Review: The Great Escape 2015.

Often termed ‘Britain’s answer to SXSW’, Brighton’s The Great Escape shouldn’t be seen in such condescendingly reductive terms; now in its tenth year, it’s pretty irrefutably become a full-blown blow-out in its very own right, after all. And, having now been over to Austin, Texas myself, it’s very evident which of the two ostensibly analogous festivals put on the better show this time around…

There was ample crossover, of course: Malian Afro-blues genii Songhoy Blues enamoured attendees both on this side of the Atlantic and that, whilst the eminently comforting sounds provided by prog-informed Danes Mew proved rather more of a + than a – again, with material lifted from their alluring sixth full-length – released last month – standing shoulder to shoulder with the quintessentially skyscraping likes of Special and The Zookeeper’s Boy, this relatively elderly duo delivered as per (almost) always in a supremely devastating one-two volley propelled by Bo Madsen’s violent, tensile stabs of Fender Telecaster.

Blaue Blume, The Great Escape 2015

Considerably further down the bill, albeit for reasons unbeknown to us currently, are compatriots and fellow Tele enthusiasts Blaue Blume who, in lieu of the likes of Birthday, In Disco Lights and Lemon Tree, opt to showcase material from their forthcoming début full-length more or less exclusively. Again, inexplicably, they’ve yet to happen upon a label that could be considered either ready and/ or willing to release what is, in no uncertain terms, a spectacularly idiosyncratic collection; nonetheless, their breathtaking performance in the suitably grandiose Paganini Ballroom can only do them many a favour in that particular regard.

For having newly honed their live show with poise and performative verve likewise, not only does the music perfectly match up with the ornate, rococo wallpaper that plasters all four walls, but the four Norsemen of apocalyptic glory these encircle have now found how best to shine a quite virtuosic luminescence on the darkened nooks and niche crannies from which their songs are constructed. Divisive they may remain, with comparisons to Wild Beasts continuing to abound, but now bound for rather bigger things, this slew of new material dumbfounds and delights in equal measure: Candy’s delectable as heck, Buoyant Forces later recalls Prince at peak, Parade-era sentimentality, and forthcoming single Thinking of Roxy lucidly elucidates the great reality that henceforth, Blaue Blume bloomin’ well ought to come to be recognised as one of Scandinavia’s very best exports…

‘As seasoned TGE goers will know, each year [the festival] put[s] the spotlight on a different international territory that [organisers] believe should be celebrated due to the wealth of artistic talent bursting out into the international music scene.’ And while the decision to internalise such ‘focus’, ‘put[ting] the spotlight’ on the UK, seems nothing if not a pretty despicable cop-out, there remains plenty on show from elsewhere in the world regardless. This is, without doubt, one of the event’s very greatest strengths; that, and a readiness – and, in this instance, a willingness with it – to explore more left-field styles and musical substances, in order to field a line up that is nigh on unrivalled when it comes to diversity, variety and moments of both eye- and ear-opening majesty.

Yosi Horikawa, The Great Escape 2015

From Denmark to Mali; The Hague (whose Tears & Marble alas, flatter to deceive with a set based about decidedly hackneyed, and dreadfully affected retrograde witch-house) to Osaka, whence Red Bull Music Academy alumnus Yosi Horikawa comes. His aptly thalassic, fluid dance music incorporates the tapping of errant ping pong balls, pumping house interludes and aqueous sounds, all of which combine to make for a comely (and with that, come Saturday, welcomely) sojourn sat down in a daylight-lit Queens Hotel. Considerably more welcome, therefore, than Paul Weller’s Saturns Pattern, songs from which are showcased at a (never very) ‘secret’ Amazon Music shindig at The Old Market. There may be the odd Mod in attendance, but the erstwhile Jam man seems to be on forever rockier ground with his every release, and the sight of what looks – from the very back of the venue, at least – like a lost Clacton-on-Sea hen from one of the weekend’s innumerable dos is barely preferable to the sound of the stodgy, indubitably dodgy codger-rock emanating from the opposite end of it.

Another of several, all-British (not-so-)‘secret’ shows sees hometown heroes The Maccabees bring proceedings in the Corn Exchange to a close with a raucous, confetti-strewn showing to suggest they’re now in possession of an aural arsenal capable of inflicting some serious damage this coming summer. Indeed, they really give it to us tonight, with the likes of Latchmere and Precious Time going toe to toe with the acerbic Spit It Out, the lullabying, berceuse-like (and, incidentally, seagull-referencing) Kamakura, and Marks To Prove It all proving The Maccabees’ impressive, if more pertinently improving, headlining credentials. Nevertheless, a personality is still lacking; the sort that ensures the ejaculatory confetti that showers the closing seconds of a mantric Pelican feels somewhat premature, even now…

