Official Liverpool Psych Fest Photography

Official Liverpool Psych Fest Photography


It’s 3pm on a schoolday and the walls are cracking, the ground is fracturing, and my brain is thudding against my skull – it must be the fifth edition of the Liverpool International Festival of Psychedelia. Over 100 bands are assembling over two days across four stages in the city’s hipster creative enclave The Baltic Triangle, to share in their united love for the heavier, trippier, more hallucinogenic end of the rock music spectrum.

Psychedelia comes in many forms – as many forms as there are bands playing at this festival, in fact. The band in question in the middle of Friday afternoon is Minami Deutsch, a Japanese quartet, whose hard-driving, diesel-fuelled music could best be described as Power Psych. It is no mystery that they make reference to Germany in their name, and the great 70’s bands Can, Neu! and Harmonia are clear reference points for them. It is the ideal launching pad for the weekend.

Following them are their compatriots and labelmates Kikagaku Moyo, which translates as ‘geometric patterns’. I don’t know what planet they really come from, but their assertion that Japan is their home just doesn’t seem far away enough. Perhaps they could whisk us away from this meagre world come the next major political catastrophe. Their tracks build patiently, and Ryo Kurosawa’s sitar lends them a distinctive flavour, but when the wave crashes and the band let themselves loose, they make a stunning heartbursting cacophony. No sooner are they finished than I run upstairs to the festival record shop to grab the last copy of their new album ‘House in the Tall Grass’. I strongly urge you to do the same.

Up next is Gwenno, the genial Welsh singer-songwriter, and former Pipette. Her brand is probably Psych Folk, and calls to mind the dreamy, woodland psych of Linda Perhacs or Judy Collins, but with a thoroughly modern, Jane Weaver-esque injection. She sings in both English and Welsh, and is joined by a guitarist and drummer, which ensures that despite the inherent otherworldly nature of her songs, the band maintain the requisite psych that the festival ticket promises. It’s a winning formula, and sets the stage for the night’s headliners.

Super Furry Animals have twenty years of life on the road under their belt, and tonight they glory in their twenty years of tunes to show for it. Opening with a triple whammy of ‘Slow Life’, ‘(Drawing) Rings Around The World’ and ‘Hello Sunshine’, this is a set bursting with sunshine and melody. Their brand of psych is, perhaps, Psych Pop, and the crowd lap it up. Their now well-established on-stage antics include brandishing cards soliciting the crowd to react with slogans ranging from ‘APPLAUSE’ to ‘APE SHIT’ – both requests are successful. The lone stray moment in their 90 minute set comes during recent single ‘Bing Bong’, a playful electronic ditty which Gruff Rhys decides to sing through a Power Rangers helmet – whimsical, maybe, but the crowd wait for a more familiar number to return to their ape shit status. It comes with perennial closer and defiant shout-along anthem ‘The Man Don’t Give A Fuck’, which they revive for their encore, thereby guaranteeing a rapturous send-off for one of this land’s most treasured bands.

Official Liverpool Psych Fest Photography

Official Liverpool Psych Fest Photography

As night-time sets in, the assembled psych-addled masses begin to come into their own, and the four stages all boast very different mutated musical options to lose your mind to. My choice is for the Mancunian dark ambient duo Demdike Stare, whose combination of spongy beats and lethal synths is an abrasive mix, and somehow the most appropriate way to see out a long day of intense and heavy music. Their clattering, echo-ey music is complimented by the DJ set that precedes and follows it from the six-time world snooker champion Steve Davis, whose reputation in these circles has been steadily growing for years. One wave from the DJ booth from the Nugget raises one of the biggest cheers of the night. At this stage of the night, at this of all festivals, literally anything seems possible. I think it must be time to go home.

By the time I make it back into the Baltic Triangle early the following afternoon, it frankly appears that many of the people haven’t left at all. Remorseful faces all round, and conversations from every direction about the least damaging moment to buy the day’s first drink. I, on the other hand, am raring to go, and first up are Guadalupe Plata, the Spanish trio who are currently on their first ever visit to the UK. Their genre would be Surf Psych, if such a thing exists, and they sound every bit like they come from Ubeda, a town near Granada where many spaghetti westerns were filmed. Frontman Luis Sanchez plays a classic 50s washtub bass to add to the throwback vibes, and they are, in the context of this festival, a gentle icebreaker into the day’s entertainment.

London four piece Ultimate Painting continue the afternoon tempo, bringing their beautiful, harmonic Indie Psych tunes to the main stage. Fronted by former members of Mazes and Veronica Falls, they’re able to easily fill a 40 minute set with their twinkling, jangling guitar lines from their three studio albums. The classic psych freakout is saved for the end, but it is nevertheless impressive, and more than justifies their presence.

I catch the Pure Phase Ensemble 4 set next, and between tracks I’m busy scribbling down notes that they remind me of 90s bands like Spiritualized and Ride. Only when I started to read up on them afterwards do I learn that they include members of both of those bands. This is Slow Psych, which is to say their play long-form, disciplined jams that gradually build to almighty climaxes, ably assisted by Ray Dickaty’s saxophone and flute contributions. It’s a very classy set indeed.

Which, respectfully, would not be the best description of The Moonlandingz, who announce themselves as the “square peg in the arsehole of psychedelia”. The spinoff from Fat White Family and The Eccentronic Research Council has absolutely taken on a life of its own, and are now staples of the psych live music scene. They’re a beautiful disgrace – raucous, debauched, confrontational, everything you want from a Stooges/Birthday Party-inspired rock band. Frontman Johnny Rocket (or Lias Saoudi from the Fat Whites) is as compelling a frontman as we have in 2016, and no naughty word or bodily contortion is left unexplored. More bands like this, please.

Bringing the festival to a close for me are the monstrous Acid Mothers Temple, one of the most deafeningly brilliant live bands in the world. This is Batters You Into Submission Psych, a clatteringly, screechingly loud concoction that, even as I write this 24 hours later, my eardrums have not fully recovered from. Their tracks find a deep groove, and keep digging deeper and deeper, until you can’t see the daylight. All the while, without you even noticing, they have been cranking up the volume, until you are left in a glorious, defenceless stupor. Eventually they set you loose, and perhaps are even given a moment to breathe, before the journey starts again. It’s not for the faint-hearted, but I can’t think of a more perfect way to end a psych festival.

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Max Pilley

I'm a refugee in Manchester, having successfully escaped Birmingham in 2007. I'm a soon-to-be journalism student, used to edit the music section of the Manchester Uni paper, and have done a little radio production to boot. I've been adding bits and pieces to Silent Radio since 2012, mostly gig reviews, but a few albums too. Also hoping now to get involved with the brilliant radio show. When doing none of that, you can usually find me at some gig venue somewhere around town.