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  • Dan Hayes

IN REVIEW: Sound City 2021 - How City Festivals Should Be Done

We’re a week removed from this years Sound City festival and the dull ache in my feet is showing no signs of letting up and I only have myself to blame. Only a fool would choose Doc Marten boots three days in a row. Sadly, I am the fool. Yet the unimaginable pain my heels are in was entirely worth it as Sound City 2021 exceeded expectations and showed exactly how city festivals should be done.

As Friday rolled around I was fully in the mood for some live music. Not even arriving with 12% battery on my phone or parking a 30 minute walk away for the cheapest parking I could find was able to waiver my excitement. After collecting my wristband from the Bombed Out Church I headed to see the incredible Alex Amor at Leaf. With the support of Connor Cockbain of The Post Romantics, the Glaswegian singer/songwriter kicked my weekend off perfectly with a dazzling performance that prohibited stationary observation accompanied by moments of beauty on the flute. If I was able to get dare you out of my head, I don’t think I would.

As her set drew to a close, it was time to go and see more live music. Over the years, I’ve made countless commutes from Manchester to Liverpool for gigs. I’d say I know Liverpool like the back of my elbow. I’ve seen it enough times to have a very solid idea of what it looks like, but its by no means the back of my hand. With this I’m ashamed to admit I didn’t know where Grand Central was. Once again I became the fool as I typed the venue name into Apple Maps and blindly followed the directions to the first available option, taking no time at all to question the location. After a brief 5 minute walk I found myself at a poorly lit junction as I was informed I had reached my destination. I hadn’t reached my destination. Instead, I stood at the entrance to an apartment building. A group of friends stood on the corner mirroring my own confused mannerisms as they too had quite literally been led down the wrong path. However, the panicked pace at which I arrived provided them with false confidence as I over heard their famous last words “he looks like he knows where he’s going, follow him”.

After the classic checking of my phone like someone messaged me and urgently required my assistance, I returned the way I’d arrived in hopes of stumbling across Grand Central. Bumping into the friends I’d left 10 minutes prior at Leaf, I was pointed in the right direction and arrived at the venue embarrassingly out of breath with 2 minutes to go. As I entered into the back of the standing area I quickly realised why it was the main stage. With its large dome and oval balcony seating, Grand Central is the perfect main stage for a city festival and a place that suited SPINN perfectly. Off the back of two new singles and an EP, the indie-pop foursome perfectly weaved new and old as they danced through an impeccable set. Each time I’ve had the pleasure of seeing their performances they only get better. A tight cohesive unit performing catchy bangers as you can’t help but dance and smile.

Much to my disappointment, I was forced to leave early as I darted to see Bandit in the hottest room in the country. The staggering speed at which I commuted did me no favours as I took two steps at a time into the rammed Arts Club Theatre where the atmosphere matched the temperature. I squeezed through the crowd to a solid viewing point to see what would become one of my favourite performances of the weekend. Over the next 30 minutes the band put on a show that made me feel like a 15 year old finding the beauty in gigs once again. With fans packed right up to the barrier and arms raised high into the air, Bandit put on a truly unstoppable show. Not even a slight error in starting the wrong song could slow down the quartet. Experience pays and these boys seem to have it in heaps as they smoothly corrected course and provided the in-your-face indie rock their fans love them for. This performance felt special. A band who know who they are, know how good they are, and aren’t going to stop until you release that they’re right.

As their set came to an end it was once again time to return to Grand Central. Working my way out past a long queue of people entering the venue to see The Snuts, I began to wonder if I was wrong to leave. Thankfully, my doubts were quickly put to rest as certified pop brilliance was on full display. Baby Queen brought the venue to life with an outstanding performance ensuring no section of the stage went untouched as she gave an ecstatic crowd a show to remember. Every line to every song sung back to her as she created the first mosh pit I’d seen in two years.

Before I knew it her set was over and a new hum of excitement fell over the room as it slowly began to fill up some more in anticipation of Friday’s headliner. Dirty Hit’s very own Y2K wonder Beabadoobee brought an incredible day of music to a picturesque end. Leaving fans with nothing to complain about, this performance was everything you’d expect from an artist on their way to something massive. Fan favourite Last Day On Earth had the entire crowd moving through dance or the ripples of a mosh pit, while the incomprehensibly popular Coffee saw fans sing in unison for the entirety of the track. Beabadoobee is an incredibly unique artist combining heartfelt lyrics and turn-of-the-century energy into all the encompassing majesty of her performance.