Tei Shi, The Great Escape 2015

From elsewhere, of Bogotá, Colombian descent, the Buenos Aires-born, but US-bred Tei Shi appears to perfectly epitomise the multicultural booking policies by which The Great Escape seems to have perpetuated itself for an entire decade; and there is a rough, (seemingly) concerted unreadiness to Valerie Teicher’s show downstairs in the dimly lit Komedia. That said, in spite of titles such as Go Slow, her half-hour absolutely breezes by at gale-force pace, culminating in a take on breakthrough single Bassically that has as much, if not more commonality with post-punk as it does synth-pop. Less impressive by direct contrast are HÆLOS, whose somewhat nondescript electronica fails to accelerate too many pulses; all the more pulsating, therefore, are Sydney’s Little May, who subsequently enthral The Haunt with Dust an ephemeral mote of pearly quality. And that’s a noun that is precisely applicable to the ensuing showing from Sam Dust, aka LA PRIEST: from the borderline-parodical, dubby muscularity of Oino, to the cosmic euphoria inspired by the latter part of Party Zute / Learning To Love, those that have gotten to the onetime Late of the Pier man’s party early have evidently done themselves, their ears and their feet absolutely no disservice whatsoever. A good sign of what’s to come with the release of Inji late on next month, then; no question.

Lubomyr Melnyk, The Great Escape 2015

Continuing to globe-trot, without ever having to necessarily leave East Sussex, the weekend hots up with the arrival of The Quietus’ St George’s curation on the Friday night, as Ukrainian Canadian Lubomyr Melnyk brings his soi-disant ‘continuous music’ to the south coast. “A very natural progression from classical piano technique”, in terms of virtuosity, the Erased Tapes signee puts the entirety of the bill to shame; meanwhile, when it comes to composing pieces of supreme beauty, Melnyk does likewise with the rest of the industry. And whilst he’s only able to recite shorter works from his incontrovertibly spellbinding oeuvre, due to time restraints tonight, Butterfly flutters on long in hearts and minds alike…

Blanck Mass, The Great Escape 2015

For so long, in fact, that Blanck Mass fails to make as massive an impact as his newly commercialised, if still brutalist electronica might have done many another night. It’s not that Benjamin John Power is necessarily drawing blan[c]ks per se; more that although the likes of Dead Format and Double Cross prove out-and-out bangers, snapping and crackling away with the latent thrust of some of the more poppy dance musics of recent times, the absence of any genuine diversity starts to weigh heavy over the hour-long duration. (Additionally, it’s becoming increasingly difficult to negate, or circumnavigate the general truth that, whether this should be under the Fuck Buttons or Blanck Mass pseudonym, so much of Power’s work seems to be an elaborate rehash of Brian Eno’s The Big Ship. Which may once more be a deplorably reductive thing to say, but having had said track subconsciously drilled into my cerebrum as I overcooked a Thameslink-ed locomotive trundle and ended up at Luton Airport in those smallest hours of Friday morning, it has since become a quite inescapable comparison, personally.)

EKKAH, The Great Escape 2015

Suitably rejuvenating, then, are Brummie ensemble EKKAH, whose colourfully funk-informed, hi-fi pop music considerably betters that of Dornik the preceding evening, Rebecca Wilson and Rebekah Pennington together proving they’re fast becoming a force to be reckoned with, what with each and every one of Figure It Out, Home Alone and Last Chance To Dance really endearing once again. Indeed, of those British artists spotlit, EKKAH certainly seem to be our brightest hope. (Or so they essentially seemed from what little we saw…)

Andy Shauf, The Great Escape 2015

Nonetheless, if there can only be one (far-from-hometown) hero of the week(end) in our eyes, ears and so on, then that would have to be a certain Canadian to have also taken to Texas last March; one we’ve since taken to our hearts with absolute, unswerving verve. For irresistible of craft and incomparably humble of character, Andy Shauf just so happens to pen what must surely be the most timeless, seductive tunes of 2015. Of course, The Bearer of Bad News was first released way back in 2012, although having recently been afforded a beyond-due reissue, mercifully, songs such as the meandering Drink My Rivers and the macabre Covered In Dust have been given a new lease of life within the form of a truly lovely, and readily loveable live show. And in the intimate Green Door Store – and later, the incongruously commercial ‘Viber’ bit in the nearby Jubilee Gardens – Shauf’s introspective, pensive compositions assume a striking exigency.

Unjustly subjected to facile Elliott Smith comparisons left, right and sodding centre though he may be, the maundering, anecdotal Jerry Was A Clerk and the expertly softened Lick Your Wounds really ought to go some way toward establishing Shauf as a songwriter of utmost originality in his very own right, such is the variety of song and the versatility of songwriter on display not once, but twice. (That said, a superb You’re Out Wasting sounds not dissimilar to Shauf’s [albeit all the more optimistic] answer to Coast to Coast, in truth.) A truly great weekend, then; and one made all the more memorable by a certain songsmith that could indubitably have enhanced my perception of, and apprehensions about, that aforementioned Texan alternative…