The Great Escape Festival @ Various venues, Brighton, 15 – 17/05/08

So, it’s that time again, when Brighton undergoes an overnight metamorphosis from chilled-out, laid-back seaside town, to a frantic hub of activity, with 150 gigs crammed into a three-day programme, and the intrepid Beat Happening embarked on the treacherous mission to report back on the cream of 2008’s musical offerings. Dubbed by some (us) as ‘South by South West, but with shit weather’, the festival is a showcase of the newest acts across the entire globe to be getting us journo types into a fuss.

 

THURSDAY

My first port of call is Audio to catch Restlesslist. Hot on the heels of playing the very first Club Beat Happening, their uniquely off-kilter blend of hip-hop beats, carnival waltz and a mish-mash of old B-movie  samples, is a pretty good opener for the festival. Sticking around, I also catch French duo, John & Jehn, who come across as a less pretentious Kills, with a similar lo-fi indie ethic, but a much funner drum machine, with clunky rockabilly beats providing a backdrop for some brilliantly ramshackle pop songs.

Then it’s off to see a four-headed panel, made up of the editors of leading music magazines and webzines, discussing the future of printed and online press. I learn that printed press doesn’t have much of a future unless it embraces the inter-web or whatever it’s called. Watch this space. Or go to http://www.beathappening.co.uk.

In a crammed and sweaty Audio (again), a crowd largely made up of people awaiting Thursday’s hot ticket Ida Maria, are first treated to The Laurel Collective, who give a boisterous and lively show, with dual frontmen Bob Tollast and Martin Sakatu owning the stage with every stride, and with every Mystery Jets-esque vocal harmony. Ones to watch.

I make a grave error and leave the venue for fresh air. I soon realise that the queue to get back in stretches back about four thousand people long. An unhappy inevitability with the Great Escape is the length of queues, with wristbands only guaranteeing entry to venues in accordance to their capacity, and people pitching up at venues at 6pm and staying there all night to ensure that they catch their favourite headliner. This is a recurring theme throughout the weekend.

I mosey around to The Red Roaster, a quaint little coffee shop that is playing host to The Valentines. Usually a five-piece pop-glam-rock band whose songs straddle the line between 50’s doo-wop and 70s punk, tonight sees them displaying their versatility as an acoustic three-piece, and frontman Christian Jegard cuts a charismatic figure, despite slurring his words in a way that suggests he’s pissed, on drugs, or pretending.

Cadence Weapon is my next accidental discovery; having heard good things about the Canadian MC Roland Pemberton and DJ Weasel, and having let those good things go in one ear and out of the other, his set quickly makes its way on to my shortlist as gig of the weekend. With a fiery intensity in his eyes an uncanny knack to pump the crowd up, and some slick rhymes combined with eye-bulgingly, knee-saggingly, fingertip-tinglingly great scratching on the decks, convince us that, at 22 years old, he’s definitely one for the future. 

Feeling already spoiled, but hungry for more, it’s off to The Pressure Point for hotly-tipped garage rock duo No Age. Having heard many good things on record, with a sound that  is part Neutral Milk Hotel, part Moldy Peaches – that is to say, rough, abrasive, lo-fi, scratchy., but brimming with melody – I’m disappointed that it doesn’t seem to translate so well live. Maybe I just don’t get it, but I can’t help feeling that if I heard this six years ago, I’d just see it as one more garage rock band to put with The Datsuns and The Hives of this world.

A queue visible from nips my interest in seeing The Ting Tings in the bud, very quickly, and it’s back to the official Great Escape hotel to quaff Guinness until six in the morning. Goodnight.

FRIDAY 

Hangover brushed to one side, Friday night begins at the Brighton Coalition club, with a set from our next entry on to our Gig of the Weekend shortlist, Canadian alt-poppers Born Ruffians. With quirky time signatures, a singer whose vocals at times border on a kind of falsetto scatting, and an unmistakeable ear for melody, they’re perhaps best described as being somewhere between Vampire Weekend and Arcade Fire. I wouldn’t be shocked if they turn out to be the size of U2 next year, and neither would the 300 or so new converts that turn out for this performance.

Another entry for the shortlist: The Black Angels. We predicted a show to remember (see issue one), and we weren’t mistaken. An rammed-to-the-rafters Volks club means I don’t really see much of what’s going on, the odd glimpse of facial hair viewed through some chap’s armpit, but that’s about it. The set, however, is nothing short of incredible. This is exactly how shoe-gazing psychedelia should be; repetitive, thumping drum beats combined with two-note basslines, with guitar riffs absolutely covered with distortion. They’re barely even playing songs, but the hypnotic effect that the band produce draws the crowd in completely, and at the end of the set, I’m half-expecting Steve McKenna to be standing there like a smug little bastard, having made me perform some humiliating charade whilst asleep. The wanker.

