Sound City 2018 @ Baltic Market, Liverpool, 05/05/2018

Sound City 2018Spanning the May bank holiday weekend and including a conference with music industry professionals alongside two days of live music from hand-selected emerging artists; on paper Liverpool's Sound City 2018 sounds like any other new music showcase. It isn't. The organisers harbour a truly immersive experience, confining events to a select area (this year the city centre's Baltic Market) and shoving great music down your throat at every available opportunity.

This year it translates into a bustling Cains Brewery, home of the still-operating drinks manufacturer, tourist attractions including the set of Peaky Blinders, and enough independent merchants to shake a stick at. Walking through the seemingly unmanned barriers of the event, it's hard to tell where everyday Cains life stops and the festival begins. Families crowd the alleyways and you can frequently hear dads pointing out where Tommy Shelby shot someone to their kids. Shoppers browse through vintage dresses in earnest, and local painters and potters encourage the public to buy their wares. Meanwhile, opera is performed in a small courtyard and the constant fuzz of guitar feedback taints the air. It makes for a diverse crowd, but the music never descends into a background soundtrack: the focus is always on the art.

That's not the only thing that makes Sound City 2018 so special. Like previous years, curators of the weekend have searched the globe with a heated focus on Europe, to invite artists who might otherwise have been overlooked at a UK festival. Sure, you can still catch British faces that have adorned popular magazines and websites (Peace, Idles and Black Honey are all billed to strut their stuff). But there's also a slew of artists even the most intrepid music blogger won't claim to have heard... Unless of course, they're lying. This writer has spent a good chunk of the previous weekend doing her research, and so with confidence, we storm through the heat in search of noise...

The first act to grace the Baltic Stage, which is presented by Pirate Studios, are Manchester-based trio False Advertising. Fresh, entertaining, and most importantly loud, the melodic punk-meets-grunge act blasts away any residue cobwebs left over from the night before. But it's not only about how high their amps will go. They're skilled musicians, proving as much when frontwoman Jen Hingley and drummer Chris Warr swap roles for a new song, adding dual vocals to the mix. They treat their audience to a selection of tracks from across their three years existence, and although the crowd thins out halfway through the set - probably thanks to the late lunch hour - they're drawn back for a raucous close by the sheer resilience of the band.

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Sound City 2018 has started early, and it's due to end late. It's with the kind of relief that only a lone gig-goer will understand that we find performances have been scheduled from start to finish. Not a moment goes by when a musician isn't playing some variety of instrument, whether it's a newfound nougat or the unscheduled, one-note trumpet performance we're privileged to outside the Blade Factory later on in the day. Scheduled packed and ready to go, before we know it, Beach Riot are setting up where False Advertising once stood.

Signed to the right-honourable Killing Moon Records and travelling all the way up from London to play, on record the band is a promising concoction of heavy guitar and Sonic Youth style vocals. Taking to the stage as a three-piece without mention of what's happened to their fourth member, the loss seems to compound the set. It's a little one-sided, and any melody that was behind the music is replaced by 'bad' fuzz - the kind that makes it hard to hear what's actually going on. They find their feet midway through with (even) louder numbers, but the damage is already done and they don't make half the impression their predecessors did.

Cains' Baltic Market has by now proved itself to be the perfect host of Sound City 2018; ideal for idle watching, with food and drink within lunging distance from performances and a happy buzz constantly playing in the background. Wandering around, it's a pleasure to find the stage's market-place atmosphere is replicated across the site, and impromptu meeting areas have sprung up on the streets. While the festival sprawls out towards the venues located away from Cains Brewery, we still find ourselves drawn back to the cobbled streets and nooks and crannies of the redbrick building, where activity is that bit more thriving.

Unfortunately, we're soon confronted by the only dud performance we witness of the day, from Chelmsford band Tigress. Ska punk went out of fashion for a reason, and while Tigress isn't solely reliant on the genre, there are definite undertones. Also, frontwoman Katy Jackson sings in a fake American accent, and that's something we simply can't abide. We quickly leave the vicinity to enjoy some sunshine, and after a lazy pint of "ordinary cider" from a bar whose menu otherwise goes to great length to describe its drinks, we head out again to explore the site.

...Which turns out to be a good move, because our negativity is soon addressed: Giungla is here. As Italian artist Ema Drei sets up her peddles at the Blade Factory, a modest crowd gathers in the warehouse venue. Whether the previous band were delayed or there's an issue with the sound, for whatever reason, the set is delayed by half an hour. We wouldn't consider that significant enough to mention on an ordinary day, but this is Sound City 2018. When Drei finally starts, many have already abandoned ship in favour of more popular attractions, like neighbouring performers Park Hotel. It's no surprise, but it is a crying shame, as Giungla delivers the standout set of the day for us. Reminiscent of St Vincent or lesser known bass-explorer Ill Ease, Drei uses loops, synth and a drum machine to embody her sound, but it's her guitar that does the hard work. Leaping and lurching around the stage and the audience's floor, the fact that she's wearing a hat that brands her 'possessed' is fitting. It's an electric, inspiring performance and you can expect to see Giungla stubbornly feature on our playlists for at least the next three months.

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After all that fun and games, we reach the point of the day when our makeup literally starts to melt off our face, and we realise wearing black lipstick was Definitely A Mistake. Sacrificing Park Hotel and Dama Scout for the full effects of Giungla, and Art School Girlfriend for a refresh, the downtime is appreciated for more than just reasons of hygiene. It's bloody hot, and the emergency vest top we bought from Tesco the night before isn't helping as much as it should.

We return to Cains and Sound City 2018 in time for a trio of delights, and Hatchie kicks off the evening's proceedings. The Australian artist is one of few hyped artists to play at the festival, but her position on the bill is well defended by a blissful pop set that's well accompanied by the fading sun. Playing songs from her upcoming Sugar & Spice EP and soon to travel to Brighton for The Great Escape, you get the feeling this won't be the last time Liverpool bears witness to the musician on the rise.

The second and penultimate performance of our day doesn't go to a star attraction, but that's only because the band haven't received the exposure they deserve. 77:78 have begun to make waves, accruing support from Louder Than War and record label Heavenly Recordings along the way, but it's indicative of Sound City 2018's penchant for supporting the unknown that they're billed so late in the night. The size of the crowd is also telling of their competition, as they're up against sets from the aforementioned Idles and Peace. It's no bother, at least not to the band. They start fast and end fast with a high energy set that would sit proudly beside Bristol band Goan Dogs on the indie dancefloor.

Our final pitstop of the day is reserved for a special treat, and the only artist we'd devoted ourselves to before witnessing them play at Sound City 2018. Wye Oak play in support of their new album The Louder I Call, the Faster it Runs, and it's nothing if not spectacular. Guitar soaring, Jenn Wasner approaches the crowd like an old friend, and together with permanent bandmate Andy Stack proves why the duo are always so well received by their fans. An excellent end to an excellent day? We think so.

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