Liverpool Psych Fest 2017 – bills itself as a “pan-continental celebration of audio-futurists, operating at the bleeding edge of today’s psychedelic renaissance.” After running since 2012, they’re not afraid to give themselves a high bar to live up too and work with rigorous self-belief. Blinded by their own vision perhaps, and the overwhelming visuals that invaded every performance. Promotion and PR heavy, and what came through far stronger than the quality of the music they endeavour to show was an overly macho (over 90% of the performers were white men) and flighty culture of distraction, an International Supermarket Sweep Fest.
With multiple emails leading up to the festival, an app to download, which was obviously useful yet also ultimately distracting, buzzing endlessly with updates, reminders, and the relentless and often incredibly cheesy visuals. There were many elements to the Psych Fest that seemed right, but came over as wrong: in aiming high they often missed the mark.
Jumping on the green bandwagon, they’ve introduced a green cup scheme, which yes is always good, but rather than being given the choice to retain your cup or give it back for the pound it cost, as with other venues, you only got the choice to exchange it for a special “commemorative” cup – alas this was yet another specially made plastic cup, sigh. The same went for the token scheme – billed as a way to save time and effort at the bar, you had to buy tokens – little bits of impossible to recycle plastic no less – and spend at will, with a strict no refund policy for left over tokens. If using a card to buy them there was a 50p charge, and as there were no cash points in the vicinity, they also offered cash back: nice but for £1.50 I wasn’t convinced. Without options it had to be ok. When I got my cash back the guy was so trashed he didn’t seem to know his way around a card machine and it all felt… (aside from that feeling of being slightly ripped off) awkward. Then, the bar was pricy too, but the tokens are just bits of trash so you don’t really notice right? My half pint can of cider cost 4 bits of plastic = equalling £4….
The token system wasn’t extended to the food stalls, so to eat you did need cash. Overall it was so so – The pizza was great, but the rest was nothing really special. With only limited choice for veggies, and nothing at all for gluten free people, except nachos, on the whole what they offered was disappointing.
Situated in the industrial quarter, the spaces were varied and amazing, with bars everywhere and loo’s a plenty. Upstairs had the merch, run by Castle Face records in a functional and traditional, flicking through records store set up. A chill-out zone showed the same three short films running on a loop, was littered with giant union jack cushions, and generated a general lava-lamp vibe, was also host to a speak your mind radio place hosted by the peeps from resonance FM, and plenty of spaces to invoke altered states of consciousness, including a number of Brion Gysin’s Dream Machines.
With this as a back drop the bands still did their upmost, and those in the largest venue, the furnace, must have had the hardest time as they were literately drenched in the Psych Fest’s unrelenting LED visuals.
The front man from PigsX7 made it plain by donning a pink glittery cowboy hat mid set – instantly taking on the look of lost and demented hen party reveller - and proclaiming this was as psychedelic as it gets, but that was Saturday…
Stand out shows from the many bands on the Friday were; Exit Group played speed punk with a jangling and bleeping face off to ignite latent anarchic tendencies, The Sonic Dawn, is made up of three long haired svelte-like Swede’s, that trip, glide and ooze around the stage as if their limbs were made up of liquid nitrogen, as they play their dreamy version of alt county shoe gaze. Aquaserge swayed on stage, playing multi-instruments with a special kind of global psychedelic cuteness particular to the French. The Telescopes treated us to epic noise, raging Incantations, mass reverberation, and a spoon warping a guitar at the entrance to black void that screeched on the heels of sirens. Endless Boogie were awesome and endless in their boogie. A highlight from birth of psych, were the prog trailblazers, Träd Gräs Och Stenar, with only one original member and having released a box set this summer, they played a shimmering and mesmerising set. Being almost totally obscured by the swamp of red visuals, it was at this point I really started to wish their music were given the space it deserved and the audience could watch just the beauty of musicians with their instruments. Gnod without hesitation, rocked, grinded, wailed, and won the crowd with a set of euphoric nihilism. Followed by a personal favourite for exploiting the extreme, Container brought an epic wave of techno to the festival, and transported the small room through an extended DIY noise cassette and pedal collage into an underground rave scene. Together we took a very heavy trip into a sonic rawness that blistered the ears, confounded the mind, delighted the body, and rebounded through the blood. Steven Davis and Kavus Torabi finished the night in with a wild party DJ set, which was the talk of the festival as we returned on Saturday.
Ex Easter Island Head (Large Ensemble) is made up from a who’s who of the experimental music scene, and opened the day with their gorgeously pared down yet performative musical mediation on multiple prepared guitars and percussion, entrancing the already swelling crowd. I tripped around from stage to stage for the afternoon not finding much that held me for more than a few songs until Wolf People who brought a sublime appreciation of song and guitar into an almost esoteric realm, these are a group incredibly talented musician’s sharing a form of timeless storytelling through psychedelic folk. People had been whispering Jane Weaver's name all festival but she left me cold, thankfully A Place to Bury Strangers were next, and they unforgivingly blew the festival out of the water. The only band to (I assume) refuse to play under the festival’s visual’s instead they performed under a strobe light, as relentless in their stage presence and as showmen that knew they needed no gloss they were right to: within two songs the front man Oliver had destroyed his guitar. Ominous, and obliteratingly loud, their spaced-out distortion drenched and macerated the senses, Oliver Ackermann fucked with everything in his path, Dion Lunadon climbed into the crowd, and Lia Braswell’s face floated and pulsated like the bride of chucky behind the drums, playing with the wide and wild eyes of a banshee, it was altogether astounding: a wall of sound screaming from the haunted hills. Not much could live up to that. WITCH followed, and were disappointing from the hype that surrounded them. The Comet Is Coming were exceptional, as rising stars that merge jazz and electronica with heavy cosmic beats, they are spiralling out of orbit and collectively we’re loving every moment. The Bongolian pleased the crown, as did Fujiya & Miyagi without bringing much that could be called experimental or psychedelic. Andy Votel closed the festival with a DJ set, and the crowd were ripe for his special brand celebratory of randomness.
Overall, as a festival a lot was sadly wanting, slightly irritating, too testosterone heavy, and musically more pop than psych, but perhaps that’s a local appreciation of the scene, given that this was Liverpool: a dedicated palace to pop culture. But the crowd were happy and the bands I enjoyed played incredibly.
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joining a musical line-up headed by Songhoy Blues, & The Black Angels