Preview: Liverpool International Music Festival

The city has relied on The Beatles for too long and to the detriment of everything else musical. Richard Smirke finds LIMF is about looking forwards, as well as back

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In the same year that Liverpool commemorates the 175th anniversary of the Cunard Line, it is entirely fitting that the key theme of the upcoming Liverpool International Music Festival is music migration.

“The Cunard Line played a huge role in bringing not just commodities to Liverpool, but also brought culture to Liverpool,” explains Yaw Owusu, curator of this year’s event, which takes place on August bank holiday weekend. “We’re a port city and over the years we’ve had millions of people come from all over the world and settle here or pass through, and the music that they have brought has been key to making the city unique.”

Now in its third year, LIMF was introduced by Liverpool City Council in 2013 to replace the long-running Mathew Street Festival, which although still popular had essentially become a vomit-soaked booze-up by the time it drunkenly staggered into the sunset. The change in branding also marked a welcome change in direction with the previous emphasis on The Beatles and Merseybeat covers bands swapped for a more rounded celebration of Liverpool’s illustrious music heritage and, just as importantly, its next generation of music heroes.

“Liverpool has such an amazing music past, but I do think that it was playing it safe and relying on that too much,” says Owusu, who points to the city’s ever-evolving dance and rock scene as evidence of a creative and cultural hotbed influenced by the past, but also looking forward. The same applies to LIMF, which this year encompasses four distinct strands.

Top of the bill is Summer Jam, Europe’s biggest free music event, taking place over three days in Sefton Park and featuring live performances from Basement Jaxx, Labrinth, Laura Mvula and Naughty Boy alongside homegrown bands Space and Echo and the Bunnymen, who will be joined by Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra.

“Liverpool now is as much about the future as it is about celebrating the past.”

Other strings to LIMF’s multi-faceted bow include its academy scheme, fostering the city’s music stars of tomorrow, and its partnerships programme, which pairs international musicians with local talent. Highlights of the latter include a Q&A between Grammy-winning producer Steve Levine and songwriting legend Lamont Dozier, as well as the Bob Harris-hosted The Bluebird at the Bluecoat, which transports the world famous Nashville music venue to Merseyside.

The legacy of black American soul, R&B and hip-hop music will be explored in Liverpool: Next Stop New York, a free party at Sefton Park’s Palm House, headlined by DJs Greg Wilson and Les Spaine, accompanied by talks and a month-long art and photography exhibition at Mathew Street’s View Two Gallery.

Other events focused on the festival’s migration theme include a celebration of Gil Scott-Heron (featuring Talib Kweli and Aswad) and the Routes Jukebox, a live show retracing the influence of everything from the blues to doo-wop to reggae on multiple generations of Liverpool performers.

“No music city exists in a vacuum,” reflects Owusu. “But I do believe that Liverpool is inherently different culturally and musically from anywhere else in the world. There is something here that is special and moving forward at an amazing rate. It feels like LIMF has become a beacon for everything that’s going on in the city and that Liverpool now is as much about the future as it is about celebrating the past.”

Liverpool International Music Festival takes place at venues across the city on 27-31 Aug

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