New Music Friday
For its latest iteration, Liverpool Sound City is changing…somewhat. Its Saturday and Sunday lineups have been consolidated into two all-dayers in Mountford Hall; meanwhile, Friday—branded ‘New Music Friday’—maintains the more traditional approach. Numerous city centre venues play host to swathes of new and upcoming acts, ready to find the next big name in the way that much of the festival’s press copy seldom goes without mentioning. And it really is the new names taking pride of place, on a lineup where established acts are few and far between. Swim Deep are probably the most immediately recognisable, now with over a decades’ worth of experience and a sound very friendly to the indie-rock and indie-pop spheres Sound City tends to cultivate. The same is true of SPINN and Trampolene—both have profile within their respective indie scenes, but still represent the festival’s ethos well, both in sound and grassroots upbringing.
In terms of what Sound City offers, at its core, it doesn’t get truer than that. On a lineup primarily bulked out by indie-rock and indie-pop, the onus is on finding the rising stars getting there on their own merits. In terms of who’s closest, you’d be foolish to bet against Retro Video Club and their indie-rock that’d fit comfortably among current flagbearers like The Reytons or The Lathums. Meanwhile, Peaness are no strangers to buzz for their ridiculously charming indie-pop, and the part-Britpop jangle, part-heartland-rock gusto of Stanleys and the gauzy jangle-pop of She’s In Parties are both well on their way to that position too.
The rest of the indie-pop and synthpop sets provide some particularly strong names, actually. EEVAH pulls a lot of the weight for the latter on her own, drawing from CHVRCHES and Muna for a lot of bright, splashy melodies, the sort of thing that Seraphina Simone might flip on its head for something darker and murkier within her brands of alt-pop. Elsewhere, Monks prove notably tight and kinetic, while Michael Aldag draws on a lot of big-hearted Bastille worship for some genuinely impressive scale. The genre breadth and fluidity is really embraced on this part of the lineup, as it’s rounded out by glossy, glittery fare from Delights; ever-so-slight rock leanings from Nieve Ella; and all manner of shapeshifting styles from Hourglvss.
If something more traditionally rock is more your speed though, there’s no shortage their either. It’s mostly of the indie variety, sure, but the deviations are there—HotWax are the main ones to watch, with their shots of grunge that have already picking up some major media plaudits, and As December Falls have already established a firm foothold in the pop-rock circuit. Elsewhere, there’s Shelf Lives’ electro-assisted punk; In Waves’ dense alt-rock; Piss Kitti’s rabble-rousing garage-punk; and Pigeon Wigs’ psychedelic classic rock, all of which have some long legs beneath them. Back to indie-rock though, where the cavalcade is, once again, a rather inclusive fare, particularly for acts for whom breaking through feels more like a question of when than if. Chiefly, that’s applicable to Declan Welsh And The Decadent West and Izzy And The Black Trees, a pair of acts for whom their respective pullings from the Arctic Monkeys and Wolf Alice is definitely noticeable, but far from a bad thing. Lizzie Esau, Kaiden Nolan and especially The Joy Hotel open themselves up to similarly big ambitions with their own freewheeling indie sounds, while Ciel and Hannah Grae occupy pockets of post-punk crossover that come with a like amount of promise. Finally, there’s the fostering of local talent that’s always been key in Sound City’s M.O., this time in the punchy indie of Waiting Till Marriage and alright (okay), and the fittingly Beatles-ish classic pop of The Sway.
Bedroom-pop also provides a hefty contingent here, which isn’t surprising in the slightest for anyone with eyes on how alternative-adjacent music continues to transform. Thus, acts take the form of Sofy, in the cross-section of modern indie and Britpop, with the edges of hip-hop and soul sneaking into view, or VC Pines’ crucially contemporary, genre-agnostic pop. Of course, there’s plenty of variety among it—Alfie Neale adopts something of a neo-soul approach; Tomi Robynne brings a queer perspective to slick indie- and synthpop; mui zyu has an intimate yet haunting approach to indie-rock that’s unlike anything else on this bill; and 16-year-old Re6ce takes to the PinkPantheress school of thought in experimenting with drum ‘n’ bass and electronic textures. For a purer bedroom-pop experience though, Mollie Coddled, Ivytide and Lazygirl all have that covered, closed out by some more indietronica leanings from Childe. Branching out from that, singer-songwriters exploring alt-folk and more traditional leanings are in no short supply either. Elanor Moss, Hannah Ashcroft and Sophia Alexa are all rooted in different pastures of ‘70s soft-rock, while Evie Moran, Grayling and Esme Bridie land in more conventional folk territory (albeit with some alt-country thrown into the latter). Finally, Hana Lili infuses her alt-folk with streams of indie-pop; John Witherspoon tails into winsome classic pop territory; Desiree Dawson takes a much more minimalist approach to singer-songwriter fare; and Pet Snake opts for the indie-soloist route that’s taken Phoebe Bridgers or Soccer Mommy to such huge heights.
