May 242015
 

I was won over to Liverpool Sound City a couple of years ago, with it’s innovative mix of music festival, conference and the creative opening-up of regular and hidden music venues across the city. I could book into a hotel then dodge between bands, coffee shops, and shopping. Chilling out and exploring some amazing temporary venues, like Liverpool’s Anglican Cathedral, or a run-down car park that had been turned into a performance space.

This years Sound City Festival has a new format though, and it’s taken away the joy and the pleasure that made this a unique festival.

Firstly, getting to the new site down on Bramley-Moore Dock, is a major pain. There are no regular buses that service this part of Liverpool. There is a train service that runs nearby, or a special bus service, but otherwise it’s a good half-hour walk away from the Pier Head.

The site is now a self-contained festival with restrictions on what you can bring in, and bag searches to get through the gates. In the past the major venues operated a bag-check policy, so it’s not much different, but the big difference now is that the site is locked-down, and once you are in you can’t get out. So if you don’t like wraps, burgers, noodles or pizza then you are pretty limited in what you can eat.

It sounded worse than it looked!

It sounded worse than it looked!

There are few places for sitting and chilling out. A couple of wooden pallets have been set-up for people to sit on, but otherwise its hard to find a space among the rubble and the hard-standing dock-sides. This isn’t a space to relax. Quite literally it’s an industrial dock, with metal railings erected to keep people in or out.

Being on the banks of the Mersey seems a lovely idea, and when the sun is out it’s pleasant. But once the weather changes and the wind whips-up, then there’s no protection from the harshness of the Irish Sea.

These are small complaints though, compared to the quality of the sound of the festival. Whoever chose the locations for each of the stages and tents never gave a thought for the way that they would sound. The central area around the North Stage is surrounded by five other stages. The bleed of noise from each of them is overwhelming and exhausting.

The main stage sounds anodyne and insipid as most of the sound is whipped-off by the strong winds in a vast riverside open space. This is not a natural amphitheatre that would enhance the delicate nuance of the performances. Instead it’s a harsh, post-industrial concrete landscape that is unforgiving to anything but the most brutal sounds.

The Baltic Stage should be more interesting than it is, as it’s inside a warehouse. But by blasting the sound systems to their maximum it’s generally impossible to hear anything of the performances. I measured 100db on my phone sound meter. I’m sure people left with permanent damage to their hearing.

I thought I would be writing about the bands and the music, but the environment and the sound management of this festival is so poor that I can’t really tell if the bands that I’ve heard and seen have been any good. It’s become just another boring rock festival. I won’t be coming back next year.

Nov 022014
 

I’ve come up to Liverpool to see my mum, and get a bit of culture – with or without the capital ‘C’. Every time I come back to Liverpool I encounter something that is invigorating and engaging. It’s far from a perfect place, but it’s got a lot more interesting in the last few years. We had lunch in the Everyman Bistro on Saturday, which was very nice, and I’m not surprised the design of the rebuilt Everyman has won awards. The café and the bistro feel very intimate and the food was simple, elegant and flavoursome. A simple menu that is done well rather than the over-extended trendy mixture of fusion foods that are done to death elsewhere.

001-DSCF4268On Saturday evening we spent a couple of hours in Sefton Park watching the Lantern Parade and the fireworks. It was great to see how enthusiastically these events are received in Liverpool, and the sense of involvement and participation that people give over to them. I’d heard that last years parade was engaging, so had high hopes for this year. Perhaps the timekeeping and the stewarding could be looked at, because there was a lot of people eager to see the performance, and it took a long time to get all the parade participants into the central arena, by which point many of the families with small kids had given up. A bit of narration would have helped as well. The PA was more than adequate, but encouraging people to spread around the arena would have taken some of the pressure off. But who doesn’t like fire and fireworks in the dark?

