The Great Escape - Brighton - 14-16/5/09
03 Jun 2009
hosting a stage with liam finn, die die die, official secrets act and peggy sue, also managing to get out to see cursive, gang of four, the maccabees and metronomy amongst others, we hit the great escape harder than steve mcqueen in a getaway car listening to blur's 'country house'.
Wonderful Brighton. Look at all those independent shops, cafes and other little and big expressions of gloriously original character. No messing, it really is one of the best cities in the UK. Not only does it have all those great streets, bars and the like in spades, it also offered some very wonderful sea views and killer take-out places for that ramble home. From a Rockfeedback point of view, it's also got a ton of really great venues, hotel basements, Moroccan bars (for us to host our very own stage in) and many more great spaces to shove a f*ckload of bands and musicians into over three days in May.
Rest assured that Rockfeedback made a point to hit Great Escape harder than Steve McQueen in a getaway car listening to Blur's 'Country House', making it our third Great Escape in as many years. Once again we hosted a stage - this time separately from our good sister label (who only got their own bloody stage too.) More worryingly for our livers and states of minds, this was Rockfeedback's fourth festival in four weekends. Where are our mothers? We need some good dinner and a hug.
Day one (Thursday 14th) saw our man on the ground Jim Carroll run around and see a bunch of stuff on behalf of our need to watch people on stages and give our critical opinion. Here's what he had to say [DAN MONSELL]:
The train journey down to Brighton did not augur well. All hopes of a sunny jolly by the seaside seemed to dissipate as we pulled into Sussex. Welcomed by menacing clouds the whole thing seemed more suited to Wuthering Heights than Worthing nights. But being the hardened, intrepid music explorers we are we set out to the seafront to pick up our tickets - even if are perfect coiffures were deformed by the remorseless, buffeting gales. Before long it was not only flocks of seagulls above head as everyone's newly deformed 'dos made it appear as Brighton had been infested by 80s tribute acts.
[I WAS A KING]
Unperturbed, we set out. First up were Norway's I Was a King. Kitted out like models from a mid-90s Gap advert before they had even struck a chord it was not hard to determine where their loyalties lied. Heavily nostalgic, theirs is a brand of psychedelic jingle jangle with longing looks to the 60s à la the Dandy Warhols. Throw in a dab of shoe-gaze in the mould of Ride or perhaps a super diluted My Bloody Valentine and you get the idea. Dreamy harmonies that seem more borne from California instead of the fjords made I Was a King pleasant enough. Ultimately however it was all so derivative that it became unmemorable.
Next up in the bowels of the Ocean Rooms were Cursive; the perfect antidote to I Was a King's indistinctive amiability. Cursive are perhaps still best known for a pixilated version of front man Tim Kasher lying drunk and prostrate with bottle of vodka in hand at the beginning of 'Emo Game'. And sure enough, Kasher did little to initially dispense with that image, stumbling onto stage drunker than Mark E. Smith at his most incoherently inebriated.
Forgetting Mark E. however, there are other Smiths that Kasher draws upon, and altogether more positively. This is so much more than 'emo' - whatever that means now that Topman has flogged it to death. Singing with the spine tingling inflictions of Robert Smith as his face contorted on new crowd favourite 'I Couldn't Love You', the mind flitted to The Cure at their most excitable. And few lyricists have managed to marry the macro and the micro as seamlessly since Morrisey; and the Brightonian crowd were treated to the whole repertoire here. 'Making Friends and Acquaintances' recounts Kasher's heart rendering personal experience of divorce, whilst 'Art is Hard' breaks down the fourth wall, a meta-narrative about being compelled by a demanding audience to write songs about ladies breaking your heart. Finally, newer songs such as 'Big Bang' and 'Bad Sects' tackled religious and political sanctimony and hypocrisy. Equally adept at discussing his most private inner matters of the heart or transnational global affairs, Kasher had the crowd in his hands despite being on the brink of being paralytically hammered. Knitting the intensity and ferocity of DC hardcore with pop melody, Cursive put on an exultant show.
Bombay Bicycle Club have been the fresh faced young whippersnappers on the scene for so long now that it beggars belief that they have only just finished school. It's particularly galling as the crowd at the Concorde 2 saw these gifted young scamps play a headline festival show with all the assured aplomb of grizzled seasoned veterans. Not bad for a bunch of borderline post pubescents. Theirs was a performance of super polished norisih nu-rave with more energy than a job lot of Lucozade. Jack Steadman's breathy baritone vocals warbling over the jittering Television-esque guitars will inevitably draw comparisons with Joy Division and Interpol, but the wavering yearning also recalls Connor Oberst at his most alert. A particular highlight was opener 'Evening Morning' with it's pummelling fuzzed up bass and Steadman's promise that 'I'm ready to owe you anything'. It all did much to suggest that Bombay Bicycle Club are a band ready to forego the 'precocious' tag once and for all and genuinely come of age as bona fide indie rock stars.
