Brighton’s annual celebration of all things new has become many things to many different people. For the intrepid, it’s a chance to put your finger on the pulse on what the kids are going to be listening to in a couple of months and claim bragging rights. For the ambitious, it’s an opportunity to network via the festival’s delegate system, a sort of fast pass to meeting and greeting the people keeping the cogs turning within the industry mechanism. And for the majority of punters, it’s an opportunity to get shamelessly wasted and stumble around Brighton, can of red stripe in hand, with absolutely no clue of where the night’s going to take you next.
My experience of The Great Escape this year was a satisfying melee of the three. Here’s how shit went down with a little help from a few other of my UCA comrades.
I had a schedule for Thursday.
Safe to say it quickly vanished as The Great Escape’s ramshackle nature kicked in. For the uninitiated, the festival takes place across the length and breadth of Brighton with bands stationed in all of its best music venues of which there are a surprising amount. Some shows are big, some shows fit only 10 people, but nearly every band playing fits in with the quotient of newness.
Coalition, situated on Brighton’s insanely windy seafront was my start point for Thursday. As I walked in New York indie outfit Drowners were plowing their way through a set of unconvincing post-punk. The lead singer, a male model looked more focused on looking immaculate from every angle than delivering any real message or sense of urgency atop his band’s guitar thumps and Peter Hook inspired bass. Little Dragon stepped up the game and the venue’s sound capacity, debuting material form new album ‘Nabuma Rubberband’. Their new stuff coming across sleeker and altogether dancier than previous offerings including their work with Damon Albarn, the bass throbs of new single ‘Klapp Klapp’ proving a particular highlight with lead singer Yukimi Nagano twisting and turning her arms like a Daniel Sturridge goal celebration to a largely on board crowd, some of which where admittedly just waiting for ‘Ritual Union’.
Word spread quickly through the mumbling bar-crowds of secret sets aplenty this weekend, some turned out to be true, others mere pipe-dreams. After queuing for a good 45 minutes, I bargained myself into Klaxons, my favourite band when I was 15 who I will still stick up for despite their misunderstood second record. The gig is absolutely rammed, mostly with VEVO employees, blokes in suits and topless sweaty blokes just there to mosh like it’s 2006. Klaxons take to the stage in sparkly suits and hammer out ‘Atlantis To Interzone’, reminding everyone that despite the ridicule they can still pack a punch. If Klaxons endured a ‘difficult’ second album, then their forthcoming third ‘The Love Frequency’ could well be an impossible prospect. There are signs of life present though, new single the Gorgon City produced ‘There Is No Other Time’ is surprisingly a bit of a banger, as Klaxons feverishly pound around the stage and
roaring on the impending mosh pit. If you thought Klaxons had disappeared into the void, they may be about to reestablish themselves in your minds (check back with me on that one in about three months, if their album flops. If.) Toby McCarron
After crashing on what I was told to be a sofa bed, but actually was just a mattress on the floor in an empty room I was pretty shattered already by Friday. But post a couple of red bulls and a Wetherspoons fry-up, I stumbled aimlessly into JAWS, who I’d been told by people from Birmingham are good. Turns out they weren’t lying, as JAWS do look the real deal with their own twist on quick-fix indie rock with a smattering of shoegaze. They’re essentially a less insufferable Peace, but good fun all the same. After witnessing Brawlers batter the ears off the Pav Tav, I was craving my electronic music fix so I burst into The Prince Albert to have a wee… and see Unknwn – i.e. Northern Irish burial. The mysterious producer, accompanied by a really great powerful female singer blends the more house-leaning swells that have seen Disclosure capture the mainstream, with more creepy atmospheric beats indebted to Burial and Balam Acab. The set is hypnotizing with the whole room largely silent in admiration, or possibly in a sort of hazy comatose.
Later on I caught Paris producer Holy Strays, who brought his expert blend of crashing bass driven atmospherics interspersed with the sounds of church bells and cataclysmic shuddering. It was absolutely mind numbing, and the whole audience looked visibly taken aback. From an aural onslaught to an emotional battering, East India Youth looked malaise as he peddled his existential electronic pop. ‘Heaven How Long?’ was the real beautiful tearjerker bumming out much of the livelier crowd members waiting for Ratking.
At this point in the night, the venues of Brighton start to feel like doomatoriums, gathering every speck of air and filling it with dread as Holy Strays’ shuddering bass hits his audience in waves against gloomy tower clock samples and East India Youth’s William Doyle silences his crowd as he remains on the verge of tears throughout. However, up the hill at Komedia – spirits (and people) are equally high. The dancefloor is sparsely populated as people wield Red Bull cups and middle-aged men writhe about like they’re teaching a “how to dance to D&B” class whilst Hyperdub duo LV are up on stage concentrating seriously on their laptops. Just shortly after the passing of footwork legend DJ Rashad, they’re playing with a few footwork tunes in his memory, the rapid percussive rhythms sounding surprisingly sombre in light of what they’re a reminder of.