As for pop, Beren Olivia feels like the one to watch, with a sound and existing hit-making potential that could see her rocket ahead incredibly soon (seriously, Early Hours Of The AM is a bigger banger than most way further in their career have under their belts). Lois isn’t far behind though, bringing a more subdued soul twist to the mainstream pop formula, while Will Troy has the soft focus and piano-driven emotional rigour that would’ve seen him fit right in among the hitmaking indie set of the 2000s. Hanorah and Nxdia fit in individual lanes of soul and R&B extremely well, and Felin plants her feet among the high-fashion pop-punk of the moment.
And then there’s the rest, a testament to the genre diversity of Sound City that utilise the metro-festival approach and pulls in talent from musical branches most wouldn’t think to touch. Even if its hip-hop quota isn’t the most fleshed, it’s certainly an interesting crop that is here, in the textured alt-rap and soul of Kneeo; the woozier production of SlickdotR; the distinct texture and Scouse flavour of C3six; the street-level mood and depth of Jords; the hard-edged UK rap of Proph; and the quaking emo-rap of Somber Hills. Elsewhere in the genre odds-and-ends aren’t so much ‘oddities’, per se—Calum Bowie’s folk-pop and Cloth’s hushed, tactile post-rock are most unique on this bill than on the whole—but Laroie’s crystalline future-pop, Laurence-Anne’s glassy, French-language dream-pop and Goddess Collective’s sprawling jazz concoctions are most definitely in fields of just one.
Saturday & Sunday
This year’s main event is really the big talking point around Sound City this year, though maybe not for the music itself. It’s probably the biggest change the festival has had in recent memory, where the usually sprawling undercard has been pared back to a core two days. Even in its stint away from city centre venues and into the Bramley Moore Docklands, that still at least had the feel of a ‘normal’ festival. And while it might be disappointing to some, it does make some sense. Especially when one of the headline acts is Maisie Peters, an artist who’ll be capping off 2023 by headlining Wembley, the bigger but still festival-ready climes of Mountford Hall is really the only suitable option, and when that’s a fair distance from any other venues, some concessions have to be made. But that can be overlooked when you consider how big a get Peters is, one of pop’s most in-demand names right now with an upcoming album that’ll only solidify that status even further. She’s joined on the pop side of things by Olivia Dean with her more soulful fare; Little Planets and their alt-pop doused in groove and irrepressible colour; Bertie’s bubblegum melodiousness; and Deco as an ‘80s throwback for whom a similar full-force ascent feels just around the corner.
Primarily though, this is where Sound City’s indie contingent dominates, as is the case with the majority of the festival. Topping the Saturday bill are The Reytons, fresh off their Number One album that’s seen their star rise unmistakably, and still with the cred of an independent act to boot. In the same corner, The K’s have been generating plenty of waves within indie circles (plus, Earlestown is close enough to where you can technically call this a home crowd), and The Covasettes’ spry rays of indie-pop sunshine put them in good stead for a similar rise. A good chunk of this lineup can boast similar qualities, most notably The Goa Express who, after featuring in Netflix’s The Bank Of Dave, feel like a band who’ve been introduced to mainstream crowds and awaiting their moment to capitalise on it. Meanwhile, Reignmaker, The Clause, Overpass, The Royston Club and King Liar all operate in indie circles directly reminiscent of the glut of success stories the genre has produced over the last two decades, with all trying to assemble as much of their potential to do the same.
In a somewhat adjacent lane, Courting’s energetic post-punk has really upped their momentum in the past couple of years, to where a hometown show off the back of last year’s debut full-length Guitar Music feels like quite the moment for them. Post-punk representation also comes from Opus Kink, whose angular, jazz-inflected stylings have turned plenty of eyes and ears in their direction, and Malady, no doubt with similar groundswell to come; they’re on Nice Swan after all, and it’s never too long before the acts on that label see their numbers tick up. Picture Parlour also seem like a band for whom success a just a stone’s throw away, even with a decidedly small reach at the moment, as their sort of heaving riff-rock tends to see results; you could probably put Barerra in the same camp too. Finally, Skinny Living bring a more soulful brand of indie to the stage; Finite explore prog-pop in one of the weekend’s sharper left turns; Paddy Clarke And The Fancy Rats play to scuffed, scabby garage-punk; and the ever-underwhelming garage-rock mess of The Skinner Brothers is here too…you can’t win ‘em all, right?
As for the soloists rounding things out, James Marriott probably stands out the most, as an already successful YouTuber and online personality in the midst of carving out a fairly decent indie-pop career for himself. Dylan John Thomas, Tom A. Smith, Alex Spencer and April Moon are all in the same camp with warm, approachable indie sounds, while Rianne Downey and Dan Ottewell bring some country homeliness to proceedings; Vesper takes on a smoky blues role; Winnie Ama, Florence Noon, Lei Hope and AFRIENE journey through multiple lanes of R&B; Lydia Rowlands explores spacious folk (which subsequently becomes more delicate and hushed at the hands of Soft White Glow); and Robin Ashcroft shines through giant, big-hearted pop-rock. Finally in hip-hop, Finn Foxell’s name has been bandied around as his festival appearances this year seem to indicate a real moment coming up, and Australian alt-rapper Allday brings a poppy genre package with a surprisingly far reach.
Liverpool Sound City takes place on 28th-30th April across Liverpool. For more information, visit www.soundcity.uk.com.
Words by Luke Nuttall