Not quite part of LIMF, Summercamp Festival promises a ‘village fete meets bloc party’ among the spacious setting of The Camp and Furnace. Bunting and food stalls awkwardly frame a closed off Greenland Street, and it is certainly reminiscent of those street parties that engulfed the country during the Royal Wedding, albeit one that we’ve all paid £50 to get into.
By the time Josef Salvat is set to perform we already have our first casualty of the weekend, with the Australian pulling out last minute due to illness. Three late developing six formers claiming to be Yorkshire’s Spectrals eventually threaten to bring some music to this music festival, but Karaoke and A Heartbeat Behind fall on the wrong side of The Fratellis, as Louis Jones’ usually deliberate vocals wander aimlessly with no real purpose or resolution. There is simplicity to their Wichita debut Sob Story, which translates into that sort of meat and potatoes charm that British Rock music is often celebrated for. Today though, the monophonic guitar lines and two-dimensional structures sound very detached and well, oddly disaffecting. Maybe it’s the setting. I mean, people are either at the bar tasting some deep country Ale or consoling their children foaming at the mouth because of the noise. Courteous head nodding is about the close the rest of us get to dancing, as Jones commends the kids at the festival with a sarcasm that dodges the beaming parents. Most bands would struggle to engage a crowd this disinterested. Or maybe the chicken came before the egg - I’m not sure.
London three piece We Were Evergreen have emerged favorably from the capital’s post-Noah and The Wale wave of folktronica bands. Used derogatorily or not, the word twee has forced itself beneath the narrative of this promising young act, and as male/female vocal counterpoint and Ukulele solos litter their debut singles, you’d be a brave man to play them with your windows down. Today though, there is an impressive energy about their performance, as throbbing synths and a weighty bass drum propel the ‘tronica’ parts of Leeway and Baby Blue into prominence, transforming them into animated, energetic triumphs.
Florida post-punks Merchandise are the best booking of the weekend, with the prospect of their 80s tinged mope-rock mini album Totale Nite in a live setting promising to be a spectacle. Draped in black and sporting almost opaque Wayfarer’s, front man Carson Cox bravely trudges on amidst a cacophony of derivative sniggers. Stereophonics on Jools Holland this ain’t though, turning The Furnace into a dust bowl and rattling through the likes of Who Are You? and I’ll Be Gone with the kind of confidence it took Johnny Cash sacks full of amphetamines to muster. This ferocious and ludicrously self-assured set culminates in Anxiety’s Door and oh man; what a song. This is best of the year stuff and the sort of tune that defines careers, with the eerily familiar She Sells Sanctuary programmed rhythm and plaintive, overdrive lead guitar drenching Cox’s distant wail in a mighty wall of sound. Summercamp Festival finally feels like it’s kicked off.
The Staves have gathered somewhat of a cult following here in Liverpool, with several celebrated support slots and Jessica Stavely-Taylor, one third of the trio of sisters, studying at our very own LIPA. Vocally it’s gorgeous, with watertight harmonies humbly sitting on top of what are actually, very simple and traditional folk songs. Lads are hugging their girlfriends from behind; teenage girls are filming every moment from the iPhones with tears streaming down their face, as the whole performance proceeds with that sort of shallow, nauseating over-sentimentality that has plagued mainstream UK music recently. Nu-folk seems to have nestled between a place where the aesthetic of emotion and actual human emotion can mean the same thing. For me, this is detached to the point where it isn’t even escapism; it’s just distant. Maybe I’m being too cynical, but I did just pay £8 for a cheeseburger so life seems a bit dark at the moment.
During our interview with Mount Kimbie earlier this year, Dominic Maker spoke in detail about the duo’s new live show, suggesting that alongside their sophomore album Cold Spring Fault Less Youth they have moved on from the awkward bedroom producers into a live juggernaut. The addition of drummer Andy Ramsey is the driving force behind this transformation, allowing Maker and Kai Campos to concentrate on the timbre and resonance of their songs, safe in the knowledge that the beat is being maintained elsewhere. Opening with Carbonated, arguably the most iconic song UK electronic music has produced in the last ten years, a healthily populated Furnace pulsates with that mesmerizing beat and looping reverb snare, slowly leading us towards an intoxicating, erratic finale of stabbed vocal samples and a trickle of raindrops. Slow and Made To Stray, two highlights from Cold Spring, have an almost post-rock feel to them, traversing a tightrope of textures before Campos and Maker’s vocals creep towards the climax. Mayor seems like its drawn the set to a close before Kampos erupts into a virtuoso MPC routine, delivering the final blow in this explosive, exhilarating performance. The frailty of their recorded material is replaced by a robust, almost hostile energy tonight, and fuck is it exciting.
