PZYK on Psych
Liverpool’s International Festival of Psychedelia artists
pick their top psych tracks
introduction by trevor elkin
Since opening its doors for the first time in 2012, Liverpool International Festival of Psychedelia has been a wonderfully entertaining, multicultural celebration of the outer fringes of music and visual arts. Known to many as its hashtag ‘PZYK’, the festival takes place over two days in the city’s Baltic Triangle, hosting its ‘congregation’ in a post-industrial warehouse space (complete with rivets, iron beams and chains) that is transformed into a phantasmagorical spectacle. While a resurgence of psych, dreampop and shoegaze bands has provided a steady flow of new talent, PZYK also honours some of the pioneers of psychedelia, drone and electronic music. With such a diverse and, sometimes, challenging audiovisual roster, you always seem to come away with the sense that this festival is all about being open to experience, not merely a corporate regurgitation of an artistic genre.
This year PZYK promises an awful lot; its ambition summed up in the tag line, “THIS FESTIVAL WILL DESTROY YOU” (the organisers qualify, “unless it destroys us first”). Headliners include The Black Angels and Loop backed by a veritable abundance of familiar names from Lætitia Sadier, Jane Weaver, A Place To Bury Strangers, The KVB, Songhoy Blues as well as some returning acts, Träd Gräs och Stenar, The Telescopes, Fujiya & Miyagi and W.I.T.C.H (We Intend To Cause Havoc) a 1970’s band from Zambia’s golden post-independence days. As the name suggests, it’s a truly international affair, with all the continents represented. California’s Castle Face Records, a leading psych music purveyor, host a showcase called ‘Irregular Orbits’ which includes Once & Future Band, Male Gaze, Magnetix, Duds and Exit Group. Stateside readers can catch all the action as California’s KFJC 89.7FM will be broadcasting the festival live from the four festival stages, as well as interviews, online via KFJC.org and on FM in the San Francisco Bay area. If two days aren’t enough for you, the PZYK opening party on Thursday, September 21 has Real Estate’s Matt Mondanile Ducktails project, joined by Strange Collective‘s Ali Horn, and Goa Express.
We asked 7 of the artists we’d like to see this year to pick a track, or piece of music which they think represents the spirit of psychedelia. The result, a ‘PZYK on Psych’ playlist is streaming below. It’s a rather nice, eclectic selection of past and present. Dig in!
‘PZYK on Psych’ – Playlist
Ones to Watch:
With a huge following back home, these Italian psych veterans chose UK label Rocket Recordings to release their seventh studio album “Invocation And Ritual Dance Of My Demon Twin”. Over almost 20 years, their musical evolution has seen collaborations with Sonic Boom, Damo Suzuki and Peter Hook and taken them from early garage rock, through experimental sound territory to a more contained, yet still unpredictable blend of spacey, abstract rock. A rare treat.
Their pick: The Orb – ‘Towers Of Dub’
“The real charm of psychedelic music to us lies in the difficulty of describing it properly, to pin it down in just a few words. It is not really a ‘genre’, we like to think of it more as an “approach” to making music. It’s got to do with certain elements like repetition of small musical phrases, obsessive drum patterns, hypnotic rhythms and sudden, far out bursts of musical colour. It plays with time and space. You can get it in rock and folk music, in reggae/dub vibes, but also in electronic music, in jazz music (Alice Coltrane, Gary Burton, Pharoah Sanders, some Miles Davis from the late sixties and early seventies), even hip-hop (Cypress Hill or Danny Brown have it)”.
London-based Yassassin comprises members from all over the world and previous bands like LUST and The History of Apple Pie. They have definite alternative / post-punk leanings, but thankfully not of the morose, posturing variety. Sharing their name with a track off Bowie’s possibly most under-rated and hard to pin album ‘Lodger’, Yassassin are a similarly enigmatic ready-to-go cocktail of pop hooks, punk politics and party thrills.
