Threshold Festival – Saturday

I was unfortunately out of town for the first day of this year’s Threshold Festival, but as I drift through the Baltic Quarter as the Saturday commences the tales I’ve heard of torrential rain for the inaugural day seem all but an impossibility. The lukewarm sun goes hand in hand with an overwhelmingly positive atmosphere, and though there’s hardly a big name in sight on the line-up there’s an all-encompassing sense of common open-mindedness that’s a perfect accompaniment to the festival’s grassroots impetus.

As good an example as any to embody the spirit of the festival are Carlos and the Jackal. Playing to a crowd of roughly a dozen in the Arena Gallery, (a room of about 15 square feet), they’re an eccentric sight. Varying as much in age as in number, the three-piece rattle through a half-hour set of pleasing acoustic tunes with a peppering of blues and traditional folk, with harmonicas, mandolins and something called a stomp box brought along for good measure. It’s the definition of both intimate and acoustic (i.e. no need for any kind of amplification), and the ideal way to get the festival off to a relaxed and pleasant start.

Pieces of a Man over at District, meanwhile, are about as different an act from Carlos as could be expected; yet delight their crowd in equal measure, a fact indicative of the festival’s prodigious variety of styles. The Manchester fivesome provide energetic neo-soul that’s as accessible as it is eclectic, with frontman Tolu’s abounding charisma given ample breathing room atop the tight grooves of his band. The main problem, however, is that the audience have remained moderate throughout, and there’s growing pressure for their successors to the stage to kindle a bit of movement amongst the throng.

So step forward Soul Rays, who make good use of their ten members to create a wide, glitzy sound which has the crowd gradually swelling. They’re a band far more rooted in tradition than their more interesting predecessors, with their three singers and brass section doing little in the way of innovation. That’s not to say, however that they’re in any way a bad band, for what they lack in originality they make up for in poised positivity, and the fact that by the end of the set the floor is awash with dancers is surely testament to their skill as a live act (or perhaps to an increasing influence of daytime drinking).

Mutant Vinyl, also at District, is the first of the acts I come across with a weight of expectation, and judging by the swarm of photographers it seems I’m not alone. Defying distinction, Mutant Vinyl’s sound is somewhere between dub and jazz, with elements of off-kilter electronica and funk, and makes impressive use of space and echo to craft evocative, shadowy soundscapes. Main man and multi-instrumentalist Edwin Pope is clearly relishing the attention and seems crafted for stardom as he lays claim to the stage, unyielding to the hysterical hordes. Whether his confidence borders on conceit is somewhat debatable, but what can’t be denied is that Mutant Vinyl have done more than justified the hype, and likeable or not they’re a bright hope for Liverpool’s musical future.

A subsequent trip to 24 Kitchen Street is more than rewarded by the unusual Spaceheads, a two-piece trumpet/drums combo whose instrumental odysseys bring to mind the resolute grooves of ‘Vanishing Point’-era Primal Scream and the organic, playfully enigmatic jazz grooves of Sun Ra and Miles Davis. Slightly understated in its peculiarities, what shines through with a band like Spaceheads is that they’re entirely in their element. At once detached and determined the pair create a wide and intoxicating sound with little help but a laptop, and serve for my personal highlight of the festival.

With the night having drifted towards the abstract, the (deep breath) Part Time Heliocentric Cosmo Drama After School Club (Saturn, Lancashire) pull it firmly into the realms of the surreal. With too many members for me to count given my slightly awkward position amongst a packed crowd, the jazz group are about as avant-garde as it gets. Dressed in glittery Egyptian-style costumes straight from a primary school assembly they’re a tough band to review given their uncompromising oddness, but their bizarre, moody sound could perhaps be said to bear the stamp of latter-day Scott Walker and the weirder end of Krautrock (Can, Einstürzen Neubaten), and in spite of all their peculiarities they eventually win over a slightly sceptical crowd, and whatever the hell it is, there’s definitely something there.

Concluding the day’s festivities is much-lauded Leeds duo Galaxians, and while they unavoidably bring with them a return to accessibility, they’re anything but dull. Launching through a long set with its roots firmly in the traditions of great dance music any audience banter is eschewed in favour of an unswerving determination that’s firmly propelled upon an audience now thoroughly inebriated and ready to dance the night away. Demonstrating that rare ability to combine measured electronica with an enjoyable sense of the organic in the tradition of New Order there’s a constant sense of momentum as each gratifying groove flows into the next, and the Saturday is brought to a close in style.

Patrick Clarke