The Great Escape Festival – Day 1

May 27, 2009 at 2:42 pm (Gigs, Music) ()

Check shirts and day-glo sunglasses? Sticky, sweaty half naked throngs of kids eagerly vying for position? Relentless drizzle?


It must be the start of the great British festival season. And what better way to ease yourself in than a 3 day jaunt around your home town complete with a seemingly endless supply of beer in plastic glasses, more hot new bands than you can shake a stick, at and your own (or someone else’s) warm bed to crawl home to at the end of the night.

Now in its 4th year, Brighton’s Great Escape festival has evolved into Europe’s top showcase for new musical talent, and sees industry insiders and fans alike partake on a mad dash around the city’s pubs and clubs in the hope of catching the next big thing, or for some inexplicable reason, The Charlatans. The myriad complexities of the events timetabling (some bands playing more than once, last minute cancellations, secret gigs etc) causes plans to be made and then hastily scrapped and re-arranged at a moment’s notice, lending the festival a surreal, madcap edge.It is somewhat akin to attempting an orienteering course combined with a pub-crawl, with an A&R man in one ear and Zane Lowe’s mp3 player in the other.

Zane Lowe in one ear, an A&R man in the other

Zane Lowe in one ear, an A&R man in the other

We begin our evening at Audio to check out the rather dubious sounding Video Nasties ** who actually sound quite promising in the first couple of minutes, all sea shanty organ sounds and building atmospheric guitars. However said keyboards are promptly obliterated by the time that their first proper song announces itself through a medley of wild curly hair, intense vocals and crashing drums. The band do show signs of inventiveness in the numerous breakdowns that pepper each track, but the hardcore thrashing around in-between starts to get stale before their half hour slot is up. They do have a bassist who looks like one of the Goth kids from South Park however, so all is not lost.

'Goth Kids dance to express pain and suffering'

'Goth Kids dance to express pain and suffering'

Next it’s off to the Honeyclub for a horribly under-promoted Maps***, who play to a fairly bemused crowd, half of whom are expecting someone else entirely. Those that are here to see James Chapman’s live ensemble are equally bemused, mostly as he appears to have done away with all that lush, sweeping electronic loveliness, and appears to be trying to cave their heads in with some sort of warped hardcore techno. Traces of well loved songs such as ‘Back+Forth’ and ‘It Will Find You’ are still vaguely present, but they are now beefed up almost beyond recognition with chest rattling drum beats and a cacophonic wall of synthesisers. It’s actually pretty impressive, but for the time of day and size of venue, it fails to really engage the crowd in the way that perhaps a more accurate representation of his work on record may have.

It is now not only very muggy, but also very wet outside but undeterred, we fight through the feeling of being suffocated by a damp dog and charge ahead to Komedia for a bit of Everything Everything ***. It is probably safe to say that the band have heard the odd Futureheads record, but they also have a way with a tune that belies such lazy comparisons and sets them out as an interesting proposition in their own right. They have the whole jumpy lead vocal call and response trick down pat, and each song rolls along under the momentum of near continual changes in tempo and style. It often sounds as though they are playing 4 different songs at the same time, but for the most part their tightness and timing makes it all work. New single ‘Photoshop Handsome’ showcases their skills perfectly and leaves the crowd both contented, and eager to hear a bit more, which is exactly what you want really.

Fearing the first major queuing experience of the night we rush down to Hector’s House just in time to check out… a really bloody big queue. Sadly there will be no Hockey for us tonight (maybe we’ll have more luck at Audio on Saturday) so it’s off to the nearest venue, The Ocean Rooms to check out The Baddies.

Unfortunately they sound and look rubbish so it’s quickly off to the pitch dark of the Sallis Benny Theatre as we have remembered that the previously clashed with Mirrors**** are now open to our eagle eyed scrutiny. The theatre’s shadowy recesses are perfect for the band’s brooding synth heavy atmospherics. Most of the usual 80’s influences are present, from their regimented Kraftwork-esq stage presence, to the dark pulsating undercurrent of bass that keeps each song ticking over with metronomic precision. Crucially however, they haven’t forgotten to write melodies to weave in and out of such backdrops. The end result pitches up somewhere between Duran Duran on a massive comedown and Cut Copy with stoic British bleakness replacing antipodean sunshine. It gives their performance a sense of beautiful melancholy, and finally settles the question of whether robots have feelings.



At this point we decide to attempt the Maccabees homecoming headline slot, and head the short distance to the Corn Exchange with a good 45 minutes to spare. The scene that awaits us is reminiscent of a soup kitchen during the great depression. Tired, sodden queues of people stretch off into the distance, all the way into the Pavilion Gardens, there are heated exchanges at the door, and a general air of hopelessness surrounds the situation.

The delegates queue is almost as bad, so we decide to cut our losses and head for the delights of Filthy Dukes **** at the Ocean Rooms, via a pit stop at the Market Diner. With precious other options available at this time of night, and the Concorde seeming a small eternity away, the Ocean Rooms is packed out with a motley assortment of wastrels, and for those too mashed or disorganised to get to the Maccabees early, the Dukes are just what the doctor ordered.

Some Dukes. Being filthy

Some Dukes. Being filthy

Seemingly intent on cramming every dance sub genre into each of their songs simultaneously, lead singer Tim Lawton soon has the crowd in a delirious frenzy of flailing arms and massive grins. While I’m not entirely sure they that they’re real Dukes (one of them has a baseball cap on), they certainly are filthy. ‘Come on Brighton, this is a nasty one!’ shouts Lawton as the band career into their final tune. The crowd don’t disappoint, and neither, thus far, has the festival.

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