FESTIVAL REPORT: The Great Escape 2018

FESTIVAL REPORT: The Great Escape 2018

Ah, Brighton. The Sussex seaside and, for one weekend in mid-May, new music’s mecca as The Great Escape returns to its shores. Promising up the freshest new talent over 35 venues across the city, God Is In The TV heads down to the seafront to tuck into everything from Aussie pub rock reprobates to Norwegian 90s trance. And not a fistful of wedding confetti in sight. Here are a handful of our favourites from the weekend.

G Flip, Beach House

Credit: Phoebe Fox

For a large part of the first track, it’s unclear what we’re looking at, as we step out of the seaside sunlight and into the neon lights of the Beach Club. It turns out that Melbourne multi-instrumentalist G Flip – that’s drummer-turned-solo-star, Georgia Flipo – is sat high on the drum rise dishing out the backbone beats to her own synth sound bites. Somewhere during her time doubling up as drummer and backup singer with fellow Aussie rockers, EMPRA and teaching school kids guitar and drums, Flipo found time to craft her own stream of blissful loops in her bedroom. Debut ‘About You’ slips into the set with a giant chorus hook and Collins-like drum break whilst latest single ‘Killing Time’ is all Dua Lipa playground chant and dirty drops. On the kit and at the mic, this Melbourne multi-instrumentalist is a powerful new breed of polymath popstar.

RAHH, Komedia Studio Club

Like so many of us, Manchester musician RAHH has always had a passion for music with female powerhouses like En Vogue and TLC rattling around in her headphone cans as a teen. It’s not surprising as her tracks tonight are peppered with self-sufficiency (“I just need my money and my phone”), strength and some slick hand triggers which are always encouraged in a live set. Debut release, ‘Overkill’ is a little less RnB and a bit more Paloma Faith’s big-lunged retro-soul. Unlike the lyrics would suggest though, there’s nothing excessive in RAHH’s set tonight, just raw honesty and late-night confessions over a sultry backbeat.

Bodega, Green Door Store

Credit: Victor Frankowski

Art rock bunch, Bodega are the kind of band that make you want to upsticks to New York, live in a warehouse and lounge around with your cool art school friends against a backdrop of threadbare wall hangings. For tonight’s packed Green Door Store performance, the band appears to be in “some sort of shed” though, according to frontman Ben Hozie. Polite Brit’s with cameras try to navigate their way through the tight-knit throng as album number ‘Name Escape’ creeps in, kick-starting the surreal one-liners and skronking guitars. Digital dependent ‘Bookmakers’ is a wry take on humdrum modern day life; also a prominent theme in recent single, ‘Can’t Knock The Hustle’, the repetitive pinched harmonic drone sounds out like the daily grind of clocking in and clocking off. Standout ‘Gyrate’ is a sexually empowered romp on female masturbation with Belfigio’s yelps front of stage. Album closer, ‘Truth Is Not A Punishment’ finds a new life intertwined with forthright culture confession ‘I Am Not A Cinephile’ as an electronic voiceover samples a Smiths quote across the speakers: “Heaven knows, I’m miserable now”. Ironic really, as Bodega leave a crowd anything but.

Bossy Love, Komedia

There aren’t many people who can take on both the sultry tones of Blu Cantrell and rapper’s delight, Sean Paul with a rendition of noughties anthem ‘Breathe’. Turns out, Bossy Love’s Amandah Wilkinson is that person (and now a must on any party guestlist surely). But it’s not just Wilkinson riding the cool stakes in this outfit, former Dananananaykroyd drummer, John Baillie Jnr brings solid high-octane backing vocals that turn ‘Talk To Me’ into some sort of blissful 80s pop giant and a relentless ride bell which gets the whole dancefloor vibing. EP great, ‘Call Me Up’ is teen-love abandon (“I’m a sucker for this thing called love”) whilst jittering electro stomp ‘Sweat It Out’ finds much of the crowd joining Wilkinson in the pit of Komedia’s Studio Bar to do just that. Bowing out with a number that talks about that crushing realisation of thinking that someone is the coolest “until I heard you had a girlfriend”, it has the dance floor filling chops to become the next ‘Dancing On My Own’. Because dancing on your own to Bossy Love is the best kind of self-love.

