Live Reviews

Festival Review: The Great Escape 2013

16-18 May 2013


The Great Escape 2013The forecasters suggested an overcast, windy, cold and possibly wet weekend in Brighton but, much like the naysayers over this year’s Great Escape line-up (refreshingly free from big names), they turned out to be hopelessly wrong. Bright sunshine and mostly clear skies set a hugely positive tone for a festival and industry convention that offered an abundance of surprises.

Mostly avoiding the more established artists, sometimes due to excited queues that even a delegate’s pass could not bypass (Phosphorescent, The Strypes), musicOMH ventured around as many of the festival’s many and varied venues as possible, in an attempt to capture some of the range and breadth of a highly successful programme.

The largest audiences of the sold-out weekend were captivated by the likes of Billy Bragg and Everything Everything at The Dome, whilst the hipster cognoscenti were thrilled by secret sets from buzz bands such as Palma Violets or by emergent acts such as Chvrches and Iggy Azalea. The widely dispersed venues (many of them endorsed or sponsored by media partners, including musicOMH) offered both familiar treats and unexpected triumphs.

Even further beyond, The Alternative Escape afforded yet more new and developing acts – and promoters – the chance to hone their sets in front of open-minded and enthusiastic audiences in the form of 20 minute teasers. During daylight hours, the convention offered lively debate amongst experts and advice for those embarking on the tough journey of a career in music, including appearances from some major figures from behind the scenes. Speed networking sessions also afforded a rare opportunity to make contacts face to face.

Whilst it is not written about so often, this is a vital part of The Great Escape (to the extent that dealmaking could sometimes be overheard during live acts) and a major aspect of what makes it so special and exciting both for delegates and audiences – there is a real sense of energy and hope for much of the weekend that refreshingly sidesteps negativity in favour of an encouraging realism. Much of this is reflected in the musical performances themselves.

Thursday

Kimberly Anne, Unitarian Church

London’s Kimberly Anne is a confident and engaging presence on musicOMH’s stage, a singer-songwriter with effortless style and truly impressive hair (“Come and see me at the end,” she says, “even if you just want to touch my hair – I do too”). Thankfully, she also has a clutch of infectious, deceptively simple earworm melodies that linger long in the memory, as well as an endearing vulnerable streak in songs such as Hard As Hello and Bury It There. Her relaxed humour and unforced charm win the crowd over easily, and they are more than happy to sing along to the self explanatory refrain of La La. With more key festival appearances and a new EP to come soon, she is firmly in the ascendant. (DP)

Lewis Watson, Unitarian Church

The musicOMH stage at the Unitarian Church was headlined with confidence by rising star Lewis Watson in front of a packed audience. He has a warm and charming stage presence and his vocals are strong and soulful, as best illustrated when he goes unplugged in the middle of his set. (MR)

Glass Animals, Digital

Oxford foursome Glass Animals are the band you never saw coming. Starting out as university friends (one’s a neuroscientist), they’ve been quietly etching together their willowy electronica since 2010, garnering critical praise and Annie Mac-sponsored radioplay along the way, and yet have maintained a resolutely low profile on the informationsuperinterwebhighway. And the sound is as much a surprise: it starts out all whispered fragility, a fey Wild Beasts timorousness that seems lost in the glare of the festival lights. But in a moment they twist, and their set produces growls and lurches of bass so gut-wrenchingly atavistic, the crowd actually cower before the speakers. Imperious. (BE)

Pictorial Candi, Coalition

“Beautiful pitch-perfect poetic vocals taking you on a fluid journey across landscapes and soundscapes,” says Pictorial Candi’s PR spiel, in a tidy illustration of the gulf that can spill wide between description and reality. Sure, she has ideas, but all too often sounds like a poorly-edited mixtape of herself, transitioning between genres with jarring and slightly irritating effect. Still, she’s interesting at least, a Polish Micachu with ambition and charisma if not – yet – the songs to match. (CC)

Darkstar, Digital

It takes some talent for your toilets to smell better than your actual venue, but Digital manages it with flair, the main room struggling to stay half-full as people flee for the exits: at least one person has their earplugs in their nose in an effort to staunch the smell. Still, at least Darkstar distract from the rising bile somewhat, if only because the level of bass is so physically abrasive that it actually cuts into the skin like a strong wind. Staggering pain aside they’re a great listen, inventive loops caustically arrayed broken, breathy vocals. (CC)

