As a renegade reporter for Urbanista for the last two years, I have enjoyed documenting the thriving house and techno scene of Liverpool and the North West. From gritty underground warehouse parties to hugely publicised events, Merseyside has been attracting international DJs of the highest reputation – slowly but surely cementing itself as the UK’s capital of electronic music. During my time capturing this golden era of the Liverpool scene, one thing I’ve been particularly vocal about is the abundance of local talent on our doorsteps. Merseyside is oozing with gifted and charismatic DJs and for two years I had dreamt about getting a big crew of them together for a fiesta to remember.
Liverpool’s iconic Sound City festival was returning on the second May Bank Holiday weekend for its 10th birthday celebrations. The stage was set, in fact all of them were, as bands such as The Kooks, The Cribs and Metronomy were ready to rock the docks with a diverse line up of international acts. Urbanista head honcho, Martin Moseley, was running one of the stages at Sound City and three weeks prior to the event he hit me with it – would I organize a DJ line up for the festival? A last minute converted trailer stage came about courtesy of sponsors, Skullcandy, and it was I who was tasked with booking the DJs. It was time to smash it!
Creating The Line Up
Firstly, I wanted to make this a showcase of local talent, so contacted many of the North West based DJs I knew. Not all DJs were able to play, for a variety of reasons, and a 12 strong crew of local DJ acts was naturally formed to play alongside DJs already selected by Sound City. The team consisted of Dominic Dunn, human beat box specialist Box Martian (Ross Martin), Tain (Martin Whitehead), DJ Growls, Lee Bullock, Feral State (Sean Tierney and Antony Morgan), Prudence, Martijn Vandervoort, Djangos House Party (Jonjo Mcgee), Craig Cartel, Dan Hewitt, The Mixnots, Adele Moss and Ged Lever. I also included a guest DJ, Samantha Bagg, who came up from London – a funky cool DJ who I’d met at Kendal Calling and whom I had wanted to bring to Liverpool to DJ for some time. This was one sick line up!
With it being so close to the festival, the Sound City team were running around like mad people trying to manage countless things. Organising such a large festival takes the whole year, with so much red tape and thousands of people involved, and I got a glimpse of this whilst working on the DJ line up. I had the challenge of arranging the set order so as to cater to all the DJs’ preferences, whilst ensuring their styles flowed naturally into each other. I had many different DJs with different requirements, some technical, and trying to liaise with several DJs and a frantically busy Sound City team proved quite difficult. Evidence of this was in the Skullcandy stage poster that had to be re-designed three times due to consideration of displaying the correct DJ stage names, styles and set order – with so many people to liaise with at such a busy time, nothing was an easy task.
As well as creating a funky ass crew of DJs, I had assembled a crack crew of party people to enjoy the weekend’s festivities with me and support our local music scene. My partner, Amanda, and I met our guest DJ, Samantha Bagg, at Lime Street station at midday before heading to Clarence Docks to commence the fiesta – with many of our friends due to join us. Upon arrival, we headed straight to the Skullcandy trailer, situated in between the main stage and the large tent, where Box Martian (Ross Martin) was putting on an immensely entertaining human beat box performance. A young lad, Jordan, who was up from Birmingham got involved and started break dancing on stage but, despite such an amazing start to the Skullcandy stage, I looked around and was a tad concerned about the lack of people at the festival, especially with the wind kicking up dust clouds. It was only early.
As the place gradually became busier, Tain (Martin Whitehead) graced the stage with his delightful beard. The Liverpool DJ and promoter produced a funky and uplifting summer set, including mixes of Blondie and Pink Floyd, and we shared laughter and energy with arriving DJs and their guests. All the DJs I had booked were really good people, so it was a great pleasure to introduce some of them to each other, but it was also fantastic to meet the two contractors of Skullcandy – the two brothers responsible for setting up the actual stage. Paul and Robin were thoroughly nice guys and worked wonders throughout the weekend to ensure the stage was a success.
DJ Growls, one of the pre selected Sound City DJs, played a great two hour set to bring us into the evening – he, too, is another supremely talented local DJ and another person I had met who was of the highest calibre. My guest DJ selection, Samantha Bagg, wowed us with her funky tech/house grooves before the natural entertainer, Lee Bullock, produced one of his tech/house sets that has had Ibiza buzzing. Lee stopped playing at one point to allow the focus to be directed to the passing marching band – an amazing show of respect. What I loved most about this stage was how all the DJs were enjoying it and how many new friendships were formed. I think there is no question that of all the Sound City stages, ours had the most love and positive summer sounds. There was a concern though – our sound clashing with the main stage.
