The littoral British retreat that is Brighton may be better renowned for saccharine tat and chish and fips still swimming in gristle and grime than it may be for musics and the manic frenzy their festivals so often entail, although the city becomes a bloody hive of hype for the one weekend of the year. That is this, and this is the 2013 edition of The Great Escape. So let the buzz begin!
Away from the unrelenting bustle of the capital – a restive kind of agitation capable of bludgeoning even the irrepressibly ebullient into submission with an unrelentingly weighty despondency – The Great Escape has carved out a becoming niche, or perhaps rather a comfortable pothole in a field more often than not quite literally oversaturated with irredeemable shite. This year we’ve already lost Vince Power’s annual snoozefest, Hop Farm Music Festival while All Tomorrow’s Parties’ chalet shindigs are to become a thing of the past this coming winter, thus elucidating the continuation of a downward trend in general intrigue. “It’s been another challenging year for the music industry at large, but opportunities still abound and The Great Escape is the place to capitalise on that fact” co-founder and creative director Martin Elbourne so defiantly states in his programme notes, though can the festival genuinely sustain itself and thrive where others have so pathetically failed of late?
The festival circuit has, to all intents and purposes, been rekindled with less of a spark than a splutter this month, what with the Camden Crawl also on its knees having this year taken an ill-advised hiatus to thereby detract impetus from the imminent onset of this supposedly bright, and with that enlightening season. And Brighton itself this weekend seems that bit more dilapidated still than it did even some twelve months ago, although all of its slight idiosyncrasies ensure #TGE13 succeeds where the ‘Crawl so hopelessly falters in that the South East idyll feels in touch with the contemporary and exists in the now, whereas N-Dubz still belongs to some dystopian ’90s nightmare presided over by Simon Price. The multifarious musics on offer throughout the weekend, meanwhile, frequently seem keenly bleeding edge as the man’s bloody red felt horns although ahead of all that, I stop and ponder the advertising effect a moment. The times they’ve a-changed, and this Thursday afternoon is tinged with reminders of this being a wearying while of economic austerity – a lofty obstacle in the stumbling and falling of the annual carnival the festival circuit without fail becomes come May. Follow Vevo to uncover the whereabouts of some nondescript secret show, or slather yourself in freebie Lynx if the salted air founders on refreshing your yet pasty white features, or slur lost words to volunteers plastered in Metro tees dispatched to video uphill ambles on iPhones. There’s an element of the contrived to it all, although there’s an incontestable sensation of this ubiquitous commercialism being nothing but a necessary evil in the facilitation of events such as this in the first place. And when certain festivals are now charging the hapless to sign away a summer erecting tents or serving the slaughtered, the odd bit of (albeit indiscreet) product placement can of course be overlooked.
Which is at once at odds with this year’s spotlit offshore spot, and whereas last year that just so happened to be Cataluña – a zona incidentally boasting two of the world’s finest metropolitan festivals in Primavera Sound and Sónar – Poland this time adds lustre to the line up. It’s they, or rather the Adam Mickiewicz Institute which hosts the prerequisite Welcome Drinks, during which first day of school vibes are all but all-pervasive – even if the odd droplet of Beck’s lubricates conversations somewhat. Though if we initially demonstrate a quintessentially British reserve, then we show our true colours when bathing in a trough of booze as the bar heaves as one. Polish accents are, alas, rather less conspicuous, rendering all involvement more than a tad oracular: a DJ plays a piss-poor splurge of atrocity in the corner, although laced with English vulgarity it sounds not even remotely Polish. Then again, I’ve thus far only a negligible understanding of exactly what that may entail to be brutally honest. That said, Pictorial Candi sounds weird, and wonderful, and like little else mainland Europe has to offer at the minute as she packs out Coalition down beside the seaside. A rabid conflation of bits of Chris Cohen and Connan Mockasin; Celebration, Dresden Dolls, the family Zappa and all other manner of ecstatically eccentric festivity, she makes for a far preferable export to Tyskie for sure.
As are Girls Names to Guinness, rr at least that’s the way they danse macabre upon my palette and the likes of Hypnotic Regression and Pittura Infamante are dark as the stuff as they giddily spiral into vibrancy this evening. Unforgiving as a dunk in the Liffey (if commensurately refreshing), theirs is a no fucking nonsense ethos and probably because of it, they authentically shine. Such is the gloriously gruelling extent of The New Life that they’ve only time for for or five, though the point is made and is made quite emphatically, it must be said.