How To Dress Well, Brighthelm Centre

“Please don’t iPhone this,” says How To Dress Well’s Tom Kwell ahead of new song Blue, a heartfelt and vocally dextrous account of his brother’s fragility, and the girl next to me immediate holds her iPhone aloft and vertical, eyes fixed on the screen as though the performance wasn’t happening just metres in front. It’s wrong on so many levels, but primarily because these aren’t songs to experience at a remove: Kwell’s tangle of knotted vocals and sparing beats ride a line between rhythm and catharsis, a post-club Justin Timberlake staring out into the night and finding beauty in the space. (CC)

Wolf Alice, Coalition / Latest Music Bar

Wolf Alice prove the small venues rule. The north-London fourpiece deliver an eclectic, jangling breeze of rock and folk in a subtle blend that requires proximity to bring out its best. They’re good in Coalition – the bijou seaside bunker genuinely tingles with Ellie Rowsell’s vocal – but they’re better for their encore at The Latest Bar – an even tinier grotto boasting a mere two spotlights and, ooh, four square metres of stage – where the sprightly guitar twists of Bros, and the thrumming bass of Fluffy, thrive in such embrace-like closeness. See them now, because the venues will only get bigger from here. (BE)

Oyama, Above Audio

If you needed proof that Iceland doesn’t just do ‘ethereal’, Oyama did a good job of destroying that reputation. The quintet get an impressive early afternoon crowd at Above Audio at the Iceland Airwaves showcase. The reason for that popularity becomes abundantly clear as soon as the first waves of reverb guitars burst out of the amplifiers. For a band that are very softly spoken in between songs, they make a loud racket. It would be easy to write them off as just another shoegaze outfit were it not for a few subtle differences, such as their grunge-esque song structures. (MR)

London Grammar, St Bartholomew’s Church

One of the biggest queues of the first day of The Great Escape was at the rather striking St Bartholomew’s Church. London Grammar don’t quite have the songs yet to command a big space but there are moments, almost explosive in nature, that suggest a trio with a lot of promise. (MR)

What the Editor saw: Elisapie, Tomorrow’s World, Jenny Hval, Ryan Keen, Lewis Watson, Boats, How To Dress Well

Friday

Lawrence Arabia, The Haunt

James Milne, aka Lawrence Arabia, hasn’t had a good start. His band went missing the previous night and the microphone he’s meant to sing into won’t work. After this false start, he quickly regains the attention of this respectful early afternoon crowd with tunes that are both witty and engrossing. (MR)

Kodaline, Audio

Kodaline draw one of the biggest queues of the weekend at Audio on Friday afternoon. It’s not hard to see why. Their songs are aiming big and it’s difficult not to admire the craft of their melancholic tunes. The upbeat mandolin-propelled Love Like This is the highlight of their set. (MR)

Washington Irving, Dome Studio

“So did you all have a quiet first night?” asks the singer of Washington Irving during a brief respite from their bracing set, a severely amplified Scottish folk-rock in the Frightened Rabbit tradition. No. No we didn’t, and by god this hurts. But the pain is worth it; their songs are a familiar but winning blend of melody and power, of vocal highs and rhythmic drive. (CC)

Luke Sital-Singh, Unitarian Church

“Does anyone like Killer Whales? I mean, really really like them? I do.” As song intros go it’s right up there with the best, and serves to counterpoint the slightly over-earnest character of Luke Sital-Singh’s songs: they’re pretty damn beautiful, sure, although the spectre of Damien Rice does loom troublingly large. Still, the Unitarian church makes for a fittingly reverential setting, and there’s no denying the man’s talent and passionate delivery – even if, by the close, the itching for a power chord or an unchecked peal of feedback has grown unbearable. (CC)

Marika Hackman, Unitarian Church

“Awkward and wondrous” seems somehow the perfect compliment for Marika Hackman, who turns clumsy bashfulness into an artform. Brighton’s Nico-channelling alt-folk songstress still writes music alone in her bedroom, but somehow also pops up as Zane Lowe’s Hottest Record. And playing solo to a packed Unitarian Church, Hackman is captivating – innocent, and unguarded, but with a vocal whose darker grit she refuses to polish away. And while the songs are mature and graceful, in-between she’s an ill-fitting ingénue still tuning a new acoustic while the audience politely waits. “Sorry. I’m such an awkward tuner.” she whispers mid-set, before another thought strikes her: “Er… Not like the fish.” Yes, Hackman is, quite simply, perfect. (BE)