On a Sunday morning my mum always listens to BBC Radio Merseyside, which I detest, as Maurine Walsh presents her show like she is the Queen. However, we sat and chatted about why people like her? What she brings to the station and who she thinks she is talking to? And this got me thinking about the extent to which radio stations in Liverpool reflect the COOL agenda that is being developed in the city. COOL stands for Creative Organisations of Liverpool, and is group that brings together many of the established and the emerging creative projects, organisations and people across the city.

And so it struck me that with such as strong focus on creativity and performance in Liverpool, with music, literature, poetry, theatre, visual arts, film making, design and architecture, I don’t think Liverpool has any radio stations that do what ResonanceFM does in London, which is provide an independent and DIY focus for creative outlets and the arts using radio, with a continual discussion of arts, music, culture and performance for the generation of peoples who aren’t stereotyped by a reliance on nostalgia (BBC), football (Radio City) or double glazing sales (JuiceFM).

Walker Gallery

Walker Gallery

I know very little about Liverpool’s community radio stations so I’m probably wrong in thinking that the arts aren’t discussed on the radio in Liverpool, but it’s just that there isn’t a station that is dedicated to it. There may well be people using radio as a creative medium itself, rather than thinking it is just a stepping stone to other things, or a way to provide a warm bath of nostalgia and self-affirmation, so I need pointing in the right direction if anyone has any examples they are happy to share

I’d be very interested in starting a discussion about how community radio can be developed around this idea of talking a leading cultural role, rather than just providing an echo-chamber for a fixed community. I would wonder if talking to the organisations that lead with COOL, the Arts Council, the city council, the other universities and colleges, the music promoters, and so on, might expand the purpose of radio from the very narrow model that we have in the UK?

I interviewed Ed Baxter at ResonanceFM the other year, and he’s much more interesting than the usual suspects in the commercial or BBC radio sector. He hates the whole corporate and consumerist culture that UK radio is locked in. I have two favourite stations at the moment. Campus Radio Montpellier and L’Echo in Montpellier. Find them both on Tune-In Radio to see how different a student/community stations can be from the UK variety. This is radio that is allowed space to breath and lets the listener come to it, rather than being shouted at by a bunch of ego-maniacs who want to tell you how wonderful they are. They are my favourite stations at the moment – even though I don’t understand a word of French!

I’m always struck when each time I return to Liverpool now how much the atmosphere has changed since I left in the late 1980s, and how much more open people are to creative arts, storytelling, musical diversity and so on. With a great tradition of writing, poetry, performance, acting, musical innovation, and all the rest. Community radio with a purpose to foster diversity, creativity and participation in DIY aural/music cultures would get me excited. No charts, no formulas, no fixed schedules, no corporate missions-plans…. (haha, I’d get eaten alive…).

May 142013
 
Play

A couple of weeks ago I went to the Sound City Festival in Liverpool to see some bands and catch-up on how the sound of Liverpool has moved on.

Here’s some of the bands I came across, including a couple from a Finish compilation CD that was being given away. I wish more effort was given to champion music by giving away decent compilation albums associated with festival.

Included in the podcast are:

A-Mo – You Like to Love
Black Twig – Death Scene
Barb-Q-Barbies – STFU
Charlie Boyer & The Voyeurs – I Watch You
Francis & Master – Your Right
Cub Scouts – Evie
Golden Fable – Guiding Light
Hexvessel – Woods to Conjour
Marjo Lienonen – Huff-n-Puff
Wave Machines – Ill Fit
Delay Trees – HML
Moongai – Zombi
Delphic – Red Lights

wpid-wpid-BJXBgmFCYAA0o7Q-225x300-2013-05-14-21-24-2013-05-14-21-241.jpg

Liverpool Anglican Cathedral

Jan 292013
 
Play

There is a Liverpool theme to this week’s podcast. I travelled up to Liverpool at the weekend for a quick catch-up with my family, and rather than hanging around Liverpool One with the shoppers, I thought it might be a good idea to take a ‘snap-shot’ of some of the bands and performers that are making a name for themselves.

To help me with this, I met up with Jack Watson from ‘Windmill Moth Glue’, and Jack and I chatted about the Liverpool music scene in general, and the pressure for bands to conform now that Liverpool is a self-designated hub for culture.