Their pick: The Red Crayola – ‘Transparent Radiation’
“Because psychedelia doesn’t always mean a 13 minutes song. Less than 3 minutes to capture the meaning. Quite a punk attitude right? We are talking about an album that was out in 1967, same year of The Seeds’ third album and Blues Magoos’ second one. Bands like that were going towards a different direction around ’66 and ’67. Music Machine were turning the music approach of the psychedelia. Everything was helping moving forward punk really. And Mayo Thomson Red Crayola were changing the way of making music forever.” (Raissa)
L.A. Witch combine equal measures of spooky psychedelia and scorched blues, all kept in check by Sade Sanchez’s no-nonsense low sneer. The result sounds utterly catchy and compelling, yet vaguely sinister like you’re being lured out and then left in the midnight chill of the desert.
Their pick: 13th Floor Elevators – ‘Reverberation’
“This is my favourite 13th Floor Elevators song, I think they may have been the first band to use the term ‘psychedelic’ (in regards to their debut album). I love the electric jug in this, it really drives you into a trance. I think great psychedelic music can transport you to a different head space – whether it allows you to perceive music differently, or feel the music more intensely. We were lucky enough to play Levitation the very year 13th Floor Elevators headlined. They played just as we were peaking, it felt like a religious experience.” (Irita)
On a space station (docked somewhere near Cardiff), synthesised and organic sounds are being melted down together under the light of a spinning disco ball by Super Furry Animals Bassist Guto Pryce and Scottish vocalist & keys player Lindsey Leven. A new album is due any moment, so some new material like the beautiful, lilting electronica of ‘Search For Your Love’ could be on the menu.
Their pick: MGMT – ‘Siberian Breaks’
“A great Psychedelic track will take you on a journey and Siberian Breaks has all the ingredients – 12 string guitar, fuzzy sitars, spacey synths, experimental song structures and velvet melodies. Expertly produced by psych hero Sonic Boom, it’s the sound of a band bursting with creativity and freedom.”
Ever walked into a party and then realised you’re in way over your head and there’s no escape? That’s Mass Datura – the featherlight glam exterior masks an altogether more subversive interior. Led by Thomas Rowe, who grew up in the wilderness of West Canada before moving to the sprawl of London, Mass Datura will leave you reeling from their chaotic, tilted take on psych-rock.
Their pick: Greg Ashley- ‘Amnesia’
“A song that really fills all the gaps of raw poetic language and sonic fragility. The arrangement of instruments completely sucks you further into a dismal hole of insanity and yet wondrous delight all at once, Greg’s lyrics and charming voice convinced me in this song that even if you feel like your slipping into mouth of hell or you have had no choice but to surrender to the undoubtably false surface of humanity, there is still some glimpses of hope. I’m not sure if it’s a typical Psychedelic arrangement but I feel it is an important song.” (Thomas Rowe)
New York’s Dirty Fences look as if they take the ‘city that never sleeps’ tag literally; a juiced-up, leather-clad unrelenting energy. Despite a slight obsession for 70s punk and perhaps a passing wave to glam rock, they hold these influences lightly and with maybe a dash of irony as they deliver the musical equivalent of a slap to your face. No napping on their watch!
Their pick: The Residents – ‘Constantinople’
“It is a psychotic weird dissonant and out of control piece of music that makes you feel like you are on drugs.” (Hershguy)
As the Cassini satellite tore into Saturn’s atmosphere at over 12,000 mph, its 13 year mission to explore that planet and its moons came to an end. That quest nourished the imagination of J.R Bohannon, aka Ancient Ocean, whose new album, ‘Titan’s Island’, uses interleaving waves of guitar, synth, spacey drones and pedal steel to describe a place no human will probably travel to for centuries. Performed live, Bohannon’s intensely emotional sonic portrait nevertheless serves as a journey for the soul. Unmissable.
Their pick: John Jacob Niles – ‘Go ‘Way From My Window’
“John Jacob Niles might be the most psychedelic performer/musician/creator I can think of. He wrote this song about a girl he knew in the early 1900s, which will forever be mind boggling to me. Niles was a completest in his vision, championing his own style of singing and phrasing, building his own dulcimers that matched his voice entirely, and generally taking the idea of the “folk” song to a whole new level – pure consciousness, pure psychedelia. This recording is from a performance in 1957.”
Liverpool International Festival of Psychedelia runs from 22nd to 23rd September
More detailed information, as well as limited weekend and day tickets, are available from http://liverpoolpsychfest.com