Childhood, Blind Tiger

Childhood’s set at Blind Tiger was venue symbiosis. For, if you like to mosh with sweaty, heaving fucktards, you’ll also get a kick out of this London fourpiece. By the strange logic of festivals, though, this is greater praise than it sounds. It’s just odd that a band, whose recorded presence channels the kind of wonderfully melodic Northern swagger that’s been absent since, ooh, Stone Roses’ first (good) album, can somehow morph into a frustrating mush of Yuck and feedback once they get in front of a crowd. There’s always virtue in volume, but if Childhood really are indie rock’s Great White Knight, they need to ensure the decibels come backed by ideas. (BE)

Susanne Sundfør, Green Door Store

Watching Norway’s Susanne Sundfør play the Green Door Store’s tiny, bare-brick backroom, you’d be forgiven for missing that she’s a multi-award winning artist with two number one albums under her Nordipop belt; that she sings the title track on the new Tom Cruise movie (with M83); and that she’s landed in Brighton fresh from a slot on Jimmy Kimmel Live. Because, wonderfully, Sundfør still performs like this tiny room is her world. Potent, emotive, and raw, she fills every inch with a rich, spectral vocal, layered over a visceral, pounding bass that has this tiny crowd bewildered at having not discovered her before. (BE)

Marques Toliver, St Bartholomew’s Church

The vast and impressive St Bartholomew’s might be an unforgiving acoustic for Marques Toliver’s highly proficient, hard grooving band, but it provides a near perfect environment for his confident, authoritative and soulful voice. Mostly performing tracks from his forthcoming debut album Land Of Canaan, this short set feels a little truncated and tentative, but there’s little denying the strength and conviction in Toliver’s sophisticated songs, and the band play with vigour, depth and energy. There’s a peculiar amount of aimless background grooving whilst Toliver introduces the songs and drinks copious amounts of what may well be tea. This suggests some insecurity, but the potent, often intricate songs cut through the fog and linger in the mind, not least because of Toliver’s compelling stage presence and his unusual imagery. (DP)

Allah-Las, The Dome Studio Theatre

Every song these Californian heroes deliver seems to sound like The Byrds blasting through a sunny, jangly version of Love Potion Number Nine. This is no bad thing given the tremendous sense of fun they bring to proceedings. They instigate a mini stage invasion, but this is ruthlessly and humourlessly quashed by venue security. Thankfully, the energy and enthusiasm of the musicians onstage cannot be so easily dampened. (DP)

Mikal Cronin, The Dome Studio Theatre

Mikal Cronin is determined to bring the noise, with his winning brand of scuzzy, lo-fi psychedelic pop. His best songs take unexpected detours into bursts of Dinosaur Jr.-esque distortion and his mixed male and female band serve the songs well. Over the course of this longer set his music begins to feel a little one paced and rhythmically limited. At its most scorched and frazzled, however, it is gloriously intense and exciting. (DP)

What the Editor saw: Marika Hackman, Little Green Cars, MØ, Ed Harcourt, Faye, Mikal Cronin, Klaxons

Saturday

Parquet Courts, The Haunt

112 words on why the crowd at the Haunt loves Parquet Courts for being the classic college drop-outs. One, the Brooklyn quartet are smart, but refuse to try hard – a lyrical wit sparkles in the quirky lo-fi, in the way of every plaid-shirt wearing deadbeat who spouts Nietzsche at parties, and it has the moshing heads at tonight’s gig chanting back every word. Two, they’ve still the noisome wrecklessness of youth – the punkier, shouty moments redolent of their not-quite-completed adolescence – but now specked with adulthood’s oddly sanguine weariness, and this has grown men crowd-surfing in reflected celebration. And Three? They rock. Guitar band of the weekend, without a single doubt. (BE)

Cheatahs, Coalition

The only problem with a shoegaze/post-grunge revival is the sound. Cheatahs are a London (by way of America, Germany and Canada) four-piece whose murky vocal and riff-fused mash of Swervedriver and, well, most of the ’90s, works splendidly on your iPod and £250 Dr Dre’s. But most small venues (and let’s face it, these boys aren’t headed to Wembley) struggle to recreate the subtleties of sludge/drone – and so it proves at Coalition, where Cheatahs do enough to prove they’re worth listening to, and enough to prove it should be somewhere else. (BE)

Eliza And The Bear, St Mary’s Church

London’s Eliza And The Bear are so good we’ve seen them twice today, first in a packed Haunt and then in a packed St Mary’s Church. Both times they’ve thoroughly warranted their audience, their sound a glorious array of preppy, upbeat indie and too-young nostalgia, flecked with brass and keys and harmonies. Heck, there’s people dancing in the pews, and God would definitely approve. (CC)

