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Things Learned At: Liverpool Psych Fest
The Quietus , October 1st, 2015 11:57

Julian Marszalek and Christina McDermott report on their findings at the fourth edition of Liverpool's Psych Festival. Photos by Keith Ainsworth

Liverpool Psych Fest represents and respects the city's psych heritage

Among the north of England's cities, Liverpool is the natural choice for a festival celebrating all things psychedelic. Given the nature of the subject, it'd arguably be daft to try to verify this assertion. It's in the place's vibes. The ley lines run deep here.

Compared to that of its Northern neighbours, Liverpool's music has always been that bit more vivid and fuzzy round the edges. It could be down to Scousers' natural bluntness and pig-headed refusal to be brought down and made miserable by the negative circumstances they and their city often find themselves in. Much has been made of the place's history as a port, stirring the imaginations of those looking out towards brave new worlds and bright new futures. Inland Manchester, with the echo of Industrial Revolution clanging and the aftertaste of chimney smoke, produces music hard and grey like slate, while Liverpool's output is suffused with colonial wistfulness and variegated whimsy. The Teardrop Explodes, The Mighty Wah!, The Icicle Works. A pre-KLF Bill Drummond cut this teeth here while Julian Cope ruled over Eric's as an acid-addled tyrant with the face of a Smash Hits poster boy.

Liverpool's gone through a number of changes in the past few years, and the Psych Festival feels like both a product of, and counterweight to, this evolution. Although only a short walk away from the massive Liverpool One - all gleaming glass, chrome and City of Culture mementoes - the festival is in the as-yet-ungentrified 'Baltic Triangle', all mouldering brick warehouses and rusty corrugated iron. One of the stages sits next to an extinct industrial furnace, in the shadow of the Radio City tower and, spookily, a super moon ("resigned beside the glow"). CM

Is it wrong for a born and bred southerner to feel at home the moment the train pulls into Lime Street station?

It probably is if you're the kind of territorial, closed-minded twerp more concerned with the value of a postcode and the colours of your sporting team of choice, but for the seasoned head, the return to Liverpool during the closing overs of September for the International Festival Of Psychedelia is akin to a pilgrimage. For make no mistake, this is a festival in the truest sense of the word – a celebration not just of music that celebrates the expansion of the consciousness but also of literature, art, film and a gathering of freaks only too willing to succumb to the joys the event has to offer.

With each passing year there comes with it an increasing sense of anticipation: must-see bands, new discoveries, meeting old friends from across the globe and the making of new ones and wondering what new additions are being added to keep what is fundamentally a straightforward idea fresh from year to year. For the Liverpool International Festival Of Psychedelia, or, as it's endearingly known, the Liverpool Psyche Fest, this means an expansionist policy that sees the addition of the new District Stage and the welcome increase of electronic music that makes it impossible to second guess what's coming whilst avoiding painting itself into a corner. With the extra space available and the slight increase in capacity, it's hardly surprising that this corner of the Baltic Triangle becomes affectionately called "Psyche Town". JM

The festival (allegedly) didn't contain enough guitar solos

"There's not enough guitar solos at this festival," I hear a bloke complain to his friend at the bar. "What's fucking wrong with these people?" It makes you wonder why he'd decided to watch The Octopus Project. The festival's smallest venue, the Blade Factory's white walls do a good job of taking all the kaleidoscopic lights thrown at them. The Octopus Project, squeezed onto the soapbox-sized stage, might initially come across as a band a bit too self-consciously quirky for their own good, with their theremins, instrument swapping and a member sporting a Betty Rubble-like 50s hairdo. Yet, once they start playing, they fizz with inventiveness, refusing to be impeded by a sound mix that makes things seem a little muted and muddy. Their good-natured, riff-heavy sound has a fun feel and the vibes are positive. CM

