A bunch of DiSsers went to Brighton this weekend for the annual Great Escape shebang. We hosted three nights of music (all of which was filmed, and we'll be running bits of it over the coming weeks and months), drank a few beers and watched some bands and solo musicians and electro dudes and all sorts.
In this review of the festival, we've not tried to cover everything (there were well over 300 acts, after all). Instead, what you'll find below is DiS' editor's picks of the weekend (that's me writing this intro, hello!), but first, DiS' David Edwards who trekked down from Manchester shares his picks of the weekend...
My first time ever in Brighton and my first Great Escape, and I left having been hugely impressed by both. It’s hard not to be taken in by Brighton’s charm: full of atmosphere, vibrancy and energy. And the same proved true with the music over the weekend - the quality rarely dropping below a high class and calibre. I’d certainly do a few things differently next time, such as planning with caution rather than quantity in mind. This certainly proved a downfall at some points on the Saturday afternoon, where certain shows (Hey Sholay, Parma Violets) were nigh-on impossible to get into if you didn’t have one of the ultra-delegate wristbands. And I’d certainly invest more time in checking out some of the further flung and Alternative Escape venues next time…some of the stuff at the fringe events was quite brilliant, but there were a couple of Brucie Bonuses attached to the weekend. Like finally getting to meet Michael Eavis and ramble to him about all the great/inspirational/drunken times I’ve spent on his farm. He’s a lovely guy! No tip-offs about 2013’s headliners, mind…
...and then on Saturday afternoon, myself and Drowned in Sound stalwart Dom Gourlay (you'll find his review over on ContactMusic) managed to put in a sterling performance alongside fellow music geeks Joel, Lorraine and Ian to clinch a hard-fought fourth place finish against sixteen other teams of assorted industry, media and TV types for John Robb’s Pop Quiz (a sterling knowledge of Big Black, Dave Dee, steam-powered dildos and Girls Aloud assisting us along the way). Our prize? A copy of Duff McKagen’s “It’s So Easy (And Other Lies)” autobiography. So far (19 pages in) he’s lost his virginity, christened Guns ‘n’ Roses tour jet by smoking crack with Slash on the runway and had his pancreas explode. This promises to be an entertaining read…
Ultimately, the schmoozing, boozing and losing of our sense of time all came second to the excellent music on offer. So here are my top five acts of The Great Escape 2012. Not in any sort of ranking. Just the order I scribbled them onto my phone while watching. This naturally, happens to be chronological. Funny that…
Zebra and Snake
(Green Door: Friday 00.45)
What you really need at the end of a long, busy, exhausting and perma-boozed afternoon is something with the illicit energy of a North Korean “secret warehouse” to revitalise and reinvigorate. And my word; Zebra and Snake didn’t disappoint in that regard. They give us slutty, seductive and thrillingly dirty synth sounds rammed aggressively up against clattering, chugging bass and softer, almost cushioning beats. The collision between the three produces a sound that is simultaneously sensual, snarling and soothing. It’s woozy but thrilling; challenging yet rewarding. The fact that the two of them seem so overtly focused on throwing everything they have at the tools of their creating while the front rows go off on one only adds to the sweat-soaked atmosphere as Day One draws its way towards a triumphant, euphoric and semi-revelatory conclusion as they oscillate between sonically cuffing and caressing us. That’ll do just nicely, thank you very much! // zebraandsnake.com
(Life Bar: Saturday 18.00)
Me and FOE go back a while. Well, to October last year anyway (as in politics, that’s a long time in music) when I saw her play her terrific brand of crunching and genre-bending pop-fuzz-punk to a handful of people in Manchester’s Factory. After the show, I gabbled something nonsensical at her about how great she was and how small turnouts shouldn’t put her off her vision. I may have sounded like an idiot at the time but on the back of her marvellous debut record Bad Dream Hotline, seeing Life crammed to capacity with folk waiting outside was a vindication of what she does. Except Hannah Clark and her band aren’t happy to simply settle for this. Oh, no. Her Great Escape set was predominantly characterised by a wicked confidence in both sound and performance; the songs supercharged with spitting static and already assuming new forms and presentations. Her band have grown astronomically since I first witnessed them and almost seem to take the pressure off her; so impressive are they at wrapping a tarpaulin of sheer intensity and rock and roll bravado around what could otherwise end up as something whimsical. And as for Clark herself, she’s developing that coquettish, maddeningly difficult to pin down, ultra-confident stage persona that denotes the borderline of “kooky” into “genuine star quality”. She’s so good, she even gets away with not playing ‘Cold Hard Rock’ in place of a new song that sounds like an intelligent and instantly memorable stride forward towards deserved mainstream attention. She’s growing; the songs are growing; the performances are growing too – in both size and ambition. Turn the page and watch…this was superb. // foe-mania.tumblr.com
(Coalition: Friday 19.15)
