While the wind and rain lashes across the south coast trying its best to dampen everyone’s mood, spirits remained high. It’s a festival and there’s music everywhere! Even trendy clothes store, Beyond Retro, hosted a handful of bands on Saturday. No reason to be glum here then. But if the afternoon’s rain wasn’t enough to usher me into shelter then the abundance of music certainly did.
With such feeble decision-making skills (in fairness, the number of choices was bewildering) there was only ever one place to go – the grungy Green Door Store which lies in the belly of Brighton station. German Haus put together the afternoon’s set complete with free pretzels for added authenticity. And with BBC’s Vic Galloway hosting, it’s no surprise that the German music scene is garnering serious attention again. In fact, Germany are now the third largest producer of music.
The pick of the afternoon is between CLAIRE’s powerful electro-pop or Still Parade’s self-titled dream-folk. Vocalist Josie-Claire Bürkle’s was wonderfully endearing with her sweet but subtly timid demeanour when speaking. When performing however, she was gleefully energetic and could have done with more space to spread her wings and stomp her feet. But if you prefer your electronic textures to be more extra-terrestrial, Still Parede’s elongated atmospherics and spacious arrangements gave their tracks life that every NASA scientist yearns to find.
However, transporting us to distant and beautifully untouched worlds is bit of a specialty for Phoria. You can imagine that under the cavernous ceiling of St. Mary’s Church, their atmospheric post-rock was accentuated further still with a climactic quality that could rival any religious parable. But there’s no time to dwell. Some furious legwork was required.
Firstly, a quick dash down the coast to see Fyfe at Digital. But their late start meant I had to leave the moody electronica behind just as I was getting into it. Next up was a short journey to The Warren for a long-overdue experience of Russian Red live. Lourdes Hernández was expectedly twee on stage commanding each song with her wistful vocals whilst staring into the distance with a forlorn look personifying each of her tracks.
No time for a drink yet though with a scuttle towards Komedia to hear Pawws’ 80s-influenced eletro-pop. But the vibey synths might belie the lyrics about relationship issues. It’s not all gloomy though, especially when Lucy Taylor therapeutically sings, “I can make you feel better” in her alluringly high-pitched tone. And if you think you recognise her (like I did) that’s because you might – she played keyboard on Kele Okereke’s solo tour and the flute on some live shows of MGMT’s ‘Electric Feel’.
Such is the cyclical nature of a day, I ended up back at Green Door Store. With the venue rapidly filling up in anticipation of East India Youth later on, a thick balminess hung in the room and not even the breezy folk-pop of Tennis could alleviate it. Grumbling Fur’s psychedelic electronica suited the venue much more. The duo have an innate ability to judge each texture perfectly and use them conjure the most beguiling layers.
They say “save the best ‘til last”. And it could have been that way if East India Youth wasn’t ravaged by sound issues. It wasn’t even just balance problems – the bass guitar didn’t come through at all. But William Doyle’s frustration with modern technology poetically spilled into his performance with the guitar being thrown to the ground in a manner that Paul Simonon would have sympathised with. In the end, he slumped to ground fiddling with disobedient pedals before finally leaving with a “fuck this shit” look on his face.
Day two began at Audio with September Girls. The Dublin five-piece have taken 60s girl-group pop and given it a smoky, purple glaze (or maybe that was just the lighting) and cut it with fuzzy guitars and reverb-soaked vocals. Bassist Paula Cullen has serious swagger and look that made sure I daren’t make eye contact.
The sunny warmth of the afternoon summoned a yearning for an outdoors gig. And if the feel-good light of the mid-afternoon wasn’t enough, Oscar’s DIY approach to miserable indie-pop immediately endeared, as he pleads, “I can’t live without you” with a Morrisey-esque croon. The candid lyrics couldn’t have suited the bare Shipwright’s Yard more – it literally looks like somebody’s garage.
Theo Verney’s scuzzy rock would have been fitted right in but no; Coalition was the choice and most definitely the wrong one. With long hair draped over his face and a gnarly gurn, the pedal-stomping local personifies garage bands better than a garage band playing in a garage.
Although it lacks the authenticity of St. Mary’s Church, the brooding sound of Lyla Foy was affectionately embraced by the Unitarian Church. It wasn’t to everyone’s taste though as people sporadically trickle out but the saccharine singer-songwriter nonchalantly reacts, “Oh yeah, fuck off. Go.” Perhaps they couldn’t handle how vulnerable the songs were as they hung naked in the tranquil air.
