Sound City 2014

Sound City 2014

It’s been about a week since Liverpool Sound City 2014 came and went, but the three-day festival is still fresh in my mind. If you haven’t heard of it, Sound City is the largest metropolitan music and arts festival in the UK. It originally started as a showcase of the UK’s Northwest acts at the esteemed SXSW (South by Southwest). The very next year – in 2008 – Sound City developed into a festival of its own. I was introduced to it last year, so this year’s instalment is my second outing.

Due to an interview in the afternoon, I was only scheduled for an evening train into Liverpool. I arrived in the neighbouring city at about 5pm and duly checked into the Printworks Hotel. After tweaking my festival itinerary, I headed to the press area to collect my press pass and delegate wristband. The city was already swarming with other festivalgoers, easily identified by their orange-and-yellow wristbands and a few by their lanyards.

Day One

The band to kickstart Sound City for me is Gengahr, performing at The Kazimier. Hailing from North Dakota, the indie rock band aren’t very memorable live but serve well in easing me into the evening. Following this, I make the trudge uphill to Liverpool Cathedral to catch Clean Bandit. As one of the festival headliners, there is a sense of excitement in the air that you can only get from a combination of a major act and a boss venue. I’m not a huge fan of their studio recordings, but boy oh boy, Clean Bandit are very good live. Next up is another headliner, Gruff Rhys. It’s a full house at the East Arts Village Club Theatre but I manage to squeeze through the crowd to the front. The Welsh artist has a wolf hat on as he launches into his set. He includes many other creative elements, such as a ventriloquist doll and a film showcase, all which is taken from his recent concept album American Interior.

After this, I head upstairs to the Loft for my fourth act, Circa Waves. Barely a year old, the Liverpool band has attracted plenty of attention and even opened for Interpol. The set is filled with a lot of high-energy garage rock tunes. I walk back to The Kazimier to catch Amber Run, a five-piece from Nottingham. The band’s fourth and fifth ever gigs were at the Reading and Leeds festivals, so I know I’m in for a treat. Amber Run’s brand of communal anthemic indie music is evident in every track and for the first time tonight, I’m incredibly excited about what I’m watching. Finally, I catch Jon Hopkins, the elusive music producer and long-time collaborator of Coldplay. It’s always nice to take a break from lyrics and enjoy some great dance mixes and great end to my first day at Liverpool Sound City.

Albert Hammond Jr

Albert Hammond Jr

Day Two

My second night begins with Albert Hammond Jr., another Sound City headliner. Hammond is a key member of The Strokes, where he plays the guitar and the keyboard. Together with an accompanying band, Hammond absolutely kills it on stage at the Liverpool Cathedral. His set is entertaining as much because of the music as well as his friendly audience interaction. When this is over, I make my way to Nation, one of the new Sound City venues this year. The act on my itinerary is none other than Tourist (real name: William Philips), a London-based electronic artist. He remixes some smashing live tracks and because the venue isn’t incredibly packed, it means that the chillwave vibe of his music translates seamlessly onto the dancefloor. I still have several more acts to catch tonight, but due to a slowly creeping fever, I have to retire to the hotel room for fear of rendering myself completely useless for the next day. The only comfort is that I have seen two of the acts, Chloe Howl and Lanterns on the Lake perform before.

Day Three

Feeling completely healthy, I am eager to start the final day of Sound City early to make up for the previous night. My first act is All We Are at the Liverpool Cathedral. The hometown three-piece were at Sound City 2013 as well, but played at Leaf, a much smaller venue. Their set this time around features brand new music, now leaning towards psychedelic, soul and RnB. In my opinion, the upgraded stage certainly suits them better and judging by the crowd’s response tonight, they agree as well. As i’m very pleased with my front row position, I decide to stay where I am for Kodaline. If you can’t already guess, Kodaline are of course a Sound City headliner. The Irish band write songs that are guitar-driven and laced with heartfelt lyrics, which is always a recipe for success. But add to that an amazing stage presence and showmanship, and you can understand why Kodaline are a huge a hit as they are. The massive crowd leaving the cathedral literally shuffle me out all the way to the Garage, which on any other day functions as a car park. Jagwar Ma, a three-piece electronic band from Sydney are an act that I am incredibly psyched to catch. Their unique blend of experimental melody and beats is even more amazing to listen to when performed live amidst strobe lights and mists of smoke.

The Neighbourhood

The Neighbourhood

Moving on to Factory, another one of the new venues this year where I intend to catch The Neighbourhood, a must-watch for me. But to my dismay, I have to queue for the entire duration of the show. Tonight, I discover that what’s worse than missing a gig is missing it because you’re standing outside and can’t get in. Add to that the fact that I can intermittently, albeit vaguely, hear some melodies, bass lines and lyrics. I leave somewhat dejectedly to my next acts: Public Service Broadcasting, 65daysofstatic, The Kooks and Eyedress. However, I am faced by the same ordeal, except on a much larger scale because as Wolstenholme Square is home to at least three major venues, the area is gated and only one insane queue led into it – not to mention additional queues to get into the respective venues inside the square. What a total nightmare. The only place with no queues was The Brink, where I catch Rah Rah, a band of multi-instrumentalists from Canada and Liverpool-based Etches bring my Sound City experience to a muted close.

Disappointments aside, this year’s Sound City definitely upped its game, attracting quite a variety of acts, including big names and ones to watch. I was especially impressed by the quality of the new venues: Nation, Factory and several others. Wolstenholme Square was also done up this year. Usually left empty, food and drink booths and quirky seats were set up for the festival goers. Apart from the music aspect of it, the conference comprised renowned figures such as Thurston Moore of Sonic Youth and John Cale of The Velvet Underground. Moreover, there were many arts-themed events ranging from Screenadelica (a gig poster exhibition), Vinyl Record Fair, the John Peel World Cup, Buskers Corner and Brazilica. It will be interesting to see how Sound City continues to improve and expand next year and the years after.

Liverpool Sound City

Amanda Hoi

Amanda is in a committed, lifelong relationship with indie electronic music. Plays the cello and guitar, and plans to sing once she's mustered enough courage. She's a Malaysian who's found her home in Manchester. Currently reading law at the University of Manchester.