The electronics and diversity start early

Friday at the District Stage samples the delights of R. Seiliog who, even at this early hour, proves to be a delight. Armed with a laptop, guitar and drummer, he effortlessly transcends his Krautrock influences with flourishes of electronica and pulses, all driven by motorik beats and downstroked strumming. Proving the festival's commitment to psychedelic diversity, I catch a blast of Germany's Zhod over at the Blade Factory whose dedication to chaos and noise is pleasingly satisfying. JM

Karen Gwyer may be the best artist I saw all weekend

Wander past the the portaloos, the blissed out shisha tent and the eccie casualties offering women £20 to touch their fur coats, and you'll find The District. This newish venue hosts some of the most interesting acts of the festival, including Friday night's penultimate performer, Karen Gwyer. One of the more idiosyncratic and engaging electronic producers out there, Gwyer's set is just the thing to cleanse the mental palate after a hard day's psych. A mixture of itchy acid house and bass heavy techno that gets under your skin and makes your bones bounce. It's made to lose yourself in, only for you come to and discover that you're dancing like a moron with a bunch of strangers, one of who is repeatedly stroking your face. CM

Saturday is undoubtedly about the groove

With a set that sounds like Jan Hammer having a nervous breakdown, Sun Araw's electronic meadering fails to hold interest so it's with a state of excitement that tQ makes its way to a rammed District Stage for an unforgettable set from Hey Colossus, a band going through an intense period of creativity and artistic highs. With the band about to release their second album of the year in the shape of Radio Static High, Hey Colossus are playing at the peak of their powers. 'Hot Grave' is especially pummelling tonight, its atonal strumming intro drawing huge cheers down the front but it's with 'Hop The Railings' that the band truly hit paydirt. A massive, swaggering beast that levels all before it, this is a moment to savour before fully surrendering to its relentless groove and letting the feet and hips take over. JM

Don't take things at face value – especially when they're masked

It'd be easy to dismiss Evil Blizzard as a one trick pony – four masked bassists and a drummer – if they weren't so damn good. Despite an early technical fault that eats well into their allotted time, Evil Blizzard mercilessly let rip with 'Stupid People' and proceed to flatten the District Stage. Combining menace with a fearsome sound and a well-honed stage, it's little wonder that the compact venue is full to bursting with a queue stretching well beyond the doors that have been barred by anxious security. JM

Black Devil Disco Club can still make people dance

As happened with Goat last year, about 90% of the festival's attendees hope to cram themselves into the Furnace stage to see Saturday night's headliners, Spiritualized. While he's certainly the biggest name on the bill by a long way, and any Jason Pierce performance is an alluring prospect, you'll miss an awful lot of good stuff if you spend two hours of your Saturday night queuing next to a chip van. Whether by accident or design, a decent crowd has opted instead for the stoner bonhomie of the District stage, where one man mobile disco, Black Devil Disco Club is doing his thing. Bernard Fevre's schtick hasn't changed much since 2006, but boy, he sure can make people dance. This is a witching hour set for booty shakers, mischief makers, and everyone whose legs aren't thoroughly fucked after a hardcore weekend. That some people decide to remain seated for the proceedings is a mystery and frankly, their loss. CM

Be careful googling 'Sex Swing'

Made up of members of notoriously noisy buggers Part Chimp, Yamantau and Grave Pleasures, Sex Swing appear to have been put on the bill at this time primarily to shake people out of their end-of-the-night torpor. Theirs is a joyous, sonically disturbing sound, all screeches and thumps overlaid with a clamorous saxophone that sounds like it's being pulled from the depths of Tartarus. Some members of the audience don't seem to know what to make of it but the band appear to be having a whale (a wail?) of a time - going hell for leather, possessed by a primal impulse to really fuck things up. By the end of it, you feel thoroughly rattled and newly reinvigorated. Pro-tip: don't try googling their name when you get home with 'safe search' switched off. CM

Jane Weaver burns brightly in the Furnace

Jane Weaver's set at the Furnace is nothing short of sublime and it's a real pleasure to see her take to a large stage, backed by a massive light show and score a major victory. This is gloriously delicious music; warm, human and utterly seductive. 'Argent' is particularly propulsive and the skewed pop of 'Don't Take My Soul' is dropped at just the right point. The electronic throbs of 'I Need A Connection' are the icing on this wonderful confection and it's little wonder that sections of the crowd break into a terrace chant of, "Weaver! Weaver!" at its conclusion. JM

