Sound City is a great place to discover a new favourite act

Liverpool Sound City Review 2016

By Katy Blackwood | Published: Mon 6th Jun 2016

Liverpool Sound City 2016 - around the festival site
Photo credit: Katy Blackwood

Liverpool Sound City 2016

Friday 27th to Sunday 29th May 2016
Bramley Moore Dock, Liverpool, Merseyside, L3 0AP, England MAP
£70 for festival wristband
Daily capacity: 25,000

Sound City is a two-day music festival that brings an impressive mix of established and emerging bands together within the confines of its compact, outdoor site at Bramley Moore Dock in Liverpool.

With excellent weather and some stand-out performances - especially amongst the under the radar acts on the bill - the 2016 event was a thoroughly enjoyable weekend of live music, even if it was by all reports much quieter than it was last year.

The festival started on the Friday with a Great Escape style delegate conference, before two days of music headlined by Catfish & The Bottlemen, The Coral, and Peter Doherty, plus pop-up entertainment and other festivities.

The star names were complimented by a veritable roster of buzz bands, old-school names and label showcases, running from midday right through until around midnight, and all never more than a five-minute walk away.

Catfish were undoubtedly a coup - albeit one shared with a number of other festivals this year - with a new album out and increasingly A-list status as the indie rock band of today.


The rest of the line-up admittedly lacked some star power, even compared to the 2015 event, although on the weekend several names rose out of the obscurity and into brilliance, and few performances disappointed.

Most attendees were well boozed-up, but this didn't detract from a spirited atmosphere, with well-behaved crowds, friendly staff and no apparent trouble or crowd issues across the weekend. The wildest scenes were saved for the night club style Baltic Warehouse, which featured DJ sets throughout both days.

If anything, it was too friendly, and many bands performed to somewhat subdued audiences, rather than the raucous fever - crowd surfers and all - that you'd expect at most outdoor festivals in the sun.

This did, however, lend itself to simply chilling out with friends, relaxing, and enjoying some good music - as well as some of the other pop-up performances on offer.

Dance troupes and sky acrobats performed across the two days, often between sets at the stages, while a particularly eye-catching display was a life drawing exercise that typically attracted sniggers rather than genuine participation.

Sound City is also a bastion of product placement, as all festivals are, and many brands - mostly for alcoholic beverages - popped up with promotions and gimmicks to sell their wares.

Desperados gave away free samples, Birra Moretti offered table football and Mountain Dew snapped photos in return for bottles - but Captain Morgan, with their rum bar on a ship, excelled themselves and proved a popular social destination throughout the weekend.
As with all festivals of the type, Sound City's bar tariffs weren't for the pocket pinching, with both the main bar and the smaller bars expensive for both alcoholic beverages and soft drinks.

Instead, some tanked up at a pub across the road from the site before entry - although anyone attempting to smuggle in booze would be met by a thorough inspection at the gates.

A VIP bar was also on offer, with far shorter waiting times and a covered tent with tables and chairs, all available for an upgrade fee and likely to have been more popular had it rained on the parade.

The stages were numerous, and the times were staggered well, with some alternating with each other and very few bands starting at the same point.

This, along with the small site footprint, made it easy to catch lots and lots of bands, making Sound City a great place to discover a new favourite.

Day one was scheduled to open at midday, but a slight delay meant that the doors didn't actually open until around quarter-past, later than the start time for a number of bands.

This meant that some - such as Melbourne's Oh Pep! - started their performance in front of hardly anybody at all, with only a couple of photographers and the odd member of staff for company.

Atlas Wynd: Liverpool Sound City 2016

They were, thankfully, still on-stage as the crowds finally started to filter in - many arriving to catch Atlas Wynd on the Cavern Stage, named for the famous Cavern Club and located in the middle of the site close to the festival's walk way. Atlas Wynd are a northern duo based in Brighton, and put on a lively rock performance, although as with most of the early performers lacked in real star quality.

There was the odd stand-out, including singer-songwriter Suzie Stapleton, but even main stage performers like Dead Buttons seemed a little bit flat, not helped in their case by a very sparse crowd and a platform far too big for a Korean rock band.

That all changed when False Advertising took to the North stage, duly showing their peers just what star quality looks like. The Manchester trio swap instruments, taking turns on vocals, guitars and drums, although the photogenic Jen Hingley - with her bright red hair - inevitably remained centre of frame no matter where she was on the stage. Although unsigned, they were the first band at Sound City to look like that might change - and were memorable even hours later.