Continuing the theme of rites-of-passage, it was off to the Corn Exchange for The Maccabees' headlining hometown show. The exiled South Londoners who have made Brighton their base were pedalling their second album. Much has been made of the band's return - a bit older, moody and altogether more sophisticated. Some things however, remain the same. We were still treated to lead singer Orlando Weekes' awkward diffident shtick masquerading as between song banter. The band have also not dispensed with their uncanny knack for catchy indie pop that made them so endearing in the first place. All in all, they have managed to grow up without growing old and the home crowd respond accordingly. A fittingly triumphant end to a triumphant day.
Although we were in Brighton - and therefore pretty much as south as we could get without getting wet - it was another sort of deep south on the cards as we hit The Old Market for Smoke Fairies. The two Chichester girls played a set of haunting folkish alt country in the vein of Songs Ohia or Will Oldham. If you can get past the glaringly incongruous fact they speak with Received Pronunciation yet sing with a Mississippi drawl then there is plenty to enjoy. Hauntingly beautiful harmonies over folky guitar work outs played by girls in pretty dresses and cowboy boots.
And so it was that I managed to cram myself in to the function room of the Queens hotel for Dananananaykroyd. A room designed to host quarterly general meetings and corporate team building exercises is perhaps not the most obvious setting for Glasgow's foremost exponents of 'fight pop'. The ceiling for the audience was appreciably lower than the stage, so anyone standing more than 5 metres from the front could not see anything. The PA in place seemed to shriek like a banshee at the merest hint of audible pressure. The band, feeling the general consensus of confusion, appeared equally nonplussed. As the band bounced onto stage lead singer Calum Gunn screamed 'whose f**ing idea was it to put Dananananaykroyd on in a hotel?'
Unruffled, the band set about their task with a joyous abandon. What sets Dananananaykroyd apart from other po-faced post hardcore bands is that they are genuinely FUN. Punctuating the ferocity and Braid-like syncopated counter rhythms are authentic pop melodies that bring back memories of Idlewild when they used to be enjoyable. The dual drum kits provided the usual tribalism of one of the most genuinely exciting live bands around at the moment. The crowd seemed to agree, whipped into such a frenzy that between carrying members of the bands above their heads they punched gaping holes into the walls with their fists. As I trundled out breathless one bare-chested punter pulled me to one side and said to me with a burning earnestness in his eyes - 'that was rugged, red hot and raw'. Could not have put it better myself.
Determined to out-do "day-one-Jim", this scribe [DAN MONSELL] went in hard for day two. We kicked off with a spot of lovely melancholic heart-rending pop noir from New Zealand's The Veils (which like every show at the over spilling festival had a mile long queue outside) who played to a packed room at the Sallis Benny theatre. Their front-man Finn Andrews held some hearts firmly in his hands as he dug deeper than a deep sea oil rig to throttle some audience tear ducts with a great half hour.
We then caught a bit of the ever-excellent Micachu and the Shapes who suffer slightly from sketchy sound, but are still brilliant as ever. From here it was down to Revenge, a famous Brighton gay-haunt tonight temporarily full of a ton of industry types checking out Trailer Trash Tracys. It's the second time this rather beautiful lo-fi atmospheric-pop quartet has been witnessed by Rockfeedback in the last few weeks. Bags of potential here, although the electronic drums and slow pace could perhaps move up a gear from its hung-over Sunday afternoon bleary-eyed gaze. Good stuff though.
From here to the super tropical punk fun of Abe Vigoda at The Pavilion theatre. "Woah it's like it's a party and we're the coolest kids in the room!" jokes perennial wit and Abe guitarist Juan Velazquez in response to cheers from another packed-out buzzing room. As a set it's an intense affair: occasional tiny gaps between songs; then bam, straight into the next discordant melodic assault of fun. They play predominately from their excellent album Skeleton, and they do so in very fine fashion - one of the highlights of the weekend. From here we run across the road to another, as our boy Johnny Flynn (we say 'our boy' - he's managed by our sister company Transgressive) does his own share of holding audiences hearts in his hands, playing mostly solo (bar a couple of tracks where he's joined by Adam from The Sussex Witt) to a lovely intimate chapel. Johnny mixed in some new material amongst old, all to the delight of an exclusive crowd lucky enough to have got in while the queue stretches once more around the block outside.
