serenajemmett
16th May 2022

Liverpool was a Sound City – Festival Review

Serena Jemmett reviews Sound City, including performances from The Lathums, Self Esteem, The Royston Club, and Oliver Malcolm.
Liverpool was a Sound City – Festival Review

Before we get onto the groovy fun stuff, the bank holiday weekend kicked off with the Sound City+ Conference on the Friday. With panels and talks from industry expects, you got out of the conference what you put in.

AWAL hosted a stage in Phase One with discussions around ‘How to smash it in streaming platforms’ and ‘How do I get my message across on social platforms.’ From just these two panels its clear the music industry is rapidly moving in a new direction, and the industry “has never been more open to independent artists”. The topic of mass consumption and consumerism of new songs and content was a recurring theme. I had touched on this when chatting with The Snuts, but I would have liked more discussions on the gap between artists and their fanbases, and how to maintain the art of storytelling through tracks and records whilst feeling the need to consistently release singles to stay ‘relevant.’ It’s clear music nowadays isn’t solely about the music, but the entire brand of the artists; musicians are being forced to become content creators. With Lucy Benbow saying the optimum posting rate on TikTok is 3 to 4 times a week, it really solidifies that significant time and resources must be spent on social media.

I also attended ‘She Said So North – Breaking Down the Barriers’ – a panel advertised as discussing misogyny in the music industry. Having written about this a month ago (here) I was excited to see how it could deepen my knowledge, however an all-white panel just isn’t representative. Whilst the host did address this, it still doesn’t make it hugely better. The sole takeaways were to watch Paloma Faith’s documentary Paloma Faith – As I Am about motherhood, and read a book titled: The Authority Gap: Why Women are Still Taken Less Seriously Than Men, and what We Can Do about It; the actual panel and discussions were not very productive and consisted of panellists interrupting and talking over each other. Ending the day by attending the radio panel (‘Making Waves with Radio – Public vs National’) at FACT, this again got a bit repetitive. It was interesting observing and attending the conference from a non-artist perspective, however, as I said before you got out what you put in – there were some panels with practical tips, and some which were repetitive.

 

FESTIVAL

Saturday

Celebrating 15 years of Sound City, Liverpool is very proud that the festival continues to be so successful at elevating new and upcoming artists.

The day started off with character, with delayed and cancelled trains from Manchester to Liverpool and then harassment by some football fans, but we eventually arrived back to Liverpool. The entire city was buzzing, obviously Sound City brought in people, but the football being on the same day and the bank holiday bringing in hundreds of hen-do’s meant everywhere was heaving – even just for a quick coffee.

Highlight acts of the day were Buggs, Sterling Press, Prima Queen and The Royston Club. Buggs had the difficult job of starting the day at 2pm, but they were incredibly entertaining, and I enjoyed learning the pettiness of the backstory behind ‘Nick Gowland’. Despite them being the first act, the venue (Shipping Forecast) was packed, and a slightly older crowd greeted the band with civilised clapping at the end of songs.

Sterling Press; Serena Jemmett @ The Mancunion

Relocating to EBGBs, Sterling Press were high energy with a great reception from the crowd. They treated us to new songs, and I noticed how they reference the names of previous releases in their upcoming tracks; so in true Sterling Press manner – they produced ‘Lots of Noise’ and lots of energy. Also, referencing Liverpool throughout their set, it’s clear they are enjoying their new hometown. In terms of the venue the stage felt somewhat cramp, and I wasn’t a huge fan of the layout in terms of the drums being directly behind one of the mics. Stating that it’s a “nice weekend and good to be back to live music”, Sterling Press summed up the philosophy of the festival.

We headed to the VIP section in Phase One to listen to the ‘In Conversation with’ and acoustic sets from The Lathums and The Royston Club, hosted by Shell Zener. This was as typically VIP as you would expect: seated tables, older crowd, very civilised clapping… The Lathums attracted a huge crowd with most people having to stand at the back of the room. Touching on their roots from Wigan, they further announced that they have “too many tunes and no one has heard them.” Shell pushed to find out more about their new single and their response was “it’s lovely”, receiving a crowd laugh but not any information about the single. Most of the answers (and questions) seemed somewhat forced and blunt. Having met at music college, The Lathums confirmed that “music is always written, it will always be written, it’s just a matter of recording.” Finishing up the conversation with Shell asking if they are ready for their first headline festival, the band chuckled “of course we are ready for tonight.”

