Although by Friday afternoon, after a faintly hung-over and hollow feeling day at work, I felt knackered and un-arsed about going, by the time I got into the impressive brick-built vault of the Camp & Furnace and starting listening to the first band around about eight pm, I was very happy to be in Liverpool at the second annual Psychfest. Magnificent Liverpool, with its beautifully restored docks and dark history of commerce and buccaneering capitalism, has long been a city whose creative inhabitants have floated almost naturally towards the psychedelic. Obviously four cheeky local lads started this cultural trend towards mind-expansion through music at some vague point in the mid-sixties (‘Rubber Soul’ maybe?) but since that pivotal moment we have had a dearth of floppy fringed space kadets all living around the Mersey basin who have strapped on Vox guitars and embarked on their own mini-odysseys of psychoactive and melody-drenched bliss.
Neo-psychedelia, which this festival honours as the genre of choice, is very much like just plain old fashioned psychedelia, seeing as both revolve around a specific stylistic structure, a paradigm of sight and sound. This neo-stuff is more eighties though, I mean we are talking Spacemen 3 and My Bloody Valentine A LOT here, plus liberal helpings of Neil Young and Crazy Horse plus the usual Stooges two-chord smacked-out fug and The Velvet Underground’s strung-out and sarcastic white-noise squall blueprint (plus a hundred forgotten garage bands from the late sixties). What was so great for me was to see all the young and old freaks come out and celebrate this, just like they do when you go to Supersonic or Roadburn, and just like they did when I used to go to Reading back in the early nineties, when there used to be a discernable youth subculture that proudly fucked off the mainstream and parasitic music industry and blazed their own deviant drug-fuelled path to post-industrial alienation. Such a contemporary gathering of dope-fiends is a welcome sight in these often weirdly homogenous times.
Igniting the ‘furnace’ stage, Guadalajara, Mexico’s Lorelle Meets The Obsolete offered up solid psychedelic rock that hammered a groove a la Wooden Shjips etc. but was overlaid with a more melodic sensibility than many two-note drone-smiths of yore and present. Fronted by a very thick haired lady called Lorelle with a low-slung guitar that screamed out notes like a mini-mandrake, LMTO pleased and cajoled the fresh audience with their effective neo-psych and for me represented a real good start to the fest, even though I had never previously heard much of their music (that’s the joy of a festival though, isn’t it?). Cuts like their new single, ‘What’s Holding You?’, are sizzling fuzzed out slices of Mexican psych-pop drone that are as tasty as hot beef chilli with a coriander strewn poached egg on top. In a sense, this was one of the excitements of the two days, for this kind of eighties indie-inspired neo-psychedelia is not a scene I am immersed within like most of the spectators I could see wandering around, although many of its musical mainstays and most of its past is well known to me. So two days of music represented a thrilling discovery for me, and just like J. Peel I always love to hear and GET INTO new bands. Indeed, when I first saw the line up in the late spring of this year, I tuned in to some of the bands playing for the first time for me via the internet and now thanks to this line-up I sincerely love the music of garage psych-genius Ty Segall, one of this weekend’s most exciting performers.
Dead Meadow were excellent with their strung-out and bejewelled grooves, taking to the same stage after LMTO. A time served three piece that blasted out across our heads and left dark vapour trails of echoing six string delight. Like many in the crowd I shut my eyes and nodded my head like a passenger on a soporific ride. How fetching and pivotal was the dark brown moustache of the lead singer Jason Simon, which was utterly incongruous on his youthful face, like it had been taped to his top lip, in constant peril of dropping half off. The music was sublimely cool as well. I’ve only heard the first two albums but like most of the bands here it didn’t matter as we are talking psych-rock template here, and one that is instantly familiar (and that is NOT a criticism by the way).
Easy peasy tonight – I just stayed in the same place more or less. Psychic Ills were up next, a similar treat to the previous groovers, albeit more leather jacketed and direct, maybe more indicative of the Brooklyn, New York streets from whence they come. Their live sound was more likeable for me than their recorded sound, which is good, but kind of quiet, and kind of too much like Spiritualized at times (not a bad thing, but not an original thing either). Here they roared with electrical fury, blasting through some tasty hits off their last two long players in particular. Theirs is a very cool and metronomic psych that pulsed with a murderously insistent bass. Special mention goes to the singer’s (Tres Warren) aviator shades and moustache combo that worked so well with the music.
Moon Duo were definitely the expected hit of the Friday, as evidenced by the whole crowd going crazy-ape barmyshit. There was a Bez-style dancer in front of me, his shirt wide open, frugging like crazy to the barnstorming motorik beat of this brain-swirling Frisco two-piece (a three piece tonight with the addition of a so-basic-he-was-brilliant drummer). ‘Twas like the fucking nineties man, in a warehouse, somewhere, surrounded by gurning gibbons and howler monkeys all revved up on uppers. The thick and soupy guitar lines of Wooden Shjips’ hirsute-headed and shamanistic Ripley Johnson and the heady swathes of driving organ from his partner-in-crime Sanae Yamada charge MD with a primal yet elegantly psychedelic air of pop-powered brain-punch. Their sound is most redolent of ancient NYC keys-and-drum machine punkers Suicide more than anyone, and in particular Loop’s pumped up cover of their almighty ‘Rocket USA’. Anyways, they were mighty good, as I thought they would be, seeing as a mate of mine saw them at Green Man festival earlier in the year and told me how they had torn up the crowd. For many at the festival, I think they were the top band over the two day stretch.
