Sound City

Sound City 2024 | A bank holiday bash for the buzziest new bands

Liverpool’s Sound City returned this year with its typically impressive panoply of emerging artists. Here’s our review.

On Friday night, Liverpool-based Pet Snake had the same issue that London songstress Sophie May would encounter the following day, wrestling with the surrounding elements. In Pet Snake, aka Evelyn Halls’ case, it was the sound of a chair scratching the floorboards above; for Sophie May, it was the humming of a hand dryer from the nearby bathroom.

Both sounds chimed indiscreetly into what were wistful acoustic tracks. Yet it’s one of the many charms of Sound City that neither of these minor moments impacted what were commanding sets, instead merely adding to their DIY appeal.

At this sprawling festival, you could be packed into a basement at The Shipping Forecast pub in the early evening, catching the rambunctious energy of Balancing Act before the night descends into drunken revelry, or be one of the few crammed into the Kazimier Stockroom for Flat Party’s well-crafted art-rock, sweating out the toxins of said revelry the next day.

Photo: Dylan Cox

Nothing is especially pristine. This isn’t a luxurious bank holiday weekend retreat. But what you do get is a swell of good feeling throughout a city, the perfect motive to meander across its historic venues, and a seemingly never-ending assortment of new music.

During Friday’s Forum – where a number of panel talks dived into the industry’s plentiful pitfalls, as well as its positives – the guests for one discussion appeared somewhat stumped when asked who they were most excited about seeing. Despite their talk being under the banner of ‘Supporting New Artists’, only a shoutout for local sextet Red Rum Club was followed in the main by asking for advice from the audience.

This mildly muted response, however (reflective of “industry wankers,” 4AD’s Rich Walker joked), had a degree of merit. Sound City is best explored with a loose itinerary. After all, this two-day getaway prides itself on being the “leading independent festival for new music” – so an open mind and ear is the best approach across the many venues which fling open their doors for bright new talents.

After Pet Snake’s charming indie-folk, and her anecdote of saving (and quite possibly also killing) a baby bird en route to the festival, this reporter was first taken back by the fuzzy, no-nonsense thrill of Bandit, whose frontman you couldn’t help but see shades of a young Alex Turner in (you know, the one who used to sing about drunken nights out, rather than “lint-rollin’” his suits). 

Photo: Hannah Jones

In fact, Bandit were one of the many local acts who didn’t just warm the cockles at the prospective new acts for our radar, but who are specifically flying the flag for Merseyside. From the diaristic poise of Georgia Johnson (the kind of independent artist that such “industry wankers” would be wise to tap up), to the Elton John-backed Red Rum Club, via the stadium-destined anthems of Keyside, there were plenty of reasons for scouse cheer.

Likewise, Liverpool and Manchester might possess an intense rivalry on the football pitch (reduced in recent years owing to the latter’s struggles), but there was plenty of Mancunian pride humming from the Liverpool venues this weekend. Alex Spencer drew an impressive crowd to Arts Club Loft, which belied the early afternoon slot as much as it did his 17 years of age – his heart-on-his-sleeve belters proving the reason why. 

Likewise, Corella celebrated the release of their debut album Once Upon A Weekend in a land not so far away, with a rabble-rousing set at Grand Central Hall. And Seb Lowe – specifically from Greater Manchester’s Oldham – treated fans to his tremendous troubadouring talents at Arts Club Theatre.

Indeed, this was a celebration of one’s roots, the spirit this seeps into its people, and the sound that engenders.

Photo: Dylan Cox

Not everything worked, mind. Parts of Caity Baiser’s Saturday night headline slot bordered on the infantile, perhaps appealing more to a TikTok-ified fanbase which is best kept online; and Cameron Hayes’ big ballads fell victim to the small basement venue the programming placed her in. And although they produced a raucous Friday night opener, Bandit could hardly be contained in the basement of The Jacaranda.

You can’t entirely blame Sound City organisers for the town planning or architectural soundproofing of Liverpool’s storied venues, however – even if Edinburgh soulstress Brooke Combe showed just how a room as splendid as Grand Central could, and should, be played.

For the most part, it’s the very crackle of white noise in your ear and momentary technical glitches that are rites of passage for such emerging acts on display here. Plus, with so much to choose from, if something isn’t to your liking, you can simply stroll down Seel Street until something suits your sonic sensibilities.

Staying in sibilance, The Snuts saw out Sunday’s proceedings with a sublime set of stirring sing-a-longs. Having recently released their third record, Millennials, as an independent outfit, you could see Jack Cochrane and co. playing with all the gusto and freedom of a group of mates playing a pub gig.

Photo: Dylan Cox

Thankfully, special guests The K’s didn’t quite let the party end there – albeit for the relative smattering of remaining Sound ‘Citizens’ lucky enough to secure a spot in the 300-capacity Sidedoor venue.

As the Earlestown four-piece brought the weekend to a close, you could feel just why a city such as Liverpool is so steeped in musical history, with every band to pass through leaving their traces among the walls and floors. Indeed, when the scratching of floorboards or humming of hand-dryers interrupts a set – to indulge in that for a moment – it’s Liverpool’s way of singing back.

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