Festival Preview: The Great Escape 2009

01 May 2009

It’s been nigh-on nine months since musicOMH rolled up its tent and swore never to drink overpriced lager in a wet field full of people again, but, waddya know, festival season is upon us again, and it turns out we haven’t learned our lesson.

After April’s fabulously sunny Camden Crawl, Brighton takes its turn to host the ravenous hordes of new music fans all clamouring to snatch a quick peek at the next big thing before their (hopefully) career-defining Glastonbury debut next month.

As with the Camden Crawl, the organisers sensibly opt to host the event inside, utilising 34 of Brighton’s sweatboxes for fear of apocalyptic weather conditions – meaning 300 bands big and small, and some 12,000 paying customers and ‘music delegates’, will squish together for what promises to be three days of premium talent-spotting.
The Great Escape has always been a favourite of this site’s – partly due to the opportunity to visit the seaside’s premier nightspots without fear of missing the last train home, and partly due to the festival’s unerring accuracy as a barometer of public opinion for the next few months of under-canvas action. Last year Crystal Castles, the Ting Tings, Vampire Weekend and Santogold began the summer in Brighton as ones-to-watch and ended it as superstars, and with delegations from across the world attending the concurrent music conference, there’s every opportunity to see the creme of both the domestic and the international crop.

This year’s line-up is a good mish-mash of up-and-coming artists and established acts looking for a welcome spike in publicity before their summer blow-outs. So, if you fancy checking out Little Boots or The King Blues on the way up, Kasabian road-testing new material or Idlewild… well, being Idlewild, there’s a lot worse you could be doing with your weekend.

The action kicks off early. Hometown boys The Miserable Rich open proceedings on Thursday at the unreasonably early time of 11.15am, and go late, with industry shindigs lasting late into each night. The venues range in size and practicality – from the Concorde, which plays host to Swedish comeback kids-with-the-whistling Peter Bjorn And John and Parisians The Teenagers, to the gorgeous, high-ceiling coffee shop Red Roaster, which sees Slowdive‘s Neil Halstead and folk troubadour Blue Roses gracing its caffeine-stained walls over the weekend.

The unique selling point of the festival, apart from its seaside setting, is that while sets are normally pretty short to ensure maximum band turnover, most bands play two (sometimes more) sets spread over the three days. So, if you miss hotly-tipped noiseniks The Joy Formidable on Friday at Revenge, they’re playing on both Saturday AND Sunday for maximum impact. Like The Camden Crawl, those with passes will need to accept that it perhaps isn’t the best idea to see everything – as queues and lengthy walks will invariably stand in front of them. However, much of the joy of the festival is wandering into a converted church and stumbling across Johnny Flynn banging a box – or somesuch. Go on, you’ll enjoy it. Who’ll you discover before anyone else?

Six of the best – suggestions of what not to miss this year.

The Maccabees (@ the Corn Exchange, May 14, 12pm)
New record Wall Of Arms has been fairly compared to the Arcade Fire’s Funeral, and the Brighton boys will receive an absolutely enormous welcome home at midday on Thursday. Well worth getting out of bed for – they may well be among the ‘sound of the summer’ roundups come September.

Micachu and the Shapes (@ Po Na Na, 14 May, Sallis Benney Theatre, 15 May)
Following the release of her long-awaited debut record this year, Micachu (or Mica Levi to her friends) seems to have been the next big thing for quite a while. This’ll be your chance to see the breathy electro chanteuse before she goes supernova.

Crystal Antlers (@ Hectors House, 15 May, Pavilion Theatre, 15 May)
Hailing from Long Beach, California, this lot pile a shedload of influences (punk, psych, prog and various kitchen sinks) into a live show that has been described as “relentless” and “crowd pleasing”. If the promise of a spectacular gig isn’t enough for you, perhaps the fact that their drummer is called Sexual Chocolate will.

James Yuill (@ Po Na Na, 15 May)
Reports from the Camden Crawl said Mr Yuill’s brand of electro-acoustigeek (he’s a slightly speccy man, dancing alone onstage to gorgeous electro) were very favourable, and we’ve high hopes for the Moshi Moshi signing who sounds a little like a Chemical Brothers remix of Nick Drake.

Emmy The Great (@ Digital, 14 May)
It seems to have been young Emma Lee-Moss’ year for the past four years – now with a debut album and an extensive festival tour scheduled for the summer, it’s make or break time for the singer we called “deeply impressive”.

The Joy Formidable (@ Revenge (1st Floor), 14 May, Oceans Rooms (ground), 15 May, JAM, 16 May)
An extensive weekend for the dreamy indie band who were described as “fucking loud” by our correspondents at the Camden Crawl. The band, whose rise and rise is getting positive notices everywhere, have already been likened to a funky Arcade Fire.

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