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Tuesday, 9 October 2012

Live Review - Liverpool Psych Fest

The See See
  Liverpool International Festival of Psychedelia 
Camp and Furnace, Liverpool, September 29
All photos: Tom Gilmore (foundwaves.com)

Liverpool welcomed the largest gathering yet of the latest wave of UK psychedelic bands, as it set out its stall to become a British equivalent to the Austin Psych Fest. Judging by the response of those who watched a vast array of bands fill a packed schedule on the Camp and Furnace’s two stages, their time was not wasted. 

The UK psych scene may look to Austin as its spiritual twin, but it takes its greatest inspiration from a band which formed much closer to home around 30 years ago. The influence of Spacemen 3 pervades many of the wave of bands now emerging, and is omnipresent at Liverpool’s inaugural psych gathering. Today’s line-up includes former Spacemen drummer Sterling ‘Rosco’ Roswell. Former Spacemen 3 and Spiritualized bassist Will Carruthers also makes an appearance later in the day as part of Dead Skeletons first ever UK gig. At one point, DJs in both the festival’s main areas are concurrently playing Spacemen 3 and Spiritualized tracks. And the influence can be heard clearly in many of the bands who take to the stage during the course of the festival.

Rosco and his guitar have to contend with a vast, unoccupied space in front of him in the larger of the venue’s two stages, The Furnace. He demonstrates what some of the younger generation of Spacemen 3 admirers could do with learning – the importance of subtlety and contrast, rather than just drenching everything in reverb. Unfortunately, many of those who have made it along to his early afternoon set talk their way through much of the gig, the relentless chatter echoing around The Furnace and drowning out the gentler moments of Rosco’s performance. The set steps up a gear with ‘Give Peace another Chance’, where Rosco finally seems to silence the crowd. Sadly, it’s his last track. Strict half-hour time slots see Rosco depart to be followed by a series of bands all heavily indebted to the one he once played drums for. The Lucid Dream are the finest of the mid-afternoon sets, and are the first band of the day who successfully create enough layers of sound to fill the cavernous Furnace. Far from being lost on the large stage, The Lucid Dream are becoming an increasingly powerful force with each live performance and have potential to be one of the bands to emerge from the scene as more than just a generous tribute to their influences.

Wolf People
The festival’s second stage, the Blade Factory, resembles venues many of the bands on the bill will be familiar with. A more confined space than The Furnace, with no natural light and toilets that become increasingly shocking as the day progresses, the Blade Factory is home from home for many on the line-up, used to playing dingy rooms at the back of pubs up and down the country. The early draw is The Wild Eyes, already familiar to many of their own hometown crowd having forged a strong live reputation in Liverpool. Here, the sense of being at a psych fest similar to Austin begins to emerge as the lack of outside light allows the visuals to take effect. Propelled forward by melodic bass lines, the room fills quickly and will stay full for most of the day. 

“I still can’t play this song after all this time,” says Edgar Summertyme, former lead singer of The Stairs, as he launches into a version of the band’s seminal debut single ‘Weed Bus’. Even if Edgar’s forgotten, his audience hasn’t, and even though its more than 21 years since the song’s release the crowd still join in with the words: “Now it’s time for me to get off, but I’m so stoned I missed my stop”. It’s the closest we get to a singalong moment all day, and Edgar revels in his opportunity to get old tunes out of the bag 20 years later.

Edgar Summertyme
The See See also look to the past for inspiration, but unlike many of their peers on today’s line-up their sound is far more indebted to the 1960s and 1970s than the late-1980’s. Today, their ranks are boosted by a Lucid Dreamer on bass, and the band jangle their way through a perfectly-formed set of harmonious pop songs, psychedelic in the “traditional” sense. The See See are growing, with each record and live performance, and congestion in the doorway entering The Blade Factory reaches its heaviest level yet as people pile in to see them play. East Kilbride’s Helicon follow, taking us into their world of rhythmic layers of sound and their pulsating set is the best of the day so far. The visuals are stepped up a gear as Helicon take us to the point between heaven and hell, their crescendos building as fire rages on the projection beamed onto the back of the stage. Helicon’s sound is expansive and free-flowing, the bass reverberating around my head long-after the gig has finished. 

By now, its dark outside. Back in the Furnace, the vast space has now filled with bodies and a motorik beat is needed to get them moving. Liverpool’s finest, Mugstar, take to the stage, fresh from a positive reception to latest album Ad Marginem. With the sun no longer glaring through the venue’s ceiling, the visuals are now visible and the festival’s main room feels more like its Austin counterpart, while on the stage it could be Dusseldorf in 1973. But Mugstar are far more than just as Neu tribute band and their expansive set is perfectly timed: eminently danceable and revitalising, they power through their half hour, energising the crowd.

Dead Skeletons
The Furnace continues to fill. For now it is turn of Dead Skeletons, led by the enigmatic Jón Sæmundur Audarson, also known as Nonni Dead, playing their first UK gig. 

“He who fears death cannot enjoy life”, reads a screen situated in the front middle of the stage, frequently translating itself into multiple languages. Diagnosed with HIV in 1994, as Jón came to terms with the diagnosis he adopted the old Spanish proverb as his philosophy and threw himself into artistic projects that, through friendship with psychedelic luminaries such as Brian Jonestown Massacre frontman Anton Newcombe, ultimately resulted in the creation of Dead Skeletons. Tonight they boast Will Carruthers among their ranks, and The Furnace swells to its largest crowd of the day. Jón raises his arms triumphantly as he greets the crowd, but the set is not without hitches and it seems to take an age for the band to begin as they overcome technical problems. During the opening track, the screen bearing Jón’s philosophy collapses, and although rescued remains blank for the remainder of the set. But these glitches are overcome, and with Will looking happier than he has in any band for a long time, Dead Skeletons build momentum. By the time they launch into their hypnotic ‘Dead Mantra’, any technical glitches have been long forgotten and the Dead Skeletons don’t need a screen to get their message across: He who fears death cannot enjoy life.
The crowd streams out following Skeletons set and not all reappear for the next band, the youthful Hookworms from Leeds. Hookworms stock has been rising at a rapid rate and the band, handed their rightful place on a larger stage near the top of the bill, promptly deliver the best set of the day. Like all great gigs that transcend their environments, Hookworms create a sound hypnotic enough to distort your appreciation of time. By the time they finish, it feels like they have been on for just a fraction of their allocated slot, the entire gig having merged into one seamless mind-bending work of beauty.

The Koolaid Electric Company
It would have all been worth it, just for this. While some forget to look forward when looking to the past, Hookworms can embrace the same influences that inspire the rest of the scene yet somehow create something that eclipses the sum of their influences and transcends their peers. By now, midnight has passed, and the collective state of the festival has taken a turn for the worse, or better, depending on your perspective. The vast space becomes more sparsely populated for the remaining acts in The Furnace. There is still time for Manchester’s Plank! to deliver their own brand of instrumental psychedelia, their repetitive grooves setting the scene for the night’s final headliners, The Time and Space Machine, who set out to expand minds even further. 

There are plans afoot to continue Liverpool’s first major expedition into 21st century psychedelia, expanding to a two-day event in 2013. Perhaps Camp and Furnace will achieve its goal and have a boutique caravan hotel on the site. Hopefully, by then Hookworms will have released their debut album and will be back to showcase it. Austin may still hold the crown as centre of the new psych wave, but Liverpool has shown it has every intention of joining the party.
Scott Vincent

Dark Bells

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