Jacco Gardner

Jacco Gardner


After very much enjoying a number of smaller Psych Fest’s in Manchester, the idea of taking it to another level seemed a logical step. Just an hour’s train ride away, over 75 acts have congregated in this annual celebration of ‘music of drug-induced origin’. The truly international line-up is brimming with exciting new bands and old favourites that are all perfectly capable of stimulating your mind’s eye. They’re playing on four different stages, over 2 hectic days, encompassing everything from ear-piercing rock and post-industrial techno, to dream pop and soothing ambient.

You can’t walk around the corner in Liverpool without being reminded of The Beatles; their later, more experimental work, brought differing cultures and genres together and spawned a number of new ones. As musicians and fans from all walks of life mingle over this weekend, it’s difficult not to be inspired in this friendly and vibrant atmosphere. Alcohol and other substances also play a part.

The venues are converted warehouse spaces close to Liverpool docks, just a stroll away from the commercial centre of the city. The small road that connects the 2 larger stages of adjoining ‘Camp’ and ‘Furnace’, with neighbouring ‘Blade Factory’ and (around the corner) ‘District’, are littered with food stalls, graffiti artists, a shisha tent, and DJ’s. There’s a gallery space where you can screen-print your own trippy images, or you can chill-out on over-sized cushions in front of large screens that display colourful geometric animations. There’s also an audio visual virtual reality experience, which seems popular, and interviews with Sacred Bones Records bosses and The Brian Jonestown Massacre’s Anton Newcombe, amongst others. Piccadilly Record’s stall is open all hours and has a card machine, so you can purchase your new favourite bands album or t-shirt whilst still buzzing from their live set. I would happily live here.

Denim, leather and dark shades, a well worn band t-shirt and a bit of an attitude dominate the look, here. Rockabilly’s, biker’s, new-age hippies and industrial goth’s can also be spotted, completely in their element, enjoying the sunshine and sampling the wealth of musical talent, and also, the paella. Some tough decisions have had to be made for those with eclectic tastes, but Friday pans out to be a pretty perfect experience for me.

Anton Newcombe

Anton Newcombe

It starts in Camp at 15:45 with Manchester’s The Underground Youth. The female drummer stands and pounds floor toms to create a tribal beat for the guttural vocalist who occasionally sounds similar to Nick Cave. Deep, dark and sinister shoegaze gives way to spiralling post-punk guitar thrashing and garage on occasion, as they set the tone beautifully for the weekend. Their final song is a highlight, ending with the words “I Love You”. They’ve recently been announced on the roster for Manchester’s Cosmosis festival at Victoria Warehouse in March, along with The Jesus and Mary Chain and The Raveonettes.

London’s Phobophobes kick things off in Furnace, which really does smell like a furnace. Their pounding beats are reinforced by cutting synths and a monotonous singer. Interpol and The Dandy Warhols both spring to mind throughout their lively and impressive set, which reaches a peak with ‘Advertise Your Life’.

After a burrito, I pop around the corner to the busy District stage, where Cardiff based R. Seiliog is playing an exhilarating experimental electro krautrock set, to accompany footage from a mid-1900’s sci-fi film. The screen is almost as big as the stage, displaying what looks like Humphrey Bogart in a leather spacesuit, with a number painted on his back. Robin Edwards, alone onstage, triggers his array of samples from his beautiful new album In Hz. It’s all incredibly spellbinding.

Back to the Blade Factory for Holy; a band that give me no alternative but to later buy their debut album ‘Stabs’. The 5-piece from Sweden showcase a number of impressive songs in their 30 minute set – the male and female reverb-laden vocalists sing in tandem over 60’s garage lo-fi pop that goes from mellow to hectic at the drop of a hat, much like the Allah-Las. The weekend’s artist in resident Anton Newcombe has himself sung their praises in the past, but they only have 30 minutes, and race rather hurriedly through as many songs as they can, leaving the crowd wanting more. Amongst the “Ooo la la’s” and “Woo hoo’s”, the song containing the lyrics “I can’t see it…” stands out the most. Definitely one’s to watch.

