Big Heath steals hearts

Fronteers, Khruangbin and Big Heath are just three of the new acts that Gareth Thomas checked out as part The Wave’s round-up of talent at the UK’s recent premier new music festival, The Great Escape in Brighton.

It must be really awkward to do your sound check in front of an expectant crowd like this one in the basement of the Queen’s Hotel near Brighton’s seafront. But as the first up – or possibly last to get up – at the Great Escape this year, this is what young Hull band Fronteers had to do.

Fortunately, they were soon hitting their indie-pop stride revealing these tuneful chimps as the modish offspring of the Arctic Monkeys. Their first number ‘Hear It In The Rainfall’ is moody but has a lively sixties slant and Beatlesesque psych guitar which gets heads nodding, even at this early hour.

Complete with mop tops the northern guitar quartet are young and smart in every sense – their dual harmonised vocals work a treat and the drum and bass hit the groove bang on. And, with 40 years of British pop rock to draw on it’s not surprising that Fronteers also come out with some great melody lines.

Their punchy last single ‘Idol’ is great, but it’s the new material which feels involving and more layered. They premiere their forthcoming EP ‘Streets We’re Born In’, which is due out in July, and the tunes all point the way towards a bright, stylish future.

It’s the band’s first time in Brighton they tell us but, as one of the groups acting as foot soldiers in the advance guard of the resurgent new indie army, guaranteed they won’t be playing a venue this small here next time.

You know that feeling when you finally get to see a band that you’ve only heard (and loved) online – and they not only fulfil but exceed expectations. Khruangbin have already started their set as we walk into the dark cavern that’s Coalition on Brighton’s promenade.

But within minutes we – and the already-enraptured crowd – are taken to another place by this Texan three-piece as they work their way through instrumentals with their laidback, oneiric, 70s’ funk vibe.

London-based bassist Laura Lee, guitarist Mark Speer and drummer DJ produce tunes filled with rippling Muscle Shoal/Texan soul cadences and have been inspired by the legendary ‘found’ cassette recordings of 70s’ Thai funk.

Wah-wah guitar licks echo bass lines and spool languidly across the dark space – and the fact they are mostly instrumentals makes no difference as the sunshine grooves surge, crest and roll forward into almost spiritual dimensions. The melodies move you in the way that Hendrix’s melodies do with their undulating, mystic, jazz-tinged soulfulness.

It’s both original and, at times, like listening to the soundtrack to a 70s’ film or even TV ads. But what once was derided as muzak now seems to line with our present need to tune in, be mindful and space out. It’s mesmerising, the audience is transfixed and it’s hard to believe there will be a more musically accomplished band on this weekend.

Meanwhile at the Noisey stage downstairs at Patterns it was all about Big Heath. The white rapper from Cambridge captivated the crowd with his clever, humorous and poignant lyrics and flow.

Heads were nodding and arms held aloft a key points when the deejay really kicked in off and the spitting was popping off.

With his honesty and rhymes like, “I can sell heat to the sun, sell a beat to my mum” (‘Lord Know$’) you couldn’t help but be charmed by the Tupac of East Anglia, who had the crowd in the palm of his hand.

A song about his recently deceased grandfather has the audience in total silence and by the end of the set the whole venue was behind BIG, chanting his name as he walked, triumphant, off stage.

Loyle Carner is being touted as a new face of white rap but, having seen both sets and at the risk of starting a beef, it’s safe to say that Big Heath wiped the floor with him.

It was one of the best reactions I’ve ever seen for a new artist at TGE and points to future BIG-sized treats in store.

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