The Great Escape isn’t just an opportunity for lagered-up teenagers to pile into far too small gig venues to catch a sight of the next big thing.
Oh no; there’s a serious music industry convention going on as well. In one seminar we were in the company of talking head Paul Morley, poet Simon Armitage and (squeal) Colin Greenwood from Radiohead, who were discussing how music journalism ain’t what it used to be. Ain’t it the truth? Hell, major record labels now seem to have heard of the internetz.
For a complete change of pace and scene we hurried over to what was billed as a ‘secret’ Babyshambles gig at Audio, to be confronted by 700 confused and bored souls lurking outside the venue’s walls. Turns out it wasn’t so secret after all.
An hour on the pavement later and the pasty one finally made a perfunct appearance on a stage erected in the garden. While Fuck Forever and Delivery were as shambolically endearing as ever, Doherty’s schtick is wearing thin. Perhaps that recent Libertines reunion should be a career move.
In a temporary marquee next to the temporary site of the Parlure Spiegeltent Ben Kweller did his best not to appear temporary for what seemed to be his only set of the festival, appearing solo with acoustic guitar and attempting to be heard over the din of Great Escapees mapping out itineraries for the evening. Meanwhile, in the Water Margin’s tiny basement Tin Can Telephone were unveiling their sweet and fuzzy DIY mish-mash of Pavement, Sonic Youth and Micachu And The Shapes. Although unsigned, the band, led by Andy Duckett, gave an impressive account of themselves, and if the packed room is anything to go by, we’ll be hearing more of them soon.
A belated performance by Sweden’s Deer Tracks got the evening proper off to a slightly soporific start, wind-up music boxes vying with a familiar Scandinavian landscape of glitches and synths to provide appropriate backing for the vocalists’ ephemeral siren-song. Their songs are delicate, fragile things, morning dew refracting moonlight, and there’s enough eerie, understated beauty here to keep the deja vu of bands like Sigur Ros from becoming terminal.
Having maddeningly missed them at the Camden Crawl, nothing was going to stop us catching Banjo Or Freakout‘s dissonant noise at the Pavilion Theatre and plenty of others had similar intentions, judging by the sea of faces taking in what Alessio Natalazia had to offer. Music from his Upside Down EP, released this week, sounded like Californian surf’n'roll played from a long way away and through water, especially on The Week Before. Or Fuck Buttons with intelligible lyrics, on Upside Down. Drums were banged and guitars strummed as a psyched-out vibe took over, but it was all over too soon. Odd, but so very compelling.
The Joy Formidable, already a fixture on most people’s ones to watch lists this summer, turned in a majestic and terrifyingly composed performance at the Water Margin, and other bands hoping to leap aboard the good train shoegaze should be upping their game accordingly. The band are tighter than Chris Hoy’s underpants, and frontwoman Ritzy Bryan is an indie star in the making – here every single bloody track sounded as immense as Austere and Whirring. A huge statement of intent.
At the Spielgletent, Sweden’s Sad Day for Puppets brought a fuzzy, shoegaze-inflected smudge of poppy optimism to the party. It’s diverting if inessential, the overriding effect of their performance an unnerving dissonance between knowing that time has somehow passed without any memories having been formed to account for it. Unlike, of course, New Zealand trio Die! Die Die! at Po Na Na.Vitriolic guitar lines and end-times drums tore away at the small room, and singer Andrew Wilson scanned with Terminator zeal for new parts of the stage to launch himself from. Said stage quickly exhausted, he extended the hunt to the crowd, breaking the fourth-wall and presumably a few bones: it’s like Brecht for the ADHD, theatre for those who find pneumatic drills a touch on the melodic side.
Delays mean we are jostling for a view of Telepathe with just two songs to go: fortunately theirs was exactly the kind of soundtrack that befits an airless club pressed with perspiring flesh, nocturnal beats and drawling synths meshing with singer Melissa Livaudais’ urgent narrative to form a kind of dystopic pop, a Blade Runner you can dance to. Closer So Fine sounds like a night coming alive, shadows commingling with clockwork motions and staccato jolts.