I’m more readily familiar with the work of Jacco Gardner, having seen them in Manchester a few years ago – he likes to introduce each song in Dutch, bemusing the crowd and amusing himself. They start with an impressive instrumental and follow with a series of uplifting, glorious, trippy hits from their recent album, Hypnophobia. ‘Watching The Moon’, ‘Lullaby’ and ‘Chameleon’ from Cabinet of Curiosities prove to be most popular amongst the healthy crowd, who vocally express their admiration throughout. Recent single ‘Find Yourself’ provides a heady, sun-drenched highlight that perfectly encapsulates the Indian summer that we’re experiencing.

The Camp area swells further for Tess Parks & Anton Newcombe. I’ve seen The BJM a few times, and I’ve followed the career of Tess since she was alone onstage, kicking off Manchester Psych Fest II, almost a year ago. Tweaks to their performance have been made since I saw them both play The Ruby Lounge in July, and the results are stunning. Personal favourites ‘Cocaine Cat’ and ‘German Tangerine’ showcase Tess’s unique raspy vocal perfectly, with Anton’s arrangements suiting her guitar and lyrics to a T. “Don’t get TOO high” she says, in a wry manner. The upbeat ‘Gone’ gets the whole room swaying, but slower versions of ‘Voyage De L’âme’ and ‘Friends’ take it to a whole new level. Tess has found herself playing in front of a very large crowd after a relatively short space of time – an experience that may seem daunting to her. Her expression is hard to read, although she sang tonight with hand on heart, occasionally through closed eyes, with a smile.

Destruction Unit

Destruction Unit

A quick dash to the Furnace, where Destruction Unit await. They must have started early, and I very much regret missing half of their set. Recently released album Negative Feedback Resistor is pretty much full on heavy rock, shedding most of the psych sound effects from earlier work in favour of pure power. These will be the loudest act of the weekend… or indeed, any weekend. ‘Proper Decay’ is in full flow as I enter the room. If Tess and Anton are effortlessly cool, Destruction Unit are maniacally cool. The guitarists are silhouetted by the bright grayscale images on the back wall, and the drummer is lit behind him by rapid flashing white lights that struggle to maintain the tempo. Epic tune ‘Chemical Reaction/Chemical Delight’ is a highlight with it’s violent ebbs and flows, winding the screw until it can go no further. It’s brutal. Personal favourites ‘Animal Instinct’ and ‘If Death Ever Slept’ contain shimmering Americana chords and plodding beats that rumble and boil to create brooding tension, before they throw themselves about the stage as if simultaneously in agony and ecstasy. Their previous album Deep Trip has been a favourite of mine over the last year or so, and the heavier direction that they appeared to be taking had me concerned; but familiarity has brought me to love this new material just as much. I want to see them again.

I can’t believe it’s still only 9.30pm. Also on Sacred Bones Records, Blanck Mass take over in the Furnace – the projected logo for one half of Fuck Button’s, Benjamin John Power, spins on the many draped sheets that hang from the ceiling as the incessant heavy bass drums kick in. The vocal samples of ‘Dead Format’ help to guide us through the mire and find our bearings in an otherwise relentless, broody experience. The bass seems too loud and flabby at times, preventing the performance from reaching expected dizzying heights. His superb album ‘Dumb Flesh’ will no doubt feature heavily in many an end-of-year chart.

After a wander around, I take the weight of my feet for a while in preparation for Factory Floor. It’s been a few years since I’ve danced until 2.30am – this London-based band take us back to the early 90’s with a blend of Detroit techno and 80’s rave soundbites… it’s impossible to resist. There are no such sound issues here, it’s pretty perfect – repetitive and addictive beats and bleeps come and go amongst understated female vocals, similar to those on Underworld’s ‘Two Months Off’. The audience collectively close their eyes and a sea of heads sway whilst bright light from the screens illuminate our content, smiling faces. Virtualmismo’s ‘Mismoplastico’ pops into my head during their set, along with Jaydee’s ‘Plastic Dreams’ and the more trance-like work of The Chemical Brothers. The time flew by too quickly. 5 hours of this would have suited me down to the ground.