There are some long overdue appearances

Is this really Anton Newcombe's first appearance at the Psyche Fest? It is indeed and he certainly seems to be throwing himself into it with gusto, as if to make up for lost time. Not only is he the festival's first Artist In Residence - a role that finds him DJing, selecting artists from his A Recordings label to play the festival and taking part in an epic Q&A as part of the event's Musings In Drone spoken word section – he also takes to the Camp Stage with Tess Parks and a full band. If their album, I Declare Nothing, was a little too one-paced for some tastes, then here, in the live environment, it makes perfect sense. With a full band to bolster the sound, songs such as 'Cocaine Cat' increase in stature and presence and Parks' oft-criticised monotone delivery works in tandem with instruments around here. Dripping with fuzzy, heavy riffing redolent of William Reid and simple, yet effective chord structures, closer 'Gruenwald' points to an interesting future. JM

There will be disappointments along the way

Despite the most alluring name on the bill, Destruction Unit prove to be something of a disappointment thanks to an aesthetic that would be more suited to the Rebellion Festival. Equally uninspiring is Blanck Mass whose static performance fails to rise to the equation. But perhaps the most perplexing addition to the bill is Young Knives whose move into prog related waters is unconvincing as they're far better when singing about arguing with your girlfriend's parents. Elsewhere, Graham Massey's Toolshed sharply divide opinion on whether shapeless jazz noodlings are a good or bad thing. JM

All is not lost

JC Satan absolutely blow the Blade Factory apart with a set that alternately veers from heavy duty stoner vibes to something that resembles a psychedelic version of The Ramones. Carlton Melton's panoramic soundscapes are a thing of wonder and it comes as no surprise that they've been invited back for a second bite of the cherry. This is muscular music that rises to the occasion as it takes the wide-eyed audience far and beyond the environs of the Camp Stage. Over in the Furnace, Factory Floor are raising things a notch or two. Whereas Blanck Mass fail to take off, Factory Floor's pumping electronica and driving beats are just the very thing to bring Friday night to a thunderous climax. JM

One chord, four-to-the-floor beats and five smashed drums make for a good show

You can't help but feel sorry for San Francisco space rockers Lumerians. Resplendent in shiny hoods and capes that reflect light from the stage and into the audience, it's impossible not to warm to them and their ability to turn one-chord riffs and motorik beats into weapons aimed squarely at the feet. Alas, despite having announced their last number, the stage management team elects to cut their sound as they approach the home straight and the action is enough to compel their drummer to kick his kit across the stage and storm off in fury. Strangely enough, this visually violent spectacle works well in their favour. JM

Saturday night belongs to The Heads

The Heads' extraordinary set on the Camp stage is one dominated by heavy-duty riffing, hypnotic rhythms, monster grooves and extreme volume and the end result is total and utter surrender to their onslaught. They slowly and methodically turn the screws and increase the urgency with each passing bar of music. 'Spliff Riff' is massive, a relentless attack on the senses that grips like some monster fist before releasing the mind and body into uncontrollable abandon. A breathless peak, the impossibility to stand still throughout their allocated time is rewarded by music that stands as a benchmark of what's possible through the imagination and the sonic arsenal at their disposal. Even well after their set, saucer-eyed acolytes shower The Heads with praise and gratitude. JM

You won't be the same after this trip

And so it ends. Handshakes and hugs are exchanged among old friends and new as this psychedelic Brigadoon winds down for another year. Having broken through to the other side for two magical days, the world is going to look a little different come Sunday morning. But whatever happens between now and the end of next September, the events of the Liverpool International Festival Of Psychedelia are indelibly etched on the brain to serve as a reminder of how good a festival really can be when delivered with focus, purpose and, yes, love. JM