Liverpool International Festival of Psychedelia 2014
Typical. In the last few years, Merseyside has finally begun to make gigantic steps forwards with regards to external perceptions of its musical output (the fogged-out dub of Forest Swords, anyone? How about Låpsley’s deliriously sparse pop? Or, say, Evian Christ’s nimble electronica?), boldly emerging from the imposing shadow of That Sixties Band We Dare Not Mention. So what does it go and do now? It only organizes a whole bloody festival of psyche-fucking-delia.
Anyone frustrated by the region’s guitar-centric legacy would be forgiven for feeling slightly irked… but wait! Before you gather the necessary saliva to emit that dissatisfied tut, here’s some food for thought. Psychfest, resplendent amidst the revitalized warehouses of Liverpool’s once-decaying Baltic Triangle, focuses on neither the past nor the pantheon of rock music – it’s very much a snapshot of the luminescent present. ‘The zeitgeist’, some might suggest. At times, it even feels like the future.
Of course, it’s with some very heavy nods toward days of yore that our weekend gets underway: masked noisemakers Black Mekon tune a few memories into Jon Spencer’s younger days with the Blues Explosion and even Pussy Galore, tickling our delighted ears with some snarling blues-tinged schlock. They slip into Ritchie Valens mode for Oh Christina, their one sensitive moment, but the rest simply scintillates with an early pummeling.
"Psychfest, resplendent amidst the revitalized warehouses of Liverpool’s once-decaying Baltic Triangle, focuses on neither the past nor the pantheon of rock music – it’s very much a snapshot of the luminescent present"
Pete Bassman, the former Spacemen 3 member turned drone ranger, provides some light relief with understated murmurs that feel like a subtle development of his former outfit’s heyday. Or at least they would do if we could hear what’s going on; the Blade Factory stage’s PA is so quiet against the softly-chattering hubbub of the crowd that we eventually give up and head in the direction of The Asteroid #4’s relatively classicist melodicism. On record, they’re a folk-inflected tapestry of interweaving textures and gently-trippy detours, but tonight they forego all that in favour of spiraling, colourful wig-outs that belie their lowly stature on the festival lineup. Lovely.
The name Hellshovel might conjure up plenty of sounds in your mind, but The Skinny would put good money on none of ‘em being rickety r’n’b. Still, the Montreal foursome make an enjoyable racket that teeters and totters between Lee Mavers’ roughshod skiffle and Sic Alps’ discombobulated treatment of Pacific northwestern stompers, preparing us in no way whatsoever for the truly demented brilliance of Barberos. Clad as ever in all-over lycra bodysuits, their genre-defying mesh of atonal, synthetic wash and lurching flurries of dual-drummer rhythms makes for one hell of a spectacle, and a thoroughly captivating noise. Difficult to think of them as anything other than a barely-logical continuation of proto-techno psychedelicists Silver Apples, inasmuch as their man-vs-machine symbiosis resembles much that’s come before them without anyone else really sounding like them in return. An early festival highlight, challenged almost immediately by the nuanced onslaught of Thought Forms. Shades of Sonic Youth and My Bloody Valentine abound, alongside other true believers at the church of scree, but their rapt expressions – on their knees at the gates to nirvana – point to a band clearly lost to their own glorious mess. And by gum, are they ever loud.
Day one threatens to splutter rather than saunter majestically towards a close, with The Allah-Las’ straightforward jangle falling somewhat flat in the wake of the previous two acts, and the stargazing shimmers of Besnard Lakes struggling to take off. That’s largely thanks to a muddy sound that obscures their knack for sumptuous hooks, reminding us all that the acoustic practicalities of a warehouse venue can occasionally get in the way of things. Luckily these problems do not affect the febrile tension that underpins Suuns’ best work: Music Won’t Save You forcefully scatters the minds of the assembled throng like pins in a bowling alley, saving the day in the most sinister way imaginable.
