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Things Learned At: Liverpool International Festival Of Psychedelia
Julian Marszalek , October 2nd, 2014 10:32

Julian Marsalek heads to the north west for a weekend of mind expansion. Featuring Gnod, Teeth Of The Sea, Goat, Grumbling Fur and more. Photos by Keith Ainsworth

"Hey man! How are you? How have you been keeping since last year?" It may only be the early part of Friday afternoon but already hardy heads are getting together at Camp and Furnace, a sizeable complex that's used as a venue, restaurant, bar and arts centre in the heart of Liverpool's industrial area known as the Baltic Triangle. Veterans from the previous two festivals are shaking hands and hugging each other as the memories from the last couple of encounters fuel the excitement of what's to come over the next two days. Elsewhere, festival novices are walking around in wide-eyed wonder as they survey the two main venue halls – the Camp and the Furnace – as well as the snug corner known as the Blade. The buzz of excitement surrounding the festival is so palpable as to be intoxicating.

In a short space of time, the Liverpool International Festival of Psychedelia has become as much of a fixture on the autumn calendar as much as Mother Nature's fungal gifts and the effects of both are pretty much the same: an altering of consciousness that offers many benefits. Mindful of the mind expanding qualities of the annual gathering, the organisers of this year's festival have expanded the facilities and events to create an all-encompassing event that includes, in addition to the wealth of music on offer, the PZYK Cinema, visual artists, screenprinting, a pop-up vinyl store courtesy of Piccadilly Records and the Adventures At The Outer Reaches symposium that examines, via a series of informal chats, the international psychedelic scene both past and present.

What also adds to the wide flavour of the festival is the assembled mass of psyche fans of all stripes. All around the festival are long haired hippies sporting unfeasibly wide loon pants, dreads, drainpipes augmented by Cuban heels, scarves, different varieties of hats, loud shirts and what looks like a genuine Biba jacket. Smiles and laughter abound with an atmosphere so good natured and friendly as to restore your faith in humanity. This is a melting pot of music fans all united by a love of the exhilarating power of psychedelic music and culture in all its myriad forms. The weekend is set for consciousness pushing fun…

It's worth taking a punt

Reading through the festival programme, one bewildered punter is heard to exclaim to a friend, "I haven't heard of half the stuff that's on here!" This is itself is a fine enough reason to head to Liverpool for the festival because the chances are, you're going to be coming home with several new favourite bands to fall in love with. A case in point are local heroes Barberos, a band whose skull-crushing assault on the senses in the compact environs of the Blade linger long after the festival has finished. The masked and lycra-clad trio has much to recommend, not least an eschewing of guitars and effects in favour of a polyrhythmic approach that encompasses two drum kits pounded into submission by a pair of mighty timekeepers that play havoc with the notion of percussion of being something that sits at the back. Instead, the kits are facing each other at the front of the stage while behind them an equally demented cohort fires off a volley of squelches, electronic effects and deadly sound missiles that hit their target with a near lethal precision. This is something quite unique and requires further investigation.

This is a great place to step out of the shadows and quite literally shine

Sweden's Les Big Byrd have probably gained a greater degree of public consciousness thanks to singer-guitarist Jocke Åhlund's collaboration with Brian Jonestown Massacre on 'Vad Hände Med Dem?', the opening track on the American band's Revelation album which tonight brings their set to a close. But there's so much more to them. In addition to the splendid guitar work that strafes the Furnace hall with pinpoint accuracy, Les Big Byrd are canny enough to deploy some deliciously woozy keyboard breaks that lifts the music away to somewhere quite special. Adding to the overall effect is a visual presentation that takes in painted faces, and glowing rings and a gum shield that dazzles every time Åhlund opens his mouth.

A lack of charisma is no barrier to great music

You might well think that looking at two blokes not moving a muscle while playing their instruments would make for a dull experience and usually you'd be right but this is The Vacant Lots that we're talking about here. What more than makes up for any lack of perceived stagecraft is the throbbing, pulsing music that the American duo serve up. Swan diving into Suicide's minimalist electronica is one thing but to grab it by the lapels and ram it headlong into the fuzzed up six string horrorshow of primetime Jesus and Mary Chain makes for potent brew that puts the emphasis on the audience to make up for the stillness on stage.

Some bands live up to their name – but not in the way you'd expect

It's now almost eight years since The Early Years released their Neu!-inspired eponymous debut album so it'd be something of an understatement to say that expectations are riding high on the band's Friday night performance. Despite a strong start that sees band riding on the Dinger beat, The Early Years never really take off with the new material on display. All too often the band rely on huge build ups of colossal sound that are brilliantly executed but sadly they never really take off or go anywhere else. The affect is akin to a prolonged foreplay session that offers nothing in the way of climax and leads only to frustration. Sad to report, they were better in their early years.

