A Cosmic Love Affair: Liverpool International Festival of Psychedelia

Third eye pilot Julian Marszelek opens wide to absorb the wonders of the second Liverpool International Festival Of Psychedelia

Conventional wisdom among the more seasoned heads holds that it’s impossible to replicate the sheer visceral thrill of your first trip; that inaugural step into the unknown as the ego dissolves to reveal reality as a subjective construct whilst uniting with the infinity of the universe, a concept so difficult to fully grasp that its absurdity causes convulsions of mirth of a magnitude so off the scale that you laugh yourself into yet another altered state of consciousness. Or something.

And so much for all of that because the indisputable fact is that the organisers of this, the second Liverpool International Festival of Psychedelia, have topped last year’s event. With the festival now taking part over two days instead of last year’s one, the audience capacity has doubled, too, to allow 2,000 space cadets per day from across Europe to descend on the UK’s centre of psychedelia. Moreover, taking full advantage of the Camp and Furnace complex in Liverpool’s Baltic Triangle – an area that’s seen an influx of artistic creativity rubbing shoulders with entrepreneurial activity – this year’s festival offers far more bands and music than the debut event.

The pan-generational crowd play as important a part in making this a success as the majority of the bands that appear throughout the weekend. These are true believers, people for whom the current crop of buzz bands mean nothing and the messages of their corporate sponsors even less. Writing in his excellent dissection of this year’s Reading Festival in Drowned In Sound, Sean Adams bemoaned the seeming decline of the alternative nation that seems to have mutated into one faceless, shapeless, homogenous mass. And while he’s right in pointing how huge events like Reading have become little more than a post A-level rite of passage, those individuals – the alternative, the different, the outsiders – who want something more from the events they go to and the music that they listen to, have clearly converged on Liverpool. Taking a cursory glance around the crowds in the venue or relaxing with a beer and a smoke outside reveals a variety of heads, freaks and sharp-dressed fans that refuse to conform to the real world. There are feather cuts, long hairs, a few Goths, mods, paisley-wearing hippies, Cuban heels, biker boots, crushed velvet jackets, tassled coats and any number of fashions that you won’t find on the High Street. And everyone, to a man and woman, is getting on.

This has to be one of the friendliest festivals around. Conversations are struck, e-mail addresses and phone numbers exchanged while friendships are established. Much laughter is heard throughout the weekend and not a raised or angry voice is present to ruin the vibe. Even the uniformed security are in on the atmosphere and the festival stands in sharp contrast to the scenes that greet The Quietus in the city’s Cavern District during the early hours after the festival: police, pissheads and punch-ups fuelled by nasty lager and soundtracked by thumping autotuned shit.

And of course the reason for this congregation of the faithful is the music from 21st century purveyors of drones, throbs, fuzz guitars, beats, swirls, free-form jams and any number of aural weaponry aimed at the feet as much as the centre of the mind. One early Friday highlight arrives in the form of Manchester’s Kult Country. With just one single behind them, the splendid miasma that is ‘Slowburn’, Kult Country belie the brevity of their lifespan with an engrossing set that meshes an undeniable pop sensibility with a desire to explore sonic possibilities via a bewildering amount of effects pedals and six-string dexterity. However, as evidenced by Gallic duo Yeti Lane, psychedelia is much more than an adherence to traditional means of musical delivery. Their use of sequencers, processed beats, live drums and treated guitar owes as much to the pioneers of dance as it does to rock music and so it is that their throbs and grooves do much to expand the remit of the festival.

The varying environments of each of the three halls employed by the festival serve to perfectly enhance some bands. While the Camp stage is adorned by an ever-changing psychedelic backdrop and the compact surroundings of the Blade Factory benefit some of the lesser-known acts, the stark surroundings and strobes of the window-ceiling adorned Furnace go some considerable way to adding to the existing air of menace of Mexico’s Lorelle Meets The Obsolete. Expanded to a four-piece for live duties, the quartet deal in a sleazy, fuzzy manifestation of rock & roll that’s utterly compelling throughout. Lorelle coaxes some unholy sounds from a guitar that sounds as if it’s strung with cheesewire. This is heady and powerful music that sucks the listener in and such is its seductive quality that you’re literally left reeling when it comes to a sudden halt.

Confession time: this writer had previously written off Carlton Melton on the grounds that their 2011 album, Country Ways, was too noodly for these ears. Tonight, that opinion is comprehensively turned on its head thanks to the stand out set of the day over at the Camp stage. Over the course of the opening 15 or so minutes they create a beatless drone adorned by simple yet effective singing guitar licks that doff their cap to Michael Rother and the effect is not unlike Gregorian monks playing the blues on the moon. And just as you think that you’ve got the measure of where they’re taking you, Carlton Melton wrong-foot just about all present with an explosive show of dexterity, colossal beats and near-punishing volume. ‘Sarsen’ is a singularly fearsome beast that creates a seductively hypnotic maelstrom that levels all before it.

Over at the Blade Factory The Oscillation overcome early technical glitches to turn in a memorable performance. Their first gig since January and one that ushers in the release of their new album, From Tomorrow, this is a show that really drives home the importance of rhythm section Tom Relleen (bass) and drummer Valentina Magaletti. As evidenced by a fearsome reading of ‘Future Echo’ the throbbing, pulsing bass and precise metronomic rhythms not only anchor the track but also enhance the melee created by singer-guitarist Demian Castellanos. Crucially, they make people dance in a very short space of time, a move that counts highly in even the most cynical of churls’ books.

