Melting Vinyl and Innerstrings’ Lewes Psychedelic Festival is always a highlight of the calendar year. Not only do they get a group of fantastic bands together, they craft the perfect mixture of a great venue, mesmerising visuals and lighting, and substantial doses of psych goodness. This year’s was no different, with the likes of Wax Machine, Wolf People and Josefin Öhrn + The Liberation all descending upon the old-school setting of the All Saints Centre.
A part of what makes Lewes Psych Fest stand out so much, too, is the All Saints Centre. Its beautiful church setting is exactly the sort of place you’d imagine the psych greats (Pink Floyd, Hawkwind, Jefferson Airplane etc) playing back in the 60s. Moreover, Innerstrings makes it look intensely enchanted. Throughout, his lighting makes you feel like you’re in a psychedelic dream, while the visuals feel like they come straight from the consciousness of a certain Syd Barrett.
The difficult act of opening up day one of the festival fell to Dorking’s Vinyl Staircase. Still a relatively new band, it was a demanding task but one they pulled off quite well. They’re certainly more on the side of an indie band, rather than a fully-fledged psych band, but throughout there’s radiations of psych guitars over beating drum patterns and stammering lyrics. They played to a rather modest crowd, but those that did see it would have been impressed.
Local seven-piece band Wax Machine were up next. It was incredibly evident early on the sheer scope that this band perform under. With a myriad of instruments at their disposal, they fuse visionary fables through the modes of 60s psychedelia, Middle Eastern-influenced vibes and lovingly crafted harmonies. The flexible female/male vocals is their strongest aspect, however, with dreamy, haunted vocals mixed with the rasping to devastating effect.
No doubt the best and most diverse band on day one was Adrena Adrena. A collaborative project between drummer E-Da Kazuhisa (previously of Japanese band Boredoms) and visual artist Daisy Dickinson, they combine the macrocosm with earthy drum patterns. With a giant orb floating five feet in the air, transcending, sensual images of the astonishment of the earth, it’s a staggeringly hypnotising live prospect. With just E-Da Kazuhisa on stage behind the drums, it’s magnificently impressive in just how captivating the performance is.
Vanishing Twin, the penultimate act of day one, are a very similar outfit to Wax Machine. However, etching sounds of a more pop sensibility, they have far more mainstream appeal. Songs such as ‘The Conservation of Energy’ have the melting vibes of new wave-psychedelia with quick witted lyricism and glorious vocals. Another band that are multi-instrumentalists, there’s an exciting array of possibilities that their live show can go in and throughout this one they diversified.
Day one headliners, Wolf People, have a much more earthy sound. Psych-tinged, of course, but Wolf People are essentially built on sonic riffs and early metal-style guitar melody. It’s a very industrial sound, but one that manages to be addictive and harmonious at the same time. ‘Tiny Circle’, for example, sounds like Black Sabbath-meets-Fairport Convention, with its driving guitars and folky backdrop. Wolf People capture the sounds of middle England magnificently, and the beautiful interiors of All Saints Centre, along with the immense lighting, made this an exceptional headlining performance.
Day two had a more international flavour to it and, it must be said, a much larger crowd than day one. La Houle, a French band now located in London, commenced proceedings with their indie brand of shoegaze. The band, whose name translates to “the swell”, sound like the heavily-processed cosmic sounds of My Bloody Valentine meets the waves of dream pop of Slowdive. As such, they provided a quixotic start to day two of the festival and yet another different facet of psych to showcase just how diverse the genre can be.
Portsmouth band Melt Dunes were up next. Playing a continuous set, without breaks for the entire half hour, they were mightily impressive. They’re almost a brand of garage psychedelia and throughout you could hear aspects of the krautrock in the ilk of Can and 60s British psychedelia like Syd Barrett’s Pink Floyd. Melt Dunes are known as a hard-working band on the live circuit and it’s no surprise on this showing – with face-melting solos and an intense, vast landscape of sounds – they are an immensely talented live unit.
The atmosphere and tempo was brought down Julien Gasc’s pop resonance. There’s an elegance and decadence to Gasc’s character of pop music. His music is fluid and luscious and, along with the excellent visuals, he creates throwback panoramas. It’s this, along with his immeasurable welcoming friendliness, which provides a sympathetic dynamic to the late evening.
The best band of day two, and potentially the whole weekend, was Soccer96. Initially booked because the festival likes “to have at least one act who can maintain high levels of psych, but without the aid of guitars”, they absolutely smashed their set and, no doubt about it, received the best reaction all weekend. The synth and drum duo of Dan Leavers and Max Hallett mix prog-rock, psych, jazz and electronica to create an all-out dancing behemoth. In parts it’s raving and at times it’s electronic ambience, but that amalgamation created an atmosphere of an old-school rave and for a crowd that was, admittedly, quite reserved for most of the weekend, that’s an incredible feat.
Day two headliner, and final performer of the fantastic weekend, was Josefin Öhrn + The Liberation. One thing that stood out right away was the anticipation in the air before she came on. This felt like an exciting proposition and, clearly, Josefin Ohrn had the fanbase in the room to reward a headline set. Playing a set largely made up by 2016’s Mirage, she was excellent. Over the two days of psychedelia there was a large amount of experimentation, diversity and uniqueness which the festival should duly be heralded for. However, it was refreshing to see Öhrn come out and perform a set of straightforward psych that the audience could dance and sing-along to. Fundamentally, it was a performance very worthy of a headline set and a fantastic way to end a stirring weekend.
Ultimately and of course, this was a fascinating weekend, but it has to be said, one of the most impressive aspects was the diversity of the weekend. It was invigorating to see a festival that had an equal amount of men and woman and not just on the stage, but off it too. It’s clear that there’s an ever-growing audience for the genre and Lewes Psychedelic Festival is just the tip of the iceberg.
Photos by Andrea Shamlou