Last weekend, DiS venture to the seaside to catch the best of 350+ bands playing in 35+ venues, spread across Brighton over 3 nights. The Great Escape was a whirlwind but we've reconvened and decided these were the best bits of that festival that we managed to see:
Soap&Skin: Intensity can be such a beautiful thing. Austrian, kohl-eyed waif Anja Plaschg, doesn't so much share her pain as emit it, like a beacon of hurt. Her piano-thumping one woman (and a Macbook) show is at first excruciating. Her genii seems buried beneath a gothed-up Nico-as-a-member-of-Icarus-Line aesthetic. Her loneliness feels lost in a moody-teenager affectation that would rub even the most glum art-wally up the wrong way. Slowly though, almost without me realising, she flits from simplistic to solipsistic, whilst weaving this giant web of unrelenting bleakness, cocooned in subtle cat-claw-like hooks. Perhaps it's the church context but the set ends with me in utter awe as 'Spiracle', which hints at kiddie-diddling, repeats-to-fade: "when I was a child, I was a child, I was a child, I WAS A CHILD! A child, a child. I was a child." Potent, powerful and an exhilarating ride from slight to epic and back again.
My Latest Novel: The military throb at their heart has tumbled far beyond 'a Scot Arcade Fire' and become some kinda resplendent joyous phoargh-yeah live show. Every member was singing. Strings were pouring from beneath epic Spiritualized-flavoured riffs. The whole thing was majestic, magnificent and othersuch mmmm-like journalistic cliches.
The Veils: "They say we only have a minute left but we had three songs left to play. If we all stomp our feet, we can take down this pier and play the last three songs in the sea!" - and so ended 20 minutes of pretty much the most uplifting bruise-covered blues-pop I'll ever witness. His voice, with its unique almond husk is the most moreish thing we heard all weekend. In fact, scrap that, it's possibly the most wonderfully thing I've heard this decade.
The Twilight Sad: Two years ago, their Fourteen Autumns And Fifteen Winters opus took the DiS-world by storm, and their return here at the Fat Cat Records shindig is something of an event. Their performance is nothing short of mesmerising. Playing a set that is just six songs long, the three new numbers aired this evening - 'I Became A Prostitute', 'Seven Years Of Letters' and 'Make To Disappear' - herald a brave new direction. While the raw, uncompromising levels of intensity still remain, there's an evidently more structured approach (was that a verse followed by a chorus then another verse we hear?) that make these songs almost radio-friendly in a perverse kind of way.
Danananananaykroyd: If there's one band capable of literally bringing the roof down its this lot, so about two-thirds into their set in the tiny Queens Hotel bar on the second day, that almost happens as both band and punters alike indiscriminately punch numerous holes in the ridiculously low ceiling as the likes of 'Some Dresses' waft by. By the end of the set, its difficult to tell who is in the band and who is in the audience, as the whole role reversal/participation vibe of their set reaches new proportions as the stage and dancefloor unite as one. We get the now-customary "Wall Of Hugs" too, and when even the largely assembled, normally hard to please industry bods join in, you know you're witnessing something very, very special indeed.
You Animals: It is midday on Saturday and the last thing my pounding head wants to experience right now is a loud dose of live music. Fortunately, Derby's You Animals are one of those gems that make festivals like The Great Escape essential for discovering new music. Mixing snazzy new wave punk melodies with intelligently crafted pop hooks, they've come a long way in such a short space of time and even better, the hangover is gone by the time 'Every Day Is Like A Friday Night' closes the set.
Amazing Baby : They may be hyped to the heavens on the back of fellow Brooklynites MGMT but make no mistake, their live show does them a justice even, their recorded output thus far has not. Its shoegaze kids, but not as we know it, where the Brian Jonestown Massacre and Black Sabbath collide instantaneously, like a collage of juggernaut riffs knitted together by skyscraping space rock noise signatures. Someone remarks that they're one of those outfits destined to be forever known as "a band's band", and while the assorted members of Chew Lips, Mystery Jets and Lyrebirds watching may grudgingly disagree, we wholeheartedly recommend anyone wishing to form a band to give these guys fifteen minutes of your time when they next hit town.
iLiKETRAiNS: As with The Twilight Sad, iLiKETRAiNS are another of those bands who should be so much bigger than they actually are, so when I venture to Concorde 2 to find less than one hundred people waiting for their arrival I'm a little perplexed. Nevertheless, it takes literally thirty seconds - or rather the opening three chords of 'Terra Nova' - to make those of us present realise why they are held in such high esteem. As expected, they play two new songs, the second of which, 'Sea Of Regrets', is like a sprawling rock opera in three parts that may just be the most grandiose, exquisite piece of music they've written to date.
Abe Vigoda: How did Abe Vigoda become the most tantalising live act of Great Escape? To those who’ve been enveloped by their seething spectral celebration, via last year’s album Skeleton or this year’s Reviver EP, it’s probably no surprise. Still, the stinging, reverberating discordance they specialise in is a thrilling live experience. Ignoring the abstract, bizarre banter and flamboyant enthusiasm from this foursome, their complete dedication to some of the oddest and most exhilarating sounds a rock band can make is both admirable and borderline insane. Whether breaking up time signatures with shards of stabbing sound as on 'Skeleton' or asphyxiating primary colours with an abrasive shroud during 'Don’t Lie' (with a cameo by Vivian Girls) they are nothing less than breathtaking. The performance ends with a tentative stage invasion and a triangular pose for the cameras while guitar and bass feedback swallows the Pavillion Theatre. These ears are still singing their songs.
The Phantom Band: This Scottish sextet tear holes in any English band here in Brighton with their bearded, woodblock-percussive jam – 'Folk Song Oblivion'’s fierce riff sounds savage here and their prolonged synth and drum drones loop and layer until you are completely drawn into their exceptional noise.
Cursive: Trapped in the basement of the Ocean Rooms, Tim Kasher’s band of angry men unleash an onslaught of would-be hits. Their almost orchestral arrangements make for a thrilling and violent, yet triumphant 40 minutes…and yes they did play 'Art Is Hard'.
Pulled Apart By Horses: Like being thrown in with a gang of class clowns, Pulled Apart By Horses don’t just stop at punching lions in their throats. They leave the confines of the stage, jumping onto bars, squirting audiences with soda water and blitz through moronic and monstrous rawk anthems like 'The Lighthouse'. The only band I saw three times over the weekend, almost by accident, and a stampede you’d gladly run into.
Love Like Fire: Fighting through dodgy sound levels, these San Fran types roar out of the gates with their delightful and defiantly soaring pop songs. Ann Yu’s vocals beckon and seduce like a siren, while the crystalline musical shell around her builds and solidifies. 'Signs' is a definite highlight, with its haunting vocal climax.
Blakfish: Brutality and humour don’t usually go well together, but Blakfish do both as if they were natural bedfellows. Their hard-edged, scathing and yet melodic take on hardcore, punk, metal and everything guitar-shaped inbetween sees a crowd of drunken loons beating the shit out of each other. Idiots their audience (at the Hobgoblin) may be, but Blakfish are no fools and their intense and exhausting set leaves you craving for just a bit more.
- For more Great Escape coverage visit drownedinsound.com/lists/greatescape