These hot Septembers are just ripe for psychedelic festivals. Cool nights and bright and close afternoons match droning wig-outs and folk-inflected dalliances perfectly. Checking into Hatters Hostel and the Victorian brilliance of the lavishly tiled foyer, reminded me once again how this unique city and its faded legacy that is so bound up with the sinister eccentricity of British Empire filters in inexplicable ways into the DNA of all that is psychedelic. This is variously manifested as the tremble-handed pop perfection of The La’s one and only album, the lurching fuzzed-up garage-rock breakdowns of The Walking Seeds, the Wirral-psychebeat of The Coral or the skewed gothic-spired ruckus of Clinic. I don’t even have to mention The Beatles.
This here review of this here festival will follow a certain convention. Many of my reviews will be short, as I have a tendency to grab ten or twenty minutes of a performance and then move on. My reasons are based on the fact that a kind of attention deficit often prevails at events where there are several stages with artistes playing simultaneously. Also, there are quite a few performers who I am not previously familiar with, so unless they instantly ‘take my fancy’, I will seek out the other stages, or maybe even a pint of pricey ale or a cup of tea. I am not as young as I used to be and I do like a space to sit and reflect, sipping liquid and watching all the people go past.
Holy Wave were the first performers I saw, on the expansive Camp stage at around 7pm. Apologies to the earlier bands I missed (I would have really liked to see Plank! And Black Mekon in particular) but I do work for a living and I had to travel from one city to another, so shut up. The description of Holy Wave on the free programme sounded enticing enough and I managed to watch about fifteen minutes of them before they finished their set. Spidery trebly guitar shapes, echoing vocals and a nod to the neo-retro sound of The UFO Club and Night Beats, which in turn is a partial nod to the timeless wonder of The 13th Floor Elevators. Tasty stuff, and probably best appreciated by me in a small venue one day in the future, although, to be blunt, they sounded more fantastic on paper by way of hyperbole than they actually sounded to my experienced gig-ears.
Bristolian pseudo-shoe-gaze minstrels Spectres didn’t necessarily do it for me although I could plainly hear their absolute attention to guitar pyrotechnical wizardry and intensely thumping MBV-type aural chaos. I stuck around for a few numbers, not being able to fully get into their thing, and then I wandered off to queue for a piss and then to partake of a hookah/sheesha pipe (lemon and lime flavour) in a Bedouin tent by the side of the Furnace building. I have to congratulate Andy Votel on his selection of tunes here. The crazy shit he was spinning sounded like a fucked up Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan mixed up with The Seeds or The Count Five. Ace. Alas this was no dope inhalation though, merely a tobacco infused syrup that made my throat go hoarse, albeit in a very pleasing manner. It was a good job we had downed a load of vodka and coke before we came in. Can I also say how bloody friendly everyone is at this festival. Folk chat, smile, share roll-ups, swap stories of gigs and so on. None of the immature malevolence of say a more heavier fest, where metal makes men over-masculinise their insecure egos (unless that metal is at Roadburn, where the mellow Euro-vibe displaces that familiar British swill of booze and hatred that you used to see at Castle Donnington). You can’t beat a bit of heavy though can you? Therefore I simply have to tolerate all the aggressive dickheads at an EyeHateGod gig.
After pissing and smoking I immersed myself properly in a stunning set by US two-piece The Vacant Lots. What a joy festivals are – the bands I’ve stumbled on just by virtue of being lucky enough to wander in to a room are numerous. Moody vocals, huge drum machine beats, trebly rock ‘n’ roll guitar and electronic bass that made my ears wince went together to make a big and aggressive sound that ignited the Camp stage and drew the punters in like ragged moths to a green frame. On record they don’t quite have the same power as they do live but they are still a cool duo who have the Suicide/Spacemen 3/early New Order hybrid thing nailed to a tee.
Quick mention here of Barberos at The Blade Factory – local funsters in nasty masks that whipped up a ferociously warped and percussive racket that didn’t fit in with the generic psychedelic template and was much the better for it. It made me want The Butthole Surfers to play next year. That would be a fiendishly clever coup to pull. I also stuck around the same stage to see Black Bombaim do their excellent instrumental thing, wooing the tightly packed crowd with a sublime and lengthy study of what one guitar, one bass and one drum kit can sound like when piloted by specialists.
I’ve tried liking Wolf People but they just seem to evade my concept of what ‘good’ is. I may be wrong of course, and I realise that their music is loved by many. Out on the huge Furnace stage they went through the funky chops and the extended jams but just as they do on record, they don’t quite hit the money. I just didn’t feel it. Technically great but it all seems like an exercise in style over content, or maybe skill over melody. Wolf People are not early Fairport Convention, Cream or any other manner of archetypal turn-of-the-seventies classics, and if I want this kind of stuff (jam-based folkyproggyrock), then I simply go back to the source or listen to a more recent someone who can do it with soul, like Circulus or Black Angels. The audience past the first few rows looked a little bored too, so it wasn’t just me being grumpy either. Sometimes there are just too many bands in this world.
On the same stage, Amen Dunes turned in a generally agreeable show with slow, droning repetition and drifting inserts of dreamy sound. This was the kind of stuff for a sunny afternoon in the country cottage garden, gently stoned and with fuck all to do – a position I find myself in less and less as I get older, unfortunately. Allah-Las, on the same stage, really hit their stride with competent and sunny-vibed mind-melting California pop in the vein of the mid to late sixties, although at times their sound reminded me of Oasis, which is not a cool thing to be reminded of at all.
San Francisco’s POW! were very entertaining. Chugging along on one chord, they whipped up a real post-punk fury of righteous bubblegum pop perversity that obviously owed a debt to the mutoid punk-psyche of Thee Oh Sees (they were apparently ‘discovered’ by John Dwyer). I was mesmerised by the uber-simple and primal-as-fuck drumming of their percussionist and the violent guitar thrashing of their lead man. Topped off with lashings of cheese-ball synths, POW! proved an unexpected hit of Friday, such was their utterly infectious energy and goofy confidence.
Headline wise, for me and my snapper, it had to be Klaus Johann Grobe. If you love Neu! and that classic motorik backbeat, then it has to be this rising star. True to the hype, Grobe was simply brilliant. Teasing the hungry audience with a lengthy soundcheck of epic and comically Germanic proportions, the trio blasted through a set of superbly smooth and eminently listenable Teutonic minimalism. I can’t recommend this chap enough – ably assisted by a beautifully skilful and controlled rhythm section, young bearded Klaus intoned words of mellow German over precise and hurtling beats and buoyant bass lines, embellishing the sparse genius of the Neu! blue print with a heavy emphasis on the vocals and synths as counterpoint to the classic drums/bass foundation. Pure syrup of sweetness for the ears, and a fitting end to the Friday of the third International Festival of Psychedelia. I’ve just ordered his debut album – I can’t wait to hear it pumping out of my speakers.
What a great festival too, it doesn’t even matter if you only know a quarter of the bands, everything feels just spot on. Wish the ale was a bit cheaper though. Or alternatively, I wish the average wage actually started to inflate, just to give the proles a chance to keep up with the inflation of everything fucking else one needs to buy. Talking of the proletariat, there were some tragically pissed Liverpudlians staggering around the city centre on the slightly grisly walk back to the hostel, but that’s industrial decline for you isn’t it? No amount of call centres or new shopping districts are going to enable Liverpool and cities like it to rise out of the mire of global capitalism’s graveyard of ex-commerce zones. Socio-economics and psychedelia? I find the two are mutually complimentary.
Scribed By: Adam Stone
Photos By: Seb Johnson