The first edition of the brand new festival in the ‘City of Light’ is waking up slowly to the opening acts of today. Things start happening at five ‘o clock, local time, so a bit early for some. This gives the early birds plenty of time to explore the elements of Psych Lab. Film, art expositions in gallery Onomapotee and obviously tons of records to buy offer plenty of distraction. The exposition ‘Thrilling Autonomy’ is curated by no other than Glenn Peeters, guitar player of Radar Men Of The Moon`, local psych heroes. Everything is connected at this fest.
And that is a good thing, because it forms the basis of what makes up this new scene. The root of the fest lies in the Liverpool Psych Fest, as is clearly shown by posters, flyers and projections of the mother organization. Not surprisingly, most of the bands today are in fact British, like the boys from Great Ytene. Gazing downwards, the group doesn’t seem fazed by the lack of crowd at the start of their set and sets to work. The warm sound is made more complex by adding a note of mystery and an exotic vibe over the songs. The easy pace draws the listener in and soon the room fills up for the tightly playing band. Anyone just coming in gets in the right mood instantly.
Up in the bigger hall, dubbed the ‘Main Lab’ today, there are some more surprises. Apart from the excellent visuals projected on various screens and the stage, there’s a bar where local beer brewer Van Moll offers tasty beverages. Next to that we find a processing line, where two men operate a collection of cassette recorders. They record the shows, which you can buy immediately after. That is just brilliant actually. Cosmonauts are playing their game here. The lazy riffs wash down like rain on a glass window, though they pour heavily. Musically the band levitates between languid surf/psychedelia and post punk grit. The vocals are an expression of that despair, closely resembling that of Ian Curtis from Joy Division. The wailing, stuck to the floor cries make this band sound a bit darker than the record does.
Luckily, it’s time for weird, which is the most promise you can gather from a name like Terminal Cheesecake. It takes the band forever to get going, due to some technical issues. They don’t mind. The opener is a meditative track with weirdly heavy drums. Their shattering sound finds the rhythm section at the core, drums and a dude playing his guitar like it’s a second drum kit. The hefty soundbursts are what drives the songs, that and ripping guitar work. Though sticking to that trance rhythm, it’s the trance of a bunch of crazy monks from London who are crazy about the Melvins, Godflesh and krautrock. Their performance is a bit carnavalesque, so that works. To be honest, they are one of the bands that surprised me most. Their laidback way of doing a show so invigorating makes people either laud them or hate them. Probably exactly what these guys, who’ve been around since 1988, wanted to achieve when they got back together in 2012. That and to have a great time.
The band next up in the big hall upstairs played the Effenaar before, not too long ago. The Oscillation warmed up for the Radar Men Of The Moon release show. The small hall, dubbed the Obbservatory today, was filled up with their buzzing rhythms, hypnotic and static. That has not disappeared from their sound, but for some reason big is really too big this time. The droning sound, filled with a particular groove. There seems to be this eastern mysticism interwoven in their sound, foreboding and dark. The pulsing base has a lot to do with that, also the brilliant build up towards greatness. Unfortunately, in never seems to overwhelm today and that’s a shame. Lay Llamas don’t seem to suffer from that issue in the smaller hall. Their exotic sound has no problem at all convincing everyone of their awesomeness. The maracas, combined with their funky and groovy sound are a crowd pleaser. On the stage the band is energetic and so is their music. Laying down the riffs, they don’t languish, but press onwards. The band sounds like a windy coastal town on the other side of the Mediterranean, where cultures meet and mix sounds. Always on the move, continuously fresh. An elevation half way.
Before I start saying anything about the magnificent Spectrum, I have one point of critique; their records are more expensive than others at the merch stands. That is all that can be said for these guys in the negative sense, since their performance at todays festival can take home the ‘douze points’ without a doubt. The band, formed around Peter Kember, hasn’t done much on record releases, but plays live extensively. That routine is demonstrated by a great set, where the band doesn’t make any mistakes. The slow pace is like grass waving in the wind, gentle and comfortable. However, there’s always a certain tension, the throbbing rhythm maintains this throughout the set of an hour. Kember and his men demonstrate their skill with a fantastic display of hypnotizing shoegaze. Definitely a peak of the day for most visitors.
The trickiest name on the program today is Anthroprophh. To say that this band has a daring set ready is an understatement, since they kick off with what seems like an eternal rhythm solo. Their drummer and bass player both lay down that beat, while Paul Allen is doing the guitar squeaks and sound effects. That rhythm section is actually Jesse Webb and Gareth Turner, who make up Big Naturals (go google that, it’s fun). No surprise that you can experience a sonic attack of percussion based psych right here on the Observatory stage. The combination becomes a Primus-esque experiment, which the band members clearly enjoy as much as the audience, which has surged down the stairs to see these guys play. Totally worth it if I may say so, can I compare them to Battles? I think I will.
Headliner of todays session of research in the Psych Lab is probably Wooden Shjips. The big stage sees more faces in front of it than any band before has been privy too. The Americans from ‘San-Fran’ have made an impression on the world in their 8 year existence. Their warm, fuzzy sound comes closest to the origins of the genre today. The band, like most today, let’s be fair, is not wasting any words on the audience and immediately starts. Hypnotizing music swirls through the room, supported by the same wavy visuals that entrance the viewer. The feeling the band gives of is liberating, freewheeling and full of sunrays. Focussed and silent, the band produces song after song to which some people finally get to dancing. Wooden Shjips does everything you’d expect of them, they are however, not a revelation today because of that. Just really, really good.
Teeth Of The Sea have issues, their car broke down somewhere near Antwerp so they’re not going to make it, which sucks. The four people for whom it doesn’t suck are the boys from Crows, who play a great second set of the day. Maybe it’s that they’re tired, maybe alcohol, but this time they are loose, energetic and more rock’n’roll than most things today. The wild whooping vocals combined with the high pace and sleazy vibe of the band makes this actually one of the secrets of the festival (many people turned around, seeing TotS where not there). Hookworms wraps up things on the main stage with an energetic, high voltage set of danceable psychrock. Somehow they reminded me of the Velvet Underground. Just put those guys on the drugs of the rave movement and this maniacal deconstructive noise would have been the result.
Gnod played as well, the very last band of the day.. Take my word for it, they were awesome, weird and spectacular. After a couple of songs I had to surrender to the hours of psychedelic onslaught and live to listen for another day.
Day one of Psych Lab was awesome. Many good bands, many surprises and a lot of people doing their things. Though a bit more variation might do the fest some good, the kick off is very much promising. Luckily, we have another day ahead.
Scribed by: Guido Segers
Photos by: Paul Verhagen (www.achromemoments.nl)