Disorientingly, it’s still light outside as bewildered pupils allow for retina ruination and the future appears apparently bright for L.A. five-piece Milo Greene. Thereby a band as opposed to merely a bloke as the name may intimate toward, they make for an enjoyable, if largely innocuous prelude to what is, to my ears and mind alike, something of a main event. Kicking about in the depths of St Bartholomew’s Church a while, the building itself is a work of divine inspiration: its height approximately thrice its width, it claws at the highest of Heavens as the appositely supernal sounds of The Polyphonic Spree’s Section 14 (Two Thousand Places) caress already leggy limbs. It’s more than can be said of its distinctly cramped pews, though there’s not room to extend a toe due to this being the setting for a one and only glimpse of inspired darlings London Grammar who’ll doubtless soon become accustomed to expanses of this size and stature the way they’re ascending. Like a soul destined for the skies, they’ve whizzed up the bills with guile, style and panache, and their five-song showcase demonstrates just that.
It begins with a mildly extempore Hey Now, and it’s met with great rapture. Gasps abound, as we find ourselves overawed by the spectacle, as well as collectively overwhelmed by the subtle grandiosity to it with Hannah Reid’s unspeakably unimpeachable vocal carrying the show. They don’t appear quite ready although rosy-cheeked and ripe for cherry-picking, they absolutely sound it as the djembé-propelled Darling brings with it refinement and a gentle alteration in tone and texture. It stretches out adagio – sightly as a honeycomb horizon – and invites us in, only for its author to repel during the ensuing Interlude. “I’ll dream of you/ Don’t dream of me too” Reid pleads although aloof and almost intangible, they seem somewhat oblivious to the heavily laden rows sprawled out before them. Densely loaded as they might be for only the most inspiring of sermonic recitals, they’re yet more enrapturing still and never are they more so than on effortlessly impeccable mesmeriser, Wasting My Young Years. “I’m wasting my young years, it doesn’t matter if/ I’m chasing old ideas” she avows, and indeed she sounds a lost Massive Attack songstress from days of yore though in London Grammar the eloquent lass finds peace. It’s an utterly unblemished performance, and as they positively glide into Metal & Dust we take, eat and share in one of the most promising début festival showings in some time. A total trump and, to regress to the underdeveloped patois of their native London, nang tune.
Then, beyond the tumbledown portal of the nearby Green Door Store, an equivalently coarse vernacular unravels as Mac DeMarco’s band of tangled reprobates snigger unpleasantries and parp of fecal discharge. Charming, and so too hideously predictable. Though Dustin Payseur is an altogether erratic performer by contrast, and even seconds into opener Clash The Truth he’s among us as he jolts his spindly figure through the front few rows. “Life can be so vicious that we can’t even appreciate its purities” he laments with a wistful sense of longing strewn about his ever erudite lexicon, before cannoning off the customary word barrage: “Dream. Rebel. Trust. Youth. Free. Life. Clash. Truth. Real. Time. Gone. Through. Peace. Piss. Shine. Proof.” Punchy and impactive, it makes a point. Full stop.
Though quite what that is I’m unsure, for there’s a direct ambiguity to all he seethes. That is until the heady gyration of Generational Synthetic, during which Payseur condemns our “generational pathetic” for its inability to think for itself and thus function of its own accord. It’s an applicable point within the context of a festival, not least as recommendations are forever rife and, cut from the same gritty cloth as a certain Zachary Cole Smith, one senses his faintly oppugnant onstage behaviour is a rallying against some of life’s more grim conventions – those same ones Smith savaged in his latest tirades on unending tour schedules and SXSW. The Great Escape is often deemed a UK equivalent to the Texan ‘conference’, although there are no mile-high, Twitter-powered Doritos dispensers here and similarly, to eternally analogise Beach Fossils to DIIV is to do Payseur a heinous disservice – not least as the likes of Birthday and Shallow exude a vulnerable beauty, and with that a humility frequently eschewed by Smith. The latter most closely resembles the bluest of postdated Oshin prints, although it’s of course worth remembering that Payseur was practising his tender lo-fi trickery long before Smith submerged himself in DIIV, and the latter of course toured extensively with the former for quite some while.
And whereas premeditated chaos can often prevail in the case of DIIV live shows, while disorderly there’s a true crispness to Burn You Down to belie the otherwise unstable aesthetic. “Hey! You guys don’t have to stand so still! Let’s go fuckin’ crazy in here!” Dustin chirrups as though auditioning for a Bugsy Malone redux, before a head gets spacked open on the stairs some moments later and perhaps aptly, it’s fucking breakneck stuff. We’ve duly, if dubiously obliged as the exuberance of Youth rips open an impromptu pit and like some prehistoric crustacean revived, it takes a little time to get going but once in the swing of things, he’s positively unstoppable. It is, in Payseur’s very own words, “a good time!” and the likes of Cayler, Careless and whatever else are treated as though the hits they never were. And somehow, not even the fetid stench of ragged man – sweat, spittle, and all the more turgid stuff besides – can detract from the undiluted joy of it all.
And so it came to pass that big Mac DeMarco was left to widdle the night away among the beanies and backward caps tilted at the acutest of angles. He reportedly went hard; we went home.