As I sit down to scribe my look back at my first trip to Brighton for The Great Escape, I’m travelling on a bus from London to Liverpool, about to hit the ground running for the third music festival of this trip. Heading overseas to a music festival is nothing new for me, but it’s certainly nothing I take for granted. It’s an incredible opportunity to see some of the best talent in the world – new, upcoming and established – alongside our own Australian artists trying to make it in unique settings and locations.
Before I get onto the music, I have to preface this coverage by saying that The Great Escape, a music industry conference and festival held in Brighton every May, is quite easily the best articulation of its definition I’ve experienced. Incredibly well organised, I feel like I experienced more amazing music (including plenty I was unfamiliar with), met more people and had a smoother run than any industry festival I’ve been to in the past. It’s not always possible to see everything you want to see, and do everything you want to do at one of these things – especially given the amount on offer. But TGE definitely helped make this happen. So a kudos to the team behind the event!
Picking up our passes early on the first day (of three), we headed straight to the Western Canadian Party at Canada House for our first exercise in networking and caught a couple of bands along the way. First up were Slow Down, Molasses from Saskatoon. At first the band came across a bit Radioheadish, with heavy bass and a backing female vocalist on keys (Jeanette Stewart's musical input reminiscent of Natalia Yanchak from fellow Canadian band The Dears). The lead vocals of Tyson McShane left a little to be desired at first but they grew on me with ease as the set progressed and they got more comfortable; fairly common of these quick set-up scenarios.
The band itself was musically tight, and the instrumentations were particularly impressive. And once the set was finished the initial comparisons to Radiohead seemed to fade away – there was a much more droney/shoegazey feel to proceedings for the majority of the set; think Dinosaur Jr. In addition to tracks from their album Walk Into The Sea, the band played a few new unrecorded tracks. A song which may or may not have been called “Internet Radio” was my favourite track, with considerably faster drums getting the blood flowing in our feet!
The next band would go on to become one of the most talked about bands of the event: Edmonton’s Hot Panda. With two sexy ladies on bass and drums (Catherine Hiltz and Maghan Campbell, respectively), alongside lead singer Chris Connelly (a fantastic performer) and Heath Parsons on drums, this was the sort of immediately grabbing band that is truly rare at an industry event. With unique vocals in the same way that makes someone like Wu Lyf or Wolf Parade interesting, the vocal performance sits somewhere between singing and shouting, a bit reminiscent of Frank Blank (and the Pixies in general). Behind these vocals were some shit hot riffs, and between them some banter that involved them talking about themselves in the third person. (“Hot Panda Ready?” “Hot Panda Ready!”). A track that I believe included the lyrics “All Hail The West, Don’t Hate The West” was a highlight, and “Fuck Shit Up” had a bit of a Jack White vibe going on, keeping things very interesting indeed.
Easily one of the best sets I saw at the festival. Expect big things!
There was a bit of an Australian party happening at the festival’s outdoor stage next, which saw people brave the average weather and enjoy some wonderful performances. Emma Louise and her three piece band shined as usual, though the energy levels weren’t as high as what I hear their show later in the week was like. Blame the cold weather no doubt. Ben Salter focused on tracks from his debut solo record The Cat , including the fantastic “Opportunities” and “West End Girls”. He also threw in a Gin Club track and the Smoky Robinson song “The Tracks Of My Tears” along the way.
Husky killed it, setting the early groundwork to becoming one of the most talked about acts of the festival, while Oliver Tank was as atmospheric as always, beating out a few sound issues early on to impress the growing crowd. Sydney act Step-Panther, who released their debut full length at the end of last year rocked out to close out the day, sounding remarkably at home under the cloudy English sky. With a single release set for the UK in August, there is certainly a future for them over here.
As day became night, I headed over to The Dome - the major event venue for the festival. Tonight the one and only Maximo Park were headlining, but playing when I arrived were Australia’s own Pond, who have been doing great things internationally over the past couple of months (as well as possibly sharing the exact same itinerary as myself). They were their usual jamming selves, sounding particularly impressive in the venue, and a particular mention has to go to the flute during their deservedly popular track “You Broke My Cool”. A super cool set, if you don’t mind me saying.