Into the night, the three man team of Mixnots, another Sound City choice, totally smashed it to a small but bouncing crowd. Once again, great guys and great music, although the main stage noise clash became more of an issue as the night went on. I think it’s very important to give emerging talent a chance and I was proud to see Feral State follow Mixnots. They got going nicely and at one point were smashing it however the noise from the main stage, the wind, blowing dust and onset of rain became unmanageable. Prudence, a top techno DJ, producer and promoter followed but found it tough and we could barely hear his set – fortunately the Skullcandy guys were aware of his talent and have since contacted him to DJ at other Skullcandy stages. A great day all round, but a rather worrying end to the Saturday.
After cracking on all Saturday and with barely any sleep, our party crew prepared for round two of the festival, with a few new additions to our team. I woke up rough and wondered how I was going to make it back for another all day session but knew I had to crack on! Having barely woke, I heard some potentially disastrous news. Martijn Vandervoort, who was opening the Sunday, was already at the dockland site and told of some major sound issues with the main stage and tent complaining of sound distortion – our stage was potentially going to have to play with a sound restriction! After phone calls to the Skullcandy stage guy, Paul, and to the Sound City C.O.O, I discovered that this was going to be difficult to overcome. Furthermore, Ged Lever, a top DJ who I’ve seen play amazing sets and who was booked to close the Sunday, had a problem and was unable to attend! To add to these problems, Djangos House Party (Jonjo Mcgee) had an issue getting in and was due to start his set.
Despite the major set backs, we arrived (late) to see Jonjo Magee and Craig Cartel play an uplifting back to back tech/house set of the highest order. We made more new friends and cracked right on with dancing as the two entertainers were loving it in the Skullcandy booth. The music was top notch and sounded great to the crowd, although I was a bit concerned that it wasn’t going to be as busy as I would have liked.
On Sunday afternoon and heading into the evening, things soon changed in an emphatic manner! DJ Growls produced an energetic two hour afternoon set, moving into funky disco, and as a few of us danced on the stage enticing people over, hordes of people from the main stage came to ours after one of the acts had finished. Now we had a serious crowd! As we drew people in, Dan Hewitt took over from Growls and looked rather nervous as well over a thousand people looked up at him with anticipation. Little did I know, this was to be the first time Dan had ever played disco, new disco, soul and funk as a live set – I was as nervous as he was but this soon passed as he played an absolute blinder! The sea of people in front of him were throwing all sorts of shapes and getting their groove on to his contagious energy – when he finished he was greeted with a rapturous applause by the masses, all the while remaining humble and without any aura of ego. Our stage was smashing it!!!
Into the Sunday night, the Skullcandy stage main man and MC, Paul, took to the stage as his alias DJ Bullit. Not only was Paul a great guy who had co-ordinated the stage all weekend, he proved to be a top DJ, mixing in The Fresh Prince Of Bellair and all sorts of classics. The thousands there were bouncing, including two Dutchmen in retro attire we had met, and I was deeply touched when Paul got me on stage in front of everyone and praised me for all my hard work booking and organising the DJs. Oh yes – we were smashing it!!! Following Paul, Mixnots once again played a flawless set, keeping the crowd there despite big band acts performing on other stages.
Finally, Adele Moss arrived to close the Sunday and something very powerful and sublime occurred. Adele got stuck right into her energetic techno set when, at 9.15, there was an announcement and a one minute silence for the victims of the Manchester bombing. With everything paused, thousands of festival goers remained completely silent to show Liverpool’s solidarity for Manchester – with not one idiot shouting out. Despite my many words, this is something I am unable to capture in writing, and when things resumed, Adele blasted out Oasis’ Wonderwall before continuing with her bouncing closing set.
Liverpool: A Sound City
Getting involved in organising a stage at Liverpool’s huge Sound City festival was an experience I’ll never forget, but some key things resonated for me – proving that Liverpool truly is a sound city. Throughout the weekend, the love and energy from everyone involved in our stage and indeed the festival as a whole was overwhelming. The Sound City team, Paul and Robin behind the Skullcandy stage, the DJs and the crowd all came together to create something truly special. It wasn’t without its trials and tribulations, and at times I feared for it, but the Skullcandy DJ stage became everything that a stage should be at a music festival – good music, good vibrations, good energy and the power of people uniting for these three special things. And what next? Who knows….
For a video of the Skullcandy stage click HERE
Sound City is online, click HERE
Sound City is on Facebook, click HERE
Images courtesy of Amanda Toovey