Liverpool Sound City 2012: The Bands & Beyond

The modern-day festival is about a lot more than the bands. Does Sound City measure up?

Speak to anyone ‘in the know’ and running a music festival is the hardest game in the world, such is their ubiquity, if not longevity. Throw in a double dip recession and doing it in these most chastened of times can hardly make it any easier; you wonder why and how people do it. It is in this context that we sat down to think about this weekend’s Sound City, now entering its fourth year of operation. A festival can no longer be a ‘tell them and they will come’ affair; it has reached the point where if a festival is just putting bands on, it’s no longer filling the remit of music festival properly. Strange but true.

Most people (us included) still check the line up first, but then it’s onto the fringe events, sidelines and supplementary stuff that adds up to the modern-day all-encompassing festival experience. And if you fall short here, the punters are going to notice. The folks at Sound City look to have acknowledged this, but we’ll get to that a bit later. First and foremost, who’s playing, who are the biggies and who are our under the radar tips?

It all kicks off tonight, and for our money, the weekend won’t get much better music-wise. With the unassuming Willy Mason, boy/girl vocals of Slow Club and – the unlucky not to win the GIT Award – Stealing Sheep making up a chilled-out vibe of a start to the weekend. But glancing at the line-up it’s difficult to look beyond the psychedelic rock-tronica of the mighty Death in Vegas who first came to our attention with 1999’s Contino Sessions; an album whose immediacy was such, it was impossible not to be engulfed. Singles Dirge and Aisha (featuring a menacing vocal from Iggy Pop), set the tone for a real tour de force, and live, they offer a pretty transcendent experience. If that doesn’t get you going, you may already be dead.

If you’re not dead though and your thoughts turn to Friday and Saturday, there are a few real gems if you’re prepared to look. Our pick tomorrow would be Domino Record’s Eugene McGuinness who may have recorded the best Bond theme that never was. If you like your beats mellow, Manchester’s D/R/U/G/S* are on hand on Saturday, surrounded by a cluster of indie old and new on closing night: survivors The Wedding Present, and Sweet Billy Pilgrim most likely to be leant our ears.

“If that doesn’t get you going, you may already be dead.”

As promised, we said we’d get to what the rest of the festival offers, beyond the bands. Sound City, the ‘on it’ bunch that they are, seem to have worked hard at holding up this end of the festival bargain, offering a broad range of extras. The thing is, a lot of times these extras can seem tacked on, a lazy acknowledgement of what a festival should be, making it all the worse when falling way short of the target. If you’ve bought your ticket or still plan to, you’ll be pleased to hear that this isn’t the case.

First off, there’s Gary McGarvey’s many armed beast that is Screenadelica, an exhaustive exhibition of screenprinted gig posters featuring the work of more than 20 international artists. Alongside the exhibition McGarvey has curated a top-notch pick of bands and acts that on almost any other weekend would constitute the festival proper. Tim Hecker, Forest Swords, Sun Drums, Mugstar and Vasco Da Gama all feature over the three nights.

Another string to the bow is that Kicking + Screening, ‘the world’s premier football film festival’, has chosen this year’s Sound City to make its UK debut (outside of London). A combination of film (screenings include Argentina Futbol, capturing one of the game’s most infamous rivalries: Boca Juniors and River Plate) panel discussions, football themed writing and photography all make for a fair old stab at revealing football’s cultural significance.

There are also numerous round-tables, networking events and advice sessions being run today and tomorrow. Usually (and understandably) the last thing on a festival-goers mind, the conferences are potentially more useful, albeit in entirely different ways. Our pick of today is this evening’s Social Media Surgery, while of particular interest to those with a great idea and wondering where to look next is Friday morning’s Start-Up panel.

You’d hope (if not exactly expect) that even the naysayers would find something to their liking amongst that lot, catering as it does to much of our very high expectations. Even if some of the headliners aren’t to our tastes, we’re predicting a weekend of spreading ourselves extremely thin in order to get around and experience as much as we can of Sound City 2012.

See Sound City 2012 website for full line-up and more info

Posted on 17/05/2012 by thedoublenegative