Pitou, Komedia

The front of the stage is lined with photographers ahead of Pitou’s Dutch Showcase which would be enough to make anyone feel a little like a lion at the zoo. But as soon as the first crisp sounds of her vocals cut through the PA, the singer’s in her element with a crowd mesmerised. Much like fellow earnest pop purveyors, Peggy Sue, Pitou’s four-strong band are her choir of echoes atop minimalist folk strings. The drummer plays tentatively at first, just hands and fingers, a primitive kind of percussion; fitting for a sound that clearly comes so naturally to them all. There are tUnE yArDs’ levels of dizzying details in the layered whimsy of recent single ‘Problems’, as the Amsterdam-born artist follows the song’s protagonist into the dark. Back to the limelight, she thanks the crowd for joining her: “You all have nice faces but the soul is more important. I can’t see your souls so I’ll have to assume you all have decent souls”. After all, there is dark and light but it’s what’s inside that really counts and Pitou is intelligently crafted folk-pop to the core.

Anna Burch, Horatio’s

Horatio’s is exactly the kind of venue you’d expect from Brighton’s Great Escape. Head along the pier, dance out of shot of the low flying seagulls and grab a pint with the most exceptional panoramic view. Also in sight is Detroit singer-songwriter, Anna Burch emanating the kind of lilting Breeders riffs from  Last Splash era, and what a marvel it is. The band has been in Paris the night before, she tells us, as she shares her gratitude for being “on this lovely pier among lovely peers”. This quick wit and charm are present throughout much of the set from waltzing album namesake ‘Quit The Curse’ to opener, ‘2 Cold 2 Care’ which showcases the bare bones of these blissful pop numbers; the fractured guitar and Burch’s crisp melodies. The final surf twangs of ‘Tea Soaked Letter’ ring out on a minor chord, with her sweet sentiment swimming in our ears: “You’re all I wanted”. And she really was.

Alex The Astronaut, The Latest Music Bar  

We’re coming into this one a bit blind if we’re honest, having been hotly tipped off about Aussie raconteur, Alex The Astronaut. But for Alex Lynn, we’re old friends. Her songs sketch stories of real-life narratives we can all relate to, from billionaire presidents in hopeful ‘Already Home’ to self-acceptance in bare-boned ‘Not Worth Hiding’. She’s quick to dedicate ‘William and Georgia’ to well, the William and Georgias in the rooms and promises she’ll write a song about us later. It’s a rapport that veteran folk frontman, Frank Turner has been flogging for years but it’s arguably more heartwarming coming from the science student turned songwriter. She even rustles up some beachside patter for the occasion: “I went to the beach today to try my hand at stand up paddle boarding – froze my titties off!” As Alex herself astutely puts it, “there is no such thing as positive and negative, there are just experiences”. Thankfully, this one’s a doozy.

Naaz, Sallis Benney Theatre

It feels quite apt to be watching 19-year-old pop prodigy, Naaz in the surrounds of the school hall bleachers as she asks us about our dreams. “Mine is to make music”, she beams. Ever the earnest performer, she proudly boasts debut single ‘Words’ is the song that showcases who she wants to be, and it has changed her life. With its slinking synths and flawless vocals, it showcases the vibrant talent of this bedroom beatmaker. It’s easy to dismiss Naaz as she bounds across the stage every bit the cute pop vocalist but all the elements here have been hand-crafted by her in the run-up to this moment. Bits of Naaz, much like the EP would suggest, are scattered throughout the set including a nod to a big influence of hers; Kanye. Brighton’s Green Party crowd might not be enamored but, for an unseasoned voyeur, this is boundless pop perfection.

Sassy 009, Komedia

Oslo’s Sassy 009 definitely feel like a band built on friendships. Tonight, the trio stand inwardly facing each other – across two mics and one synth  – to craft their ethereal electronica like witchcraft. Recent single ‘Are You With Me Now?’ is early on with its unexpected flute solo offering flitting trills over the clan’s climbing vocals. It’s a bold sound for three younglings from Norway to be making particularly as they were almost certainly not privy to that solid 90s trance era. Instead, they snatch references from fellow Nordics Copenhagen-based, Smerz in their esoteric approach to music making and Iceland’s Fever Dream in the brief spat of full-face spoken word. Frustratingly, the latter half of their set is riddled with tech issues which presumably comes from such an unconventional set up. The vocals remain criminally low but the crowd dances on, regardless.

Amyl and The Sniffers, Beach House

Credit: Mike Massaro

So you’ve turned up to an Aussie BBQ rather than a royal wedding, eh?” jokes Amy Taylor, frontwoman of pub rock reprobates Amyl and The Sniffers. “Amyl is poppers”, she goes on. “Everyone always thinks it’s my name but I’m not Amyl”. This Melbourne bunch do give off quite a high though. From the anarchic thrash of (presumably also drug-infused) ‘Sniff Sniff’ to the chugging chops of punk lark ‘Cup of Destiny’ which could be straight out of a Spinal Tap documentary. Whistlestop winner ‘I’m Not A Loser’ clocks in at a tidy 1m 49 with Taylor spitting out her defiance: “I’m not a fan of tradition, I just want to get pissed in my kitchen”. Set closer, ‘Pleasure Forever’ is similarly strong-willed finding the beauty in the filth. Amongst the caustic guitar chords and Taylor’s spit-strewn snarls, I think we’ve found it too.

