At day two of The Great Escape in Brighton, it being Friday meant that the crowds were growing, the lines getting longer, and thankfully some sunshine came along with it. Day two also brought with it a headlining spot from Australia’s own The Temper Trap, who continue to go gangbusters around the world as the push their new self-titled record, which will see them back in Australia later this month.
The first artist I caught today was Canada’s Donovan Woods at the Festival Hub, who we spoke to earlier this month. The solo singer songwriter, with an acoustic guitar in his hands and a harmonica in his mouth for a couple of tunes, was performing tracks off his new record The Widowmaker. With a vibe that may remind you of Jazon Mraz, though a little more lighthearted (with a bit of a ‘seashanty’ thrown in for good measure), the talented musician impressed with tracks “Let Go Lightly”, “He Drinks Gas” and “How Much Is That Hat?”.
Over at the New Zealand Showcase, Tiny Ruins had hit the stage, with vocalist Hollie Fullbrook, supported by a double bassist, making some stunning beautiful music, that reminded me a little bit of Luluc. Solo electronic artist Pikachunes followed and got people dancing, with some of him music reminding me a little of Empire of the Sun – if it was just Luke doing the music alone, that is.
Having played the NZ party earlier in the day, Avalanche City were found at a secret show in Bartholomew Square next, performing on this tour as a three piece – with one primarily on violin and accordion (oh and a little bit of the always welcomed xylophone), Dave Baxter on guitar (while he used his feet for the drum beat) and vocals and another on keyboards and the ukulele. I caught the tracks "Ends in the Ocean" and "Drive On", and a steadily growing crowd seemed to very much enjoy it – as did we. It’s always a pleasure seeing them to be honest.
At another “secret” day show, tucked away at a garage nearby, New York based buzz band Friends were pumping it out when we arrived, playing to a ridiculously packed out crowd. We Have Band, who were last in Australia over two years ago, followed, playing tracks off their new record Ternion, including the high energy “Tired Of Running” (my favourite of the set) and catchy single “Where are your People?”. Their new tunes are more diverse than the offerings from their first album, but are equally as fun live. Heading off from the venue as the interesting NZCA/Lines were playing, I was given the opportunity to sit in on the sound check for up and coming artist Wild Belle next, who sweet music reminded me of Gin Wigmore. A fast rising talent, stay tuned for our interview with the duo behind the music – siblings Natalie and Elliot Bergman.
It was fast time for the evening showcases, and making my way to the M for Montreal showcase, the first band I caught were one of my favourites from Canadian Music Week, Half Moon Run. The three piece waltzed into their set with a spiritual chant-esque intro, before heading straight into their first tune. They sounded fantastic in the venue, with each song bringing us something different from the one before – a diversity most impressive given they’re only a three piece. Two took to the drums in “Call Me In The Afternoon”, there was heavy piano in “Why Is It So Hard?” and things got a bit more catchy with the first single off their new album, “Full Circle”. My favourite track closed the night, the wonderful “She Wants To Know”. Check it out on YouTube if you get the chance! A must see (and hear) band.
The talk of the festival, and the reasons there was a massive queue outside the venue, was it-girl Grimes. When she walked onto the stage, however, as Radiohead was playing in the background, this hype meant little. She was just another artist trying to set up her equipment in enough time to keep the crowd happy and produce the best possible act. Sure, she mightn’t be an anonymous artist like many others at the festival, but that only means the expectations of a 30 minute set are higher. So, did she live up to it?
Walking on stage and asking for the sound to be as “loud as possible” (and loud it was), the pale faced solo artist launched with some instrumentals ahead of “Vanessa”, immediately getting the crowd bopping along; indeed, her feverish setup had appeared to pay off. At the end of the day, her performance is little more than her smashing away on some buttons, loops and keys, with her live vocals running over it, and an enthusiasm (with supportive dance moves) that would make Crystal Castles’ Alice Glass proud. Not everyone can pull this sort of thing off, but Grimes (real name Claire Boucher) does it in her stride.
The music itself is a bit of a mix of what’s been popular in recent years – that heavy bass and beat driven music of someone like James Blake, with the atmospheric loops of Active Child and a bit of an oriental, K-Pop esque spin thrown in for good measure. Ultimately the sound is wholly her own, and it’s a popular one at that – though it understandably has its detractors, too. Though when she hit into “Oblivion”, it was clear that everyone in the room knew who she was and why they were there. It’s possibly that the sudden appearance of two backup dancers helped matters, too.
A superb set that solidified Grimes’ place as an artist to watch on the world stage.
Another female artist I’d been looking forward to seeing (except in this case for many years), was New York based Nicole Atkins, performing at The Great Escape in solo acoustic mode due to ‘immense gambling debts’ (probably not true). She went on to mention that the set would have a more country ‘hee-haw’ tinge to it without the band behind her. I made my way across town just before Grimes finished to ensure I didn’t miss the talented artist, and was not disappointed. Such a spectacular voice, with some wonderful music to support it. Among the highlights of the set were “Cry Cry Cry”, “Bleeding Diamonds” and “Monterey Honey”. Can’t recommend this underrated talent enough.
A quick peak into The Temper Trap’s sold out show indicated that they are indeed one of the biggest bands in the world right now, and the set was sounding the best I’ve head in recent memory – but with that memory indeed being recent, and their return to Australia not far off, I instead decided to reconnect with the all girl group The Black Belles. Less than two months has passed since I last saw the group at the Jack White party at SXSW, and already it’s clear their confidence has grown – albeit with one less member; their keyboardist recently leaving the group. “Wishing Well” opened with the three piece’s sound immediately impressing. Their exposure on the global stage seems to be a part of Jack White’s plan to add a little less colour but a hell of a lot of great rock and roll back into the music scene. It, and vinyl, will never die, so long as Third Man Records have anything to do with it. Or, The Black Belles themselves for that matter, with their catchy beats, sexy hooks and macabre demeanour.
Highlights of the set included “Leave You With a Letter”, “In a Cage”, “What Could I Do” (which they introduced as Elvira’s theme song), “Not Tonight”, “The Tease” (it’s not a dance, it’s a state of mind) and “Wrong Door”, which closed the set. They also covered “Bend It” by Little Eva and “Lies” by The Knickerbockers. A fantastic set that puts the band somewhere, musically, between the worlds of Jack White and Karen O. Not a bad place to exist indeed.
My night ended with Blanck Mass, whose laptop loops of ambience, chimes and waves crashing seemed to herald my retirement for the evening. Still one more day to go, and it was funnily enough the biggest of them all…