One year on and it’s another Great Escape Festival in Brighton. Over 300 bands across 30 venues. Of course, over the past month or so I’ve been listening to a festival playlist to work out the best bands to see, and on Monday we got the gig planner, with the usual news that bands we want to see are clashing.
As like last year, Sarah and Mark joined us from Bristol for the three days. And at midday on Thursday we set into town to grab our wrist bands and programmes, via co-op for some tasty fresh croissants. At Jubilee Square the TGE staff struggle to snap on each of our cotton itchy-feeling wrist bands.
The first set we wanted to see was at The Prince Albert, back up towards the station, a small but famous venue that we missed out on last year. Climbing the narrow staircase, we entered our first gig of the festival. Wow, this place is tiny, and packed. We squeezed through to the back, and stood beneath a fan to stay cool, it was already very hot inside.
Big Wave Riders were up first, a band from Helsinki, this was their first show abroad. Echoes, waves, and experimental rhythms. They were a good opener to our day. From the back Sam couldn’t see much, and we held our lagers, bopping our heads along to the beats.
François and the Atlas Mountains filled the stage next, on the small stage they were really very cramped. Sam and I had been playing their album beforehand, “E Volo Love”, dancing around the living room to “Les Plus Beaux”, as if we were on top of the pops. French lyrics meld with a joyous african rhythm, to create something lovely. But the performance wasn’t without hindrance, a mic broke, and many songs were interrupted with white noise or feedback. The band shone through these technical problems, “these things happen”, François said.
Porcelain Raft are one of my favourite bands at the moment. I’d seen them live with M83 but hadn’t heard their album at that point. “Is it too deep for you?” and “Backwords” are fantastic, wistful, hypnotic, dreamy songs. Perhaps I’d hyped them up too much, but this set was awful, not that I fault the band themselves. The Prince Albert was full, people were squeezing in, it was hot and humid, we wanted lunch and it was overwhelming, but not in a good way. The two piece struggled to cope with The Prince Albert’s sound setup: the snares were penetrating and the lyrics became drowned out, the balance was all wrong, not to mention the earthy buzz that surrounded everything. It was also very loud and we’d forgotten our ear plugs. Simply the wrong atmosphere and environment for this relaxing music.
We’d planned to stay on for College, the queues were heading out the building and around the corner. But we were desperate for some food and I couldn’t stand another act suffering the same fait, we trickled out down the fire escape and set out for lunch. At Pompoko, opposite the corn exchange, we sat by the door and shared Japanese takoyaki with Buta/Tori Chilli Don.
Eager for more music we stopped by at our favourite Queens Hotel venue, a downstairs carpeted venue where you can sit back and listen to whoever is playing. We opened our festival here last year. This time we caught the end of AlicebanD and Canvas Wall, introduced by a local radio station and part of the Alternate Escape.
It was overcast, the clouds were heavy and there was faint mist. We went home, had a 30 minute nap, some coffee and back out again for the evening sessions.
First up, Sticky Mike’s Frog Bar for Young Dreams. Downstairs, in the dark, another small venue, we stood right at the front in the middle, Sam would at least see one band without some tall guy getting in the way. Described as tropicalia, psychedelic rock, they combined synths, guitars and tambourines with a pop sensibility. Their self-titled track, “Young Dreams”, stood out from the set, it was excellent.
New Look followed, a two piece haling from Canada. Futuristic, minimal pop laced with dubstep. Their self-titled album attracted me, “The Ballad” standing out. As a live act, Sarah Ruba looked gorgeous in 1940s attire, alongside her smartly dressed buttoned up collar husband, Adam Pavao. Together they played their minimal pop, as patterns of light danced across the stage. But the set lacked energy, and began to sound ‘same-y’, it was perhaps too minimal. Not until the final track, “Teen Need”, did we really see what they were capable of.
Next up, the Pavilion Theatre for Club Uncut, a favourite venue of ours from last year. We intended to see Willy Mason, but arrived to join the back of an enormous queue. Oh dear. In the cold and dark, we stood, waiting to get in. “You have zero chance of getting in”, a security fella kept telling us and everyone else, “it’s been one in one out for the last hour”. That was great, he made people leave the queue and we moved closer. Willy Mason’s set started, we didn’t get in, but then we also wanted to see Django Django, up later. We considered the Corn Exchange and Mystery Jets, but hedged our bets on people leaving when Willy was done. And it paid off, we made it in.
We got in before TOY started, a krautrock post-rock act with long hair, with a singer that sounded like a heavy Jarvis Cocker. Despite all that we really enjoyed their 7 minute epic tracks. A pleasant surprise.
Next up were Django Django, headlining the evening, a Scottish quartet, “art-rock that melds intangible electronic flourishes to the visceral rub of live instrumentation”. You could also describe them as psychedelic rock, a concoction of 80s rhythm and 60s beach boy-esque vocal harmonies. Either way, I think they’re awesome, and enjoyed the set immensely, dancing like a fool to all the tracks, even to the Egyptian themed “Skies over Cairo”.
In the fog we walked home, our legs tired from standing all day. Day one over. Two days to go.