Now in its seventh year, Liverpool Sound City is like a cross between a music conference and what one act calls “a pub crawl with music”. Among panels and guest speakers, some 350 acts play over three days in a variety of venues, from an underground car park to the city’s vast Anglican cathedral, where Clean Bandit display the bizarre classical-rap-drum’n’bass-Eurodisco fusion that topped the chart with Rather Be. Elsewhere, potential stars abound: multicultural pop band Bipolar Sunshine and 18-year-old Chloe Howl both chase that hands-in-the air/Radio 1 airplay/Brits trajectory.
There’s something for everybody. Wolf Alice’s pulling power suggests that sassy, female-fronted indie rock is due a revival, while Fuck Buttons and Jon Hopkins combine ethereal/banging electronics with eye-popping visuals. Some of the best acts combine traditional and experimental. Will Doyle, AKA East India Youth, slays the Nation venue with his unusual, hypnotic blend of bass playing, beats, electronica and singing, while Factory Floor’s pulverising mix of machines, echoed female vocals, guitar and a phenomenal live drummer proves thrillingly disorienting at 3am.
A theme emerges: that pop is getting twitchy and uncompromising again. The star guest speaker, Velvet Underground legend John Cale, talks about the creative riches in “anger, sarcasm and downright brutality”, while Sonic Youth’s Thurston Moore gives a similarly inspirational talk about danger and subversion. If an invisible gauntlet is thrown down, it’s gleefully picked up by gang-like Scots the Amazing Snakeheads, whose terrific, feral garage rock-rockabilly-country-feedback racket comes sealed with a Glasgow kiss.
Half an hour later in the same venue, Fat White Family’s demented garage rock’n’roll teeters thrillingly on the edge of chaos, ending with topless, head-shaking frontman Lias Saudi on the floor, a third of the crowd fleeing the building and those remaining staring open-mouthed in awe.