The Lathums; Serena Jemmett @ The Mancunion

Following on, Shell chatted to the “epic and awesome” Royston Club, and expressed how she loved that they are from Wrexham, to which they agreed. Briefly touching on the limited Welsh music scene and how they have always travelled to Liverpool and Manchester to watch live music, they went on to express that it’s nice to play a part in “cultivating” an upcoming prominent music scene in North Wales. Having just started their headline tour, they revealed that 20 questions is the perfect way to kill time on the tour bus. Their debut EP was recording in Liverpool; however, the studio has since closed down. Recently, a lot of local and independent music venues and studios have been closing down – I would have liked this weekend to place a few more discussions around the importance of supporting these institutions. The Royston Club played an acoustic set of four songs, including a new one called ‘The Deep End.’

The rest of the day was chaotic, partially due to the clashes in the line-up and different venues, and partially due to the city being packed with the football fans and brides-to-be. With such a busy few streets it was impossible to get service anywhere. These crowds continued with Bundobust, the food sponsor, also being completely packed.

Opting to see Prima Queen at Jimmy’s, the lyrics cut deep and resulted in tears amongst the crowd (including myself). The two women were very in tune with each other and matched the red colour scheme of Jimmy’s, which was incredibly visually satisfying. After each song, there were huge cheers from the crowd, and during the tracks everyone was honestly just in awe of them and their expressive music.

Prima Queen; Serena Jemmett @ The Mancunion

Crawlers and The Lathums ended up locked off with queues outside having reached full capacity. Zanzibar had an upbeat vibe as soon as you walked in, with fun green lighting. The stage in this venue was elevated meaning those at the back could still see the bands and artists on stage. Bears In Trees had a very prominent and hardcore fanbase front and centre, who were singing the songs words for word and jumping around. The band introduced themselves immediately after the first song, and also explained the backstory behind certain songs. This was good, especially given a lot of the audience may have never heard of them before. Like a lot of other bands, Bears In Trees tested the water by playing some new songs.

Crawlers; Jazamin Sinclair @ Press

Closing the day was The Royston Club headlining Zanzibar. Talking to some other attendees before the set, it was clear that the queuing and clashes were a problem throughout Saturday with one lady saying she couldn’t be bothered to queue so came to Zanzibar despite never listening to The Royston Club before. As always, the Welsh flag was on stage and chants of “Wrexham” echoed through the venue. Unfortunately, there were a few sound and tech issues, however the band still expelled good energy. On a personal note, I really liked how many women were in the crowd, all the way to the back, not just solely Radio-4 dads – and everyone was having a boogie. Notably they were all singing along too. The Royston Club had a very interactive crowd, who reciprocated their onstage energy, reaffirming their deserved headline spot at this venue.

Queues; Nathan Cole @ Press

 

Sunday

On returning to Liverpool for the third day of Sound City, we immediately felt the difference. The town seemed a lot calmer and less busy. The Newcastle v Liverpool match was most definitely a player in the crowded pubs and streets on the Saturday.

Kicking off the day where we left off in Zanzibar, More In Luv were successful in getting their name out there – by this I mean there was good communication in between tracks with the crowd, consistent reminders of who they are, how to find them online, and appreciation for festival goers for coming to their set. This made clear that they understood their place, and amongst a festival, especially like Sound City in multiple venues, it’s vital to introduce yourselves early on, and throughout. Zanzibar was my favourite venue in terms of the layout, but like the night before we were faced with sound issues. Their music was easy to pick up even if you’ve never heard of them before, and because of this they received good reception despite not a drawing in the most abundant crowd.

Bundobust offered 10% off for all ticket holders, hence why the restaurant was buzzing. The atmosphere certainly matched that of the festival. However, due to the popularity it did feel a bit chaotic and unorganised and in true British manner you joined a queue without knowing what for, or for how long… Bundobust is a meat-free restaurant, playing its part in the climate movement and lowering emissions. The restaurant brands itself well by being vegetarian/vegan without the stereotypically preachy activist persona. They also have a brewery aspect to the restaurant, enticing thirsty festival-goers. Due to the heaving queues, food did take a while to come, but its flavours were great, and it did its job at filling us up. The staff were helpful with what to order too; it was an easy experience.

During our meal Self Esteem (Rebecca Lucy Taylor) read some of her poetry and spoken word to diners. I’m not sure it really fitted the vibe, and whilst I’m all for expressing your emotions and journaling, if you’re going to read it to a crowd don’t laugh midway through performing. But the acoustics were surprisingly good for a restaurant.

Alfie Templeman packed out the Arts Club theatre, with more women than men for once. He performed some songs with a more rock-style arrangement; I liked the change. Having said this some songs, I would argue, sounded too different to how they do on the record. Another observation is his brand is very much the individual Alfie Templeman, but on stage it almost felt like he was engulfed by his band. Alfie has spoken before (and to me) about his anxiety and I would say that this was noticeable on Sunday, he looked stressed on stage. Ending with ‘Happiness in Liquid Form’, the crowd were singing loud and proudly along, and I enjoyed how he named all his band at the end, so they got the deserved credit and werre acknowledged by his fans.