Of Rust And Bone, Brighton Museum

The Great Escape always manages to showcase the phenomenal diversity of Brighton’s venues, from dank basement clubs to soaring churches, but a special mention should go out to Brighton Museum for getting involved this year. It’s a gorgeously refined space, and putting numerous acts amongst the exhibits for short acoustic sets makes for a welcome intimacy and a nice respite from the sweat and the darkness of the rest of the night. It’s a nightmare to organise, apparently, and watching Of Rust And Bone’s performance is fraught with fear for the modernist acquisitions stationed all around, but let’s hope the effort’s made again next year: less Corn Exchange, more museums please. (CC)

Tall Ships, Concorde 2

It takes a lot to draw us out to Concorde 2, a venue so removed from the festival map that it’s damn near in a different time zone, but Tall Ships justify the effort, their muscular, mathy assemblies of jagged riffs and plaintive vocals heating the room to uncomfortable levels. “I think I may be close to death” says a girl behind me. “Shall we leave?” says her friend. “Not a chance,” she replies, pretty much speaking for everyone here. (CC)

Dan Croll, Komedia Downstairs

In many ways, Dan Croll’s afternoon set at Komedia very neatly sums up this year’s festival. Like so many other artists this weekend, this is a man whose material is still firmly in development mode. However, there are enough catchy melodies and good grooves to make him one to watch. (MR)

Three Trapped Tigers, Concorde 2

It’s a long trek to Concorde 2 – the antics outside the venue that are akin to a scene from The Fast And The Furious suggest a different world entirely – but it’s more than worth it for a terrific set by Three Trapped Tigers. Playing a set that’s mostly made up of material from Route One Or Die, this is a noise onslaught: spindly guitar riffs, abrasive, menacing synthesisers and drumming that is both skilful and brutal. It reaches a stunning conclusion with Reset, constantly flipping between its quiet and loud moments with a jaw-dropping intensity that is overwhelming. (MR)

Phantom, Green Door Store

Phantom, comprised of singer Hanna Toivonen and producer Tommi Koskinen, brought a Finnish icy coolness to an otherwise baking Green Door Store. With only abstract visuals behind them acting as lighting, their aesthetic is unsurprisingly moody but, combined with Toivonen’s strong vocals, it’s a pleasing one. Most fascinating of all is Koskinen’s use of a UFO theremin – an instrument that sounds utterly silly and unnecessary on paper yet when seen put to use actually adds a lot to their sound. It’s the last thing you expect to see but at this point, midnight on day three, you’ll believe anything. (MR)

Aufgang, St Bartholomew’s Church

The Great Escape is not all indie bands and synthpop outfits, as Aufgang wonderfully prove. It’s their first ever UK show but it’s not greeted with the fanfare it deserves, with quite a few spare seats at St Bartholomew’s Church just before they take the stage. However, from the moment that Kyrie starts off the set with a bang, it’s a stunning rollercoaster ride of a show. Dynamics are constantly changing – one minute you’re hearing grand and epic piano melodies and then the next it’s stunning spirals of synthesisers. It’s inventive and challenging, providing a much-needed spark to the evening. (MR)

Kwabs, Brighthelm Centre

Scheduled in the graveyard shift of early Sunday morning, London based singer Kwabs provides a much needed aural comedown. Trained on the Royal Academy of Music’s outstanding jazz course, Kwabs’ music demonstrates real attention to detail in structure and harmony, although it is more akin to downtempo electronica than free flights of improvisation. His deep, rich and distinctive voice is both commanding and beguiling, and he is supported well by a band that is both slick and expressive. The more-or-less conventional rhythm section set-up is well integrated with Kwabs’ personal vision through its sometimes unconventional playing. The songs already feel like carefully drawn maps and their intricacies will likely yield fresh responses for some time to come. (DP)

What the Editor saw: Nadine Shah, Deap Vally, Chloe Howl, Nick Mulvey, Parquet Courts, Young Fathers

Words by Daniel Paton (DP), Max Raymond (MR), Christian Cottingham (CC) and Ben Edgell (BE). And Michael Hubbard. Photo courtesy of The Great Escape.


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More on Marika Hackman
Marika Hackman – I’m Not Your Man
Marika Hackman @ Bush Hall, London
London Gigs: 30 March – 5 April 2015
Marika Hackman – We Slept At Last
London Gigs: 29 September-5 October 2014


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