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From Liverpool to Seoul: Sound City’s Asian adventure

Independent festival and conference Sound City has its roots firmly in the northwest of the UK but has recently begun to set its sights much further afield, tapping into the rapidly growing South Korean music industry.

Here, IQ talks to Sound City chief executive David Pichilingi about new ventures overseas, the appetite for new music in Asia and why Sound City is much more than “just” a music festival…

IQ: What are the origins of Sound City?
DS: We launched Sound City in 2008, because it felt at that time that Liverpool was looking backwards. Liverpool is a city with such an important musical history and a strong tradition of shaping popular culture, but it felt like it had got to the point where everything was focused on reflecting on the past rather than trying to define the future.

Sound City was the model needed to enable Liverpool and the wider region to begin looking forward and begin trying to reinvent itself for a modern audience. The ethos was always to put Liverpool and the region on the map, and we aimed to do that through musical showcases linked to a world class conference schedule.

By showcasing what we felt was the best of creative talent on offer, we have grown into presenting over 350 bands from 22 different countries. This year we had over 7,500 bands applying to play at Sound City. There’s also the business conference, which has been present from day one right in the heart of festival. It has grown from 50 speakers in year one and a couple hundred of delegates, to this year over 1,500 delegates and speakers. To date, Sound City has helped to secure around £30 million in new deals for UK artists and music-based businesses, equating to around £3m per year.

Sound City was the model needed to enable Liverpool and the wider region to begin looking forward and begin trying to reinvent itself for a modern audience

How did Sound City Korea come about?
Like most things in life it was a happy accident. Our mission has always been to support the development of artists and industry talents in any shape or form. We started getting inquiries from organisations based in Korea, China, Australia and parts of central Europe, wanting to showcase musical talent and bring business representatives.

Through this, we cultivated contacts with a wide range of people, including a very close relationship with Dalse, who runs Zandari Festival (South Korea’s largest showcase event) in Seoul. He wanted to grow the festival and shared our ethos of supporting young artists. We started by helping to book speakers and by taking agents and labels over, then that grew into us taking British bands over and putting on a British stage. Four years on, we have our own version of Sound City in Seoul. There was no strategic plan just kindred spirits and like-minded people coming together to create something inspiring.

Have you expanded into other parts of Asia?
Absolutely, the reputation and credibility of Zandari Festival has grown substantially because of our association with it and because of what we’ve done there, we have been asked to do similar things elsewhere. We are looking to build on that and a key priority over the next three to five years is to create a version of Sound City in China as go to event for Asia.

Modern Sky, the largest independent Chinese record label and festival promoter, is our conduit into that marketplace. Through our partnership with them, we have the ability to connect with audiences and businesses in China and the wider Asian region, giving us an opportunity that few others have.

With Modern Sky, we are aiming to create a flagship event in China. The idea is to create more opportunities as opposed to fewer, and we are by no means aiming to take away from Zandari with this. We want to coordinate it so artists can come from doing one or two shows at Zandari, to then performing in China. So rather than getting people to fly out for four days, they can come for ten and attend two conferences and showcase festivals instead of one.

A key priority over the next three to five years is to create a version of Sound City in China as go to event for Asia

It’s important to note that this is all about two-way traffic. We are also helping Asian artists to make it in the UK and Europe, as well as showcasing our own talents and creating our own connections in Asia.

Why is the Asian market important?
Via globalisation and social platforms it is possible for anybody to be known overseas now and the days of trying to be only king of your own backyard is over for artists.

In the Asian region, Korea is seen as a very important marketplace, even though it’s not that big – much in the same way that the UK music market is influential but relatively small – and a lot of artists use it to get a foothold elsewhere.

The level of opportunity in Asia in general is huge, especially in China where audience consumption of popular music is estimated at 550 million people. It is also still a relatively untapped marketplace. In China and the rest of Asia, there is a very savvy young audience now with a strong connection with the west and western culture. In terms of the music and subcultures, there is a lot of opportunity for independent record labels and emerging artists. It is much more of a level playing field over there.

