In 2014, Liverpool Sound City dominated the city centre with stages everywhere; from car parks to The Kazimier. In 2015, the stages sprawled across the docklands, exposed to the elements. However, it was the warm Titanic Hotel that served as our base, for the majority of Friday. Whether it was chatting to the organisers of SXSW and Kendal Calling, or simply watching a handful of fantastic young bands perform throughout the day – including Edge Hill University’s Maybe Raglan? – The Titanic Hotel had a fantastic energy.
In a conference scene led by male voices, Viv Albertine’s recollection of the music scene in the 1970’s was invigorating. Over the course of sixty minutes, Albertine reflected heavily on her time with The Slits, and the challenges they faced. “This was the first time people had ever seen girls playing drums, bass, and guitar in their lives”, she smiled. Albertine also spoke of her later years; her time as a filmmaker and director. More poignant however, was her discussion of her role as a housewife, mother, wife and survivor of cervical cancer.
Albertine highlighted her troubles and struggles, and said that returning to The Slits in 2009 was crucial in re-discovering herself. She later released a solo album, The Vermillion Border in 2012. Flanked by filmmakers Carl Hunter and Clare Heney, Albertine wandered through the hotel, to Room 410, to sit down with us.
Hunter and Heney’s latest film project is an exploration of the history, culture and emotion of Liverpool; a collection of memories. Despite her reputation as a member of a revolutionary female punk band, she is a gentle, warm and poetic speaker. As she stares out of the window, she recalls her earlier visits to Liverpool, hanging out with Paul Rutherford and Holly Johnson – who would later form Frankie Goes To Hollywood – and playing Eric’s Bar. Her love for the city is apparent. “I could feel something,” she says, “emanating from the red bricks all over the city”.
The Beatles are synonymous with the city, and her love for the Liverpool quartet transcends music. She recalled the first time she heard ‘Can’t Buy Me Love’, and realised the World was boring. To her, The Beatles were “a portal, an awakening”. Like with so many, they inspired and revolutionized the World. In particular however, her love for John Lennon is incredible. Everyone has idols, but for Albertine, Lennon shaped her completely. Opening up on her childhood, Albertine revealed, “I had no male influence. None. No father. John Lennon was that for me.” She left quite quickly with a hug, a handshake and a smile, but left us inspired. A fantastic storyteller.
Heading back downstairs, Wayne Coyne of The Flaming Lips meandered through the waiting crowds, into the conference room. A fantastically wacky man, Coyne’s keynote speech is full of brilliant stories. His manager, Scott Booker, watches on, as Coyne takes off his torn shirt and suit jacket, revealing his tattoos. “This one here,” he says, pointing to his artwork on his ribcage, “is of Miley Cyrus’ dead dog, Floyd”. Miley Cyrus was a huge talking point, following her recent collaboration with The Flaming Lips on a re-recording of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Heart’s Club Band (1967).
The simple mention of her name, by broadcaster Dave Haslam, received mixed reaction from the audience. “Look,” Coyne began, “working with Miley isn’t that strange for us. People constantly expect something wacky from us. Look at Zaireeka (1997) , it’s a four-CD album which is meant to be played in four separate CD players simultaneously. Personally I prefer three CDs, but still, we do what we want to do.” Booker and Coyne also, rather affectionately and humorously, opened up on their relationship. “Sometimes,” Booker said, “there are times I have to tell Wayne to stop and think very carefully about something. Others, I just jump straight on-board. We trust one another’s judgement.”
Over seventy-five minutes, the Oklahoma pairing discussed everything: the origins of the space bubble, designing stages, touring in the early days and the beginnings of a new album. One of the highlights of the weekend however, came during the subsequent Q+A session. A young woman beside me was handed a microphone, and asked if Coyne could quickly improvise a song for her brother, Ian, who was a huge fan. Quickly, he managed to rhyme Ian with peeing, and let loose, to a rapturous applause.
Just as Albertine had done, Coyne and Booker kindly followed us to record some segments for Hunter and Heney’s project. Sipping wine as he walked along the docks, he was the absolute epitome of cool, with his ragged hair and his tatty suit, holes at the elbows and knees. I stood beside him, as he pushed the button for the elevator. Introducing myself, I said, “Today’s been a very strange day.” He looked at me, his jewel-covered face glistening in the light and asked why, as the elevator doors opened. Following him in, I said “I walked to the festival today, listening to Yoshimi Battles The Pink Robots (2002), and now I’m stood in a lift with you. I definitely didn’t expect this when I crawled out of bed today”. We hugged and laughed, before he adjusted his eye-liner in the mirrored walls.
As he sat down in the hotel room, his focus shifted from the nerdy fan in the elevator, to his current surroundings. “I don’t really remember the first time I was here,” Coyne mutters, sipping from his wine glass. “I think we might have just passed through on a tour before, but I really got to explore today”, he smiled. He, and the rest of The Flaming Lips, had embarked on a Magical Mystery Tour earlier in the day, exploring The Cavern Club, as well as the homes of Paul McCartney and John Lennon. “That was fantastic, to be surrounded by such history”, he surmised. His conversation with us took us in every possible direction. He rambled at length about his love for architecture, his experimentation, his home in Oklahoma, and his love for Britain. As we posed for photographs, I asked him a question that, as a fan, has always been in my head. “Where does this bravery to constantly experiment come from?”. He shook his head and smiled. “It’s not really bravery, it’s just who we are. We were a bunch of fucking weirdos making fucking weird music. It just so happens that some people, yourself included, love what we do.” The perfect answer. He left soon after, bragging that his hotel room was bigger than ours.
Escaping the dark corridors of The Titanic Hotel, the festival site beckoned. Thousands descended upon The Atlantic Stage to catch a glimpse of Everything Everything. Clad in what can only be described as red graduation gowns, or possibly Clark Kent’s castoffs, the Manchester-based quartet presented the Liverpudlian crowd with a great set. Frontman Jonathan Higgs seemed a little rough, raw and ragged at times, but the band came together fantastically on ‘Regret’, with beautiful, cascading vocal harmonies, and hammering drums. Mixing in songs from their upcoming album Get To Heaven (2015) was brave, but ‘Spring/Sun/Winter/Dread’ and ‘No Reptiles’ were full of power and electronic flair, and went down a treat.
Headlining the first day, The Vaccines were largely disappointing. Whilst opening song ‘Teenage Icon’ sounded great, Justin Young’s voice waxed and waned, floundering. The enigmatic ‘Dream Lover’, crackling, buzzing and whirring, was the highlight of a bland set, with even the anthemic ‘Post Break-Up Sex’ falling flat . Put simply, they looked like they weren’t having any fun, and neither were we.