Sound City 2016 @ Liverpool, 28/05/2016

Sound City 2016Sound City has become a staple of the music industry in the North West of England, yet despite several connections to the area – not least of all that DrunkenWerewolf was founded in Liverpool – this is the first year we’ve attended the festival. Its history of central domination and move to South Bramley Moore dock is lost on us, but hushed whispers of the event’s development over the years are pronounced across the corresponding conference, Sound City+. It’s doing well, and people are beginning to pay attention on an international scale.

But wait, board talk alert: unfortunately the company does not capitalise on this business opportunity. The industry focused leg of Sound City is sterile and corporate in comparison to the far more community orientated and therefore better Live at Leeds, leading Sound City+ to draw comparison to larger scale events such as The Great Escape. The difference between Sound City+ and its competitive southern brethren however is that scheduled hangouts and industry prattle does not continue across the weekend, leading to a very rushed one day, a contrived atmosphere, and the sense that you only have one chance (if that) to make an impression.

There’s an even bigger problem than soul-related claustrophobia with this mode of operation. While on paper Sound City+ presents a great networking opportunity thanks to lauded critics and business persons from across the world committing to attend – it’s the northernmost city of Leeds that again prevails courtesy of its far more laid back and communicative approach to ‘getting together’. We do not meet Charlotte, the faceless lady who’s organised our own appearance. We're also not introduced to the other professionals in the room we occupy, despite being in there for two hours. The whistle stop tour orchestrated by Sound City+ volunteers means there’s no chance to get up and go to the loo, least of all introduce yourself to your peers, and no one knows who we are as we’ve not been included on the roster (but we're definitely supposed to be here). We're also the only member of press in the room. Some of the people who've signed up to speak to us work in promotion and want to know how to launch a marketing campaign/social media/crowdfund/generally do our job, which makes it seem like we've been asked to work for free for absolutely no gain on our part. When the session ends, we’re quickly moved from the room to make way for the following round of 1-2-1 meetings – and everyone disperses without saying a word. We’re probably all feeling the same isolation and misdirection that shrouds the event. In summary, the volunteers know what they’re doing, but nobody else does.

Rejected – quite literally – and with other talks largely filled due to the hour at which we're released from our speed dating chat, we leave the venue to prepare for the following day.

* * *

While it’s disappointing we do not get the chance to meet a future DrunkenWerewolf stakeholder at Sound City+, we’re ultimately here for the music at Sound City 2016. The festival offers a plethora of talent from artists we’ve heard of and artists we’ve never encountered before; a perfect balance of exposing and exposed. It’s refreshing to be presented with an honest snapshot of local, national and international scenes, but it’s a disappointment to find the Sunday bill is better by a country mile – especially as we and many other press persons are not able to attend the second day. (This means among others no Shura, no The Dandy Warhols, no The Big Moon, no Dilly Dally, and worst of all no Foxtrott, which is extremely disappointing.)

Determined to make the most out of the experience we resolve to watch as many new and unheard acts as we’re able, and carefully plot out a strategy in our hotel room. This is immediately destroyed when we arrive at the venue to realise the crowds at Sound City’s self-governed space are moving very slowly, and that some of the stages are quite far apart despite occupying the same spit of land. Inevitably this results in us missing several of the acts we wanted to see: Violet Skies suffers thanks to a long (very long) queue to the toilets and the bar queue also interrupts sets from Oh Pep! and Fizzy Blood. In fact problems with Sound City 2016 are well documented on social media from start to finish: the lack of toilets, the aggressive looking security men, that press can’t access artists backstage for arranged interviews, and the highly priced alcohol do not go unnoticed by attendees. We have to admit though, we enjoy Sound City in situ, and this is largely because of the bands we get to see.

Starting our evening proper, following a decent warm up set from Kyko and a strange, audio-only tribute to Viola Beach from the main stage, is the ferocious Band of Skulls. An act due to grace many festivals this summer, the Southampton trio show off their spots with a loud, grizzly and growling hour-long set of rock’n’roll that embraces both the past and the future, namely their fourth studio album By Default. Having spoken to the band backstage at the event (interview soon) it’s a pleasure to find them on top form and providing a festival highlight for many, including ourselves.

Following a close encounter with a group of people who seem to think having benches at a festival is “dead posh”, we unwittingly make our way towards Violet Skies via the toilet. This is the one totally avoidable disappointment of the night, as despite sensibly heading to the VIP area to use the facilities, we’re still confronted with an hour long queue. We speak to a nice Scouse lady about how our Auntie lives in Manchester (poor us, she says, clearly aware of the stereotype but doing her best not show real mirth) but how we live in Bristol (good for us, she says, apparently Scousers associate with Bristolians, something for which we are very glad) before we finally get to relieve ourselves.

By the time we're back at Violet Skies’ stage, not only have we annoyingly missed her entire set, but the following band are half way through their own, plus Fizzy Blood are dangerously close to availing me too. The scuzzy indie pop band’s set is justifiably chaotic, not literally (though they are on a boat) but audibly. They successfully blast out the cobwebs that have formed over the course of my toilet excursion and returning to me to festival mode.

Although we were was initially concerned by the site’s layout, and there are sound bleeding issues from one stage to the next, one good thing is that wherever you are, you can hear music. Because of this we manage to catch several unexpected artists, including rhythmic electronic artist The Hearing, whom we did not intend to see. The Helsinki based solo project of Ringa Manner, she uses a swirling, pulsing vocal loop and rampant percussion to build a wall of sound you can’t help but stop and gawp at. Likewise on another toilet trip we stumble upon Koala Voice, a 90s basement rock hybrid fronted by the iconic sounding Manca Trampus. We highly doubt we would have been introduced to either of these artists had we not attended Sound City 2016.

Overall then a success, and with sets from Feral Love and The Spook School to round off a pop meets punk night, Sound City 2016 has impressed. Whether it’s impressed enough to drag us away from the easily accessible Dot to Dot in 2017, we have to say, we’re not sure. But if you’re based in the North and can’t be bothered to make the trip South, Sound City is more of a lover than a friend.

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