Preview: Liverpool International Festival of Psychedelia

Liverpool International Festival of Psychedelia is a celebration of a genre that has long been misunderstood but organiser Craig Pennington tells Richard Smirke why we should appreciate it

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Think of the word psychedelia and what comes to mind? Long-haired hippies, dressed in kaftans and flares, talking about peace and love? Late 1960s-era music artists such as The Beatles, Pink Floyd, Love, Jimi Hendrix and The 13th Floor Elevators? Or the swirling, garishly-coloured abstract imagery which came to symbolise psychedelic music, film and art “happenings” 40 years ago and was later adopted by rave promoters in the late 80s/early 90s?

Originally coined by British-born, Canada-based psychiatrist Humphry Osmond in 1957 (in dialogue with the writer Aldous Huxley) as a word to describe the use of hallucinogens in the field of psychotherapy, the term psychedelic has, in the minds of many, become indelibly linked to a certain style of music and artistic practice that either originates in or is heavily indebted to the 1960s.

Craig Pennington, co-founder of the first ever Liverpool International Festival of Psychedelia, hopes his forthcoming event will, if not eradicate this association, certainly help broaden people’s appreciation of what constitutes modern psychedelic rock, pop, art and film.

“When people see the word psychedelia often it can have flower-power connotations, but it’s something much more expansive than that,” explains Pennington, who, in addition to devising the festival bill alongside Liverpool promoters Harvest Sun, also runs popular Merseyside music magazine Bido Lito!

“My view of psychedelia is anything that’s expansive, questioning and different and makes you think about something in a slightly different way, which can be literal, but that can also be quite subliminal in the music or in the art,” offers Pennington.

In line with the psychedelic movement’s north American origins, the initial inspiration for the Liverpool festival lies 3,000 miles across the Atlantic, specifically in Austin, Texas, which has been home to the Austin Psych Fest since 2008. As self-confessed “massive psych heads” the annual event has long been a dream destination for both Pennington and Harvest Sun co-founder Tom Lynch, but due to the vast travel costs involved neither has so far been able to attend.

Unperturbed, they hit upon the idea of devising their very own psychedelic showcase in their native city.

“If there’s anywhere in the UK that could lay claim of holding an international festival of psychedelia then it would be Liverpool,” he says.

“If you look at the past, as well as the 1960s, but also the whole roots of that post-punk culture with bands like Echo and the Bunnymen and The Teardrop Explodes, the city has always really embraced psych.”

Fittingly, Echo and the Bunnymen founder member Will Sergeant is one of several big names set to appear at this year’s inaugural day-long gathering, which runs from 2pm until 4am on Saturday 29 September at Camp & Furnace, a converted warehouse located in Liverpool’s Baltic Triangle.

Sergeant will DJ at the festival, while other highlights of the stylistically diverse bill include live performances from Icelandic drone rockers Dead Skeletons, British prog-psych quartet Wolf People, Florida’s Ancient Rivers, hotly-tipped psych rockers Palma Violets, Liverpool’s Mugstar, and a headline set from Richard Norris’ The Time & Space Machine.
DJ sets from various members of Clinic, The Coral and Manchester indie label Akoustik Anarkhy will also take place, alongside a showcase of international psychedelic poster art.

“It’s very much a UK coming together of psychedelic sub-culture,” he says, reflecting on the genre-crossing programme.

“We wanted a bill of artists that had a psychedelic element to them in terms of how they perceive things and how they question certain ideas with their music without it being a flower-power festival. I think we’ve successfully done that. Obviously, we want people to have an amazing time, but I also hope that they’ll go away with a whole new idea of how central psychedelia is to music as an art form, going forward.”

The Liverpool International Festival of Psychedelia, 29 Sept, Camp & Furnace, Greenland Street, Liverpool

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