Baltic Triangle, Liverpool

Liverpudlians are really, really lovely people. After getting slightly lost in the backstreets of the trendy Baltic Triangle where Liverpool Psych Fest is staged, no less than three people point me in the right direction of the festival within the space of about three minutes, and when I find the site, this laid back camaraderie is reflected by the rest of the crowd too. One guy in the queue tells me he’s been to the festival every year and it’s only grown bigger and better, and another explains how the festival was started five years ago as a bit of a joke – two promoters (now the two founders of LPF) had booked two psych acts in the city and, so as not to split the audience, decided to put them on together under the ironically grandiose banner of ‘Liverpool International Festival of Psychedelia.’

The festival is certainly no joke now. Expanding exponentially each year from that first show, there are now five stages, a gallery, a virtual reality experience room, a mini cinema and a multitude of bars and street food stalls for a clearly devoted crowd to choose from. And while there are a good number of long-haired, grizzled old psych heads in attendance, there’s an unexpectedly large amount of young people milling around with pints too.

It’s easy to see why there’s such a varied audience: rather than basing the lineup around psychedelic music as a hard and fast rule, the festival’s offering simply plays with the genre’s ideas instead. Here, psychedelia is forcefully cast into the future. Many things make this festival feel modern, no less the beautifully imagined visuals that adorn each fashionably distressed gig space. Standout eye-poppers include the swirl of falling flower buds that ring the audience as they take in The Wytches’ punishing surf-doom; the throb and scatter of a 1920s political film cut with gothic script that frames Eagulls’ rich, intense, shoegazing anguish; and the glitched-out, blood-red filters that turn dystopian storyteller Gwenno into a towering beacon of soothsaying. The crowd is refreshingly quiet close to the stages, seemingly hypnotised.

One act that needs no additional imagery to make jaws drop is experimental electronic artist Eartheater – her set is a performance art piece in itself. One second she’s tiptoeing around the stage precariously high on platform shoes while rapping, the next she’s violently struggling out of her silver dress while portentously crouched on the stage floor. Her natural voice is angelic, but she occasionally uses a vocal filter to make it demonic. It’s difficult to put a finger on why her set is so moving – I nearly cry – but maybe it’s the blend of the human and digital that’s so disconcerting, or that she dedicates her intense set to Planned Parenthood, an American sexual health organisation to which she says she owes her life. Her performance sums up the festival thus far: exciting, adventurous, and thought-provoking.

Seattle surf quartet La Luz also deliver a thrill ride, but of a more traditional kind. Flustered after coming onstage fifteen minutes late after a nine-hour car journey from Brighton, their surf-noir sounds urgent, immediate and essential. The crowd go crazy for it, and another set of mesmerising visuals blink and scatter across the cavernous stage. It’s another example of an arguably tired genre made new.

Away from the music, I watch a lecture on hallucination in film that captures a tipsy room’s attention for an hour and a half; lay out on beanbags in a chamber of never-ending colours and nearly fall asleep (it’s honestly that relaxed); and don a VR headset that actually, for all intents and purposes, transports me to another world.

It’s easy to see why people return again and again to Psych Fest. It’s relaxed and well-run, the stages sound great, and it’s just big enough to see everything you’d like to. I’d try to predict what they’ll have lined up for next year, but knowing this festival, their ideas are probably lightyears ahead of mine.