The Camp and Furnace feels beaten on day two of Summercamp Festival. Footsteps have to be peeled off the floor, the smell of stale beer fills the air and barmen hunch tiredly over the beer taps with a look of forlorn overshadowed only by the hungover parents.
Wave Machines are up there with the city’s best right now, nominated for the GIT awards earlier this year and picking up a healthy national following. Tim Bruzon’s mischievous falsetto on I Hold Loneliness and the excellent Ill Fit meanders across woozy, unsteady hooks, turning up the heat on this humid Sunday afternoon. With an album of the year under their belt, there is a palpable excitement preceding Dutch Uncles arrival on the Furnace Stage. Fester and Bellio plod along wickedly, with an industrial beat and noodling synths effectively underpinning Duncan Wallis’ convincing shriek. Flexxin, an undisputed champion of this year’s summer anthem sweepstakes, confidently builds on impish strings and acupunctural textures to turn into a heart-racing masterpiece.
Steve Mason bounds on stage and despite Axel Rose levels of punctuality, is received warmly by one of the biggest crowds of the weekend. Waving unapologetically and flanked by a bassist that makes Seasick Steve look like Mitt Romney, he launches into Lost and Found and Am I Just a Man with remarkably clean vocals for a guy with paint down his jeans. Drawing largely from his excellent 2010 effort Boys Outside, it is the slower numbers that stand out, with the title track and All Come Down morphing into flag-waving, Joshua Tree sized ballads. Fire! is introduced alongside a wince-inducing delve into political rhetoric, as Mason implores the audience to get rid of all political parties and try their hands at anarchy. Forgetting the fact that the only logical next step for a society after anarchy is dictatorship, this is hardly Luther King at The Lincoln Memorial, and this song like many on the difficult Monkey Minds In the Devil’s Time lacks the vulnerability and softness of his earlier material as the performance begins to lull. Time constraints mean that there is no time for any Beta Band, as Mason swiftly exits with a triumphant fist pump amidst a wail of cheers from the audience (unless you are a High Fidelity fan).
James Rand’s Lunar Modular eventually grace The Camp stage with their presence following what appears to be a crash course in rocket science. The set wanders slowly for much of the opening ten minutes, as synth crescendos threaten to penetrate the humid, slow motion theatrics. Patience is rewarded in abundance though, as a chunkier bass and delicate dub delay swells into a climax bursting with color and energy almost to the point of collapse. It still can’t fill the room, as audience members start to drop at an alarming rate when you consider that it is just 11:30 and there is still three hours left of DJs to get through.
By the time Ewan Pearson takes to the Furnace Stage at midnight, the situation reaches farcical levels. I have been a solitary audience member only once before, but that was due to a wrong turning at the Edinburgh Fringe and a severe lack of any friends whatsoever. As Pearson flicks between analogue acid-flecked leads and eerie base pounces, I am literally the last man standing, dancing awkwardly and fondling in my pocket for some kind of mind-altering substance I know isn’t there to transport me from this horrible scene. I mean, this is a guy capable of filling Room One at The Warehouse Project, so you do have to ask yourself how this all went so fucking wrong. Perhaps it’s the branding, as Summercamp marketed themselves at the over thirties as some kind of upmarket alternative to the events unfolding elsewhere in the city. The strong bill of electronic acts largely only capture the attention of a younger generation though, who want more from their festivals than ale tasting and craft fairs and who certainly aren’t used to paying £50 for the trouble.
Despite being part of the Liverpool International Music festival, Summercamp organisers appeared to distant themselves from it. Greenland Street felt like a gated community, striving to replicate the kind of organic passion and local pride that the events at Sefton Park seemed to have created quite naturally. And when you consider that tickets for Sound City and Field day are £35 and £45 respectively, I find it hard to believe that the organisers thought they were justifying the prices based on the lineup alone, so it was fair to assume (and what they themselves suggested) that the music would be supplemented by various exciting food and arts based events. Despite a few overpriced food stalls and some tepid attempts at craft fairs and tutorials though, it just didn’t happen. I swindled press accreditation, but if I had paid £50 for that ticket I would justifiably feel mortified. They were certainly unlucky with all the artist cancellations and rescheduling, but by pricing the event so expensively, Summercamp set a high standard and rightly exposed themselves to widespread criticism when things didn’t run smoothly. Liverpool International Music Festival seems to have been a success, standing as a testament to this City’s fierce local pride and passion for music. Summercamp has by most accounts, failed miserably. I know its a nice idea and I'm sure they tried their best, and of course it is only its first year. But fifty fucking pounds..