What else is Sound City up to?
The Sound City festival comes as both a blessing and a curse – people think that’s all we are but we do so many different things.

We have a lot going on abroad but are doing many other great things at home too. In July this year we launched a new version of Sound City at Manchester International Festival, as a part of Distractions (a three-day summit on future of entertainment). We are now aiming to turn that into an annual event, so we have two meaningful events for business delegations and artists in two of the strongest music cities in the UK.

In China and the rest of Asia, there is a very savvy young audience now with a strong connection with the west and western culture

Our event Off the Record, which we do in conjunction with festival promoter From the Fields, is coming into its fourth year. This is a very grassroots festival, for artists and young people on the first rung of the ladder still trying to make sense of it all. We have sold out for the past three years and are looking to do the same for the fourth year too.

We also run music entrepreneurship training, offering early stage talent development for young people, featuring music-making, training, mentoring and work placement opportunities, with a focus on areas of deprivation in Liverpool and the northwest.

In terms of our wider strategic partnerships, we are the lead UK partner in the Keychange initiative (led by PRS Foundation and supported by the Creative Europe programme) which encourages festivals and music organisations to achieve a 50:50 gender balance by 2022.

This has also led to us being part of the INES network which is a EU cooperation project led by a network of eight international showcase festivals to create a united, strong European music market.

When we started Sound City over 14 years ago our mantra was always to have an international footprint. Over these years we have now built a strong and credible brand that is respected globally. We are still proud to call Liverpool, Manchester and the North our home from where everything else radiates.


The inaugural Sound City Ipswich, a one-day conference and multi-venue festival, is taking place on 4 October in partnership with Out Loud Music and local venue the Smokehouse.


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Attitude is Everything launches ‘DIY’ accessibility guide

Music accessibility charity Attitude is Everything a published a new guide for bands, artists and promoters advising how to make gigs and tours more accessible for deaf and disabled people.

The DIY Access Guide contains a series of “cheap and simple hacks” to make shows more inclusive for disabled audiences, including:

The zine-style publication launched yesterday at the Off The Record in Manchester as part of the Break Down Barriers, We Will Come panel, featuring Attitude is Everything CEO Suzanne Bull MBE, music blogger Hannah McKearnen, Revenge of Calculon’s Rob Maddison, Sauna Youth’s Richard Phoenix and community punk promoters Constant Flux.

“Attitude is Everything has ambitions to make all live music events as inclusive as possible, and particularly those promoted at small grassroots venues,” says Bull. “Even what appear relatively minor changes can make a big difference in practice.

“That’s the reason we’ve put together this easy-to-use guide. Nobody should cut off from their local music scene – whether that’s the millions of disabled people who want to attend gigs and shows or deaf and disabled artists who are looking to perform. By following our simple advice, promoters and artists can help make live music so much more accessible, and attract a whole new audience into the bargain.”

More than 130 venues and festivals have committed to improve their accessibility by signing up to Attitude is Everything’s Charter of Best Practice, with Reading Festival the most recent.


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Festival Focus: Life is Beautiful, Off the Record

Las Vegas street festival Life is Beautiful has released details of its daily music line-up ahead of day tickets going on sale tomorrow.

The festival, promoted by Another Planet Entertainment and Las Vegas-based Life is Beautiful LLC, takes place from 23 to 25 September across 18 Las Vegas city blocks and will this year feature performances from Mumford & Sons, J. Cole, Major Lazer, The Lumineers, G-Eazy, The Shins, Flume, Empire of the Sun, Jane’s Addiction, Bassnectar and more.

