Liverpool Sound City 2009

Various venues, Liverpool – May 20-23 2009

These city-based festivals are becoming more popular of late. An interesting innovation, but they just aint like the usual field-based variety. It’s impossible to ‘lose yourself’ in the atmosphere when you have to traverse a city, go back to a hotel or home, constantly cross roads and non-festival people and get in and out of all kinds of different venues all other things like that. So they always end up just feeling like a massive concentration of gigs in a short space of time that you couldn’t possibly see all of, leaving you knackered and still feeling like you’ve still missed so much.

Still, if you going to try anything like this in the UK, Liverpool is the place. Compact, easily navigable, and with a mood in its population somewhere between the sublime and the ridiculous, it’s the nearest you’ll get to a festival atmosphere in the middle of a city. Of course, as the organisers are keen to point out, this isn’t just a series of gigs, as there’s all kinds of talks and debates and blah blah blah. But we’ll leave the ‘industry’ machinations to those with their noses more firmly in the trough. EMI, NME, BPI and BBC may be imploding, but there will always be music and who-da-fuck cares how we ingest it.

So many bands, so let’s just pick out some highlights you might have missed. Headlining Static on the Thursday we have Wave Machines (pictured), Liverpool’s best little-known band. There, I’ve said it. Three of them share vocal duties and make sometimes epic, sometimes delicate songs with a mixture of unsanded jangly guitar, taut rhythms and deft keys. Most of their output is instantly catchy and sticks in the mind long after. They’re lo-fi much of the time, but unafraid to go for the oomph occasionally, and recent single ‘Keep the Lights On’ is almost Scissor Sisters in style. They end on the sweet and catchy ‘Punk Spirit’.

Maps, Northampton-based musician James Chapman, first caught our attention with the laconic indie electronics of 2007 debut ‘We Can Create’. He must be keen to get promoting that second album though, as Maps come on in Static well early. The second surprise of the night is their ‘new sound’, less dreamy keys and more hard-edged beats. This change of direction was signaled by recent single ‘Let Go Of The Fear’, and judging by this show that certainly isn’t a one off. We’re more bemused than anything, having signed up for a chilled-out rumination not a hepped-up semi-rave. Still, Maps have not settled for standing still and have ramped up their sound with ease. We can’t wait to hear what the album sounds like.

In the basement of Monochrome, one of the city’s newest venues, we find where Clinic has been buried. A cult success worldwide, they’re still little known in their hometown of Liverpool. They still play in the masks and surgical suits they’ve had since ‘IPC Subeditors Dictate Our Youth’ was made NME Single of the Week back in the mists of time when that was important. And, indeed, behind the masks they continue to produce the same uncanny funk, esoteric grooves and odd vibes. They take us down dark and interesting avenues and keep us dancing on the edge to how those grooves will shift. But those interesting avenues remain side roads and those edges merely kerbs a few inches off the ground. Which is probably why, despite their originality that they stay out of the mainstream.

A few gems in a fine city. This show can stay.

By Kenn Taylor