Walking back through Liverpool city centre at 3am is a sobering experience. After 4 hours sleep in a hostel bunk above a restless heavy snorer; a full English, and a stroll around the docks refreshes me enough to go again.

Day 2:

Back to the liquid projections and swirling radiant lights of Camp – Dreamweapon have travelled all the way from Portugal to provide exactly what is needed for weary revellers to ease back into the spirit of things. Music from their beautiful self-titled debut album swirls around our heads at a gentle volume and pace, reminding us why we’re all here. Their Bandcamp page describes them simply as ‘psychedelic rock’… no crossovers into other genres or debate necessary, it’s just a continually uplifting and heady stream of fantastic sounds that draw you into a warm and fuzzy trance. The drone machine is in full effect, and I scour the stage for a sitar, but to no avail. They are well worth checking out. Album, purchased.

The Strange Collective

Strange Collective

Strange Collective are back this year to get the Furnace burning again. The local lads cheeky humour remind us which city we’re in, amusing the crowd between lighthearted garage songs that carry simple and effective lyrics, which have a tendency to descend into meaty, chugging riffs, alongside exhilarating beats. “Are you safe?” they ask, during one of the highlights. Very much so. Their sound is refreshing amongst the darker acts that I’ve experienced so far.

Unfortunately, I arrive too late and it’s one-in-one out, with a healthy queue, for Bonnacons of Doom… and things were going so smoothly. Back at Camp, Radar Men From The Moon from The Netherlands continue the dark drone theme with extended waves of noise and pounding beats throughout a vocal-less space rock stoner set. As with Pinkshinyultrablast, I only catch part of their set while wondering around. I have, however, seen the Russian band before, at Sound From The Other City in Salford, and they were superb. The Holydrug Couple don’t appear to have made the journey, but I caught them at Soup Kitchen in Manchester earlier this year – they were very good indeed.

After District empties, I grab a seat in preparation for Weird Owl. Their album Nuclear Psychology from 2007 is a favourite of mine – the Brooklyn based band combine Neil Young and 13th Floor Elevators with world weary blues to produce a sound that’s exclusively American. “Less talk, more rock”. The beat is generally slow and plodding with moments of fuzz and guitar trickery. ‘Change Your Mind’ from Healing is a highlight – a somewhat sunnier song compared to the rest of the set. This venue is once again full, and the crowd prove to be, apparently, the best audience they’ve seen in Europe.

Ireland’s The Altered Hours energy is contagious, and the Blade Factory isn’t big enough to contain all that want to see them. It soon becomes apparent why. Male and female ‘front-people’ share vocals over grinding shoegaze guitar and post-punk rhythms that are tinged with psychedelia, enough to have drawn comparisons with Jefferson Airplane – “you’re a sunflower baby and you’re going to die”. A Recordings released their 2nd EP ‘Sweet Jelly Roll’; it’s a bitter sweet, dark and sinister tune. During ‘Smoke Your Eyes’, they sound more like The BJM. Their wide-ranging tastes come to light whilst occasionally sounding like The Doors, and also, My Bloody Valentine. Are they still searching for their own sound, or shall we just enjoy the journey with them? They’re good enough for the latter to be true. There’s a huge reaction from the crowd who are deprived more by the strict schedule.