Saturday started around 7-ish for me and Jono as we caught Danish death-dealers The Wands at The Camp venue blasting through some rather solid psych-rock in the mould of Stooges etc. Good stuff, nowt too surprising or life changing but very enjoyable. I will have to check out their recorded stuff. They were hairy and loud and all of them looked like they were from Ann Arbor, Michigan, circa 1969. I think that was the idea.
Over at the Blade Factory, Brighton’s natty little Faux Discx label put on a blinding showcase, starting with The Soft Walls, an excellent collective of guitar thrashing youths who have assembled especially around guitarist Dan Reeves (for it is he who runs the label) for live performances. Cold Pumas, featuring the aforementioned Reeves again, were even more blistering. So much so that I downloaded their ace ‘Persistent Malaise’ album off bandcamp when I got home. A bloody bargain for a mere fiver. Studio-wise they sound more like a hugely nuanced krautrock collision with Joy Division, but live the electricity adds a huge power to their repetitious beauty. Sauna Youth topped off the Brighton blitz with a blasting swelter of Ramones-killing-Thee Oh Sees bombast, and it was heartening to see how the crowd surfed and pogoed to their infectious bouncing energy. For my money, Cold Pumas were the tightest and most moving of the three, but thumbs aloft for Faux Discx as an all-round great little DIY label that deserves support and attention.
On at the Camp stage, Iceland’s Singapore Sling (all dressed in dog-collars – didn’t The Hives do that years ago?) peddled a slow and chunky Jesus & Mary Chain-style (mid-period; ‘April Skies’-era) garage rock that was high on big chords and thudding snare but low on actual melodies and tunes, therefore they dragged. In addition the frozen five piece were beset by recurring technical problems, but didn’t help their cause by just standing in silence and waiting for the crew to sort it. Even a few words in Icelandic would’ve been appreciated.
The varied, artful and skilful psych-pop of The Limananas was not particularly the kind of stuff I would listen to at home at the moment, but nonetheless their exotic Gallic take on the cinematic swells of Morricone meets sharp Brian Wilson pop-craft was a mesmerising draw to the main Furnace stage.
Ty Segall’s new-ish Blue Cheer-style ultra-hip proto-metal project Fuzz were a furious and mischievous trio of hairy draft dodgers who plugged in and blasted off with most of the cuts culled from their brand new debut album (which was released the following Monday), plus the two tracks from the Trouble In Mind 7”. Guitarist Charlie Moothart soloed his tie-dyed arse off like a right regular Wayne Kramer and four stringer Roland Cosio laid down some phenomenally fuzz-soaked lines, but predictably it was the precocious California beach bum gone wrong Monsieur Segall who held centre stage with a startlingly fluid and combustive drum-style (almost jazz-dexterous at times like Mitch frickin’ Mitchell maaan) topped by an insanely psychotic and sugar-coated vocal that flung the whole place back to 1966 like they were witnessing Roky and his 13th Floor Elevators for the very first time. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, you just can’t beat a singing drummer fronting a band. It just is the greatest thing to see bar a live sex show. 100% Fuzz-tastic explosions of acid-spiked rifferama ensued for 40-odd minutes and I definitely want to see these shroom-headed Hell-gibbons again.
Liverpool’s very own answer to the best bits of early Hawkwind minus the vocals, the fabulous and often downright brutal Mugstar of course, took to a post-midnight stage and did what they did when I saw them supporting Harvey Milk last year but louder and better. Brilliant fucking band – buy their stuff you fuckers, they are amazing and massive and as gorgeous a guitar-based instrumental collective that have ever existed. By this time a few had gone home or had just died outside, so the ragged rest stayed and grooved and shouted and threw their wobbly hands in the air like an alternative Woodstock for those sectioned under the Mental Health Act.
Clinic were half an hour late to the stage (some point after 1am and my eyes were starting to redden) and seeing as I saw them back in the day in a little pub in Derby when the superb ‘Walking With Thee’ was doing the rounds, I stuck around and gave them twenty minutes before I had to flee into the dark black Mersey night and back to the YHA via the creepy urban horror of Jamaica Street. Anyway, they were okay. I mean I don’t like their last hundred or so albums as much as their first three (which are weirdo English garage-rock classics), but they were suitably eccentric and skewed, although their insistence on pumping out flat 4/4 beats on a drum machine and their now lack of the cutting guitar which used to make them so cool kind of grated a bit and left me wishing I was back on my bunk bed. At this point the whole gigantic Furnace stage room looked like a post-rave comedown, with fucked-up neo-hippy chicks chomping on giant burgers in order to satiate their monstrous weed-fuelled appetites and spindly-legged guys with big beards and third eyes painted on their foreheads moving fucked through the crowds looking for people who didn’t exist.
Selected memories from the two days – an army of black leather winkle pickers the like of which has not seen since 1985; A lad in a Moloch tee shirt – aye – some nasty DIY sludge amidst the tie dye tees and patterned shirts; I nearly lost my five quid hot dog sausage – it slid upwards and outwards, luckily I was fast; I had to look at other men (briefly into their twitching eyes), and they at me, whilst weeing into the circular urinal outside the C&F; Talking to a Geordie outside and someone spilt his pint and he did nothing and I commented that he should have punched ‘em and we both laughed hard; Me and Jono (my snapper) discovering a bizarre warehouse full of traditional ice cream vans opposite the Blade Factory venue; Seeing a white-out casualty slumped broken against the wall outside having a right bad time as I was leaving the venue at 2pm (made me remember my teens and twenties and all the vomit and double vision); The DJ playing the Butthole Surfers (‘Satan’) and ‘I Had Too Much to Dream Last Night’ by the Electric Prunes before Fuzz came on, which made me very happy.
Scribed By: Adam Stone
Photos By: Seb Johnson