Threshold Festival 2014 began before I could make sense of my surroundings; notepads, cameras, press-passes, and wine glasses galore here at Unit 51 in the Baltic Triangle. A ceremonious greeting from Festival Director’s Chris and Kaya Herstad-Carney gives way to the town crier’s opening roar, and the applause is unleashed from the crowd of reporters, performers and supporters. First stop for me, The Baltic Social for a taste of the exotic.
|The Destroyers at District, shot by Andrew AB.|
Here in the Baltic Social, I am quite content in familiar surroundings – wine, chatter, live music, and the beating of Liverpool’s heart-felt community. In this cosy venue, it’s a refined but very accessible atmosphere as the festivities get underway.
As one of my ‘Must-See’ acts, Avital bore the responsibility of opening act with great professionalism. A politically imbued acoustic wonder, Avital sets us all at ease with lullaby grace shortly before announcing ‘this next song is about peace in the Middle East through anal sex’. A fearless wordsmith, and a bold performer, Avital Raz did nothing to disappoint – an act as swimmingly refreshing as this second glass of wine.
On to the District, this venue already feels like it’s going to morph into ‘the place to be’ come midnight. Quite clearly ska-central, Smiling Ivy keeps the flux up with some groovin’, smoothin’, bass-lickin’ goodness. A saxophonic start to the night, the dance moves are already out, and it’s hard to keep your feet still to this kind of sound. The bass is so deep my drink starts shaking like that scene from Jurassic Park, and Ivy’s energy keeps the atmosphere nice and animalistic.
Fortunately I caught the majority of Smiling Ivy’s set before skidaddling off to another venue, but they sounded tighter than an air-lock in the international space station.
Fortunately, the sound of badass ska bass also attracted Sam from Bolshy to the scene, and I took a few moments to question him on the nature of a big-band.
Sam, pleasure to meet you! How’re you enjoying the festival?
‘It’s great! This is our third time at Threshold and it’s always a wicked atmosphere.’
Are you looking forward to playing any songs in particular, and what’s your approach to new material?
‘Yeah we’ve got a few new ones we’re going to break out, so that’s exciting. We’re always eager to play new tunes, but we’re careful that we only play it if it’s ready. It’s a group consensus and we know what works for all of us.’
I’ve always wondered how you would manage a seven-piece band in terms of infuences/co-ordination - how does it work for Bolshy?
‘As I say, it’s a group consensus, but really we all just jam together. Everyone’s got their own influences, but we’re all united under the Ska/Reggae banner – like, I’m a bit more into Hardcore myself; Dub-Reggae, No FX type bands etc, but it all works out.’
Excellent, love No FX! Finally, do you guys have any upcoming releases the public should know about?
‘Yeah we’ve got an EP launch on June 28th, so stay tuned!’
Bolshy precede to mash up the District with their bountiful energy, but I am called away to the Nordic Church for the most dangerous Tea Party known to man…
Alpha Male Tea Party
Well the venue is certainly a welcoming sight, though in the midst of all this beauty it feels like a wholly unholy beast is preparing to crane its jaw. I’m no stranger to apprehension in a church setting, especially with the sheer force emanating from Tea Party’s instruments, but this is just the sound-check! The band strikes up, and this small flock of listeners gathers for the sermon.
For a three-piece drum, bass and guitar, Alpha Male Tea Party transformed the church setting into a truly gnarly pit of grungy guts.
This group of dedicated noise-artists looked right at home as they punched our sensibilities with time signatures to rival Tool, and hard-hitting stop-start-boom metal guitar riffs. Simply bursting at the seams, it’s the band’s energy that I admire the most, though they certainly provided me with a metal-injection sufficient enough to last into the next decade. They interacted brilliantly with the audience – a wicked set of spirits that implore you to commune with them.
Upon leaving this sanctuary of demons, I hear the growl of badass-bass follow me down the stairs. Now mostly deaf, it’s on to something completely different.
My only problem with Threshold Festival, (and really it’s my own problem), is that I can’t be everywhere at once. The resources provided have been more than sufficient, and I never feel like I don’t know who’s playing where, or when. The level of musical variety is astounding, if only my legs worked faster!
‘Must. See. McCool!’ is my only thought now though. Desperate not to miss a note, I’m acutely aware of the time, and as I hurriedly push through the Baltic Social doors… the first chords gently strum away all anxiety.
I do have a confession for Natalie: I hadn’t actually heard her material until I started doing research for the festival. It began with ‘America’ from her EP Thin Air. After the seventh replay, I decided to stop melting and listen to a few more tracks – McCool was very clearly going to be a must-see act, and I couldn’t wait to experience the sound live.
True to her word, McCool treated us to tracks from her debut album, each as sublime as the last. Her finger-picking wonderment flowed crisp from her Yamaha THR series tube-amp – totally audible, and totally professional. As ‘America’ reaches its peak at ‘look into my eyes’, there’s a collective sigh of enjoyment from the audience, and I have to stop myself melting in front of them.
‘Normally I have a band behind me’ she explains apologetically, ‘so this is a bit quiet for me’. True it would’ve been the cherry-on-top to have the full band, but this singular talent bore the light of a lone star just fine.
As midnight approaches, my shirt is tugged back towards District for the Friday night finale, and I reluctantly follow after congratulating Natalie for a wonderful performance.
My reluctance is soon replaced with butterflies as we head to the event we’ve all been waiting for. District has evolved further into a hive of anticipation - we’re deaf, dumb, and ready to be blinded by The Destroyers. The crowd are already dancing to the house music; and as the trumpets, trombones, drums, violins, accordions, and vortex cannons gear up, a tremendous wave of sound washes over us.
The Destroyers felt like a real party – the crowd swayed with the whole band as the speed of the ‘oompah oompah’ opener increased. Balloons of all sizes spun around the room, bouncing off the even bouncier crowd, and we raised our drinks in the air and roared our elation!
From a technical standpoint, The Destroyers were unprecedented. Perfectly timed, intricately designed, organised chaos – the music was astonishing and uplifting. This was real dance music. Balkan roots, Irish toots, and a stage full of theatricality, it was the perfect end to the night as we danced away the last shreds of energy.
And that’s just been Friday! Stay tuned – we’ve got a whole new day ahead with even more gold in these hills!
To be continued…
Words by J.Crawford. Images by Andrew AB & Scattershot Photography.