Death & Vanilla are unfortunate enough to have synch problems just before they are due to start. An unfamiliar replacement keyboard is found but the situation seems to have thrown them, somewhat. They remind me of Broadcast; their back catalogue will probably be the most delicate and light that you’ll hear all weekend, and I feel they would’ve gone down better late at night in a large chill-out area. Manchester’s Dead Sea Apes, in contrast, are bathed in blood red as they work their way violently through extended drone post-rock soundscapes. They describe themselves as a ‘3 man instrumental leviathan’. They’re a great warm up for The Heads, who will grace this stage later tonight.

One of the performances of the weekend must go to London’s Hey Colossus. The projector isn’t necessary in District for this one, all the entertainment that you’ll need is on the stage. Four guitarists circle a lively and energetic frontman, whom may also have been studying Nick Cave. They almost but not quite reach Destruction Unit levels of noise, drawing a crowd of denim-clad older gentlemen who struggle to contain their enthusiasm. Their new album Radio Static High is released digitally next month with the limited vinyl having sold out already. The title track from that LP is accentuated somewhat by the disgruntled and manic singer whose requests for drinks from the bar fall on deaf ears, and who later asks the sound engineer to turn up his stage monitor, using his middle finger. That’s not really the attitude that’s in-keeping with the weekend, but I guess it helps their creativity.

Tess Parks

Tess Parks

Indecision leaves me at the back of Blade Factory for part of Indian Jewelry’s set, and I wish I had more to say about them other than – I regret missing their full set. This Saturday night is markedly busier than the Friday – even the outside DJ tent is heaving with drunken dancers who appear to have forgotten about the live musicians that are also playing. I catch the end of Magic Castles after queuing, who sounded great.

I had French band Turzi on my list, but they appear unhappy with their time slot. Their crowd consist of a few very drunk older men who may not fully know where they are. The female vocalists operatic warblings are completely lost on them, and the guitarist is getting angry. The bassist has a black eye… but I think the two circumstances are unrelated. Their funky blend of 60’s psych could very well soundtrack a retro cop movie of sorts, but tonight isn’t a great success for them. San Franciscans Lumerians get angry as well, after having the sound cut halfway through their last song, which was running over time. It’s hard to take the drummer too seriously as he pushes his drum kit over and storms out, whilst wearing an oversized glittery wizard’s cloak.

The queue for Spiritualized tails around the food court, but my preferred choice tonight are The Heads. If you need a great example of English psych rock, look no further. They started life in Bristol in 1990 and have 20 albums to their name. Their blend of progressive drone and The Stooges style of rock is perfectly balanced, with vocals interjecting at just the right moments, following extended periods of ostentatious guitar work and outstanding drumming. The crowd lap this up, there’s an immense, positive vibe in here; we bounce to the incessant, spellbinding rhythm, pleading with the aging musicians to carry on while bowing to them with respect. The band’s energy matches anything that the fresh-faced new groups we’ve seen over this last couple of days could muster. The fact that after 25 years they can still rock it like this is truly inspirational, many musicians are spotted around me for this performance, and this experience can but only motivate them to keep doing what they’re doing.

It’s been an incredible 2 days. I’m exhausted, but it was well worth it. It’s not often a weekend is dedicated to a niche market such as this, making The Liverpool Psych Fest an essential date on the calendar for those weary of mainstream life and pop culture. A trip to Austin is now on the cards, and a return to Liverpool next year is a no-brainer. Resident Anton Newcombe was a positive presence throughout the weekend, his set with Tess Parks was a highlight, as well as Factory Floor, Destruction Unit and The Heads. I’ve come away with the names of a number of bands that I’ll be closely following in the near future, and nothing but praise for the way that the whole event was run. Everyone from the bar staff and cleaners, to the between-band DJ’s, sound engineers, Inner Strings visuals, and the people who provided the footage of the now infamous girl, who repeatedly slammed her face into a large birthday cake, and had coloured gunge dripped onto her motionless head. We salute you.

Liverpool International Festival of Psychedelia  Official | Facebook | Twitter

Peter Rea

I like to go see fresh new music at Manchester's superb selection of smaller venues, and then share my enthusiasm.