Just shy of three weeks ago I had the pleasure to see The Deep Blue support Flyte. After a stripped back performance of beautiful harmonies, when I saw their name on the lineup I instantly knew where my Saturday would start. Packed into the 100 capacity Kazimier Storeroom, I was able to add another role to the list as I became reviewer, spectator, and doorman. Yet this additional task/occasional view obstructer couldn’t diminish my enjoyment of a set that soared past my expectations. This time with their drummer Sophie Wozencraft, The Deep Blue took to the stage fully equipped and dazzled once again. The beauty of angelic harmonies was not lost, instead compounded on the tight musical performance as they sauntered through the brilliant, perfectly wordy-titled, Take A Good Long Hard Look At Yourself. No matter how many times I was clattered by the door, this performance was another stand out.

Sound City’s brilliance lies in its choice of venues as much as its acts. The range of size and scale never affects the quality of the show. Varying levels of intimacy allow the festival to remain truly special from start to finish.

As with all festivals, mishaps and surprises are hidden around every corner and as I headed over to Jimmy’s to catch Sad Boys Club, I was greeted with my first of the weekend. Quickly checking the Gigseekr app whilst en route, I was shocked to find The Post Romantics would be the following act. With less than a days notice and not a moment of rehearsal time, the boys gathered from quite literally all over the country to fill in after a band pulled out. Sad Boys Club stormed with a guest appearance from an audience member for their opening track before continuing through a truly electric set.

As The Post Romantics took to the stage you’d be cruel not to forgive any technical issues or errors due to the short-notice turnaround. However, not an ounce of leniency was needed as they put on a stellar show. Launching into tracks from their latest EP, eden, with thick and dirty riffs on LEFT4DEAD that literally rippled through my shirt. Showing no signs of slowing down the band launched into their version of Post Malone’s rockstar, doused in trademark Post Romantics grit before previewing new track itgetssobadsometimes. Dedicated to any anime fans, this track once again shows the band creating their own lane and hurtling down it at neck breaking speed. This was a performance that regardless of stipulations was one to remember and one you would be gutted to have missed.

Once again I was on the move making a pit stop at the Fred Perry stage in the Arts Club Loft to see indie-pop clique, The Let Go bring life to the room before heading to The Shipping Forecast for London-based Canadian, CATE. This pop phenomenon provided a stripped back performance as she wowed with acoustic versions of latest singles Stupid and Groupie, living out her self-declared Hannah Montana dreams. Without her band, this change in sound lead to a wonderfully intimate set that you’re unlikely to see elsewhere.

Following CATE’s set my Saturday evening plans began to unravel as I was left the venue and embarked on a no longer challenging quest for Grand Central. Arriving with high hopes of seeing hometown hero Jamie Webster, the unfathomable queue and information that it was one in one out for the rest of the night quickly shattered my hopes. A fool once more. With my disappointment set to one side, I returned to the Shipping Forecast with excitement to see dream pop sensation Pixey, only to fall short again as the queue grew unconquerable. With food tokens in hand a new plan was hatched. A quick stop at Pins for a much needed pot of Scouse before returning to Kazimier Stockroom to see the incredibly talent Molly Burman. While my original plans fell through, luck was eventually on my side as Molly kicked the night back on track with songs from her latest EP Fool Me With Flattery. Closing with the unreleased Beautiful People, a surging pop journey through an analysis of Sexuality and Monogomy, Molly Burman is an artist who will without doubt be a planned, must-see in the future.

With spirits high and my tinnitus growing louder I decided to roll the dice and return to Grand Central. Good fortune was truly on my side as I arrived surprised to see no queue with 10 minutes before headliner’s Red Rum Club took to the stage. Entering with the most ease all weekend, I approached the standing area to see not a morsel of space. Quickly running to the balcony I once again struck gold finding one of a few empty seats. As I settled into my chair my feet rejoiced at the much needed respite from standing. Looking around it was impossible to ignore the truly staggeringly diverse demographic that had packed out the venue. Families, students, and elderly couples could be seen excitedly chatting while the standing area roared along to The StrokesHard To Explain. The room erupted as the band took to the stage and launched into their opening track.

‘This is a dream come true’ declared lead vocalist, Fran Doran, 3 songs in. Joining the band and the crowd together in a pure honest moment made the whole show that much more special. Both as glad to be there as the other and the work done to ensure the best show possible was clear to see. The cohesion of the band was something to behold all on its own. As tight a group as any festival headliners around the globe. With this climatic performance, the curtains closed on a brilliant day of music.

A break from the rain was a pleasant surprise for the final day of the festival as I went headed straight for the main stage to catch Leeds foursome L’Objectif. At only 16-17 years old this group are lightyears ahead of themselves. A near perfected sound on full display as they roared through tracks from their latest EP, Have It Your Way. If energy was low from two full days of music, L’Objectif dared you to leave the way you came in. A performance filled to the brim with unadulterated chaos from bassist, Erza Glennon, and veteran-like composure from frontman Saul Kane.

