Nothing cheers the British like blue skies and sunshine, and what better way to enjoy a sunburn than head to the coastline, bathed in the cacophony of greedy seagulls and 300 up and coming musicians? The Great Escape in Brighton has been filling the British music industry conference void for the past 8 years, and is sort of SxSW’s envious, less popular cousin – but if we overlook the fact TGE is more modest in size and scope, there are some pertinent parallels: the UK music industry is here en masse, schmoozing and drinking to the early hours; there are queues everywhere; the unofficial side shows are often more fun than the main attractions; and of course… …THERE IS MUSIC!
With venues spread all over town, resistance is futile: one must arm oneself with comfortable shoes and go with the flow. Cougar Microbes kicked things off with Elisapie’s seafront gig. Perhaps a midday show wasn’t the ideal setting for the Inuit Canadian’s electro pop, but it was sultry nonetheless. The songstress spoke seductively of love and nature and all sorts of hippy stuff, yet with her intense presence she made you feel she could eat you alive. Her set was sunny and apres cuit like sea foam washing on the beach, but as she delivered her songs there was fire in her eyes.
Next up was the indie rock of fellow Canadian bearded lads, Foam Lake. Their strength lay in the balance of guitar laden grungy overtones, melodic synth detailing and 4 piece harmonies. Almost 20 years on from their formation, the Foo Fighters’ resonance in this kind of music has become a little clichéd – but it is no slight on Foam Lake to say they occasionally touch upon the finer moments of the Grohl – it in the best possible way.
After a flurry of free drinks and a long succession of panels pondering the demise of the music industry as we know it, and the future of digital marketing, piracy, streaming, blogging and good ol’ insiders’ gossip, CM decided to sample the delights of the unofficial parties… Keston Cobbler’s Club played an intimate set at the Fiddler’s Elbow, rousing the crowd with their quintessentially British brand of perfectly adorable folk. Led by brother and sister Matthew and Julia Lowe, the Cobblers’ star is on the rise and their set was heartwarming and fun, conjuring up village fetes and sunny playgrounds and all things nice. A real treat.
In contrast, it was a stinging disappointment the talented Tarq Bowen’s set was cancelled – his otherworldy onstage intensity would have provided a contrasting flavour in a lineup that could not help but cough up some forgettable bands.
Deap Vally, of course, were not the latter. A wild tousle of hair and legs, chunky riffs, sexy growls and a truckload of badass attitude had the audience entranced. Lindsey Troy and Julie Edwards ooze the kind of cocksure sexuality that got Robert Plant armies of groupies, but the crowd’s uncertain whether to be aroused, afraid or both. Probably both. This is scuzzy, filthy garage rock with clever riffs, powerful vocals and a delicious nod to highest calibre Riot Grrl. I was left daydreaming about getting a DV tattoo on my ass.
It is an unintentional side effect of all the aimless wandering from venue to venue that these highlights have a strong female element – also from Canada, The Balconies blew the Green Door Store away at 2am with a dose of ass-kicking rock’n’roll, topped off by tantalising frontwoman Jackie O’ Neville’s impressive set of pipes. With much headbanging and whoo-hooing, she delivered a pitch perfect concoction of meaty riffs and melodies. Like a whippet on speed, O’Neville didn’t stand still for a split second and revealed that behind her sweet smile and delicate frame lies a force of nature. Zooey Deschanel gone an enticing kind of bad.
Next in line was the Nordic electro folk of the atmospheric singer/songwriter Farao, strumming a guitar serenely from an Airstream van. Graceful and full of poise, she sang whimsical tracks on her finger-plucked acoustic, rendered by carefully measured synths. Just what everyone’s hangover was calling out for. One of the downsides of such a sprawling event is that you end up missing so much, and the headliners are all on at the same time, at different venues, with neverending queues.
Even so, having a bumper ticket (for an extra price) to watch Everything Everything in the Corn Exchange felt like an anti-climax. Perhaps it was the free-spirited sun soaked unbritishness going on outside – despite the bands best efforts, it was more fun being in the open air. The Great Escape was finalised by late night boozing in the Queen’s Hotel, followed by a 5am escape to Sticky Frog Mike’s – the last bar standing.
To top things off, Deap Vally were there knocking back drinks and dancing to Hole. And what better way to heal tired aching feet than a cold sea dip at sunrise? While Britain’s answer to SxSW could be improved by wider musical diversity, it still stands as the place to see ‘the next big thing’ and is a fantastic way to kick off the extraordinary UK festival season – for those who have the stamina!