The KVB who follow on after show glimpses promise but are some way from achieving it. With a sound that veers from Moon Duo to elements of Dead Skeletons and hints of A Place To Bury Strangers, they’re still trying to find their identity. It’s there somewhere among the influences but on tonight’s evidence it may take some time for it to take shape.

Ushered in by a quartet of white-robed monks throwing roses into the audience, Moon Duo‘s momentum is temporarily delayed by some unspecified problem caused by the faulty gear. Yet when they do finally take to a stage bathed in demonic red light and swirling mist, any thoughts of gremlins soon vanish into the haze. The addition of drummer John Jeffrey ensures that Moon Duo are able to tailor their music according to set and setting and so it is that ‘Sleepwalker’ is characterised by a far deeper and yes, funkier, groove than on its recorded version. Ripley Johnson’s fluid guitar moves are more muscular than ever before while Sanae Yamada’s bass pulses, sequenced rhythms and keyboard breaks cause spontaneous whooping and dancing throughout their triumphant set.

Saturday has much to live up to following Friday’s impressive opening salvo but the early omens aren’t good. The Doors-Velvet Underground hybrid of Nashville’s The Paperhead eschews the menace of either in favour of an uncertainty that’s less than compelling. Similarly, Charlie Boyer And The Voyeurs fail to make any real impact despite the visual accompaniment of the psychedelic backdrop that adorns the Camp stage. And make no mistake this is a fine looking band; so fine looking that they could be from central casting for any director seeking a band that ticks all the right psyche boxes. In particular Charlie Boyer and guitarist Sam Davies are visually arresting, be it their shared love of tight black polo-neck sweater, mutton-chops and long hair. Davies is born to play John Cale on the yet-to-be-made Velvet Underground biopic but sadly their music, propelled as it is by an undeniable pop chops, is too polite to be truly arresting.

Still, at least it’s nowhere near as disappointing as Singapore Sling‘s turgid set. Though continual amp problems curtail their filthy groove, there’s a huge difference between studied cool and outright insouciance. Despite drawing deeply from The Jesus And Mary Chain’s well of sleazy rock & roll, they seem as far detached from their music as they from the audience. A real shame because when Singapore Sling burn they do so with real intensity but they fail to ignite tonight.

No such problems for French groove machine The Limananas. An unholy collision of The Velvet Underground with Serge Gainsbourg overseen by the cinematic sweep of Ennio Morricone, their set is fuelled by a sense of danger and drama that fills the Furnace with switchblade thrills and a deservedly drawn and rapt audience. With songs sung in both French and English and interspersed with snaking keyboard breaks, driving bass, stand up drums and grinding fuzz guitars, The Limananas deliver one of the outstanding sets of the day. Sod it, make that the weekend.

This time last year, Hookworms had the unenviable task of following on from Dead Skeletons’ festival-stealing turn. Yet follow they did and in the process snatched victory with a compelling performance that deservedly won them a sizeable amount of new supporters. In the wake of their excellent debut album, Pearl Mystic, Hookworms’ slot in the Camp is one of the most eagerly anticipated slots of the festival. Gathering one the biggest crowds of the weekend, Hookworms drop the big one in grand style. Keyboardist/vocalist MJ is utterly possessed as he exhorts a reaction from the throng and the 12 months since their last appearance here has seen the band turn into a fearsome live prospect. Sound levels are turned up to match Hookworms’ energy levels and ‘Away/Towards’ is one of the most satisfying moments of the festival.

There’s probably no one artist here who divides opinion quite like Ty Segall. Alternately viewed as garage rock’s answer to Dave Grohl, a musician who probably has more bands and projects under his belt than he has socks in his drawer, and a restless, creative spirit going to wherever his muse takes him, Segall’s latest outing finds him sat behind the drum kit of Fuzz whilst handling vocal duties. Augmented by guitarist Charlie Moothead and bassist Roland Cosio, the trio move away from the garage rock & roll they’ve all been involved in into the sludgy riff territory more commonly associated with Black Sabbath and Blue Cheer. The result is a heavy riffing 45 minutes that sees Moothead crank up his – ahem – fuzz pedal as Segall screams his way between beats and stomps with all the gusto of a speed-addled baboon rampaging through a children’s party.

Back at the Camp stage, White Manna are a mass of hair, beards and tattoos that make fabulously swooshy sounds while hammering pile-driving riffs at about 150mph with the breaks off. Whether they hit the wall or not is a moot point as The Quietus fails to resist the lure of local heroes Mugstar over at the Furnace. Mugstar really are cut from a very different cloth from the vast majority of the bands here. Sharing a European and electronic sensibility with Yeti Lane, the Liverpudlian quartet sound absolutely immense courtesy of a drum sound akin to a Panzer attack and an onslaught of sound driven by brutal precision. The monochromatic light show that relentlessly flashes behind them is symptomatic of the aural delights that it’s supporting – straightforward and clean, this is pumping music drilling into the centre of the collective hive mind.

Similarly, local compatriots Clinic occupy an orbit all their own. Arriving about half an later than scheduled, their dark and claustrophic sound – see opener ‘I Ching’ for evidence – elicits feelings of paranoia and dreads interspersed with moments of humour thanks to old favourites such as ‘IPC Editors Dictate Our Youth’.

As tired feet stagger back to the hotel, the sense that something utterly magical and special has occurred over the previous 36 or so hours is undeniable. This is a festival curated with love, care and passion and the several thousand hardy souls descending on Liverpool prove that the counter-cultural festival spirit of yore is still alive, well and incredibly rude health. Really, next year’s gathering can’t come quick enough.

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