Following False Advertising was London band Judas, performing at Sound City for the second time. An indie band with a very familiar look, they were high on confidence and seemed the part on-stage, although hammed it up a little too much at times. They were the last eye-catching band of the afternoon on the North stage.

North alternated with the Tall Ship stage throughout both days, with I Set The Sea On Fire, and Gallery Circus amongst the Saturday afternoon offerings. Despite being right next to the rum bar, it was at times a lonely place for bands to perform, sometimes ignored by the drinkers and otherwise watched from behind a distant barrier. A road right in front of the stage, with passing traffic to the backstage area, didn't help the atmosphere.

Another stage was the Merseyrail Sound Station, an unbilled platform for local bands to play to sparse crowds. Tom Vail was one performer in the afternoon, performing in front of maybe ten people or so, with a mixture of covers and originals doing little to inspire. A surprise appearance by The Jackobins  was to be its weekend highlight.

City Calm Down completed a showcase of Australian music on the Cargo stage, armed with a tambourine and an electronic rock sound, proving good value and demonstrating why they're well thought of back home. Another showcase, this time of Welsh music, featured Connah Evans, who demonstrated potential although seemed to be trying too hard to hype up the crowd.

Back on the main stage, multi-instrumentalist Georgia Evans - daughter of Leftfield's Neil Barnes - performed in the late afternoon slot. She was preceded by a tribute to fallen indie band Viola Beach, consisting of a play-through of their music in what presumably would have been their time slot at the festival.

Georgia has been tipped for big things for a while, making it a surprise that she announced the performance as her first in Liverpool. Despite the fairly patchy crowd that welcomed her to Merseyside, her set was a good show, although stages this large are still new to her and she is likely to grow as a performer in time.

A largely ignored Greg Wilson DJ set followed on from Georgia, with the best of the action occurring elsewhere. Las Aves, and Johnny Sands took to the boat and were both entertaining, before the main stage grabbed the attention again through Band Of Skulls.

As the first marquee name of the day, the nearly veteran rock band attracted a strong crowd, and it was a proper festival performance with which they were rewarded. Both classics and material from new album By Default - released the day before - featured, and the crowd-playing antics of Russell Marsden was befitting of what is typically expected of a festival set.

Manchester hip-hop group Levelz were another star attraction, performing on the North stage. With elements of grime and rock, and a packed stage of MCs and DJs, they were the party band of the weekend and simple good fun. Even if hip-hop is not typically a genre of interest, they put on a good show, and it ended with some crowd-surfing - hardly a staple of urban music - to boot.


Elsewhere in the evening, the ethereal Violet Skies attracted a cult following to the Cavern stage, and Coquin Migale laboured through a less impressive performance over on Cargo, as Sound City suddenly bounded into a carnival of choice for the day's final hours.

The penultimate band of the day on the main stage was Sleaford Mods, the punk duo that created such as buzz a couple of years ago. The emergence of the similar, yet infinitely more excited Slaves dulled it a bit, but they're still a good live band of particularly popularity with older audiences. It was these attendees that mostly lapped up their set, and while the band's demeanour can sometimes seem disinterested, they were a good booking for the spot - especially as hipper bands appeared elsewhere for the younger crowd.

Boy-girl duo Leyya travelled from Austria specifically for their appearance on the Cargo stage at Sound City, and had a nightmare in transit. Losing their equipment due to an airline mix-up, they instead made do with what they could find, and with such problems in mind were assured and entertaining, and their electro-pop is sure to appear on British shores again in due course.

The day's star attraction was, without dispute, Catfish & The Bottlemen. And, after a day of hit-and-miss crowds, the main stage space finally swelled to capacity and Sound City finally kicked into full festival mode. With their new album freshly released, this was a fitting time for the band's first major festival headline spot - and they turned up for the show.

It's odd to call songs that are only a few years old "the classics", but Catfish are the closest that a generation has to an Oasis or a Stone Roses, and tracks like Kathleen and Pacifier will become timeless as a result. New material like Soundcheck went down just as well, and Catfish are definitely headliner material - even, possibly, for the largest festivals in the years to come.

A couple of performances coincided with Catfish's, but lost out to the noise made by Van McCann and the band, topping off a day with a lot to offer at Sound City.

review by: Katy Blackwood

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