With Sunday’s events stretching out over a mind-blowing fourteen hours, it’s no surprise that the day’s early revels are rather sparsely attended. Whether due to the draw of the Merseyside derby, or merely those still coming to terms with morning heads that have spilled into the afternoon, the unassuming Mazes play to a smaller, more sober crowd than those that crammed into Camp & Furnace the night before. Shame too – they’re absolutely phenomenal, overlapping their off-kilter indiepop with strafing guitar noise and metronome-precise motorik passages. A bonus Eddy Current Suppression Ring cover is brittle, jagged and deliciously sweet, icing their cake nicely in a way that Traams can’t quite match. Their lucid visions of fuzz owe a similar debt to the kosmische sound, but despite their buzzing intensity, they don’t quite meet the unspoken hope that an actual song might break out at some stage.
Welsh upstarts Islet rise to the challenge nicely, making an effort to talk to the crowd in a manner that seems somewhat out of step with the sullen silences of your average psych maestro. Theirs are superbly wonky ideas, and they come at us thick and fast atop meticulous shuffles that suddenly explode into mischievous, brain-teasing shapes. Nice work, which can also be said for Parisien fivesome Moodoid. Their glam approach to stagewear (Glittery facepaint! Gold lamé jackets! Tremendous stuff) proves deceptive; they owe more to the bold flourishes of 1980s new pop than Bowie’s glitzy chutzpah, and despite some technical difficulties, they captivate the rapidly-expanding crowd with ease. The Janitors are bound to be less lucky, with their moodier, broodier rumble designed for doomsaying rather than dancing, but they draw plentiful cheers nonetheless.
Once again, a crowd slowly builds in the confines of The Blade Factory, in anticipation of the weekend’s second Spacemen 3 alumnus. Yep, Pete ‘Sonic Boom’ Kember is here to lend playful electronic splashes to Cheval Sombre’s bruised, Mark Kozelek-tinged slowcore. How psychedelic this might actually be is anyone’s guess, but it’s jolly nice regardless. Grumbling Fur’s link to the weekend’s crucial subgenre is similarly tenuous, with their complex synthpop most strongly resembling a budget Depeche Mode. Still, they’re kinda fantastic, and hey doff their caps to the event itself with a violin-led drone washout.
Impressive as all this cerebral matter has been, we long for another dose of paint-peeling, dumb-for-fun’s sake rock’n’roll. Theo Verney is just the man for the job, seemingly sourcing riffs from the same stack of limitless, pure gold that Ty Segall continues to mine. It’s the perfect undercoat for Bostonian types Quilt to use as a basis for their bright, soft-psych soundscapes. Pop music, but not quite – too catchy to be dismissed as art-rock, too magically savvy to be reclaimed as pure bubblegum. A heavenly middleground to occupy, it turns out. Next up, the aforementioned technical difficulties resurface as Teeth Of The Sea’s flow is disturbed by unspecified electronic gremlins. When they finally manage to negotiate a solution, things go swimmingly: TOTS are simply magnificent. You’d be within your rights to ask whether this, too, qualifies as psychedelia, but when those pulsating sunlamps of sound kick in, it’s easy to see how they’ve managed to bend so many hearts and minds to their honourable cause.
Lo-fi stalwarts Woods are favourably positioned on the Furnace stage, but for some reason their well-crafted ruminations don’t quite ignite as hoped. Perhaps it’s the absence of the gentle ambience that fogged the more human aspects of their earlier records; perhaps it’s the inevitability of releasing records for a decade… whatever. For some reason, they just sound like a rock band tonight. A very pleasant one, admittedly, but a mere rock band nonetheless.
Such accusations could never be levelled at the mysterious Goat, who’ve been feted and drooled over by all and sundry since their first appearance in 2012. They offer spectacle and pomp, with their two vocalists dancing manically in totemistic animal masks, whilst acting as conduits for the energy of When I Talk To God’s frenetic mantras. It’s all good fun, although pandemonium threatens to break out at the entrance to the room as demand exceeds capacity, leading to lots of shoving past security guards and miffed posts across social media. It’d be an unfortunate way for things to end, had the real stars of the show not played just prior to that: Salford’s own Gnod positively lay waste to Psychfest with mountains of molten riffage and glorious, kraut-out ferocity. Exhausting and exhilarating in equal measure, they’re the synapse-crushing powerhouse to end all synapse-crushing powerhouses – they leave consciousnesses well and truly eviscerated; a fitting epitaph for this most mind-melting of events.