Leaving with borderline aggressive excitement for the day ahead, I returned to Leaf to catch the end of Cobain Jones’ set. Unsure what to expect upon entry, I was far from disappointed when I left. With slick lead guitar riffs and sensationally groovy baselines, Cobain Jones and his band were flying. For a group of 3 they made enough noise to rival much larger bands with an air of The Jam in this live performance.

I found myself in Jimmy’s again plotting my schedule with a pint in hand. In this time the room began to fill as Ask Elliot took to the stage, clad in matching Fred Perry polos; instantly memorable visually and sonically. This four-piece indie band had the crowd dancing in no time at all as people gathered as close to the stage as possible. Typically intimate performances come from smaller venues and softer music, yet this defied those conditions. Smiles all-round from the band as they performed newest single Olivia to an overwhelmingly warm reception. Back to Leaf I wandered on wounded heels in concrete boots to see The Royston Club entertain for a wonderful 30 minutes. With the welsh flagged draped over a mic stand, the Wrexham natives wooed with fan favourite Shawshank as the wall of people in front of me took part in a collective jig.

Learning from Saturday’s mistakes I gave myself a larger window of time to get to Grand Central before The Lathums' performance, arriving to my seat to catch the end of Connor Fyfe’s set. As became a theme throughout the weekend, I was in awe of the talent of this 15 year old Glaswegian Singer/Songwriter. With gorgeous, rich vocal tones this guy left me astounded with his energetic rendition of The Stone Roses’ classic, Waterfall. If you closed your eyes and simply listened this sounded like a band. Accompanied by his Stomp Box, Connor cut no corners and provided an incredibly unique version of the Manchester band’s classic.

Marching on stage with their Number 1 album plaque held proudly in the air, The Lathums are riding happily on the wave of success following the release of their debut album, How Beautiful Life Can Be. Now is the time where bands can fall into complacency, but this doesn’t appear to be a thought that’s even entered their heads. “This one is for all of you, thank you!” Frontman Alex Moore announced before launching into their opening number. The pride of Wigan brought a crowd to Grand Central at 6pm on a Sunday that rivalled that of Red Rum Club’s the night before. With British Indie music at the top of the album charts, this was a perfect showcase of Sound City championing the best and brightest of the next wave of talent. The incredibly catchy Oh My Love saw the crowds participation in a highlight moment.

Back to Jimmy’s I hobbled again to catch a glimpse of Dublin’s very own Tamara Salmon. With the support of countless family members who had made the trip across the Irish Sea, Tamara made strong impressions in a very short amount of time. Opening with new single Haze, the stage was set for a wonderful 20 minutes of shimmering pop music. Drawn to a close with a performance of a soon to be released Drum and Bass feature that is most certainly one to look out for.

With the end of the festival insight, the cities energy is constant and never gives you a moment to contemplate exhaustion. With some highly entertaining performances at ‘The Worlds Smallest Festival Stage’ between the Arts Club and Heebie Jeebies, it was time to see EBGB’s headliner’s Polar States perform. This was one I had marked before the weekend as a must see and it did not disappoint. Ducking in under the low hanging arches, the intimacy was instant as you were separated from the rest of the venue. Packed with massive choruses and pounding beats, this performance provided everything you could need and some. With a short lesson on the lyrics to the chorus from frontman Paul Tong, unreleased track Future Has No End was made all that more memorable as the crowd took part in a euphoric chant dispelling future concerns and the year just shared.

On the move again, I quickly headed back to the main stage to catch weekend closer and headliner, Rejjie Snow. The perfect end to a wonderful weekend. With excited chants of ‘Rejjie’ in anticipation for his appearance, the crowd brought the energy to ensure a highlight ending. Not even a 5 minute pause for technical issues could slow down this crowd. Riddled with unavoidably groovy beats, Snow had the crowd at his fingertips in no time at all. Wholesome excitement came over the Dublin rapper as he exclaim “you know the words!” as the crowd filled in every gap presented. Arms raised to the heavens in an orchestrated sway as the weekend came to a close.

Festivals are always a unique experience, there’s a familiar set up yet each leaves you with different stories. The way in which Sound City is organised builds on the classic festival experience. It creates a far more personal and individual setting whether you’re in a packed out Grand Central or crammed behind the door in Kazimier Storeroom. Through their perfect choice of venue and their championing of wonderful artists, each performance is a special set up giving you the visceral feeling of seeing live music again. There's no fleeting ‘on to the next one’ vibe about Sound City. You’re dealt an ambiguous hand to plan, thrown the classic curveballs that festivals bring, and shown hidden gems that you’ll be searching for on tour in years to come.

Gallery of the weekend here. Images by Gary Lambert (@glamgigpics)

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