Then a backpacked figure bounds across my line of vision, it’s Californian TOKiMONSTA and she’s amped up to play her set. Starting with some new material, she quickly transitions into a DJ set – mixing some old R&B and hip-hop with the effortless joy of a five year old discovering their first tube of Smarties. With a wide, Cheshire cat smile, she twists and fiddles with the dials on her mixer as she lifts her arms to the sky to dance along with the ever-increasing audience. One crowd member isn’t getting the same dopamine rush as the others though, clutching her arm to her chest and standing still in the middle of the floor. Despite the lone stone-faced straggler, TOKiMONSTA proves tonight that she’s an aural anti-depressant you’ll want on repeat prescription.
Scheduled in to NME Radar’s line-up for the Friday of the festival was ‘very special guests’ sparking rumours of the likes of King Krule gracing the stage later that night. Forward to 90 minutes before the scheduled set and the Great Escape Gods send out a text announcing Peace are due to put their imprint on the day. Queue hundreds of people flocking towards the seafront for a set that was guaranteed to go off.
Opening with an anthem that goes by the name of Follow Baby, the B-Town boys start the set with a sharp, well-rehearsed sound that naturally progresses the more they tour. Fans pushed forward to reach towards Doug as he jumps on to the speakers and the first row of people shouting “lets ‘ave it!” as he effortlessly guides his way through that and their latest single, Money; which receives a warm welcome amongst the punters. Every song flows well which can only be put down to all four members being on top form and ingeniously creating music that makes the nation weak at the knees.
Being labelled as the band who brought guitar music back to Britain, it becomes understandable that Peace are top of the game when it comes to this and there was no better way to back that up than to showcase hits such as Bloodshake, Wraith, Lovesick and California Daze. Performing a select few tracks from their upcoming album, there’s a sense of graduation from their last collection which formed In Love and are now stepping up to a higher standard that is expected from them. Nothing could have prepared anyone for the reactions that they received as we all share those first moments of hearing new Peace material – something a lot of us have been waiting for.
It’s easy to say that this surprise set may have just stolen the show, but it wasn’t the surprise of it or the set as a whole – it was the unity between the music and the audience that makes it such a powerful performance. There’s no doubt they have become a treasured band that will leave a lasting legacy for some time but with their live shows increasingly raising the game, Peace are still a long
With a small back catalogue that provides a huge sound under their belts, Dublin quartet Girl Band were a hot choice for festival goers who were ready to see an industrialised sound pouring out of duels between the guitarist and bassist on the NME Radar stage.
It’s always been a thought that maybe the vocals between the uproars of aggression and fury have been brilliantly produced, but it soon became clear, as the Irish teens took to the stage, that this was all natural. The vocalist releases a basket of emotions in every lyric but shows no sign of a human personality outside of the music. Stepping back between each verse, chorus and song; statements of letting the music do the talking and solidarity between the band and their passion for portraying messages through their talent cannot be demonstrated any more than their static performance. Each musician on the stage traps their minds in a world where only they exist – releasing an energy through every chord and note rather than a downpour of sweat that results from leaps in to the audience that seem right at that moment.
A connection between the audience and Girl Band rests between the songs and the robotic performances as screams and roars of cheers and applause fill The Haunt – demonstrating an understanding of an undoubtedly intriguing performance.
With singles such as their latest 25 second track being played, there’s a positive vibe from the band who leak negative thoughts in their music. There’s no doubt that this four-piece are going to create a force not to be messed with in the coming years. Showing a clear improvement in their live performance, the UK music scene may experience Hurricane Girl Band on a much bigger scale in 2015.
Each year The Great Escape has a partnership with a country, as a means to promote their music. This year Finland was front and center, you literally couldn’t escape the free 10’ record stuffed with Finnish music. NEØV were the Finnish act I decided to give a go, they’re a bit like Sigur Ros with their smoke-filled stage and slow-building guitar soundscapes. But unfortunately, their epic intentions are just slightly stilted by a lack of stage presence, but there’s definitely scope for the Finnish hopefuls to release something inspiring.
One of Britain’s brightest pop prospects Charli XCX, unfortunately didn’t quite fill the space of the corn exchange, although one had to admire the energy of her all-female band and new song ‘Boom Clap’ brought most of the crowd back on side as Charli omitted pretty much all her good songs in favour of new material. About 8 pints in and wanting a bit more of adrenaline rush, I dashed to the Pav Tav, the little pub notorious with righteous and unbridled indie and punk music. Tellison did the job very nicely, as way too many people than could fit the venue had to be restrained by two very concerned looking security guards as floppy haired drunken mess after floppy haired drunken mess crashed into the stage repeatedly screaming any word with near-orgasmic ecstasy.
Then I had to compromise. Jungle was full. Future Islands was full. MNEK was full. The Subways, was not full. After feeling extremely guilty for moshing to songs I’d ceased to be associated with post-2004 the Corn Exchange beckoned
once again for THE BEST SHOW OF THE FESTIVAL. Maybe it was the booze, maybe it was the adrenaline of 3 mosh pits in a row, but Jon Hopkins absolutely smashed it. Every track on his most recent and impeccable record ‘Immunity’ was given a new dimension with blinding visuals, telling stories of drunken encounters and skateboarding across deserts while his masterfully orchestrated glitch electronica surged through the bodies of the delirious punters. Jon beamed as ‘Open Eye Signal’ blew mind after mind and converted everyone into a glorious sea of movement and exhilaration. His extended set was the perfect catharsis to a weekend that carried its own unique thrills and spills, and almost made the 4am trade journey back to Epsom bearable. Same time next year Brighton?