Liverpool Sound City 2013: Martin’s Day 3 Roundup

By on Friday, 17th May 2013 at 3:00 pm
 

Bands of the day: Goonam, Ilona, Night Engine

Venue of the day: Mello Mello

The previous two days of Liverpool Sound City 2013 had seen the music kick off around 6 PM, but as a special Saturday treat, the Korean delegation arranged a showcase at the Kazimier Gardens from the unearthly hour of 2 PM. As well as showcasing four of the country’s finest bands, there was a delicious and in-no-way-an-incentive-to-turn-up spread of native Korean food and drink. Marinated and barbecued pork, chicken and beef vyed for attention with the superb kimchi, a fermented cabbage dish flavoured with chilli, ginger and garlic. To wash it down was a unique cinnamon beverage with pine nuts floating in it, and for those that drink in the afternoon (me!), Korea’s version of dry sherry. All utterly delicious and free of charge. As if that wasn’t enough, there were goody bags packed with promotional materials and traditional Korean wave-in-one’s-face fans – not that they were much needed in breezy Liverpool. I’d like to think I would’ve turned up anyway, but who doesn’t find free food always seals the deal?

Galaxy Express Liverpool Sound City 2013

The music was just as memorable. First up were Galaxy Express, a hard rock power trio whose song titles come translated into English but they actually sing in Korean. No matter, it’s all about the energy with these guys; they know a thing or two about throwing shapes, slinging their vintage guitars all over the place, thrashing their way through their set at top speed. There’s a great deal of skill on offer – anyone remotely interested in rock music should give these guys a listen. Even though I haven’t a clue what they’re on about (a point which holds true for all four Korean bands, for obvious reasons), theirs is a fine, attention-grabbing set.

Goonam Liverpool Sound City 2013

Goonam are brilliant. First of all, the music is just perfect for the laid-back vibe of the afternoon – the lazy rhythms and mock-Hammond organ recall early ’90s Acid Jazz output, the ideal accompaniment for swaying around in the weak early afternoon sunshine, knocking back Korean fortified wine. But the star of the show is the eccentric, perma-grinning bassist ByungHak Eem. Attired in a woman’s yellow-with-black-polka-dots blouse, heavy black shoes that are literally falling apart at the seams, and sporting a fine example of the classic Chinese emperor beard style, Eem’s presence lends the whole set a quite rare frisson of surreal excitement. His stilted explanation of how he came to play with lead singer Ung Joh is described in a charmingly naive accidental haiku:

We meet in karaoke
He sing well, I love him
We make band

There’s a deep vein of subtle, deadpan humour running through everything Goonam do, making it easy to get right behind them. Eem really is the star of the show, his beams lighting up the stage, his theatrical bass-as-machine-gun genuinely amusing. Memorable stuff.

Apollo 18 (pictured at top) are a bit more conventional – another hard rock trio, mostly instrumental this time, they don’t quite have the same amount of accessible personality as the previous two acts. What they do have is high levels of extremely intense noise, which comes as a bit of a shock to the system after the chilled out Goonam. Not quite my cup of SuJeongGwa, but if shredding is your thing, Apollo 18 are worth checking out.

To wrap up the Korean invasion are Gate Flowers: possibly the most intriguing of all the acts today. They’re another guitar-rock band, but far more mainstream this time: a bit like a heavier Counting Crows, and at times the guitarist’s wah-wah technique adds a touch of The Jimi Hendrix Experience. The songs are very competent, and the singer’s bizarre hand movements and “anti-singing” technique are captivating in their own way, but I can’t help but think that if they were British or American they wouldn’t particularly stand out as ones to watch.

After Gate Flowers finish their main set, the crowd are hungry for more, so they kick into a cover of ‘Paint It Black’, at which point the stage is invaded by members of the three previous bands, who proceed to plug in and jam along. As the stage becomes more crowded, things get messier, with singers sharing every available microphone, guitar solos played whilst hoisted on someone else’s shoulders, and our friend Hak standing on a speaker waving an empty sherry bottle and mugging for the multitude of video cameras surrounding him. A drunken outdoor Korean rock supergroup party jam – not something that you see every day.

