“Two cities that relentlessly draw in and export talent”: LIV-BCN (Barcelona) — Reviewed

Alex Harrington enjoys Marnie, Univers and more at the first leg of this year’s LIV-BCN summer festival…

A ship sliding along the horizon towards Barcelona and a ship on the Mersey heading for the docks would be facing a similar sight; they would both be greeted by the skyline of a busy city. It is only when you turn your back on the port that you can really, authoritatively distinguish between the two. In one case, you are staring into the Mediterranean sea, in the other you are staring at the Irish Sea. Similarly, when taking off from and landing at John Lennon airport you will be guided in and out by the Mersey, and when arriving at and leaving Barcelona’s El Prat airport, you will hug the city’s three miles of beach, hemming in the wealth that the city has to offer.

Two weeks ago you could have found yourself — as I did — at the far end of Barcelona’s coastline, surrounded by building sites, boats and odd, sweeping hangars, listening to The Black Keys, The Strokes, Caribou and Belle and Sebastian, waiting for the sun to come up and contending with the sandy wind coming in off the sea at Primavera Sound. Three weeks ago a similar, salty wind coming in off the Irish sea would have whipped around you as you stood at Bramley-Moore Dock for Sound City, again listening to Belle and Sebastian, this time with The Flaming Lips and The Cribs. Barcelona and Liverpool are two cities that relentlessly draw in and export talent.

And now, LIV-BCN festival: an organic product of this trait, with both scenes sprouting out of rich environments. The LIV-BCN festival is the first independent festival between Liverpool and Barcelona, and it is very much in its infancy: growing not from the implanting of one culture on top of another, but rather from the desire to exchange, to create and share an experience together and to mutually encourage exploration and growth.

“During the few moments of silence between the fading out of one song and the ensuing: “Gracias”, you could have heard a pin drop”

Slipping off the busy, grubby streets that sprawl off La Rambla, opposite Paral-lel, you enter La (2) d’Apolo, a small, dark venue where faces catch what little light there is and slide out of it again, making you unsure of how many people are inside. This is the venue that hosted the Barcelona leg of this two-city festival, and it was a place that only took the first band, Barcelona-based trio Boreals, only one song to fill. Quickly gathering a sense of momentum, a frantic keyboard-led electronic set captivated the audience, so much so that during the few moments of silence between the fading out of one song and the ensuing: “Gracias”, you could have heard a pin drop.

Ocellot were the second band to take to the stage, and feather-adorned lead singer Marc Fernandez charmed the audience from the first note. Best described as electronica-fuelled glam-pop, the five-piece (formed three years ago from all over Catalonia) threw themselves into their performance and injected the small room with a contagious energy. Leaving the audience simmering, Ocellot paved the way for the only artist that wasn’t local, Scottish solo artist Marnie. A member of Liverpool-based synth-poppers Ladytron, who had significant success in the noughties, it was clear that the front row were hardcore fans. Stepping onto stage in a skin-tight catsuit, the artist bathed La (2) d’Apolo in a more ambient, dreamlike set of new solo tracks and Ladytron classics (Playgirl, Seventeen); even throwing in a song about Scottish independence. Holding onto a character of angelic melancholia throughout, Marnie managed to fit a smile in at the end of her set, even dancing along with an adoring crowd.

LIV-BCN (Barcelona): Boreals

The best was definitely saved for last, with the only artists to play in both Barcelona and Liverpool as part of the festival: Univers. Another local group, this time the music was reminiscent of the Ramones, kicking straight into a ridiculously fast-paced, vigorous guitar set. Moving everyone in La (2) d’Apolo to their feet, Univers left us hanging on hopelessly for more even after the stage was being taken down. We’re looking forward to seeing how these guys will go down in Liverpool.

After a thoroughly enjoyable night — the audience seemed happy and the talent on offer was great —  I do, however, have a nagging feeling that the UK was musically under-represented in this first half of the LIV-BCN festival. I witnessed that, without doubt, there is a wealth of genre-spanning musical ability in Barcelona, and I know that the same exists in Liverpool; yet the proof of it failed to materialise in La (2) d’Apolo. Marnie was engulfed by her Barcelona-based peers; it was a little disappointing that Liverpool failed to reciprocate what their sister city put forward. In this respect, the first half of the festival fell short of one of its principal objectives, that of exchanging artistic talent between the two cities.

“Perhaps it is their strong identities that forge the thriving artistic scenes of Liverpool and Barcelona”

Walking out into the hot night air, we see sun-faded Catalan flags rippling against the railings of balconies, and whole neighbourhoods striped in yellow and red. We take a moment to consider why the people of Barcelona are fiercely proud of their Catalan identity: both the culture and the Catalan language — the first language of the majority of Barcelona’s residents — was suppressed by a Francoist dictatorship. Not that you see wind-battered flags with Liver Birds on them strapped to lampposts in Liverpool, nor do you get Scousers speaking one language at home and another at work, but Liverpool is a place that also has a very strong and distinct identity, and a place that has in the past 30 years received a good bit of neglect at the hands of its governments.

Perhaps it is their strong identities that forge the thriving artistic scenes of Liverpool and Barcelona, helped along by well-established international links, attracting people in and giving people a taste to venture out. Whatever the reason, I’m sure that the Liverpool leg of LIV-BCN will further prove what Sound City, Primavera and the first part of this festival have demonstrated over the last few weeks: that these two cities are magnets for talent.

With all their similarities, I hope that Liverpool captivates as much as Barcelona, a city that unremittingly manages to claim the hearts of residents and tourists alike.

Alex Harrington

All images courtesy Dani Cantó

Listen: Liverpool-Barcelona: In-Flight Entertainment

See LIV-BCN… Cinema: Thursday 9 July 2015, A Small Cinema Liverpool — tickets TBC

Exhibition: Open weekdays 9am-9pm (weekends closed), until 26 June.
Bau, Centre Universitari de Disseny, Pujades 118 · Barcelona 08005 — FREE

Launch party Friday 10 July 2015 6-10pm. Open weekdays 6pm-10pm (weekends closed), 13-24 July.
Exhibition Research Centre, Liverpool School of Art and Design (LJMU), 2 Duckinfield Street, Liverpool, L3 5RD – FREE

Music: Alex went to LIV-BCN on Saturday 13 June 2015, la [2] de Apolo, Barcelona; it travels to The Kazimier Gardens (daytime) and The Kazimier (8pm-3am), Liverpool, Saturday 11 July 2015 – ADV tickets £15, available to buy now from Skiddle

Posted on 19/06/2015 by thedoublenegative