May 14, 2012

Live: The Great Escape, Brighton. 10th-12th May, 2012.

Posted in Reviews tagged , , , , , , , , , , , at 6:42 pm by essentiallyeclectic

Photography by Matt Wash

For one weekend in May, Brighton’s hen night hordes vie for space on the city streets alongside 15,000 music fans taking part in the annual Great Escape Festival. A multi-venued affair with a decent range of musical styles on offer, The showcase is sometimes billed as “Britain’s answer to South by Southwest” — an accurate description if the queues outside some of the gigs are anything to go by.

This year, headliners come in the rather uninspiring form of Maximo Park, The Temper Trap, and Africa Express Sound System ­— a scaled-down version of the Damon Albarn-curated Africa Express. The real business end of proceedings, however, takes place at the many smaller venues, where punters are encouraged to check out lesser-known acts and that all-important festival favourite: the ‘undiscovered gem’. Here are some of this year’s high —and not so high — lights:

Brooklyn psychedelic dream-poppers Young Magic deal expertly with a shaky Audio PA, playing beefed up tracks from debut album Melt with both high energy and an air of detached aloofness. A hard-hitting version of ‘You With Air’ goes down particularly well with an attentive early evening crowd, with the trio sharing airy vocal duties and hammering the life out of various drums and laptops.

A packed-out Coalition bears witness to one of the festival’s best performances in the form of Seattle’s Shabazz Palaces. The cryptic rap duo rattle through tracks from their back catalogue, such as the floor-shaking ‘Free Press And Curl’, while all the time attacking samplers and twanging kalimbas as Palaceer Lazaro deliver verse after verse with the confidence and showmanship of one with 20 years in the game.

A wealth of quality is on show at The Warren  — a venue suitably concealed round the back of a multi-story car park where The Guardian had set up their ‘New Band of the Day’ stage. Upbeat Norwegians Razika charmed with tightly played ska pop, while Keep Shelly In Athens expanded on their Balearic washed out trip-hop with full live band; frontwoman Sarah P adding a hint of Portishead sourness to the group’s lo-fi productions.

The NME sets up camp at The Corn Exchange, and delivers a hit-and-miss mix of its treasured guitar bands and various DJ sets. The overblown, anthemic indie of Spector blended Sparks-type theatricality with stadium sized Killers hooks — a mix that feels tedious and played-out. But it wasn’t all doom and gloom here, with four piece Savages playing their melodious brand of dark, noise-heavy post-punk to a rapt but intimate crowd. Last minute fill ins, the band lost some of the nuances of their sound in the cavernous room, but nevertheless acquit themselves admirably, hitting their balance of moodiness and detached furtiveness early on and building on it from there.

Hollie Cook blesses a crowded and sweaty Hope with some Saturday afternoon reggae vibes, lacing tracks like ‘Milk And Honey’ and ‘Body Beat’ with producer Prince Fatty by her side, while electro duo Solar Bears play their Mouse On Mars/LFO-type beats laden with twiddly synth work over at The Pavilion Theatre. Of all the attempts by producer/DJs to take their studio stuff live, theirs was perhaps a little lacklustre (acts like Gang Colours, performing in the Unitarian Church, handle this much better), and they suffer slightly from playing to a crowd patiently awaiting Beth Jeans Houghton And The Hooves Of Destiny up next on the same stage.

Houghton’s own set is one of rousing indie-folk, with gloriously thick five or six-piece harmonies; she herself performing Kate Bush-like acrobatics up and down the vocal register. For those that were already fans of latest album, Yours Truly, Cellophane Nose, it’s  a tidy affirmation of Houghton’s talents. For those unable to get into Alabama Shakes at Komedia and looking for something new, it’s the perfect remedy.

It’s this kind of fortunate accident — happening upon a previously unknown artist in an unusual setting — that makes The Great Escape and other city festivals of its kind work so well, and Brighton’s music venues cover an area roughly the size of a large festival site. The bars and cafes certainly take advantage of hungry music fans, but then again, Glastonbury’s hardly a place for the thrifty, and at least you don’t return from a long night of music to find someone asleep on what’s left of your tent.

Read this review in context over at THE STOOL PIGEON

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