Anyone who stayed for the next band would have experienced a sharp and sudden sonic adjustment as Oy took to the stage with tribal rhythms and stories inspired by travels to Africa. Weaved between the feet-stomping beats were pulsating layers of electronics that intoxicated and enthralled in equal measure. Everyone becomes energised and beckoned off their seats while vocalist Joy Frempong flicks a small doll to trigger visual cues.
The end of the day was bit of mess. Not even the privileges of a delegate pass can bypass a lengthy one-in-one-out queue for Royal Blood. Luckily, I got into the Corn Exchange just in time to see the Brighton-duo launch a predictably relentless assault on my ears helped no doubt by the wall amps surrounding them. Ben Thatcher was hitting the drums as if David Cameron’s face was on the skins. It’s really no surprise that the duo have arms like tree trunks.
But while fortune was on my side for Royal Blood, The Haunt had a queue that didn’t move for over an hour due to a rather tasty three bands comprised of Public Access TV, special guests Peace and Fat White Family. This is a problem that blights The Great Escape every year and is one major reason why they will never be able to charge premium prices for standard tickets. A disappointing end to day two indeed.
When you’ve been walking around all day, The Great Escape really isn’t any less fatiguing than a typical field festival despite the luxury of modern amenities. There was a temptation to have a lie-in but I had to see Fé after missing them the night before due to my persistence to see Fat White Family.
It was worth it though as Fé caressed the Komedia crowd with their wistful pop songs that would be perfect for long, sun-dappled afternoons in the middle of nowhere. It’s rare to find guitar-pop that doesn’t sound stale but here it is simultaneously being upbeat and pensive. The reverie continued with Blessa’s shoegazey dream-pop punctuated by soaring guitars and Olivia Neller’s mawkish vocals. That pretty much set the precedent for much of the day.
Belgian singer-songwriter The Bony King Of Nowhere (which might sound like a Nordic metal band) weaved poignant folk songs so soft and quiet that the entrance located right next to the stage proved to be an inconvenient distraction. Bram Vanparys conjured a sound that made you yearn to be somewhere, anywhere, as long as it was far, far away. And there was something poetic about seeing him stand as this isolated figure singing vulnerable songs of love.
Afterwards, CHAMPS also summoned similar emotions; their melancholy folk-pop sound reflects the solitude of life on the Isle of Wight where the brothers grew up. You’re left with a sense of longing but you’re just not quite sure what. Probably love and human warmth. On stage, their introspective stares gave them a Simon & Garfunkel dynamic while the leftie, rightie guitars provided symmetry that only added to their poetic aesthetic. The brothers once told The Guardian “We both love that sense of awe you get hearing voices in a cathedral”. Well here are, listening to your dreamy voices in a church.
To be honest, finishing the festival like that would have suited me perfectly. As a habitual dreamer, there’s something about music that can encapsulate a world our brains can only conceive whilst sleeping. Instead, any lingering dreams were shattered by Trust’s dark synth-pop that shook the Prince Albert off its foundations before Shiny Darkly calmed the venue down a bit with a sound that perfectly reflects their name.
The very last band though was Clean Bandit. Their popularity meant a one-in-one-out policy was inevitable but entry was imminent with MØ finishing up shortly. Obviously, having a number-one hit always helps but their buoyant stage presence got The East Wing into a jubilant mood. Yet despite all the playful on-stage interactions, their mish-mashed sound sometimes felt like a poorly put-together humpty-dumpty. It was certainly an entertaining gig but as an idealistic dreamer, it’s not the poetic ending I always hope for at the end of a festival.
There was another disappointment too. The festival organisers always make a big deal about their text service which keeps fans up-to-date about secrets gig. But many of the texts I received during the festival weren’t particularly appealing as I enacted only on one of them – Yumi & The Weather playing a wonderfully stripped-back gig in Brighton’s Sealife Centre. It was nice surprise to see that her tracks still have life without all the textured electronics.
This surprise gig encapsulates the festivals much better. At the worst of times, music can be found in just about every pub and venue in Brighton. But when The Great Escape is on, a festival that is unabashedly all about the music, you’ll find dreamy harmonies and meandering melodies creeping out of every crack and crevice. One spritely fish was so happy wriggling along to Yumi & The Weather that even the confines of a glass tank couldn’t dampen his mood.