Track-Listing Podcast 004 28th January 2013
Mango Shank – The Phantasmagorical Fruit Cave of Wonder
Stealing Sheep – White Lies
APATT – Yves Saint Laurent
Stig Noise Sound System – Western Europe Is 4 Weaklings (Like Us)
Windmill Moth Glue – Blade of Grass in a Bowl of Black Vomit
Enio Morricone – Dell’Orso – Matto, Caldro, Sold, Morto… Girotonday [from Dirty Angels]
Porest – Continental Revolt
Radio Pyongyang – Motherland Mega-Mix
The Hummingbirds – Doesn’t Really Matter
El Toro – Night of El Phantom
Lee Scott – Stay in School
DLA – Where I Live At (beat. One Armed Bandit)
Good Grief – Clean Up Your Own Shit, Pal
Kid Kin – You, Me & The Devil Makes Three

Oct 182012
 

Travelling to Liverpool is always good for me, as it’s reassuring to see familiar sights and hear familiar tones of voice. This week I went for a training session as an External Examiner for the BSc Broadcast & Media Production degree in the Faculty of Technology and Environment. The training sessions was very lively, and there was a clear sense that some thought had been put in to looking after the External Examiners who had travelled to Liverpool for the day. Like any university the regulations, culture and expectations of the university are different, and the roles that External Examiners are expected to play show some local variation from a general theme.

After lunch we each had an opportunity to meet with the programme teams and to have a look around the facilities in the relevant department. Colin Robinson met me and we walked the short distance to the engineering buildings, just behind the Liverpool Museum and Walker Art Gallery. There’s a lot of Investment gone in to the redevelopment of Liverpool and it’s universities, and it show in the campus sites that LJMU occupies.

Colin and I got talking about our respective experiences running and delivering media production and technology courses. Both of us are keen advocates for Community Radio, with a strong belief in the transformative potential of course that encapsulate the hands-on approach that independent, tech-savy media producers will need in the future. Colin told me about the proportion of people who work at the new Media City in Salford and the proportion who are on contracts rather than staff salaries. It’s a staggering 80% of people out of the many thousands who work for the BBC and the cluster of media companies. We both shared very similar views about how we ought to prepare graduates to work in this environment by giving them opportunities to learn from real-world experiences and challenges.

I suggested that Media Production is something of a cinderella subject in the UK, and that we’ve not really got to grips with the idea that it’s possible to have a fulfilling and satisfying career as an independent media producer. Learners are too often seduced by the idea of easy fame an the point-and-shoot mentality of media. Often media courses are sold on the idea of the dream school potential, which is exacerbated with the X-Factor challenge, that you might be plucked from obscurity by a well connected Svengali who can offer you fame and fortune, rather than hard work, technical capability and skills that will last a lifetime.

There are a remarkable number of similarities in the approach we’ve both taken in our respective departments over the years, and clearly some of the same problems to be overcome. The feeling that pervades cautious engineers that the ‘media bubble is about to burst’, is a difficult one to shake, despite the evidence that technology enabled media production and practices are set to grow exponentially as more people acquire personal, mobile media devices. The need for a strong pool of graduates who have the essential STEM skills in media production is only going to get stronger and more urgent as more people become switched-on to the capability to produce their own social or community based media. We agreed that it’s all very well training people how to press the buttons in a radio studio, or point the cameras in a TV studio, but the real value comes from being able to set-up and design the studios, Outside Broadcast events and the on-line, networked exchanges of content that we now loosely think of as media.

I’m really looking forward to visiting Colin and his colleagues over the next couple of years. This form of media production – different from engineering or computing sciences – is an exciting area to work in. It draws ideas from so many different points of reference and it asks if we can come up with ways to use and develop these ever changing technologies to make even more engaging content. The independence and creativity that graduates in the media production and media technology fields are able to demonstrate gives me a buzz. I just hope that we can build the critical mass of others who are able to support this enterprise in as well.