To upstage the epic live reputations afforded to We Were Promised Jetpacks and The Twilight Sad (both playing alongside them on the Fatcat Records stage) is no mean feat. But it’s one that Odonis Odonis pulled off impeccably as the sun began to sink behind the skeletal frame Brighton Pier on Friday night. The Canadian band are almost like a re-interpretation of The Jesus and Mary Chain’s Darklands album, as imagined by Queens of the Stone Age but with Joey Santiago guesting on guitar to drag the whole thing that bit closer to the surf. Singer Dean Tzenos’ fuzzed-up and echoing cries perfectly juxtapose with a soft, ethereal backing that steps in when things become that little bit too confrontational. They’ve got influences pinned notably and clearly to their sleeve, sure. But should that really matter if the music and performance is this viscerally thrilling, jarring and (occasionally) terrifying? Not at all. A striking and intense show; perfectly kicking off an excellent line-up of bands stretching across the evening at Coalition. But on this occasion, the page-boys crashed the party… // odonisodonis.com
(Green Door: Saturday 13.30)
There is always one band at a festival who - having never even heard of before – you leave rabidly yammering about a) how brilliant they are and b) how everyone needs to hear them. For me, and for The Great Escape 2012, that band happen to be The Naturals from Bristol. Early morning in the cobblestoned stable atmosphere of The Green Door, what seemed a routine “let’s check them out” turned into one of the highlights of the weekend. It’s easy to detect overtones of Godspeed! You Black Emperor and early Hope of The States in their extraordinary ability to draw sheer blood, sweat and waves of heart-breaking memories from your soul with sound alone; it’s easy to hear echoes of Foals, Battles and This Town Needs Guns in their ability to layer intense and hypnotic melodies, rhythms and patterns on top of each other. But what they do is all their own and the manner and confidence in which they make the stage incontrovertibly theirs is stunning. They finish the set on their knees conjuring up an overwhelming wave of feedback and effects from their multiple pedals, before leaping to their feet to crash seamlessly back into the song with twice the energy of before. My headache is gone; my hangover scampers for cover and I’m throwing myself around with a sheer joy for life and music. Absolutely magnificent. // FaceBook
(Life Bar: Saturday 21.00)
What a glorious hybrid of strange wonder Stealing Sheep are. Three attractive, mysterious girls from Liverpool playing a triumvirate of Fender Stratocaster, Keyboards and thumping, blasted-heath standing percussion; the combination of which is an intensely heady sweet smoke of friend-bracelet entwined melodies; married to a complex and turbulent maelstrom of lo-fi growl and atmospheric bliss that becomes even more hypnotic and translucently beautiful after a time. What however, is even more impressive about Stealing Sheep is that they use these pretty garments to dress a frame of genuine substance. They have glorious folk-pop songs that carry sharp and intelligent twists with every measure. And in adding a truly unique sound and colour to this appreciation of great psychedelic pop music, they manage to stand out effortlessly from peers who simply think it’s enough to turn up with a good look and a selection of pedals. Make no mistake; this is difficult music to create. Thankfully for us, it’s also quite spellbinding to appreciate. // stealingsheep.co.uk
And as an extra, my pick of the acts from The Alternative Escape…
(The Queen’s Head: Friday 20.30)
There are a slew of excellent bands (The Janice Graham Band, The Louche, Beat The Radar) reaching out beyond the traditional template of what Manchester can achieve with a guitar or two. But on this occasion, recent arrivals on the scene Shinies stole a march with a quite magnificent show downstairs in The Queen’s Head. They belie their youth with a perfect understanding of the chemistry of colour-fuzz pop music over the last 20 years; concocting a muscular, ever-inventive and perfectly balanced hybrid of Dinosaur Jr., The Pains of Being Pure at Heart, Teenage Fanclub and the more pop-orientated moments of The Pixies. But there’s also (appropriately) a sense of the English seaside and a desire to escape in their music…a yearning which adds a turn and tone of melancholy to the otherwise bright and bold sound. Equally importantly, they know when to drop the cuter stuff and simply blow steam, with their songs often ending in a pummelling squall of feedback and reverb. Despite their status as relative newcomers, they’re almost the full package even at this early stage and with songs this instantaneous, bold and confident, you can easily see them breaking through in the very near future. And if they do, they’ll snag many a musical heart on their hooks. shinies.bandcamp.com
I feel like some sort of Great Escape veteran. I've been to the festival every year since its inception in 2006, and DiS has hosted a stage every year too. By 'hosting' what I really mean is to-froing with the organizers for about six months, trying to put together a bill of bands from around the globe that we love. You could be grand and call it "curating" if you so wished. Essentially, it's a bit like playing fantasy festivals, only the thing actually happens. Obviously there isn't the budget for like Bjork supported by Aphex and Deftones. Not that that hasn't stopped us trying.