Stella Donnelly, Dr Martens Stage

Whilst Perth popstrel Stella Donnelly might dock in at the same station, she’s decidedly different from her punk peers Amyl and The Sniffers. Donnelly – more like touring partner, Alex The Astronaut – is more playful poetry than pub rock although apparently does pour a mean pint. “This song is about my old boss back in a pub I used to work in. It’s called ‘You Owe Me’”. That’s the thing about Donnelly, watching her it’s impossible not to feel a smile flitter across your face. She delicately weaves the most intimate of microcosms (from her sound observations on sexual assault “Stop questioning women on how they dress because no one is asking for it” to her astute relationship analysis “Your relationship isn’t working, you’re doing everything you can but in the end you’re polishing a turd”) her gentle guitar strums provide the perfect canvas to sketch her stories. And she’s never too humble to know when she’s wrong: “He actually paid me a week later, I was on the wrong week of my payroll”. Tips all round for this stella(r) act.

Partner, The Walrus

Right, here goes. How does one sum up a set like Partner’s? The voiceover that sounds out the start of their set isn’t far off the mark: “They say rock and roll is dead but that’s a pile of nonsense”. Turns out there are a lot of people still into rock, big gut-wrenching, riff-fuelled rock. Art rock bunch, Bodega might call the pair “pizzacore” for their want to get lit and smoke some pot but we hear Weezer wit in lines like “licensed to chill” and “we’re on the same page. Ellen Page”. The larks continue with ‘Sex Object’, a more sombre strum but no less fun as the pair admit: “I shouldn’t have been snooping in my roommate’s room. I found a sex thing but didn’t say anything”. The goofball pairing of mates Josee Caron and Lucy Niles have a real knack for bulldozing over trite traditions. ‘Playing The Field’ is a clever take on classic male boy band tropes: “Girl, can I join your team? I’m for real’. And the same goes for dishing out the ultimate mock cock rock, spliced with LGBT lyricism like a well-needed punch in the misogynist gut. At this point, there’s a breakdown, people are wide clapping in the air and we’re left beaming. As the band themselves so artfully gush: when there are no words, there are guitar solos. And thank Partner for that.

Annabel Allum, Sticky Mike’s Frog Bar

We’ve made it to Saturday. Well done”, gests Annabel Allum under the bright lights of Sticky Mike’s Frog Bar. Guildford slack rocker’s set is decidedly different from former single, ‘Rich Fucking Background’ which is thrust out fairly early on in the set, all Libertines street swagger as she spits out economic truths. Latest single ‘Rascal’ gives us more of a taste of what’s to come from this BBC Introducing artist, more sombre self-scrutiny than jovial jibes. A brand new track to the set (“consider it an exclusive”) continues to lean towards the heartfelt transparency of fragile folk trio, Daughter. While the dark and light refractions are pleasing, it’s the raucous grit of ‘Beat The Birds’ or natty punk rollick, ‘Eat My Vegetables’ that find us asking for more.

Peaness, Sticky Mike’s Frog Bar

Photo credit: Harriet Brown

In this dank dungeon below the Brighton lanes where we can barely make the next face out from the void, Chester trio’s Peaness have found those perfect girl gang harmonies with no sweat. And it’s not just the sweet vocals that they’ve got a firm grasp on, they’re bringing back the pop solo. You might remember it from Kenicke’s shouty glam greatness of ‘Punka‘ but it’s here tonight in full force. That isn’t where the 90s references stop, if we’re honest. There’s a lot of Echobelly’s cool, clean guitar refrains and Louise Weiner clarity to the vocal lines. But don’t be fooled by the happy tremolo, there’s sadness between the lines: “You lied to me and my family, I don’t understand how you think that this is right” coos singer and bassist, Jess Branney. There are also some clever arrangements in the song structures from the stop-start drums to those one string solos that drive a melody home without being brazen. New single, Kaizen (which the bad tell us is Japanese) is a Shonen Knife power-pop call to arms with dancing bass lines and definitive upstroke guitars. Band name banter aside, Peaness might not be cocksure but they sure are bags of fun.  

Words: Cheri Amour 

Photos: Sam Nahirny (unless otherwise stated)

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