INTERVIEW: Liverpool Sound City

Ahead of Liverpool Sound City's return to its roots as an urban festival this May, the event's Chief Operating Officer Rebecca Ayres speaks to Patrick Clarke about their latest chapter

Peaches plays Liverpool Sound City 2017, photo by Michael Sheerin

This year’s 11th edition of Liverpool Sound City, which takes place this May 5 and 6, is particularly noteworthy. In the past, it was one of Britain’s most exciting inner-city festivals, based around Liverpool’s central Wolstenholme Square with a focus on new music, international bands and smaller, more intimate shows.

In 2015 the festival moved outwards to the former docks in Liverpool’s far-north. With an enclosed arena it became a more traditional event, hosting larger names like The Flaming Lips, John Cale, Belle And Sebastian and The Coral.

For 2018, however, Sound City is once again undergoing a momentous shift in its approach. The festival are focusing on going ‘back to their roots’, with a line-up characterised once again by new music, and smaller-scale shows.

With Wolstenholme Square’s venues sadly no more, however, this year’s central base of the event will be the Baltic Triangle, Liverpool’s fast-rising artistic district which has appropriated old warehouses, pop-ups and a DIY impetus.

While returning to its roots in spirit, this year’s Liverpool Sound City is not the same proposition it was when it was last in the town. It’s an exciting move, but much is still unknown. To find out more about what to expect, and the reasons behind this latest development, we caught up with Chief Operating Officer Rebecca Ayres.

tQ: What is the reasoning behind your move back into the city, and what have the three years’ outside of it taught you?

Rebecca Ayres, Sound City: When we moved to Sound City to the docks in 2015 it was due to losing our festival footprint around Wolstenholme Square and parts of Seel Street, we had to move to a new location. The North Liverpool Docks were a new and unusual space and we have always been about using new venues, we were the first to use the Duke Street Carpark, St George’s Hall and the Anglican and Metropolitan Cathedrals in the city centre for example.

As part of our 10 year anniversary, we reflected on the past 10 years and we surveyed our audience who told us that what they love most about Sound City is the emerging talent discovery element which is what we first became known for. Everton Football Club also chose the North Docks as the site for their new ground which meant we couldn’t continue there. Now three years on since we moved to the Bramley Moore Dock, the city has changed a lot and more venues and spaces have opened up which gives us the opportunity to go back to our roots again.

The landscape of the city’s music scene has changed since you last held Sound City there. What differences will there be between this and those early editions of the festival?

RA: Yes, when we started Sound City, all the venues we could work with were in the city centre around the Ropewalks area and the Baltic Triangle barely existed. The size and range of venues across the Baltic Triangle may be a bit wider than back in the early days of Sound City when it was in the city centre and they’re probably even closer together, but I think the feel of the festival will be the same in terms of it being a venue hopping experience and being able to see lots of new exciting bands all within a short space of time and close physical area.

We continue to showcase a wide range of Liverpool artists, balanced with artists from around the UK and around 20% of the line up will be international with artists coming from over 30 countries his year. In the early editions, people loved being able to go to a venue and see a Korean artist then to another to see one from Lithuania and then to Australia etc, they’ll be able to again this year in the Baltic Triangle and that’s one of the things I’m most excited about.

At the same time, what benefits does an area like the Baltic Triangle give to a festival? It’s already widely used for other Liverpool festivals like Psych Fest and Threshold

Yes, Threshold was the first one to do a festival around there and Psychfest has used Camp and Furnace and District and the surrounding roads brilliantly. I think it’s the closeness and proximity of venues in the Baltic Triangle that are great, and also the non music venues which give it a really great atmosphere, for example, we’re using 18 venues this year but there are around 6 others including coffee shops like Coffee and Fandisha, Ryde, pubs like Brewery Tap and bars like the Botanical Gin Garden that people can go in if they fancy a break from music for a bit.

You’ve taken a focus back to smaller and emerging bands too, who are your personal picks of the line-up?

Aadae is really cool, a concoction of Afrobeat and pop, her music is very alluring.

Queen Zee are awesome, such vitriol and rage in pop I haven’t seen for a long time.

Dishpit are a really dirty rock n roll trio from Montreal.

Venus Tropicaux from Netherlands take the spirit of The Slits and make it wilder and darker.

Beyond the 2018 edition, where does Sound City go from here and what are your hopes for the future of the festival?

When we started Sound City in 2008 we were one of the only festivals in the region. 10 years on Liverpool has many festivals embracing many different genres and it is all the richer for it. For Sound City to be relevant now, it has to genuinely be committed to unearthing and discovering the best and most diverse emerging talent from multiple genres and from across the world. We’ll continue to find wider and better ways to do this and to keep using unusual spaces within what we believe is the best city to see music in on the earth.

We’ll also continue to work with and to help develop our sister festival Sounds Of The Xity in Beijing, with Zandari Festa in Korea where we take eight UK artists to showcase at every year, on Off The Record our Manchester showcase and conference that takes place in November with our partners From the Fields, and we’re developing our Sound City Music Entrepreneurs Training that is for anyone who has a burning desire to work in music to start their first steps and on Modern Sky UK our label and entertainment company releasing music for artists including Blinders, Spinn and Calva Louise.

This year’s Liverpool Sound City takes place from May 5-6. For tickets, click here

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