Photography & Review by: Liz
Where to start? This is possibly one of the best, most unique and intimate festivals you’re ever going to experience in an environment very much its own. Even if you’re not into psychedelic music, don’t let it put you off coming; if you’re open minded and simply want a friendly relaxed atmosphere, then Liverpool is the place for you. This festival doesn’t discriminate between young and old; everyone is welcome and everyone is equal; from old prog rockers to new kids on the block, breaking and melding genres and mashing them up into something completely their own.
What should be shared is where this festival is and how it looks from the inside and out, being utterly different and imaginative. The festival resides in the city of Liverpool, famous for its scousers, buzzing music scene, amazing architecture and, of course, The Beatles. The actual festival can be found outside of the busy city centre, down quiet backstreets where old warehouse buildings lay dormant and unused, until now. In recent years this area has been re-energised with a plethora of local independent businesses helping to establish a new creative community that is steadily on the up. The festival’s psychedelic décor and counter-culture vibes mesh well within the old abandoned buildings exuding an ambiance and atmosphere which are wondrous to experience.
The festival comprises four main stages: the Camp & Furnace, Blade Factory and the newly-added District. Upstairs, the PZYK Gallery hosts a feast of visual delights from the new PZYK PRYZM, artist curations, installations, PZYK Cinema, DJs and custom screen printing. Add to that Piccadilly Records’ World of Psychedelic Wax Wonders pop-up record store, a canteen, bar and chill-out area (complete with beanbags) and you have the ultimate hippy den. The festival’s impressive, new audio-visual, and virtual-reality, installation that is the PZYK PRYZM is where your senses are put to the test in a virtual goggle headset, experiencing another reality to question your own and what is perceived to be real.
In the Outside Village, delicious, independent, food stalls line the street giving you a host of options from Caribbean, Spanish, old classics with a twist and vegetarian inventions – Liverpool is a multicultural city and it shows in its choices of food samples. However, if you’re looking for something locally brewed, then check out the Liverpool Craft Beers stall by the Camp stage, which features some of Liverpool’s finest ales and beers. But now, let’s get to the most important part, the music, and highlight some of the artists worth watching. Keep in mind: the line-up is so extensive that there’s no limit to the number of artists you can see, you’re simply forced to choose who you want to see most.
The Ganjas took to the Furnace stage; a South American band from Chile with laid-back, psychedelic sounds, whose lead guitarist Samual Maquieira unapologetically indulges his audience with some Jimi Hendrix-style riffs and tricks. With a natural charisma and back-lit with visualisations galore, the Ganjas personify cool yet ultimately seem to just want to have a good time while you watch on, soaking up their satisfying melodies and simultaneously craving more.
Next, Yung performed in the Blade Factory. Complete with matching black turtlenecks and pants, the young band from Denmark looked like The Velvet Underground performing at Andy Warhol’s legendaryStudio 64. Yung served up a side of Danish punk; a mix somewhere between The Hives and Nirvana, withKurt Cobain-style vocals emanating from lead singer Tobias Guldborg. They have something to shout about and are a band to get excited about – watch this space.
Blanck Mass performed surrounded by bright LED lighting and copious amounts of smoke, lit with soft pinkish-coloured hues. It is the earth-and-ear-shattering bass of Blanck Mass that keeps you guessing, that keeps you wanting and builds you up till you’re pleading for him to drop it and break into another dance section. You don’t know where you stand, but you don’t want to leave just in case you miss another hit.
Tess Parks + Anton Newcombe on the Camp Stage were bathed in a beautiful array of psychedelic, kaleidoscopic skies that encased the whole venue in a groovy, trip straight out of the 1960s. The set-up balanced perfectly and enhanced the band’s performance, making you fall in love with the soft, husky, moody vocals of wide-eyed, flower child Tess Parks.
Mature prog-rockers Carlton Melton effortlessly showed off their skills and intuitive musical abilities – again under a groovy canopy of projectors. Guitarist and drummer Andy Duvall, is arguably one of the best drummers alive today, whose freestyle drum solos flow and strike every cymbal so fast and nimbly that it’s hard not to be impressed. The group’s relaxed, laid-back stage ensemble feels like a group of friends having a spontaneous jam session, creating meditative soundscapes free from the constraints or expectations of traditional song conventions. Carlton Melton’s improvisational approach mixing psychedelia, blues, rock and anything else they fancy throwing in takes you on a journey through space and sound.
In a few words, new punk band Crows are crazy, energetic, unpredictable, entertaining and borderline violent. This was exemplified by lead singer James Cox climbing onto a high set of speakers and screaming down the mic before diving into the small crowd of onlookers. Kudos for the effort, Crows – they’re not afraid of stirring shit up and getting in people’s faces.
Despite their organ breaking down at the very last minute before coming on stage, Swedish band Death and Vanilla, managed to play the kind of haunting, subdued, vintage, dream pop that would make butter melt. The Lumerians put on one of the best shows of the festival. Their matching purple robes glittered while billows of smoke, visualizations and flashing lights consumed their mysterious figures, adding further intrigue to the mythology behind the band.
If you feel like your ears need a little break from the sensory overload you’ve just received, then the onsite shisha tent is a good place to stop off and lay your weary bones. A nice selection of different flavour shish tobaccos, coffees, herbal teas, moreish munchies and onsite DJs playing in this comfy, cushioned abode create the perfect chill-out space and, if you’re lucky enough, you might even be treated to a Sitar band playing Beatles covers while you snooze.
Plastic Mermaids on the District stage were a fresh, fun, experimental band of blokes with a sensitive ear for detail in sound and song composition. They appear to be a tight team, feeding off one another’s energies. Watching the band interact as they buzz off one another, it’s hard not to catch their enthusiasm and dance along to the infectious mix of techno beats and classical piano.
The Dead Sea Apes derive their name from a Muslim fable in which a group of Dead Sea dwellers were transformed into apes for turning a deaf ear to God’s message from the lips of Moses. It is also a metaphor used to describe people in modern times to which the universe, with all its serious voices, seems to have become a weariness and humbug existence. With that in mind, you would be daft to turn a deaf ear to this trio of damned apes who are perfect to quench your thirst for instrumental rock.
The Heads, a well-established psychedelic, experimental rock band, draw most of their inspiration from the late ‘60s and post-British invasion psych-acid trip – bands dosed with a combination of sounds that you would typically come to expect from space-rock pioneers Hawkwind. With this elaborate concoction in mind, it works surprisingly. The Heads are one of a kind, sampling audio from old ‘60s and ‘70s footage into their instrumental ensembles of thrashing drums, grungy whining guitar solos and punky vocals.
To end the two-day love affair, iconic space-psych pioneers Spiritualized headlined the festival, playing to a packed-out congregation on the main Furnace stage. A truly spiritual experience that was supported by soulful backing singers providing gospel harmonies that their devotees soaked up, instilling good vibes and leaving the festival on a high.
Liverpool’s International Festival of Psychedelia satisfies all five senses – sight, sound, touch, smell and taste – in a modest, underground setting, where you feel like you’re part of something special, taking a time machine back to the ‘60s to one of THE happening of happenings. But it’s no good being told about it, you have to experience it yourself. So get your tickets booked now! Caution: your ears may not stop ringing for the next day or so, but it will have all been worth it.