Sunday, May 28, 2017

The Great Escape 2017 :: Day One

Credit: Linn Branson

Live Review

The Great Escape, Brighton (Day 1)

Thursday May 18 - Saturday May 20 2017

Various venues

Reporting team: Neil Cole, Linn Branson, Leah Raymond

One of the festival highlights of the year is always The Great Escape, a take-over of countless venues in Brighton with some of the best international new music around.

With most of the venues being Brighton's pubs, clubs and indoor venues, it's one of few festivals where the constant torrential rain that was to beset the first day was almost tolerable. The organisers ambitiously put on a couple of outdoor stages this year which were a bit of a wash-out, but other than that things ran to plan on day one and some amazing music was showcased.

The LaFontaines
Credit: Allegra Chapman

Early on in the afternoon the Brighthelm Centre played host to showcasing two days of some of Scotland's best, with Vic Galloway at his irrepressible best on introducing duties. The LaFontaines helped everyone forget the depressing weather outside with their energetic, fizzing set which saw dancing feet - on and off stage. The Van T's, all glittery face paints - the three girls at least - and colourful apparel, keep the party spirit going with their Glaswegian grunge-topped surf sounds that delighted not just the heavy Scots numbers in the crowd.

The Van T's
Credit: Leah Raymond

Over at the Latest Bar, the Welsh were saying helo with their four-act Horizons: New Music From Wales showcase. Monico Blonde from Cardiff had already gained attention with their energy driven synths, drums, and hooky guitar-laden melodies via debut single 'Bad Thoughts'; that and latest release 'Love Is An Only Child' will doubtlessly have gained them more fans after this early afternoon set.

Monico Blonde
Credit: Carina Rudolph

At Sticky Mike's Frog Bar meanwhile, it was the Zeitgeist New German Talent Showcase revealing some great stuff coming out of the region and that they also seem to be raising the bar for new guitar bands. Giant Rooks were full of enthusiasm, with an incredibly talented vocalist in Frederik Rabe, who not only has a fantastic voice, but also played guitar and various percussion throughout a set which he seemed to genuinely love performing.

Fil Bo Riva
Credit: Leah Raymond

In the downstairs room at the Queens Hotel on the seafront, Berlin-based Italian Fil Bo Riva accompanied by guitarist and drummer, drew in a gaggle of Germans as he played a folk-soul set with a dark - almost post-punk in essence at times - twist.

Much has been made of the four-girl DIY south-Londoners Goat Girl who took over The Black Lion for an afternoon set before their evening entrance at Paganini Ballroom. “Touch my body, touch my soul/ Touch that deep and disused hole” cried front goat girl Lottie on 'Country Sleaze', their feisty Slits-style debut single. Determinedly raw and shredding the riot girrrl punk aesthetic, these girls are set to pave the way for the new wave of uncompromising female bands espousing political and social commentary.

Goat Girl
Credit: ICYMI

Back at Sticky Mike's, the German showcase continues with Kytes, another great example of a band who have taken the mid-2000s UK indie sound and developed it into something new. 'Inner Cinema' started with a slow, stripped back feel to it, before launching into a fast paced anthem reminiscent of Two Door Cinema Club. A guest rapper appeared for 'On The Run' which on the face of it could have been quite cringeworthy, but he did a great job and really added something to the track. Likeable frontman Michael Spieler opened a can of beer at one point and said "let's pretend it's the evening" - seemingly unaware that afternoon drinking is what we do at UK festivals!

Credit: Neil Cole

By far the most confident of the German bands were Fuck Art, Let's Dance! True to their name, their set of fast-paced indie/dance numbers got the place bouncing. Perhaps better suited to a late night slot than 2pm, they were definitely all about the energy and enthusiasm as opposed to the tunes, which didn't have a great deal of variety. The charismatic frontman threw t-shirts, tote bags and other merch into the packed crowd throughout the set; if they wanted to get their name out there, mission accomplished.

Be Charlotte
Credit: Neil Cole

A change of pace ensued from Be Charlotte at the Brighthelm Centre. Part of the Scottish showcase, the 18-year-old showed her impressive vocal skills, but the set didn't quite hit the mark. Brighthelm is often a difficult place to play, with the atmosphere sucked out by the high ceiling, leading to an almost eerie silence after songs. She wasn't helped by an uninspiring backing band - while the lead guitarist gazed longingly at her throughout the set, the bassist and drummer looked thoroughly disinterested. Maybe first day nerves, as by day three's set at Komedia Studio, the eager crowd ramming the room for her Dundee rap 'n' soul vibes, were not to be disappointed.