Next door to The Dome was the venue Corn Exchange, who were holding a massive NME showcase with Mystery Jets in the headlining spot. Having recently released their new record E Volo Love in Australia (you can read the review of it HERE), I had heard nothing but great things about the group Francois and the Atlas Mountains, who perform in both French and English. They were an atmospheric and mystical four piece, with lots of percussion and multiple vocalists. Throw together some The Flaming Lips and Yeasayer vows into a pot, add in plenty of French flavour in the vein of the Gotan Project and you have yourself a bit of an idea of what the band is all about. A very impressive set – check them out whenever you have the chance.
Back at The Dome, donning a rather shiny shirt was Eugene McGuinness, a former session musician for Miles Kane, playing tracks off of his forthcoming solo record The Invitation to the Voyage. With a tight backing band behind him, he performed some British Pop Rock with a bit of a 007 meets Kasabian vibe with tracks like “Shotgun” and “Sugarplum”, which had a good dose of ‘horror synth’ (and reminded me a bit of the Broken Bells) - and “Thunder Bolt” ending the set. Well rehearsed and entertaining, Eugene McGuinness is definitely looking to make his mark on the British rock scene.
Back at Corn Exchange, the Hot Chip side project New Build had been replaced by an all girl rock and roll group called Savages, who performed well but couldn’t help but feel like I’d heard it all before, so I made my way back to The Dome for the headliners of the night, Maximo Park, whose debut record A Certain Trigger will always hold a special place in my heart. Playing one of their first shows in quite a while, they're on a brief tour to promote their forthcoming record The National Health (due out June 11th)... bowler hat and all.
The band were at the top of their game tonight, with the new tracks sounding phenomenal and the older numbers never sounding better. A violin focused, almost macabre introduction (no doubt opening the new record), kicked off proceedings, ahead of new tracks “The National Health” and “Hips and Lips”. Paul Smith’s robot-like dance moves (with plenty of jumping) saw “Graffiti” ring in the first of the songs the crowd could sing along to, in advance of “Girls Who Play Guitars”, “Questing, Not Coasting”, “Books From Boxes”, “Going Missing”, “The Kids Are Sick Again” (complete with megaphone), “Our Velocity”, “Parisian Skies” (which they noted they hadn’t played in front of a crowd for a long time) and “Apply Some Pressure”, which closed out the hour long set. “I Want You To Stay” was my favourite track in the set, and the other newbies: “Take Me Home”, “Reluctant Love”, “The Undercurrents” and “Write This Down” gave us a good taste of the new record, hinting that we shouldn’t be disappointed. They were thankful of the opportunity to preview the tracks, with Mr. Smith saying how proud they are of the new record. I for one am counting down the days…
With a line around the block, everyone made their attempts at getting in to Mystery Jets straight after Maximo headed offstage. I made it in just in time to see the band arriving on stage to some slow surf guitar, the lead singer Blaine Harrison hitting the stage in crutches (I didn’t realise this has always been the case), ready to perform tracks off their new record Radlands, alongside some old favourites, in front of thousands of fans. Things started off slowly and with a few sound/tech problems, but the band were unstoppable once things got rolling about halfway through their set. Nothing wrong with some catchy rock and roll – though have they always sounded like The Killers? I never picked this up on record...
To close out an epic first day of festivities, I rushed across town to get more of a taste of recent Dew Process signees White Arrows, who impressed me at SXSW earlier this year. They produce well orchestrated, unique and catchy music that leaves little to be desired. An entertaining aural palate, with the track “Fireworks of the Sea” particularly impressing. And their new song “I Can Go”, which had only been played twice before, wasn’t too bad either, showing they continue developing their sound – something I’m sure we’ll be experiencing in Australia before long...
Phew, that was exhausting. One day down, two to go…