It’s Friday, it’s day two of this year’s The Great Escape, and I’m mercifully awoken by the patting of a vexed train conductor as we trundle back into Brighton. Up, if not yet at ‘em I’m stirred further by strummed susurrations of jarring guitar and bracing billows of jangle. The seaside’s alive with the sound of music, but when heard so early it’s not all entirely pleasurable.
Lawrence Arabia is just that though, and although he may be named James Milne and in fact hails from New Zealand as opposed to the dunes of southwestern Asia, he alleviates the bastard behind the eyes with a personably pared back set best suited to heavy heads. “I lost my band last night” he concedes before a bloated throng, but it allows for his wry recounts of the girl of his dreams becoming inconceivably tangible to ring out uninhibited and brilliant. Enduringly sardonic, he’s as though a one-man, topsy-turvy Wave Pictures with The Listening Times – lifted from beguiling latest, The Sparrow – a kooky shanty showered in thalassic, bottomlessly aquatic blues. A newer one meanwhile, entitled Sweet Dissatisfaction, proves absolutely delectable and repositions Milne as a Conchord to have flown the coop while he slips about the fretboard and whistles to recall Chris Cohen.
Though Milne makes for an odd, and in many respects inimitable proposition – a Kiwi troubadour in a velveteen smoker, telling of cocktails of corrosive liver juices. It’s less food, and more drink for thought as he continues to contemplate “a lifetime of adultery”; self-flagellation for “substandard performance at the gym”; and the consumption of overpriced coffee. A midday amble down Gardner Street suggests that lattermost pastime is one preferred by many in attendance and while Brighton may be becoming more and more exorbitant all the time, there’s a rural humility to Milne. He’s endearing as a threadbare take on Travelling Shoes and shines like newly polished, tar-black leather.
But if the cost of coming to The Great Escape escalates year upon year, then it’s the so-called Alternative Escape which this time around really came of age and thoroughly enriched the experience as a whole. Akin to OFF Sónar in so many ways, it’s a collusion between Brighton promoters One Inch Badge and Rockfeedback which brings Wolf Alice to a club ever so politely entitled Smack. ‘NO DRUGS OR NUCLEAR WEAPONS ALLOWED INSIDE’ it somewhat paradoxically reads above the door, and that’s approximately all I see over the next half hour or so. For although the second time I’ve yielded to the whole Wolf Alice live shenanigan, it’s so too the second time I’ve seen nothing but Ellie Rowsell’s throwback pigtail flung about atop myriad heads all bobbing in approval. That date in January aforesaid was the first show I saw this year and while adorably imperfect, they’ve now toughened up while simultaneously sounding that bit more fragile still. And they’ve somehow gotten a whole load better, too: the place is packed, but Rowsell’s vocal cuts through like an oxidised scythe doing a callous number on innocent daisy chains and however ruinous Fluffy may sound – a real misnomer if ever there were on these sorts of evidence – it’s closer Bros which is their total triumph. The song of the summer in waiting (were it not for the inauspicious release scheduling of Get Lucky, obviously) it shimmers with newfound familiarity which, oxymoronic as it may sound, is absolutely in keeping with all that the song stands for. Ellie tells of old and faithful best friends in an altogether novel tone, while sonically it plunders the past in order to inject a vivacity into their present. And a song already heard oozing out of most open doors regardless of colour such is their omnipresence this week, it presently resounds an abstract treat.
Comparably jammed is the considerably more salubrious Dome Studio Theatre, where Young Fathers’ oddball assortment of whiskey grit and pop sensibility satiates the delegates’ thirst for ostensible next big thing. The trio were made for stages this size and yet more sizeable still and, having first seen them at my third show of 2013 around the reverse of The Shacklewell Arms, they too have grown in confidence and so too conviction. The guttural rumble of Deadline seems the peak of what is by any standard a characterful performance and though the applause is of course negligible (we’ve all a complimentary drink in our paws, needless to say) acclaim incontestably awaits.
It’s then back seawards, where NZ nudniks Popstrangers crack on with some brittle lo-fi snap maybe better suited to less sunless environs, an oppressive dark immediately in conflict with their lustrous shimmer sonic. And so it’s over to Mrs Fitzherberts, where it’s more a case of one up; one down than one in; one out for becoming Brooklyn experimentalist Empress Of. There’s a hefty industry presence about the place, not least for an Alternative Escape freebie – or perhaps because of it. But either way, Lorely Rodriguez looks rather impatient, and indeed anxious as she juggles a water bottle jocularly, its cap frequently smashing the ceiling. With no visa, there is no drummer as her MacBook Pro instead deals an ideal pack of preprogrammed beats, so no matter.
