by Elliot Davies.
This is part two of our review of the Liverpool International Festival of Psychedelia 2014. Click here to read part one.
Anticipating another outrageous late night, we took our time in travelling to the second day of the Liverpool International Festival of Psychedelia 2014. This unfortunately meant missing such delights as Cantaloupe, Islet, Mazes and The Janitors. Luckily, though, we arrived in time to see Bonnacons of Doom.
To all intents and purposes, Bonnacons of Doom were the festival’s house band. Where most bands received a paragraph in the programme, Bonnacons of Doom were described in just two words: “BE AFRAID”.
Well, we weren’t going to miss that, and they certainly didn’t disappoint. Their’s was a mighty sound reminiscent of Boredoms at their most propulsive. Colossal temple drums underpinned an almighty drone in which the audience were invited to lose themselves as they contemplated some truly terrifying visuals. Afterwards, I may have been heard to remark that I’d found my new favourite band.
Up next were Lay Llamas, who created some irresistible (other)worldly grooves. Imagine if Hawkwind were obsessed with desert mysticism, as opposed to deep space diesel fantasy, and you’re about a quarter of the way there. They were truly compelling, and leaving their set early felt a little like leaving a whodunnit just at the point at which the detective says “and the murderer is…”
But leave early we did, as we had somewhere to be. I was really looking forward to seeing Grumbling Fur, perhaps more so than most any other band on the bill. Unfortunately, they were more than a little underwhelming. They undoubtedly have the best songs of any band at the festival – one of which, The Ballad of Roy Batty, was thankfully played – but their processed beats felt flat and lifeless compared to the pounding powerhouse rhythms found elsewhere on the lineup. Also, where most bands were clearly straining under the sheer force of will required to create their glorious rackets, Grumbling Fur’s stage presence consisted of two polite men being polite to each other, one of whom was almost static behind the dull glow of his laptop screen.
In literally any other scenario, I’m certain that Grumbling Fur would be a fine live prospect. But amongst the wizards, sages, and nomads of the Liverpool Psych Fest, they were regrettably men behaving mildly; less arcane ritual, more mildly odd tea party.
What a pity. Hills, though, more than delivered. This was one of the first ever UK performance for this Gothenburg collective, one of many excellent Swedish psychedelic bands on the bill. Expectations were high, and I doubt any were disappointed as they tore their way through a handful of monster jams. Hills find a groove, add a riff, and stick to it for as long as possible. The formula’s simple; but the effect is often overwhelming.
I was very excited about Teeth of the Sea, if only to see how the hell they replicate their incredible sound live. At the moment, few bands are as innovative and unpredictable as this one. Take their Hypnoticon EP, for example, which in just 24 minutes, manages to channel Vangelis, Tool, and Miles Davis.
This fluid eclecticism thankfully survived the transition to the stage. They began by looping a sorrowful trumpet riff, which gave way to some aggressive metal riffing, which in turn gave way to low-end frequencies intense enough to be felt in the chest. This somehow transformed into a driving house beat, which collapsed under the weight of the sort of guitars that could make asteroids explode in the sky. And that was just the first 10 minutes. Their set ended with the sprawling Responder, which resembled Darth Vader’s Imperial March as remixed by Aphex Twin.
Yet even the incredible Teeth of the Sea paled in comparison to Gnod. Their set was centred around a single titanic, pulsating behemoth of a jam, a screeching miracle of transcendent noise carried by joyous yelps. Gnod variously inspired total submission, and wild ecstatic abandon.
A message to my friends and family: Should I ever go missing, the first place you should look for me is Salford’s Islington Mill. I will have run away to try and join the Gnod collective.
After this there was only time for one more trip, and lord, was it a dark one. With their staggering mix of funky riffs, ritualistic grooves and fiery incantations, Goat are peerless, and arguably the leaders of this beautiful 21st century psychedelic scene. Live, their masks are impassive, yet confrontational. The effect is terrifying, yet their two vocalists pierce through the cloud of unknowing and inspire nothing short of total devotion. It’s a veritable disco fever, and it spreads through the crowd like a benign rage virus.
I hear that there were issues of overcrowding during their set, but I’m afraid we were blissfully unaware as we undulated with the heaving congregation before the stage. As a band, Goat have a thrilling air of mystery that’s unfortunately all too rare in our modern accelerated culture. It’s therefore even more remarkable that their live shows are such engaging and communal affairs.
The second and final day of the Liverpool Psych Fest took place on Derby Day. Liverpool played Everton, and it was a draw. This meant that on top of the festival crowd and the usual Saturday night crowd, the city was flooded with both red and blue football fans. As a result, when the festival finished, it took us three and a half hours to find a taxi. When we finally found one, I ran for it, tripped, dented my right shin, and obliterated my phone.
I’m telling this story partially to explain why there are no images in my review (they could not be extracted from my wreck of a phone), but also to highlight how, even though the weekend ended on a demoralising, painful low, I still find myself looking back at things with a warm fondness. Indeed, already I’m yearning to return.
You see, as well as assembling one of the finest line-ups of any festival in 2014, The Liverpool Psych Fest also attracted one of the finest crowds. They were all beautifully dressed, terribly polite, and the overarching atmosphere was one of positivity and possibility. Best of all, on the second day I suddenly realised that, rather than staring blankly at mobile and tablet screens, people were actually watching and listening to the music they’d paid to come and see. Granted, people took photos, but having taken them, they engaged fully with the music, dancing and enjoying themselves.
Amazing. And that’s to say nothing of the excellent selection of foods, the fine craft and continental beers, the strange art installations, and the alluring pop-up psych record shop at which I kept gazing longingly.
Of course, the festival could do with more toilets, more food stalls, and more places to sit and natter, but beyond that, I hope it doesn’t grow any further. This was only the third incarnation of the festival. Every year, things have been bigger and more adventurous. I sincerely hope that the organisers strive to retain the cult appeal. I fear that they’ll start adding “big bands” as headliners – the likes of The Horrors, or Tame Impala – or worse, a dance stage. If they do this, the crowds would grow, things would get too druggy, and the spirit would vanish in a noxious puff of good times gone bad.
More likely, though, this beautiful, effervescent “psych” scene will, to the sickening delight of naysayers, subside or implode. Ten years ago, it would have been inconceivable for such a festival to take place. It pains me to consider it, but two years from now, the idea of an entire weekend dedicated to chimes and drones might seem quaint, or even laughable, as people get turned on to less beatific sounds.
But I live in hope. And no matter what happens, we’ll always have this weekend. Having spent two days wandering through these hallowed halls of colour, creativity and chaos, I now find myself inspired to do things. I’m sure I’m not the only one, and many who are now buzzing with excitement are certainly more talented than I. As we speak, they may be on the verge of discovering their untapped abilities to blow minds, lift spirits, and conjure the cosmic.
I can’t wait to see and hear what they come up with.