On to gothic multi-instrumentalist and owner of a big voice Catherine AD at the Unitarian Church (where else?). Mac problems assailed the red-dressed Ms Davies almost immediately, but when she unleashed that authoritative voice, studied in the ways of PJ Harvey and Tori Amos, it’s obvious why Bernard Butler‘s been recording with her. While that voice is striking, it’s important that she is seen in context of her musicianship too; just now she’s a developing talent, but it would be surprising to see her in venues of this size once all her ducks are aligned.
Over to Passion Pit‘s synth-centric proteges Yes Giantess‘s first gig outside the USA at the broom cupboard that is Arc. Despite having just one single, Tuff ‘n’ Stuff, to their name, they win over new converts with their ’09 treatment of mid-’80s mainstream pop sounds. You Were Young finds space for a synth riff suspiciously similar to Erasure‘s A Little Respect, while The Word’s chord progressions suggest they’ve been jealously watching MGMT‘s success. They’re easier on the ear than their Passion Pit friends, too. Definitely ones to watch.
Formerly The Muslims, all-American and all-preppy punks The Soft Pack were living up to their reputation as no-nonsense hellraisers at Audio. The only show of the weekend that got the natives restless, their taut, visceral songs like set closer Parasite were impressive enough to echo early The Clash or Joy Division. Not that we’d put them in the hallowed halls of those bands yet, but anyone who can inspire fey indie kids to start a circle of death in front of the stage deserve some bigging up.
On a quite different scale to anything else at The Great Escape, the NME had showed up with its moolah and staged a bill at the Brighton Dome. Headlining were Leicester superstars Kasabian, whose imminent third album goes by the unlikely title of West Ryder Lunatic Asylum and whose singer/preacher, Tom Meighan, tonight in black leather jacket and these days sporting long hair, was a startling doppelganger for Ewan McGregor circa Shallow Grave. Too much light detracted from the rock gig atmosphere, but Shoot The Runner turned the place into a football terrace and encore starter Club Foot predictably raised the roof, Meighan daring any comers to throw missiles at him. One well-aimed plastic pint glass found its target, but he defiantly stood his ground for new single Fire. They’ve always looked ballsy on stage, but Kasabian are building a catalogue to back up the bravado.
Hats off to Komedia’s sound guy; Little Boots sounded way better tonight than when we last heard her drowning in a soupy mix in London a few months ago. There’s still not much in the way of singing along or even dancing along to her material, much of which is already ‘out there’ in remix form, but with debut album Hands set to drop in a fortnight her crowds are looking ever more attentive, never more so than for closer Stuck On Repeat, which tonight sounds immense.
This isn’t a description that could be applied to Juliette Lewis‘ gig at the Concorde 2, who, despite thinking she was a rock goddess in her bizzare red catsuit and black underwear combo, came across more as a screeching, tuneless banshee without an ironic bone in her body. Her ‘music’ (horrid hair metal riffing and sub Siouxie wailing) was the last thing any of the bemused punters took away from this concert, and we left as soon as we could down our still foaming pint.
White Denim – one of the festival’s big draws, with an imminent new album – warrant the snaking queues to get into their Pavilion gig, although that likely isn’t what those left outside want to hear. They’d like some restless guitar lines that scrape away at the air and drum-snaps that cleave it in two. Vocals that bark like the possessed before clutching at us with melody, and songs that assume the form of garage-rock and then mutate into something not quite served by lazy genre-labeling. A band that seem at once unashamedly shambolic and faultlessly poised. Which is exactly what those inside got to hear, in one of the best performances of the weekend.
It seemed a fitting end to our Brighton decampment. What bills itself as “Europe’s leading new music festival” had again lived up to its own hype, giving us a wealth of new material from international and domestic acts boxfresh and established to chew on in the festival months ahead.