From here day two finishes with more than a few more drinks and a massive set from party titans Metronomy. We were lucky enough to witness their first triumphant gig complete with drummer and new bassist Benga for Rockfeedback TV at Hinterland festival a couple of weeks ago (footage on its way chaps), but this time we see them bring what can only be described as a shindig of Ibiza proportions to a few thousand folks going bat-sh*t crazy in front of them. Metronomy have always deserved to fill arenas, full of pop songs so big that Kylie would give some serious hind teeth for, and it's now beginning to look like a real reality that they will. About time too. Good 'ole Metronomy. After their set we return to a Brighton hotel bar and get drunker than a pile of drunkards with a hotel bar at their disposal. Gosh we make ourselves sick.
With the wind still howling and with an uncharacteristic feeling of conscientiousness I set myself the task of seeing what the Saturday afternoon line up had to offer. So I wended my way between gurning tourists and two penny arcade machines to the end of the pier for the New Zealand showcase at Horatio's bar where Bang Bang Eche were flying the Kiwi flag. Like an electro band trying to cover Rage Against the Machine, their half hearted guitar riffs over cringe worthy rap-metal vocals were enough to make me wish I had stayed in bed and nursed my hangover.
[CROWNS ON THE RATS ORCHESTRA]
Luckily however my afternoon was saved by Crowns on the Rats Orchestra. The Brightonian nine-piece were playing the Big Scary Monsters Stage at the Hobgoblin as part of the 'Alternative Escape'. An orchestra in the realest sense of the term the band took a while to assemble, but they somehow managed to clamber over one another and fit their whole compliment on stage. It had the potential to all be pretentiously post rock but Crowns on the Rats managed to reign themselves in and retain a refreshing pop immediacy. Fusing the intricacy of American Football with the orchestral rapture of Arcade Fire; flutes, violins and pianos juxtaposed with Al Horner's erudite vocals to glorious effect. Shimmering, brittle and thoroughly uplifting.
Final day, and Rockfeedback and Transgressive stage day! Oh Great Escape organizers, so kind you are to put both are stages at the same time. Just made everything so easy for us, and means we see none of the Trans boys all day. Cheers!
[OFFICIAL SECRETS ACT]
Rockfeedback's own home for the night was the rather surprisingly great Po Na Na. Otherwise known as the home of rock. When we (and I imagine Plan B and others who had hosted previous days in the venue) arrived before doors to find a Moroccan sweat box underground in Brighton we were dubious. However, after the always awesome Official Secrets Act kicked off proceedings with a bleeding great rock n roll set that culminated in Tom Secret Act getting on to the bar/DJ booth (where we were un-expectantly lining up a mighty Duran Duran track to follow) and jumping down onto the crowd, we knew we were in for a good 'un. European tours with The Rakes and Art Brut have only made these top pop titans ready to go supernova all the more tighter. A killer set made even more exhilarating by a queue outside the venue that stretched basically back to London - something that didn't change much for our venue all night. We must admit certain pride in the fests' text system telling people to "stay away from Po Na Na, just way too full". Sorry music fans.
[DIE! DIE! DIE!]
The jumping on the crowd thing took a step up later in the night with other long-term faves Die! Die! Die! (Want a good stage at a festival, put your friends and bands you've loved for ages on!). Who do lots more standing on bars and Dj booths and play another fantastic assault of a punk rock set with shards of hardcore so sharp they darn nearly had your eyes out. Before them the very lovely Peggy Sue played a set that was nothing short of charming. Once more this great London trio genuinely delight the very cosy crowd's ears to perfection.
Rockfeedback @ Great Escape finished up with the always-excellent Liam Finn (joined by the equally fantastic EJ), who despite a brief problem with his drum looper (sorted out by some live drums put in place by a guest-ing Conan Moccasin) played an absolute stormer as always. Our ears still hurt, but it was nothing short of worth it.
Hosting duties over we head across town to unfortunately be very disappointed by the first time we ever see Gang Of Four. What a bleeding shame. Despite being one of the best bands this country has ever produced, tonight they fall flat to a boring industrial drag of a performance. Everything appears to be played half-speed, laid victim to a newly employed rhythm section, who are just terrible. Despite Jon King and Andy Gills' respective political commentary and jagged guitar stabs being ever relevant, the energy and urgency of a band with such things at its core is simply not there. We get three tracks from Entertainment before we move onto a handful from "Solid Gold", but we opt out of whatever happens next. Best to keep the dream alive ay?
We finish the night at the club-tastic haven that is The Ocean Rooms, with the always-great Plugs. Who slay all with 'Temporary Secretary', before returning for a two-song encore. Always great to see a band as deserving as they continue to win more fans. Once more we return to a hotel bar to wile away some more hours before going up to our room and listening to Now 39, trying to guess the song from the first 10 seconds. And that is how we party rockfeedback style.
Another year another grand ole great escape. A great event for sure, with the only real disappointments being the good 'uns we missed. See you next year to put that right.
All photography copyright Jim Carroll 2009.