This year I ran around like a blue-ass fly, saw bands, chatted about the future of the music press on a panel, DJ'd a blog party, drank beer until the sun came up and ate a dodgy sausage (this is not a euphemism, but then when in Brighton...). These were the things I loved the most of the 30 or so acts I managed to catch...
Growing up as a skate-punk loving BMX-riding dweeb, I never thought I'd ever become the kind of guy who breaks down in tears to the sound of a piano. I didn't think I'd ever fall under the spell of music that plays with the shadows of silence. Maybe it was the utterly grand setting of a mini-cathedral (designed to make you feel humble), but this was one of the most moving things I'd ever seen/heard/felt. Incredible. I'm getting chills just thinking about it, and I think my heart genuinely aches after watching that ...the A Winged Victory for The Sullen set which followed was equally immense, but I felt absolutely emotionally drained after Nils' set, and that's the only reason why that isn't one of my picks too. Erased Tapes, happy fifth birthday, and thank you for bringing this beauty to Brighton.
Eight And a Half
I had a feeling this would be a highlight but I wasn't quite prepared for how widescreen the guitars would be. I mean, I should have anticipated that the man who wrote The Stills' debut album would bring some big U2-bothering guitar parts but the rhythms (Justin Peroff, what a dude!) and synth textures on their debut record had me thinking this would be far more slight. If you loved Burst Apart as much as I did last year, you need these Canadians in your life... My scribbled notes for the show simply read "underblown" and I think that just about sums it up.
Gemma Hayes, on her own, with an acoustic guitar, and THAT VOICE. Breathtaking. Such a treat.
David said it all really above, but this was a great show and then some. Someone put FOE on the road with Uffie, The Kills, Metric, Paramore, and however else's crowd appreciates riffs that snarl, lyrics that bite and electrocuted melodies that fizzle in your mind the morning after. A truly unique and most definitely British talent.
Was a little bit bemused by these guys on record, but oh my gosh, live it's like some sort of psychedelic-stadium-rock-party. Think ...And You Will Know Us By the Entrails of Flaming Lips, and then double it. Pretty much exactly what every 'buzz' band should be live, with a slice of Beefheart on the side.
When Saints Go Machine
I'm not sure I can really pick a favourite band from DiS' bills but there was a moment during WSGM's set when limbs were flailing in all directions and the bass boomed through my chest, when I pretty much could have gone deaf for life and not cared a jot. It was a moment of pure elation. Bliss. Serious bliss from start to finish, especially when everything falls away and his voice crawls around the room like a pirate's cat, all Antony goo with ...Cuckoo Nest coos. This is everything you want a live show to be, but it was far too short, and I'm really sorry about that (not that it was DiS' fault, the gig in the venue before over-ran, which meant no-one really got a soundcheck, and the venue had to kick everyone out for a club after, so we couldn't steal extra time!)
My final pick is also from our Saturday night DiS bill (sorry, I did see other people's bills, but I guess I did really pick all my favourite acts of the past 12 months, so it's probably no surprise they were highlights). This husband-wife duo have been making my heart stop, quiver, shiver and fill with purply-pink pixelated joy for quite some time. Their mixture of ice cool Prince-ish rain, with the sort of science fiction rnb seemed perfect on Digital's dark dancefloor. For something so slight, this was so pulsating and powerful that the disco in my mind's eye was twirling throughout.
My five highlights of the weekend...
...played a South African Hip Hop reworking of Joy Division...?
...Samantha Urbani stalking through the crowd while singing Friend Crush - at the end of Brighton pier.
...playing Krautrock for the people
Grimes & her backing dancers losing their shit...
The first 20 minutes of College's DJ set being as transcendent a DJ set as I've seen since Daft Punk in 2007 (It got a bit drum-heavy for my taste towards the end)
We've shared ours... who were your picks of the weekend?