Life is Beautiful launched in October 2013 and bills itself as an “annual celebration where people from all walks of life – generations, orientation, race, religion and nationality – come together and create an experience centred in music, art, taste and ideas”. In addition to live music, it includes art installations, gourmet food stalls and seminars from “thinkers, doers and talkers” from the worlds of entertainment, business and science. (Major Lazer photo by Jared Eberhardt.)

Major Lazer, Coachella 2010, Jared Eberhardt

The teams behind three independent UK festivals, From the Fields’ Kendal Calling and Bluedot and Liverpool Sound City Ltd’s Sound City, have partnered with music magazine Louder than War for a new multi-venue festival for emerging music.

Off the Record, taking place in the Northern Quarter, Manchester, on 4 November, will feature a line-up chosen by 30 ‘national curators’ (including Guy Garvey, Lara Baker, Huw Stephens, John Kennedy and Tim Burgess) and also include a conference segment with delegates from the agency, promotion and label/publishing A&R.

Dave Pichilingi, Sound City CEO, says: “We’ll be keeping the line-up top secret until the morning of the event because we know that you trust us and we trust you to be interested in the future,” adding that festival will be a celebration of the new, and not the comfy cushion of the old”.

Grace Jones, Carriageworks 2015, Bruce

Afropunk and FYF Fest headliner Grace Jones will headline the second Metropolis festival in Dublin this November.

The indoor event takes place in array of warehouses and venues in the Royal Dublin Society Showground from 3 to 5 November. Also on the bill are DJ Shadow, Solomun, Moderat, SBTRKT (DJ set), Booka Shade, BadBadNotGood, Crystal Castles, The Sugarhill Gang, Fatima Yamaha, Fakear, Girl Band and more “to be announced”. (Grace Jones photo by Bruce/kingArthur_aus on Flickr.)

Biffy Clyro, Ancienne Belgique 2013, Kmeron

This week’s Boardmasters festival in Cornwall will be the venue for the debut of the “UK’s first immersive music video”.

Created by Biffy Clyro and Samsung using virtual reality (VR) technology, the installation will allow viewers wearing Samsung Gear VR headsets to appear alongside Biffy Clyro in their video for ‘Flammable’, which sees the band playing in a perspex box suspended above an abandoned warehouse.

The ‘Hypercube’ will also appear at Glasgow Summer Sessions and Bestival.

Ross Cairns, creative director at Samsung, says: “This project was born out of a desire to bring the best parts of live music to an audience so people can feel closer to the band than ever before. Biffy were the perfect partners for this.

“From inception we focused on marrying music and technology to appear effortlessly synchronised. We’re delighted to bring the wonders of virtual reality to a generation of music fans in this way and demonstrate how we are empowering people to use technology in a way that allow them to experience the extraordinary.” (Biffy Clyro photo by Kmeron.)

Molly Hatchet, Azkena Rock Festival 2009, Alberto Cabello

Close to 1,200 people have signed a petition addressed to ‘music festival organisers’ calling for the minimum age for UK festivalgoers to be raised to 21.

The petition was created by Chris Bell, the father of 17-year-old Megan Bell, one of two people who died at this year’s T in the Park.

“I strongly believe that an adult would not experiment [with drugs and alcohol] or adhere to peer pressure like a child would,” writes Bell. “Children as young as 14–55 are attending these events unsupervised [and] parents are not aware of what they are up to while they are [there]. Please help me in changing all of this.”

White Miles, Raise a Little Hell tour 2015, Julio Gómez Braojos

Another 10 names have been added to the 10th-anniversary edition of Welsh metal festival Hard Rock Hell.

Molly Hatchet, Warrior Soul, White Miles, Leader of Down, Broken Witt Rebels, Cherry Grind, Red Spektor, Cross Eyed Mary, Bright Curse and The Bad Flowers are the newly announced acts for the festival, which takes place from 10 to 13 November at the Haven Hafan y Mor holiday park in Pwllheli. (Molly Hatchet [top] and White Miles photos by Alberto Cabello and Julio Gómez Braojos, respectively.)


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