Alfie Templeman; Serena Jemmett @ The Mancunion

Upstairs at Arts Club Loft was Maya Jade. Every time I went to the Arts Club Loft it felt empty. However, given the lack of audience, Maya’s emotional impact was still felt throughout the room. Many were tearing up and after songs there were huge cheers. Again, this solidified that throughout the weekend it really was quality not quantity of the crowd. Judging a performance was really based on the interaction with the audience and if the crowd reciprocated the artist’s energy.

Switching up the pace, Oliver Malcolm in the Kazimier Stockroom was immense. I can safely say I’m a new fan and will jump at the opportunity to see him live again. Everybody in the venue was buzzing and grinning, it was just so much fun. Oliver kept telling the crowd to “get involved”, and at many points, he jumped off the stage to come and show off his moves – front and centre. The venue is not big, and it’s a sauna, but it fit the vibe perfectly. His music felt slightly hypnotic and he wore a t-shirt with his EP title Are You Living In The Real World?, perfectly explaining how his music sounded. So much energy, a really cool sound, great crowd interaction and reciprocation. I can’t fault it. Hearing the backstory of his song ‘Fabric’ also added depth to his persona. About to leave following his set, he runs up and says, “I have presents for you” and hands me a pair of socks with Are You Living In The Real World? on. Great marketing, he had thought this through, and really optimised his spot at the festival.

The Jacaranda stage was in the basement, on a corner, with an interesting layout and shape. EFÉ was ‘one to watch’ according to CLASH. She introduced herself before her first song; this was the first time someone did this and I think it was extremely beneficial. She had great energy, seemed like a lovely person and had a beautiful voice. She was supportive of the crowd, encouraging them to move or clap along. She was very chatty in between tracks, and it fit her aesthetic and showed her personality; she didn’t lose the crowd at one point, even in these talking breaks. With just her and a single guitarist on stage, it felt like the crowd was mesmerised by her.

Returning to Jimmy’s, the sticky floor felt just felt right at this point in the day (around 9/9.30pm). Blondes entered the stage in a quite bizarre manner with a soundtrack, an air of mystery about them, but as soon as they started playing, they sounded great. There were a lot of sudden light changes throughout the set – I would say these were slightly unnecessary and almost distracting. They sounded great live so they should let that shine through, rather than the confusing and blinding colourful lights. I actually expected more people to be in the crowd and given they didn’t introduce themselves until after the second or third song I think they also did. The entire crowd knew the song ‘Coming of Age’, most likely due to the fact it went viral on TikTok. They also trialled a new song called ‘Basement’ and ended with ‘Out the Neighbourhood.’ Their crowd was diverse with grooving from young women to the classic older men.

Blondes; Serena Jemmett @ The Mancunion

Self-Esteem‘s headline set was packed and ended up locked-off. Despite not being able to see her or the stage, I can say she sounded good. From videos and pictures her performance looked well-constructed. Popping into Tim Burgess and Frankie Beetlestone for a few songs of their sets, I can only say the end of Sound City felt a bit anticlimactic.

I think when it comes to Sound City the venues were just too small, most venues ended up with queues and locked off, or were too crowded. Sound City previously took place in the Baltic Triangle and the Bramley Moore Docks. Given previous weekends in these locations have sold out, I don’t think it’s necessary for the festival to be in the centre of town. With the number of clashes, I would also say the stage timings could be better structured.

To be honest, maybe just a bit more organisation and thought. After the festival, I saw this tweet about security and wellbeing. It really is unacceptable at this point to not be accommodating all people. Most of the venues were inaccessible given they were up or down stairs, let alone the security being rude and dismissive of mental health.

Having said this, the bar is quite frankly on the floor when it comes to successful organising of festivals, so Sound City is one of the better ones. I’ll be interested to see how next years compares!

You can get super early bird tickets for Sound City 2023 for just £25 – I definitely do think it’s worth it!

Serena Jemmett

Serena Jemmett

Serena is a national shortlisted Arts and Culture writer (SPA2022) with key interests in music, women’s rights, accessibility and politic’s influence in culture. With a passion to make social issues more accessible and digestible for the wider public, Serena’s broadcast talk show (Sez Says) on Fuse FM discusses a variety of topics from political matters, to fashion, to interviews with musicians. Check it out on instagram: @sezsays_radio; You can contact Serena on twitter @serenajemmett or instagram @serenaj69

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