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Liverpool Psych Fest's Craig Pennington Talks PZYK 2020
Patrick Clarke , March 6th, 2020 11:45

Co-founder of much-loved Liverpool Psych Fest Craig Pennington on what to expect from the festival’s new, more intense incarnation PZYK 2020

In its original run from 2012 to 2017, Liverpool International Festival of Psychedelia established itself not just as one of Europe’s best small festivals, but as the central hub of a community that sprawls all across the world; as the annual gathering for those with music taste unusually inclined. A number of warehouses linked by an outdoor space, the way it was laid out fostered that sense of community; it was as much about interacting with other festival-goers between bands – interactions that grew steadily more brilliant and deranged as the event wore on – as it was about the bands themselves. The festival’s decision to take a hiatus in 2017 was deeply felt by said community, and similarly the long-awaited announcement of a new event this May was cause for genuine celebration.

PZYK 2020 will take place on May 16, and features a brilliant line-up topped by Anatolian psych-folk outliers Altin Gün. It must be noted that PZYK 2020 is not the same thing as the old Psych Fest. It takes place over one 16-hour stretch rather than two nights and will be held in and around a different venue on the opposite side of town, the Invisible Wind Factory. However, from speaking to the festival’s co-founder Craig Pennington, it’s clear that the new event aims to retain that mystical magic of old. In fact, as he explains, it may well even build on it.

tQ: Hi Craig, first of all, can you explain the difference between PZYK 2020 and the old International Festival of Psychedelia?

Craig Pennington: We wanted to create a really, really intense and distilled version of what we did previously. The Baltic Triangle has changed a hell of a lot during the time we’ve been doing the festival, so I suppose we wanted to go a part of the city that chimed more with the ethos of what it is that we do. Also, it presents an opportunity to work with the Invisible Wind Factory to realise the project, the same people who used to run [legendary and much-missed Liverpool venue] The Kazimier. We’ve always made it part of our thing that we push the seams of what psychedelia is normally perceived to be. Especially during the early years, the artists were quite unusual to present under a psychedelic banner. we very much want to carry on doing that and have that as a central part of what we do with PZYK 2020.

For those unfamiliar with the new space, how would you compare the Invisible Wind Factory and the old Baltic Triangle site?

CP: The Invisible Wind Factory is up in the North Docks, and it’s very much a new frontier in the city. That area is still very much traditional heavy industry, dockside industry, a lot of light engineering; it’s a rugged part of the city still. The Baltic Triangle has had the gentrification experience that other cities all over the country have had. There’s a lot of residential down there, a lot of of commercial entertainment stuff, and it just doesn’t have the same energy it had seven or eight years ago when we started the festival. The north docks have that. It’s raw, it’s full of energy, there’s a lot of collaborative artists’ studios. The Invisible Wind Factory is I suppose the ultimate realisation of that. There’s so much creative energy in that venue and being able to partner with them from a production perspective, it will be the best produced event we’ve ever done, and the most intense event we’ve ever done.

Altin Gün

What other spaces around the North Docks will you be using?

One of the reasons why the Camp And Furnace worked so well was that even though it’s an urban site with a number of different rooms, because it was on an enclosed site and because we had a central area which was the point everyone emptied out into between bands, it gave a real energy to it, almost like a village atmosphere to it. The great thing about the site in the North Docks is that we’re gonna be able to do exactly the same thing. I think that’s one of the most important things about what we’ve done with this year’s festival.

So we’ll be using the Invisible Wind Factory’s massive hall as the main stage and we’ll be using [IWF’s basement space] Substation and another couple of spaces within that building. Then we’re also using a warehouse that’s immediately next door called MAKE, with a garden area that ties the new warehouses together. That’ll be our outside area with DJs and bars, so we’ll have a tight and contained festival site. It’ll be a compact and village-like atmosphere, so we’ll maintain what we had at the last site.

Because it is a slightly odd international mix of people that come to Psych Fest, I think that making sure you platform that audience and allow them to interact with each other as much as possible, and create a warm embracing environment, I think that’s really important. I think we’ll have, in total, four or five spaces with a variety of different capacities.

Psych Fest has always been a completely immersive experience. What are you planning when it comes to the extra details?

That very, very ,very intense, immersive, audio-visual environment is part of the Psych Fest experience. Both ourselves and Sam Wiehl who’s our visual director are very much looking at how to ramp that up another notch, how we can make that even more enveloping, even more disorientating and transportive. Trying to do that on a large scale with a lot of people in a space is difficult to do, but it’s something we’ve managed to achieve with Psych Fest over the years and we want to explore that more and more. I can’t give you any specifics on what we’re planning yet, though!

What motivated Psych Fest’s hiatus after 2017?

I think it’s very taxing running a project like this. It’s a lot of work. We absolutely adore it, but Liverpool Psych Fest is run by a collective of people who all do other things, whether that’s running other creative organisations, promoting, or other music. It’s never been any of our full-time thing, and it just felt like it was healthy to take a break. It was never going to be the end, but we felt like we needed a new challenge, and working with new partners in a new space and giving us that break to really home in on what it is we do well was really important. We wanted to go away and come back to be the best version of ourselves.

Black Country, New Road

You mentioned earlier that Psych Fest has always pushed the boundaries of what ‘psychedelia’ means. Do you think a band like Black Country, New Road are psychedelic, for example?

There’s been lots of cases in the past where people have said ‘they’re not a psych band, they’re not a psych fest band’, and do you know what, we have that argument with ourselves all the time! It depends what you’re defining psychedelia as. If the prism of psychedelia is a UFO club, then maybe not, but then by the same definition would you say that Blanck Mass are? You probably wouldn’t. You probably wouldn’t say that Factory Floor are. The great thing about it is that it’s down to the individual to make those distinctions.

The thing about Psych Fest historically and what we’re dong with psych is that it’s about the experience. As an intense, 16-hour experience, is that a psychedelic experience? And yes, absolutely, categorically, it will be one of the most psychedelic experiences that people can have. Whether each individual component of that is a psych band, probably not, but we think that as a cohesive unit, a wholly enveloped offering it absolutely is!

I once saw Meatraffle frantically trying to source effects pedals from Psych Fest audience members because they were having an existential crisis about whether they were psychedelic enough…

Well there you go! Hopefully we’ve been an interesting point on their journey as well.

Gong Gong Gong 工工工

Lastly, who are your personal picks from this year’s lineup?

There’s a band we’ve booked called Gong Gong Gong 工工工, a Beijing band who are part of the democracy movement, and a very artistically important band from that part of the world. They’ve only had one very brief run of shows in Europe before and it’s the first time they’re doing a festival in the UK. I love that band, they’re a really, really visceral two-piece, like Suicide and Link Wray. There’s also a band called Yin Yin from Maastricht in the Netherlands who are like the missing link between Goat and Allah-Las, and there’s also Snapped Ankles who I think are the most exciting band in the country right now.

PZYK 2020 takes place on May 16 at the Invisible Wind Factory and Liverpool's North Docks. For the full line-up, more information and tickets, click here