Following on from a new new first, she fashions a tick from thin air in commemoration of completing her début song on UK soils though by a fourth, the irrepressible Michael Jordan, she’s yo-yoing up onto and down off of a stool as her barnet individualistic as the songs themselves gets tousled on the beams above. She’s so diminutive that it’s doubtless of aid to those stood further afield or even outside, and indeed Rodriguez is, without question, the pocketable popstrel of the weekend. For if her half-hour during which she combines a plethora of previously manufactured ideas to concoct a mesmeric abnormality fails to make you want to pop her in your double denims and smuggle her back to the capital, then you’ve indubitably overdone the schmooze boozing: the fizzy Champagne enwraps the vocal elasticity of Amber Coffman around a tight knit of immaculate rattle and sci-fi splurge, while Hat Trick is an altogether more ethereal doozy evocative of much soi-disant chillwave stuff with the ruffled quiver in her voice only enhancing the thrill to her impeccable trill. It’s one which is delivered with conviction throughout, its unwaveringly potent consistency her primary constant as harmonised loops whisk us away as one. Blustered off our feet, a scheduled respite lies ahead and it by now feels about absolutely necessary.
Liver a little better oiled, we plug into Audio where there’s plenty of the stuff laid on in wait down the doldrums. There’s so much oomph to Balearic beat enthusiast Roosevelt’s set that it serves as the catalyst, or perhaps the kick the weekend so desperately needs: akin to a Germanic Talabot, his blithe dexterity enlivens the likes of Around You and Soleil, both of which sound consummately sumptuous when powered by live bass and Marius Lauber’s laid-back croon. From Daphni-inspired vibers to heavier throwdowns, the basement’s flooded with beaming glee as Lauber and his nameless crony pair up a heavy respect for the drop with an indie sensitivity that, although unabashedly Made in Chelsea, proves commensurately magnetic. And if that’s where the money is, then so be it for any perpetuation of a joyously protracted Sea is a positively brilliant thing. It’s humongous, and is met as such as it sprawls languid as distant glisters against a tequila sunset. The room sweats as the ceiling drips, and it’s not yet eight.
From an ecstatic high to not so much a low as twenty-five minutes of acoustic repose, Andreya Triana brings a placid lull to proceedings: a bit like Corinne Bailey Rae and a lot like Lianne La Havas stripped of the strings she’s totally agreeable, if a tad predictable. The suitably restive Keep Running is quite alright though, and proves a late highlight in theme, if less in tune but it’s when she comes to keen: “Just when you think you got it all/ The best is yet to come” that she bashes the nail on the proverbial bonce. For the undisputed best is Mykki Blanco.
She knows what she wants, and she wants it immediately. Stand and deliver: your money and your life; your love and your lust; your adoration and all adulation. She feeds off all of the above, and she’s looking hungry: jiving salaciously against an NYC backdrop, hers is an Empire State of mind and matter in fine equilibrium and although groggy to begin with, once the room is bathed in black she quickens into step. Mykki’s sticker than Sticky Mike’s Frog Bar, and the beat is indeed sinister as the hallucinatory blur that is Haze.Boogie.Life comes into being like a puff of iridescent pall spat from a smouldering joint. Her rhymes of herding “these fucking sheep” may resonate problematically within the context of a metropolitan festival, whilst she remains oddly invisible with her lyrics alas, largely inaudible for the most part. She doesn’t exactly look the part either this evening when seen, as she flounces about with utmost flamboyance in what looks a ravaged Taylor Swift castoff from her bumptious country bumpkin days which is neither short nor particularly sweet. But as the ominous pulses of Kingpinning (Ice Cold) drip globular, the self-professed “Mykki Sinatra” sounds cold as ice. A couple quips are lost from an otherwise scintillating Virginia Beach, although as ever it’s her self-aggrandising a cappella roll calls which really pique our intrigue, with MB’s First Freestyle her most memorable. “Dark Joan of Arc, now gimme my veneration” she hisses, vitriol puked forth all the while although for such a full frontal experience, her concertedly hands-off demeanour is bizarrely disconnecting. Nonetheless I guess when you’ve Wavvy still in your arsenal, contact can and will be made, for its effect is superficially euphoric as a quarry’s worth of MDMA.
Conjuring an antithetical, and seemingly quite unnecessary raucousness ahead of a heavily anticipated Temples celebration, shallow psych-stoners The Wytches may be from these bits and pieces of England but their torpid yowling does little to enamour those from outta town smothered with dangling lanyards. Like a debilitated arachnid, they’re trapped somewhere uncomfortable between Liars replication and an acerbic, and by all accounts inaccurate take on Suede fronted by a young Kevin Shields while Temples, well, let’s just say there’s little veneration coming their way. A shameless glam pastiche, from the stonking pedalboards to the spangly kicks and swaggering flares, finely tuned though it may be they purvey nothing but a dodgy parody and one you can’t help but sense you’ve seen enough of before it’s even begun. But begin they eventually do, and with the tie-dye revivalism of Sun Structures: quite what part the Macbook Pro plays in its construction remains nebulous at best, although quite why anybody could give a Cuban heel about the band in the first place baffles similarly. I leave before I lose it, despairing at the length of the queue shivering in an unwelcome chill once outside. Queues, it seems, are by now commonplace and I fail to gain entry to anywhere else, only adding to the acidic distaste of having elected to turn up at Temples’ altar…