Time waits for no one

One can't help but feel for Besnard Lakes. Thanks to an over-running schedule, the Canadians' set is brought to an abrupt end approximately 15 minutes early. No matter for in the time that they are on stage, the band, no expanded to a five piece to include keyboards, deliver a mighty set that proves to be one of Friday's undisputed highlights. 'Like The Ocean, Like The Innocent Part 2' is an emphatic opening statement that swells from humble beginnings into a mighty beast that engulfs the Camp stage with an incredible sense of confidence. 'People Of The Sticks' is simply majestic with the band shrouded in the mist that rises from beneath their feet. It's over all too soon but in the short time that they're onstage, Besnard Lakes prove their magnificence with an ease born of skill, passion and vision.

Some bands are seriously off the scale

Think you'd know what to expect from Paul Allen, one-time guitarist with The Heads? Think again. His current project, the intriguingly named Anthroprophh, have taken heaviness to a whole new level. This is a band so heavy that, in the words of Bad News' Spider Webb, you'd have problems lifting their album of the turntable; a band so heavy that Quaaludes could come back into fashion. While Allen gleefully strangles his guitar to coax all manner of feedback, drones and screaming solos from it, the rhythm section of Big Naturals' Gareth Turner (bass) and Jesse Webb (drums) prove to be the bedrock of the weight that's on offer here. Turner commands a bewildering amount of effects pedals that in ideal situation would deserve a stage of their own and his runs into the very lowest of registers actually shakes the venue to the core. Webb, meanwhile, is such a ruthless pummeler of the traps that it's a wonder his kit doesn't bleed.

To watch Gnod is to be swept away by the power of music that almost defies categorisation or anything resembling convention. This is a melting pot of styles that encompasses space rock, madness, psychedelia, repetition, jazz, rituals and whatever else is at hand to create one of the most singular of performances across the weekend. Augmented by White Hills' Dave W on guitar, Gnod is a relentless beast that goads the audience into accepting their warped vision lest they get crushed by the sheer weight of musical ideas that come flying at them from all directions. This isn't music that you might hum but a sonic experience that simultaneously batters and seduces. It comes as no surprise that the Camp hall had drawn such a huge crowd and one that's left reeling long after they've departed the stage.

Pastoral psychedelia works well in an industrial setting

With so many bands firing off relentless salvos at a frenetic pace, Grumbling Fur come to offer respite with a very English and very pastoral variant of psychedelia. The lush harmonies of keyboardist/violinist Daniel O'Sullivan and guitarist/bassist Alexander Tucker are given weight thanks to a rich blend of deep bottom end, drones, arpeggios and a self-deprecating sense of humour. As displayed by the beautiful 'Dancing Light', there is a monastic quality about their music that's tempered by a melodic sensibility that's at once beguiling and accessible.

Not everyone can see the same band at the same time…

…as the crush to get in to see Goat at the Furnace stage attests. It's little wonder that Goat create such delirium given the mysterious Swedish collective's ability to redfine the very nature of psychedelic music but there are a few moments of panic as the heaving throng pushes its way past overwhelmed security to gain entry into the hall. For those that do make it in once the doors behind them have been firmly shut to avoid any further overcrowding, the rewards are manifest. Goat is a unique proposition in that they possess the ability to create a total audio-visual experience that's utterly satisfying. Feathers and masks abound while the infectious beats of 'Run To Your Mother' make for the perfect Saturday night party soundtrack.

There's gold in them thar hills!

So, just to avoid confusion, Sweden's Hills are rooted in ritualistic, mantra-like grooves while White Hills are a relentless sonic monster that rarely pauses for breath. Got that? Good.

Teeth Of The Sea are impossible to pin down

Such is the wide variety of influences that inform Teeth Of The Sea's music, the thought occurs that their performance is almost like watching a master DJ at work. Effortlessly fusing elements of techno, metal, rock and even disco, the quartet draws a well-deserved full-to-bursting Camp that within seconds is pumping fists in the air to the throbs and pulses emanating from the stage. They're frequently hilarious but not in the manner that you're laughing at them; such is their audacity that the only reaction to slack-jawed wonder is involuntary laughter at what appears to be an absurd creation. But hell, when the results are as good as this, smiling is the only reaction when the dance is this intense.

Staying up late pays dividends

Taking to the stage over a half-hour after their scheduled 2am appearance, Camera are your actual Germans playing your actual Krau… nah, let's not go there. This is motorik music in excelsis that's played relentlessly and with endless propulsion. The Berlin trio have taken Neu!'s baton and gone hurtling with it into the 21st century and it's not every day that the focus is fixed on the time keeper but the appropriately named Michael Drummer is a revelation. Playing a stand up kit of one floor tom, one snare and a crash cymbal, Drummer's body is bent over at 45 degrees, his eyes are rooted to the floor as he drives the beat with all the watertight precision of a metronome. This a performance that's impossible to remain still to; the body and feet move involuntarily to the music and for those determined souls prepared to beat the night to greet the dawn, Camera are a fitting climax to a festival that you don't want to end.

Same time, same place next year then…

There was always a fear that the Liverpool International Festival Of Psychedelia would paint itself into a corner but these doubts have been well and truly dispelled. Buy expanding the facilities, on-site activities and a booking policy that has embraced psychedelic music in all its forms, the festival has come to be the go-to destination for the more discerning head. Indeed, such has been the all-encompassing nature of this year's event that the appetite has already been whetted for what next year has in store. And really, it can't come quick enough.