Pin It
Goat 3
Goat's guitarists perform at Liverpool Psyche FestMadeline Hall

Losing our minds at Liverpool Psych Fest

Liverpool's international fest of the far out brought the realms of the radical into a three-day mind-bender on the mersey

In its third year of running Liverpool International Festival of Psychedelia has become not only one of the UK’s most unique gatherings but most popular within the global network of freakout inspired weekenders. Presenting its strongest lineup, this year comes with the added blessing, or burden, of all things psych beginning to break mainstream consciousness over the past year, with Hookworms, Fuzz, Moon Duo making waves since summoning last year’s congregation. 

It would be easy to set Psychfest in the middle of a dirty field and have it as a ragtag weekender trying too hard to return to the 60s, but the festival setup is well aware of smashing through retro trappings. Marble projections and shisha pipes are present, but the visual team distinctly avoids simply sunshine and flowers. Speaking to festival organiser Christopher Torpey it was vital the festival wasn’t simply a nostalgia exercise, seeing the way we see embrace psych as “miles beyond classical stereotypes now – and I don’t mean us as a festival, I mean us as a society. Now, it has been overtaken by a slightly edgier outlook on what ‘psych’ music is – it’s reconnected with rock ‘n’ roll in a sleazy way, but also embraced the hardcore abrasiveness of techno, and the dance-friendly influence of electronica”. 

Festivals like All Tomorrow’s Parties tends not to put club music on and Dimensions won’t be booking Metallica any time soon, but self-restraining your programming to a subgenre already provides an uphill struggle to create a festival of surprises. Perhaps it’s not the fault of the programming but the landscape of today’s psych music there were only a handful of acts subverting the kraut/garage axis, such as the polyrhythmic noise of Liverpool’s own Barberos, the straightlaced electro of Zombie Zombie and Islet, whose new wave sources probably came as a revolt against psychedelic excess. 

Slightly more perplexing were how the aformentioned bands were included in the programme but chunks of psych-history felt ignored. Last year’s highlights included genuinely mind-bending electronics from Ekoplekz and Vindicatrix, however, alongside more druggy mainstays acid house and longform prog rock, this sort of diversion from the garage band format was sorely missing this time around. 

The majority of the crowd were identifiably rockers, and the lineup will have satisfied many an appetite, but speaking to an older dreaded punter who probably had more in common with rave than rock he highlighted how “pretty much all the bands here are great, but all the songs stop before I start. With techno the music never stops!” 

So whilst some of the bands admittedly started merging into another over the weekend, each night culminated with psych’s most idiosyncratic acts today. On the Friday came the metronomic electro-psych Suuns, who, while owing much to Liverpool’s homebrewed Clinic, were masterful in execution of pounding krautrock drumming, tightly sequenced riffage and cathartic freakouts. The following day however packed the latter hours with hit after hit of psych’s finest, from Manchester’s sonically punishing cult Gnod, space rock veterans White Hills and the inimitably shamanic Goat, who were the weekend’s top drawer. Packing the Furnace to rare capacity with little room to dance to their deeply spiritual grooves, the masked Goat whipped the crowd into a frenzy with their mysterious presence, Subsaharan influence and garguntuan mantra-like choruses. 

But it wasn’t just the headline acts stealing the limelight; through the sea of reverb emerged a number of acts raising the standard of the earlier slots. The aforementioned Barberos, clad in lycra have been haunting the Liverpool scene for years but this weekend they, along with local video maker Howard Be Thy Name, raised themselves above simply an oddity of a band into a multi-armed flailing force of doomy breakdowns and timeshifting drum workouts. Another Liverpool based act to impress were psych big band Bonnacons of Doom, taking more of a Swans approach to sonic worship than swirling acid trips, the Bonnacons were monolithic in delivery, supplemented by auxiliary percussion and haunting visuals. Volumic blistering took a severe turn with Anthroprophh, which is not to say the band relied simply on power to stun the crowd. Supplementing a motorik storm and stress came shards of analogue noise, as if to represent a botched space mission; they were one of the few bands that had transported me from background chatter to an almost oneness with the music. 

Compared to the year previous, which included cult legends Clinic and Mugstar, Psychfest was light on local musical talent. However, the weekend more than made up its Mersey contingent through other means, showcasing its many talents usually hidden away in pokey studios. Among these was a print screen session ran by That Girl aka Jo Wilson, which invited aspiring artists to create their own psych inspired posters using range of acid inspired graphics and illustrations. Opposite found artist Paul Sullivan conducting a durational recordings of ambiences found both on site and live streaming from other psych sites including Eindhoven where Psych Lab took place earlier this year, committing a unique sound art series onto tape. Most eye-catching of the lot was the omnipresent video art of the festival, created by Sam Wiehl and supported by the city's most prominent creative collective The Kazimier. The main stage in the Furnace room hung several screens of doom laden Jodorowsky-esque video loops featuring slow motion pagans and warped patterns inspired by, like original psychedelia, abstractions along the Orient.