Anyway, fuck Steve McKenna. More psychedelia on the menu, from new Beat Happening favourites, Jennifer Gentle. As we were at their Dublin Castle show two days previous (see Jennifer Gentle feature), and watched one of our favourite gigs for about two years, we’re a bit miffed that there aren’t many people here for this one, but that doesn’t stop them from playing a raucous set of Barrett-esque pop that lurches from swingbeat to feedback-drenched freakouts, with singer Marco Fasolo exercising a vocal range bordering on the ridiculous. Yelping like some sort of banshee-dog-monster-thing, it’s a shock when he stops singing and meekly whispers, ‘Thanks everyone… by the way, we need a place to crash. Can anyone help?’

Not us. We bugger off to the Barfly, to the scene of the biggest queue we’ve seen since HMV on Oxford St, the day that Koyanatsqatsi: The Game came out for the Playstation 2. We somehow blag our way in to catch The Black Lips, except there’s a problem; unless you’re right next to the stage, you can’t actually hear the band. Which in turn presents a problem; there are a thousand people between us and the stage. It sounds like we might just be listening to a CD, but they’re definitely on stage, unless those people on stage are just roadies. No, I can definitely see that moustache. We grin, bear it, and it gets pretty fucking good. A night of psychedelia is rounded off by the sort of ‘flower-punk’, as it’s been termed, that sends a raucous crowd off in anticipation for Day Three.

SATURDAY

Starting to feel the effects of the previous two days’ exploits, I decide to chill out for the day and watch Portsmouth grind out a one-nil win over Cardiff in the FA Cup Final. For a full match report, go to http://www.footy.com. The day starts in earnest with Telepathe at Digital. On another day, I could like them, but their minimalist electro-pop is just a little bit too Nathan Barley for me on this occasion. Reverb-laden synth lines punctuated by the vocals of an aloof-looking Melissa (aka Mean Masha, according to their myspace) make for a sound that’s all too contrived and a bit too gimmicky for me to take them seriously.

Micachu is next on the agenda, and Beat Happening is expecting something amazing. The pint-sized pop princess, as the tabloids will refer to her if and when they ever write about her, Mica Levi plays a toy acoustic guitar, plastered with gaffer tape, and sometimes uses a hoover as an instrument on stage. She doesn’t this time, but her band still delivers a set of oddball pop songs with some twee keyboard lines and off-kilter mistiming, and has a crowd in raptures when she unleashes ‘Golden Phone’ on them. A crap soundsystem and our own high expectations, however, leave us slightly nonplussed as to whether what we just witnessed was brilliant, or mediocre. We’ll watch them again and decide for sure. I recommend you do too. 

Horatio’s Bar, at the end of Brighton pier, is where we set up camp for the next couple of hours, for the Stolen Records showcase, which first sees Screaming Tea Party play a typically frenetic set of hard n’ fast punk, spliced with quaint little pop songs – of course, they end on the brutal note, throwing guitars around the room, jumping into their drum kits, the usual sort of thing. Check out the video at http://www.beathappening.co.uk. Let’s Wrestle follow, whose energetic set of poppy garage rock sets the crowd up nicely for Pete & The Pirates. Great Escape 2007 was the scene at which I first, accidentally, discovered the ‘Pirates, after they replaced Dananananackroyd, who pulled out at the last minute. A year on, and the ‘Royd must wish they could trade places with the Pirates, who have gone on to firmly plant at least one foot in the door of the British indie elite. Judging by the size of the adoring crowd at this show, stardom beckons, and the sight of eight hundred indie kids bouncing on the hundred year-old pier to the anthemic ‘Come On Feet’ is at once terrifying, and a clear signal that they’re going to be around for a long time to come.

The final gig of the weekend is, in a word, mayhem. Pitched up in the living room of a small house by the train station, and the unofficial after party of the festival, is a two-hundred-strong crowd (there’s room for about twelve), going absolutely bananas to Brighton math-punk outfit Maths Class. Like a heavier, ballsier Foals, they combine angular guitars with techno synth lines and machine-gun drums, and provide the perfect soundtrack to the chaos that ensues. Next up are Sheffield teen grindcore act Rolo Tomassi. It’s singer Eva Spence’s 18th birthday. Guitarist Joe Nicholson is stripped down to his underwear. People are crowd surfing the ten metre length of the living room and landing on top of the drummer. Some punches are thrown, a kid gets thrown out by the singer (in pants, remember), and we leave in the nick of time, as the police come to call time on the party, and bring the curtain down on a fittingly chaotic ending to the festival.

Words: Chris Bell

 

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