The next big queue came at Patterns as they attempted to open up for the start of the evening performances. However, for the second year running the venue had huge technical problems and kept people waiting outside in the rain. Things didn't improve once the music finally got underway, with London singer/songwriter and keyboardist Douglas Dare struggling to keep the attention of a soggy and unhappy crowd. His songs just weren't powerful enough to win over the crowd and he ended up having a mini-rant about people talking at the bar.

Credit: Paul Michael Bowden

One of the undoubted highlights of Day One - if not in the top five for the whole festival - must be Starcrawler's set at The Haunt. The rain was not going to put off long queues forming for the LA act fronted by outrageously precocious teen Arrowe de Wilde. With just one single - 'Ants' - known to British audiences, each song seemed like an infectious old favourite, and their fast-paced punk rock repertoire and the highly watchable Arrowe left a rammed room gripped. Keep watch on this band who are set to explode.

At the East Street Tap, Coquin Migale also brought in the crowds (which included Radio X host John Kennedy) for their typically loud and entertaining sets - one of several the Newcastle grindie band were playing at this year's Alternative Escape. Always a band worth seeing, tonight's set ended with vocalist, baseball capped Alex Soper, going all soft and a capella, providing something of a nice contrast to the full band onslaught that preceded it.

Coquin Migale
Credit: Linn Branson

Mosa Wild, who had announced themselves last year with the brooding and powerful 'Smoke', were also to fall prey to Patterns' sound problems; their set unfortunately hampered by technical difficulties that meant the sound quality in the downstairs room just couldn't do them justice. It was only really the set closer where we finally got a glimpse of their potential, as at last the band seemed to start enjoying themselves. Then it was another change of pace as Kolars took to the stage at Komedia. Wearing gold sparkly outfits, the American duo wouldn't have looked out of place in Las Vegas, and the performance too had a 'show' feel to it. Singer/guitarist Rob Kolar was undeniably talented as he rattled through a set of country-influenced soft rock tunes.

The Amazons
Credit: Neil Cole

Yonaka, a Brighton hometown band firing off garage rock riffs, play to a keyed up crowd in the by now, hot and sweaty, Patterns Downstairs, before another highlight of the day comes from The Amazons at the East Wing of The Brighton Centre. They are fully deserving of the much bigger stage than last year's set at The Hope & Ruin, and they pulled off a confident, loud and ballsy 45-minute set that makes you think this band are destined for big things very soon. Singer Matt Thomson was relaxed, confident and engaging as the band rolled through early singles ('Stay With Me', 'Nightdriving', 'Ultraviolet'), and then more recent tracks from their debut album, which some of the crowd seemed a little surprised by, given the much heavier sound on the likes of 'Little Something', 'In My Mind', for example, but it shows the band have a real depth to them.

Saint PHNX
Credit: Neil Cole

The surprise of The Great Escape's opening day came from Scottish sibling two-piece, Stevie and Alan Jukes, aka Saint PHNX, at the Green Door Store. Recent single 'King' is an infectious, anthem-like tune that will almost certainly be coming to a sports montage near you this summer. The rest of their set was equally strong and went down very well with a crowd that initially seemed like they weren't entirely sure what they were about to see. Vocalist Stevie's friendly crowd interaction helped, and resulted in a great atmosphere and a very likeable band.

The late night show at The Arch saw electro outfit Little Cub take to the stage. The singer came across as a bit of a perfectionist and insisted that one of the songs was re-started after a mistake about a minute in - a mistake that probably not a single person in the crowd noticed. They need to learn the art of styling it out! They had some good tunes but lacked personality and the crowd reaction was quite muted.

Ten Fé
Credit: Neil Cole

In contrast, the night closed with Ten Fé who, for those still with stamina left, set up in The Arch in the early hours of Friday morning. Another band to be 'promoted' this year, after their early afternoon set at Sticky Mike's in 2016. They have improved enormously, and the release of their debut album and subsequent touring has given them a real confidence. The best-known track is 'Elodie', but the standout tracks live were opener 'Twist Your Arm' and the cover of Underworld's 'Born Slippy' which closed the set. They are such a talented band with a multitude of different styles even within one short set.

Thursday’s spotlight show saw Slaves take over the Palace Pier. Bedecked with rides, DJs and festival fun, along with Superfood and Cabbage at Horatio’s, the heavens may have opened once more as the now local duo played in the Horror Hotel, but not that many either noticed or minded.

Credit: Craig

Ripping through their set in true to form style, face-painted Isaac and Laurie ripped through their set including ‘Where’s Your Car, Debbie?’ and ‘Take Control’, that wasn't so much near bringing the house down, as bringing the pier down. Safety issues brought their set to an early end for fear the pier structure might collapse. This later brought forth a statement from Slaves themselves apologising for the 'heavy-handedness' of the security staff. A sad blight on what until then had been an unforgettable show.

So ended a successful first day at The Great Escape. Bring on Day Two.

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