Sound City 2017 kicked off with impressive performances from 3 top acts. The Waveform Transmitter’s Ste Knight and Helen Wilson were there to revel in the electric atmosphere.
“I was employed as a customer relations assistant in an up-market drinking establishment, when we had a chance encounter”…or words to that effect. At the inaugural event of Sound City 2017, The Waveform Transmitter witnessed some electronic music of outstanding quality, all of which served to remind this writer from where a lot of the music he listens to today has drawn it’s influences. At least, at some point.
As we arrived on site, we were quite shocked (or perhaps not so much, given the recent atrocities in Manchester) to see the presence of armed police in the festival arena. This served as a sad indictment on our society, that such measures would need to be taken. However, that is not to detract from the respect we have for the bravery of these individuals, who put themselves in dangerous positions so that we may avoid it, and in a way it was a reassuring presence.
The site itself has changed quite significantly in terms of layout. This is due, in the most part, to the switch from the King’s Dock location that has housed Sound City over the past couple of years, to the new Clarence Dock. The new space is significantly easier to navigate, with the layout offering a better 360º view of the site, so you can see exactly where you are at any point during the festival.
We arrived at about 6:45, by the time a thorough bag and pocket search had been carried out at the gates, and it was on into Sound City. We were greeted by the silky-smooth, soulful voice of A Certain Ratio‘s Denise Johnson, who was laying down some sublime vocals over jazz-funk riffs and lilting guitar licks.
The Factory Records mainstay warmed things up nicely, not that things needed to get any warmer, as temperatures were soaring down at the Mersey’s edge, thanks to the presence of that rarely spotted celestial body we commonly call the sun. The climax of their set, a rendition of their 1982 track Si Firmi O Grido, from the album Sextet, featured more cowbell than you could shake a…well…cowbell at. That seemed to get everyone fired up for Art of Noise (albeit after a completely off the cuff rendezvous with Andy Weatherall, who was bopping away to the sounds of A Certain Ratio).
You could be forgiven for drawing comparison between Art of Noise and industrial artists, Tackhead, particularly due to the manner in which they manipulate, cut, and chop samples in order to arrange their compositions. Sure, Art of Noise are significantly ‘poppier’, but the similarities are there nonetheless.
Their performance was typically avant-garde, as one would expect for an 80’s electronic act. The fact that they had retained this air of angsty apathy was quite charming and warmed this writer to them instantly (particularly Anne Dudley).
Appearing stoic as they took to the stage, they opened with tracks from their influencial 1986 album, In Visible Silence, which made sense, seeing they were billed to play in its entirety. They then moved on to material from later albums (they didn’t play their rave inducing Instruments of Darkness, which was a bit of a shame but hey-ho).
Highlight of their set, for us, was Paranoimia, which did feature on In Visible Silence. For this track, Art of Noise famously collaborated with glitched-out, pirate-TV caricature, Max Headroom. This worked perfectly in the set, and samples where being triggered using all manner of devices, including two drums, operated by Dudley and
One feature that stood out was the use of a dual screen Fairlight CMI synth, famously used by Peter Gabriel (thanks Wendy for that little infoblast during the gig). Quite how the band have kept a synth which is approaching 40 years old in such excellent condition is beyond us, but they have, and sounds were being manipulated on a microscopic scale using the device.
The performance was followed by what was meant to be a minute’s silence for the victims of the recent bomb attack in Manchester. Meant to be, because one complete tosser decided to mouth off at the top of his voice about thirty seconds in. Everyone was shocked; a point proven by the much deserved abuse thrown at him after the minute had ran its course. He was promptly removed to a volley of boos and more insults. The only recompense for us is that this imbecile was not from Liverpool, and we are proud to say we stand shoulder to shoulder with our Mancunian friends in the wake of the disaster.
With that, we promptly returned our attention to the stage as Sheffield greats, The Human League lined up to deliver the performance of a lifetime. The atmosphere created by the trio (and their backing band) was so exhilarating and intoxicating that we are in no doubt that everyone forgot they were stood on the banks of the Mersey as they were lost in synth-pop loveliness from the outset.
The band rattled through hit after hit, the crowd lapping up every single note sung by the trio, belting out favourites such as Love Action (a song that this writer heard most recently as a cover by Philly, on Toddla T‘s Fabric mix) which they opened their performance with, Fascination, and the darkwave sounds of The Lebanon with it’s echoed, reverberating guitar lunges.
If one thing is to be said of the performance, it is that the band held the audience captive for their entirety of it. Granted, everyone was singing and dancing away but, for an hour and a half, all of us were The Human League, quite a poignant concept considering the fragmented state of the human race now and in recent times.
You could tell that the League were well and truly enjoying performing for us. Phil Oakey was marauding around the stage like a man possessed, while Susan Sulley and Joanne Catherall posed, shimmied, dropped the odd vogue, and sung their hearts out for a baying crowd. Their set was nothing short of phenomenal, and The Waveform Transmitter is honoured to have been a part of it.
The evening has really set Sound City 2017 off to an absolute flyer, and set an incredibly high benchmark for the acts to follow. Keep your eyes peeled on The Waveform Transmitter, as we’ll be covering the rest of the weekend’s shenanigans too.
ALL IMAGES © THE WAVEFORM TRANSMITTER’S HELEN WILSON