Ilona Liverpool Sound City 2013

In between sets of Korean music, I headed for a swift break to Mello Mello, the location of Thursday’s triumph from The Oreoh!s, and dispenser of the finest beer of the festival, a heavily-hopped American-style IPA. At 6% ABV this beer is a special treat, and no sooner had I tucked into my half, the realisation dawned that there was another special treat in the room. Ilona is a Bulgarian-born, London-based singer-songwriter, who stands out from the enormous crowd of similar hopefuls by being tremendous fun to watch and listen to. Being sparsely accompanied by mentor and co-writer Tony Moore is an advantage here, as it lets the natural character in Ilona’s voice shine through. And what a voice – sumptuous and sultry at low volume, powerful and beautifully-toned at normal range, with a buzz-saw intensity rasping through when the song demands it. As for the songs… recent release ‘Love is Stupid’ is clearly gunning for the Radio 2 crowd, but it may be a little too hackneyed even for that ultra-mainstream demographic – by the time the third chorus comes around, I’m switching off. And don’t get me started on the cheap video. Elsewhere, the set is jolly enough to hold the interest, but her Alannah Myles-style voice is crying out for something of the quality of Black Velvet (if she wants to stick with the pop-rock genre), or maybe, since she comes across as Marina Diamandis’ feisty younger sister, something quirky and electro. Either way, it has to be acknowledged that this is very early days for Ilona, and her collaborators are doing their best with limited means to promote her talents. A performer dripping with potential.

Willy Moon Liverpool Sound City 2013

I’ve been looking forward to seeing Willy Moon since reviewing his debut single “I Wanna Be Your Man” in our 10 for 2012 feature, and declaring, “If those dance moves translate well to a stage, he’ll be an unmissable prospect live.” However, the sad truth is that he turns out to be the greatest disappointment of the weekend. It doesn’t help that he’s 40 minutes late, in a roasting hot venue, making the crowd restless and perturbed before a note is played. And when Moon arrives, it becomes clear that his set consists of a handful of stunted backing tracks, overlaid with live drums and guitar, and his gyrating karaoke. More worryingly, he appears to have no personality whatsoever, struggling to string enough words together to thank the audience for sticking around in the equatorial heat, let alone provide a compelling reason why we all should have gathered here in the first place. The final straw is the deep streak of misogyny running through the performance – the two other musicians are women, with the drummer particularly scantily clad in a fishnet top, and he regularly gurns leeringly at them, sometimes mopping his sweat-caked brow on the guitarist’s shoulder. They must have the patience of saints. When the best thing about a music performance is the drummer’s jiggling breasts, you know something has gone seriously wrong, as evidenced by the room steadily emptying as the show progresses. Moon needs to completely rethink his stage show, get some proper songs, proper manners, and a proper personality, otherwise people will increasingly come to view him as a hollow charlatan.

Night Engine Liverpool Sound City 2013

Night Engine, despite only having released their début single (‘Seventeen’, on lovely limited edition red vinyl) just a couple of months ago, have already managed to conjure a reputation for being the next big thing. The Shipping Forecast is hot and humid, and technical problems delay the start of the gig; thus the atmosphere builds feverishly before even a note is played. But when the band finally kick off, it becomes apparent that Night Engine are good. Actually, make that very good indeed. This is sharp, elegant, guitar music with an irresistible, pristine groove from the exquisitely tight rhythm section, overlaid with splurges of fuzzy synth. Phil McDonnell is a disturbingly intense presence on vocals and lead guitar – his selection of glares and stares as the music ratchets up the drama simply add to the intensity of the performance. But it’s not all serious – there’s a gleeful joy in the grooves that prevents everything collapsing under the weight of its own portent. The obvious stylistic reference point is Bowie’s early-80s funk-influenced output; there’s elements of Chic in the clean stabs of electric guitar, and perhaps even Kraftwerk in the metronomic accuracy of the rhythms. But most of all, they simply sound like Night Engine, which for such a young act is an astonishing achievement.

And that, give or take a humdrum Delphic performance here, or the ubiquitous ukulele covers band there, is that. Liverpool Sound City is a world-class place to discover new music, new friends, and new beer. There’s talk of it becoming as important as SXSW on the international music scene, and I see no reason why that should not be the case. That said, SXSW is, by virtue of being on another continent, an event with a completely different promotional demographic, meaning Sound City is an event with few real competitors, despite several other regional music festivals happening around the same time. Add to the mix the superb venues and the warm welcome experienced by every visitor to Liverpool, and you have quite a fine event indeed, and one which deserves to go from strength to strength. See you there in 2014.

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4 Responses

[…] More coverage of Liverpool gigs at There goes the Fear […]

[…] there, it was on to Above Audio to catch a taster of one of Martin’s faves from Sound City, Night Engine. Again, John stayed for the whole thing so I’ll let him talk […]

[…] Engine were one of 2013’s one to watch, with a spectacular show at Liverpool Sound City, and for those that were there, an equally successful one the following […]

[…] Arts Club, which by the way has one of my favourite restaurants and lounge areas in the city. Last year, I let Martin do the honours of covering Willy Moon on the loft stage when my claustrophobia, combined by the extreme heat of […]

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