Liverpool’s Electronic Music Event Returns…

The Silicon Dreams festival has been a semi-regular event on the synth-pop-lovers calendar for almost two decades now. Originally a small retro-computing/synth-pop crossover celebration, it’s grown over the years, shedding the 8-bit to concentrate on the music and expanding in size, ambition, and scope.

This year saw the festival become an all-day affair with no less that NINE contemporary electropop artists from across the UK to enjoy. The synth-focused but still diverse lineup included a mix of festival returnees, fledgling bands, and seasoned veterans making their first appearance at Silicon Dreams.

The event was held in the Music Room of the Liverpool Philharmonic: a perfectly sized, perfectly shaped venue with the best acoustics we’ve heard in a long time (props must go to the guys on the mixing desk for the day too).

Opening the festival were Berlyn Trilogy, returning to Silicon Dreams after their inspired performance here in 2017. The trio’s take on gothic synth-pop has made them a popular live act across a variety of events both small and large. But the the excellent acoustics of the current venue give their songs a more stylish presentation.

Simon Rowe’s sonorous voice delivers a weighty impact on the likes of ‘Domus Aurea’, with some sterling work from James Beswick on synths and Faye Williams demonstrating a natural talent on the bass.

Meanwhile, old favourites such as the strident ‘Departed’ and brooding ‘The Drone’ still retain their percussive power.

Local band OVVLS (yes it’s pronounced “owls”) were up next, the duo treating the audience to their special blend of broody alternative pop with a hauntronic vibe. We hadn’t been expecting much from a band this early in the running order, but OVVLS combination of expertly crafted and authoritatively delivered songs quickly won us over. ‘The Apple Tree’ went down especially well; in a parallel universe we were waving our lighters along to it. Afterwards we bought a bottle of OVVLS craft beer from the merch stand (with its download code on the label and a befitting ABV of 6.66%) and we soon learned that despite their goth image, these OVVLS are two of the loveliest people you could meet.

The Rude Awakening (on stage as Johnny Normal and Bridget Grey) are a band we were particularly looking forward to hearing live, based on the brilliance of their latest album Kaleidoscope. Dressed in white and adapting their set to a before-the-watershed family-friendly version, the Rude Awakening lived up their growing reputation. Fab opener ‘Let Nothing Take Your Pride’ set the scene and the live rendition of ‘Another Song’ was a festival highlight. It was soon apparent that here were two people having fun; fully entertaining and only a tiny bit rude.

After a tea-time interval (and some great burritos down at Lucha Libre) we were back with Electronica, the second Liverpool group to hit the stage. We’re usually no big fan of covers bands, but these guys put on a lively performance with some fun banter and they soon won us (and the audience) over. Their version of ‘The Model’ was particularly well-krafted, and the inclusion of a rather good self-penned song (as featured on ABC’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D no less!) fully vindicated their appearance at an event like this.

Silicon Dreams favourite Caroline McLavy was the festival’s only solo artist, but that didn’t seem to phase her and Caroline’s admirers in the audience were many. Assuredly delivering a mixture of new songs and old, highlights included the LorD and Master mix of ‘Miss Perfect’ and the brand-new Ricardo Autobahn mix of ‘I Lied’.

Twist Helix took their places next, and within moments had the audience enraptured with their sheer energy and delightful charisma. Performing songs mostly from their recent album Ouseburn (see TEC review previously), this trio were perfectly in-sync; pitch-perfect with their punky alt-pop and sonically the best of the fest. Much of the chat later on was about how fabulous the Twist Helix set had been: these cats made a lot of new fans that night and we wouldn’t be surprised to see them supporting the likes of CHVRCHES in the future.

Spiros Maus’s Armada Named Sound brought some suave sophistication to the stage, with a rich blend of smooth synth-pop and beguiling songs. Vocalist Nicola Heathcote crooned and bewitched us throughout, with track ‘NY’ being particularly well performed and received. And new fans were acquired here too: TEC boy Paul H says “I’ve listened to Armada Named Sound the most after Silicon Dreams.”

And then, for the first time in 7 years, Northern Kind’s Matt Culpin and Sarah Heeley were back! They’ve played Silicon Dreams several times in the past, but following their split in 2014 we all thought that was it. So a return with two new singles this year and the news that Northern Kind would be co-headlining this festival was the synth-pop surprise of the summer. Still looking fabulous, the intervening years had done nothing to dull Sarah’s voice as the duo launched into a collection of their finest songs as well as the live debut of ‘The Feeling’ and ‘Lip Service’. Some minor technicals did nothing to dampen the spirits, and it was a joy to hear the rich sounds of ‘Millionaire’ live once again. Here’s hoping a new album is in the works…

Closing the festival were Sinestar, the five-man synth-rock band who’ve released a couple of sterling albums over the past few years. Front-man Iain Brownlie is a commanding presence, and he triumphantly led us through songs like ‘A Million Like Us’ and personal fave ‘Ready Set Go & Die’. As midnight approached, Sinestar bade us farewell and left us all smiling on the outside.

Silicon Dreams 2019 will go down as a great success then, and proof that there’s a thriving musical life outside of London. It was heart-warming to see all the performing artists watching each other’s sets, and mixing with the audience, posing for photos, signing CDs and the like. A special mention to DJ Max Speed (I don’t think we saw him stop dancing once!) and of course to multi-talented organiser Simon Hewitt, without whom this dream would never have happened.

For true fans of synth-pop, Silicon Dreams remains the place to be: great music, great venue, proper friends.

Photos: Paul Browne. Further pics on our additional gallery below:

Jer White
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