courtney Barnett vibe.
Sons came up on the tiny stage at Dumbulls not long after, and were more streamlined with an effective simplicity. The duo littered their set with extremely strong songs that were thrashy, splashy, bluesy garage noise. Exactly the kind of energy boost we needed mid-afternoon.
In contrast to the stripped back nature of Sons, Tokyo Taboo back at North Shore Troubadour were one of the most visually engaging performances of the day. Lead vocalist Dolly Daggerz was decked out in a Ceilidh dress and towering clear plastic heels, channeling Karen O and Juliette Lewis with her voice and stage antics.
But we know what you’re thinking; amongst all this heavy stuff and psych, isn’t there room for skiffle? Well, yes there is; Black Pudding may not be the only rock skiffle band in existence, but are definitely the only band we’ve seen that fit the description. From the singer’s moustache to the gritty and yet somehow endearing sound, they are glorious.
Being an expansion of the Loner Noise label, it isn’t a surprise that a few of their artists littered the bill. Among the most impressive was SPQR, who have an unmistakable twang of a Rickenbacker, and incredible voice, and an incredible drummer. For such a thrashy band to have such separation between the parts shows the level of skill present in their songwriting. They conclude their set to ravenous applause from an audience that have no trouble in recognising the scale of the potential that stands in front of them.
One of the performances we were most looking forward to was an on stage battle between Salt the Snail and Bleach Sweets, as the pre-show propaganda seems to promise a gentlemanly battle for stage supremacy. Ringside announcer, referee and festival organiser Michael Edward promised a Battle for the Ages.
It was clear that both bands threw all their scruples out of the window. This was a no-holds barred grudge match. Naughty names were shouted. There were rude insults.
We decided early on that we would probably have to disqualify Salt the Snail as they seem to have picked up a bass player from somewhere. Not only did they already have a numerical and physical size advantage over the diminutive Bleach Sweets, they sought to add to this by recruiting more members. Bad form. A show so strongly tilted in favour of one side has not been seen since Hornswoggle took on The Great Khali.
Further to this, Salt the Snail frontman Krystian decided to give the mic over to his friends in the crowd, while he ran around the place pushing the audience towards the stage and at one point even picking up one poor soul and holding them over his head.
At this point it was clear that plucky little Bleach Sweets were a shoe-in for the title belt. Sadly, we felt they should also be disqualified for not knowing the words to Smells Like Teen Spirit, the song that both bands had to play at the end in an attempt to decide the increasingly chaotic contest, largely selected due to the fact it was the only song both bands agreed they could kind of, maybe, play. Or so they thought.
When all was said and done, it’s decided to award the victory to the fire alarm that went off during that last song. It seemed only fair given the level of underhandedness witness from both sides.
But, by God, was it fun! And it was a unique element to Wrong. Most underground music festivals are a little too up themselves to do anything like this, especially in alternative rock music. That they threw down something that was pure, unashamedly, unpretentious FUN was refreshing.
With this level of insanity surrounding him, it is alarming that Edward was able to pull it together with his own band, Elevant. But he absolutely turned it out.
Elevant occupy a strange space when it comes to WRONG Festival.
On one hand Michael is the man of the hour and there is no lack of friends and fans cheering the band on as they take to the main stage of the Invisible Wind Factory half way up the bill. On the other hand some may assume that the only reason they’re half way up the bill on the main stage is because of Michael. Those people need to give their head a wiggle.
The band are exactly where they belong. Their songs benefit from the huge cavernous stage, not so huge as to prevent Edward covering most of it, transforming into an alluring snake-hipped front-man who struts and rives between verses.
Surrounded by their peers the festival also allows the band to assert themselves as accomplished musicians and performers. Drummer Tom is in fact playing his second set of the day after the slobber-knocker battle that featured his other band, Bleach Sweets, but shows none of the wear and tear. Hannah exudes cool and doesn’t look a toe out of place under the bright lights as she gives all of today’s bass players a run for their money.
Taking of accomplished musicians…. GNOD as always, were viscerally brilliant, tunefully directing a stampede of buffalo towards a meat grinder.
Alpha Male Tea Party are crisp and precise in their performance, the carefully crafted noise was punctuated with exact moments of silence which made it difficult to decide whether to join in the mosh pit or to stand back and admire their playing.
Now, we try not to gush over musicians, as it is the kind of thing that annoys us when others go all starry-eyed and weak at the knees over other famous people (i.e. Union Jack-festooned crazies waiting outside hospitals to hear that some woman they’ve never met has had a baby), but Damo Suzuki got us.
We first spotted him as he came out to watch Elevant‘s set, and as he graciously posed for pictures and shook hands with fans. We resisted. Later on we found ourselves standing next to him at the merch stall. It would have been rude not to speak to him.
We stumbled and mumbled through preliminary compliments before asking about the Mugstar collaboration: whether they had any idea what he wanted to play, whether they had squeezed in a little practice, or had planned anything in advance.
Damo, with a little twinkle in his eye, replied ‘Oh no, I never practice anything with anyone.‘ Oh Damo!
By the time Mugstar came to the stage we were fully immersed in Wrong vibes: receptive to whatever was coming next.
On their own, Mugstar are a formidable collection of musicians who are well-versed in the art of improvisation. Their connection onstage is practically telepathic, with one member or another stepping forward to push a crescendo or an increase in the pace. At their best, listening to them live is akin to entering a meditative state.
As they built the tension and wove their magic, Damo walked onstage and it felt as though he channelled their sounds into his vocal performance. It was fascinating to watch, particularly as we now knew they had never even played together before, but more than that, it was spellbinding, and it finished far too soon.
We could have watched them for much longer, but will have to be satisfied in the fact that we saw them at all. The best performances leave you wanting more, and Damo Suzuki/Mugstar was ‘one of those moments’, maybe even for him too.
The mutual respect that exists between him and his audience becomes evident as he takes the time to shake hands and embrace the crowd before eventually making his way off stage. For a man who’s been performing for near 50 years it’s testament to his character and to the love he has for what he does.
Within the landscape of Liverpool this festival is important, genuine and unmatched when it comes to having a good time. Anything that dabbles in surrealism, and this definitely includes psych, often seemingly lacks heart. This is absolutely not the case with Wrong.
This is even more impressive when you consider that it is all basically the work of one man.
Loner Noise head honcho and Elevant front man Michael Edward has achieved something incredible with Wrong. It has established itself as something exciting and unique within just two years. Already it feels like there would be a gaping hole in the Liverpool calendar if it disappeared.
It feels more communal than Psych Fest, more fun than Sound City, more compact than Liverpool Music Week. It is the kind of feel you can only get from something that is genuinely DIY. And make no mistake, this is DIY – even if it is on a grand scale.
The amount of work that goes into something like this must be huge for one person and there must be times where he wonders whether it is worth it.
So, Mr. Edward, please accept our gratitude. It is worth it, and it is appreciated more than you probably realise.
Photos by Graham Smillie, Brian Sayle and Vicky Pea