Attempts to sum up a music festival through anything but an individual and their eyes and decisions are either ambitious or deluded. In part one of our coverage of the recent festival, DiS' Brighton columnist shares his adventures, thoughts and opinions on this year's Great Escape...
Is it the UK's answer to SXSW with the backdrop of a sprawling San Francisco setting? Or maybe it's just The Great Escape, the best new music festival in Europe set in a tatty British seaside town owned by seagulls. Either way people and industry are here from all over the globe, with showcases from: Australia, New Zealand, Canada, Brazil, USA and Europe. Yet, for the second year, there is a strong pocket of artists highlighted under the Made in Brighton moniker (Brighton & Hove council and TEG) to best represent the local creative types.
It’s Thursday night and my quest to find local bands within the realm of TEG starts with Monument Valley at the Prince Albert. As I gradually become accustomed to the TEG zone I soon realise nothing runs according to plan, so I take a U-turn and catch the good time laptop wizardy of Star Slinger - conveniently when I show up his laptop breaks down. Back to the Albert then. Eventually Monument Valley take to the stage and launch their show with just the singer and his guitar. He finishes his song then tells the audience they are expectant. Well we are, we want to see the rest of the band in action and when the whole band is playing together we are pleasantly entertained with their scratching at the door of Mumford and Sons typa sound. Next up and local too are the folk tinged melancholy melodies of Mechanical Bride. They promote and play their new single ‘Colour of Fire’ paving the way for their soon to be released debut Living with Ants for Transgressive Records. And then I try the impossible, to catch Rock and Soul Brightonians Munich at Audio, on the other side of town. Instead I fall short and find myself facing comedy 80s glam rockers R.O.M.A.N.C.E. - they writhe immaculately around stage with the least effort possible. Their music is a white trash hell ride of 80s metal. In contrast, down in the basement, are the dystopian future shock sounds of PVT (formerly Pivot). Part of the post dub step landscape, this electronic 3 piece signed to Warp records infuses my imagination with layers of electronically produced sound, live drums and exploratory vocal arrangements. Day one done.
Friday looms and initial wide eyed enthusiasm wanes, TEG has become like an alternate persistent world of it's own and the line up is at it's least appealing today. Still kicking things off is the Brighton electronics of 4 piece Hind Ear combining tribal influences with samples, beats, guitar and keys. Next local band of the day is Apples and Eve playing folk soul to a Komedia studio bar audience. Afterwards and just up the stairs is the accomplished musicianship of the Danish band Treefight for Sunlight. They peddle radio friendly spritely scandanavian rock pop with surprisingly impressive falsettos that make MGMT look tres incompetent. And then fellow scandanavians of the Swedish variety are playing at seafront venue Life, it’s Little Dragon. This is my highlight for today. They bring eyeshadow electrics, crafted electro pop beats and expressive cutesy vocals from Yukimi Nagano. A potent mix of style, skill and loungetronics. To round off Friday I try to catch the out there post art rock of Victorian English Gentlemens Club. Instead I get the music classroom creations of My First Tooth as the Pav Tav runs an hour behind schedule. I draw a line under Friday and know that Saturday will bring better things.
The final day of TEG emerges and this is easily the best of the three, with interesting discovery worth band performances and headlining acts clashing all over the program. There’s a Canadian music showcase over at the Komedia. Kitsuné Maison compilation featured Young Empires are onstage. They have a good go at being 80s heart throb synth popsters. Following them is Braids, a Montréal based band that there is a small buzz about. Before they take to the stage tweets are being exchanged claiming that people are queuing to get in and it’s only 3.15pm for their first performance at TEG. When they take to the stage for a second time at 7.45pm again there is a queue to get in. So why are they so in demand now? Well, they combine gorgeous vocal harmonies, drum duets and thick keyboard consistency to produce dreamy experimental music that really fires up the imagination. And then there is singer Raphaelle Standell-Preston with her glowing stage presence and impressive vocal range...
Sometime later, Brighton’s Fat Cat records takes over the Green Door Store with some fascinating bands. Starting with lo fi locals Fear of Men, who have been getting a lot of blog love lately. They get the raw talent medal with effortlessly catchy tunes, songs about working in fashion, lying and dreaming. And they are so cool, aloof and stuff that they don’t even mention they have their debut single coming out in July/August on Italian Beach Babes, that’s if you don’t count their sold out cassette release on Sex is Disgusting. Later Milk Maid grunge it up with that stand out singer sporting a that hat and beard combo, oh, and the bassist? Yes, he is ex Nine Black Alps. Their overall sound is reminiscent of the Flaming Lips, Teenage Fanclub and Guided by Voices. This evening they are promoting the release of their album Yucca. They are closely followed by Nottingham post punkers, Prize Pets. A mini mosh pit forms for them and it’s members mix the tango with the pogo. Take note. To outsiders they might sound like The Fall, to insiders, this four piece bark up the Life Without Buildings beanstalk. Fat Cat’s sibling record label, Palmist, will release their EP soon.
Elsewhere the soulful amateur dramatics of Us Baby Bones takes up the stage at a surprising packed out Life. Singers Puff and Daisy are decked out like pandas at a kids tea party. Their music on the other hand is creatively crafted enough to capture the attention of the room. At the same time, just next door at Digital are laptop maestros Buenos Bros pumping out playfully minimal downtempo soundtracks to about 20 people. Over at the Jamm, Brighton's Dark Horses build audience anticipation setting the scene with an air raid siren and a talking man sample. When they finally take to the stage, they act like they own it, giving a surefire rock out performance. However I couldn’t help but think of Ladyhawke. Yuck finish off Saturday night (although the choice is difficult with the Naked and Famous, the Vaccines, D/R/U/G/S/ and Factory Floor competing). Tonight singer Daniel Blumberg tells that they are happy to be back in the UK after a long US tour and mysteriously there are only 4 of them onstage. I could have sworn their album has a picture of 5 peoples. Oh there you go the fifth member is Daniel’s sister, Illana, who is a part time member. Of course. So how they play? They sound pretty much exactly how they are on their eponymous debut: raucous, warm and fuzzy. And that’s my Great Experience for a year, a myriad of music investigated.