wed 19/06/2024

The Great Escape Festival 2024, Brighton review - 12 hours on the musical frontline of Day Three | reviews, news & interviews

The Great Escape Festival 2024, Brighton review - 12 hours on the musical frontline of Day Three

The Great Escape Festival 2024, Brighton review - 12 hours on the musical frontline of Day Three

Checking out gigs by Being Dead, Kneecap, Pip Blom, Looking Glass Alice and more

Pip Blom bring the lively to Brighton Pier

If the weather’s good TGE Beach is a grand start to a day. As it sounds, it’s a purpose-built seafront space to the east of central Brighton, containing three stages as well as stalls selling vegan kebabs, Filipino street food and German sausage.

Every Great Escape’s closing Saturday it’s taken over by Sounds Australia, offering a fresh selection of what that country has to offer. And there’s a bar, of course, where, at midday, photographer Finetime and I avail ourselves of a traditional media breakfast of BrewDog Wingman pale ale (4.3%).

tamaraThe first music of the day is a short set by Tamara & the Dreams (pictured left). In fact, it’s Melbourne bedroom indie popster Tamara Reichman and a pick-up band. With pink hair, clad in Adidas sports shorts and a crop top covered in a lace over-garment, she emanates insouciant charisma. “I’ve come to Europe to fuck about,” she tells us. She’s looking for places to crash. She sings a story-song about an on-the-road romance in Portugal. Her set concludes with a lyrically zingin’ song called “Successful Bisexual”. It begins “I wanna burn like a thousand suns” and proceeds to list many other desires. She puts on a pair of pink sunglasses to pose through the chorus (she has a song called “P1nk Sung4sses” so maybe it’s subminimal advertising). I come away unexpectedly wanting more.

It’s tricky keeping track of the line-up this year due to the boycott by various artists (for more on the boycott, check my compadre Thomas H Green’s review of Day One here). The electronic program information sometimes struggles to keep up with changes. We are going to pop out and see London Latino groovers Xaman X but are no longer sure they’re appearing so stick with TGE Beach. The weather is warm, the second pint is cold. Next up is Platonic Sex, a Brisbane band who offer their twist on grunge.

platonic sexFrontwoman Bridget Brandolini (pictured right), dressed-down, with a nose ring, says the opening tune, “Devil’s Advocate”, is about mansplaining. It veers between fully audible lyrics - “Why do you take up so much space? Another opinion – oh great!” – and bursts of squalling guitar. Some songs are Dinosaur Jr-ish while others have a shoegaze feel, but the one that stands out is “Melon”, deceptively short and simple, a galloping femme-rock banger with a catchy central riff.

After a swift half and a small bag of chips from the seafront (£4.60 for about 40-pence-worth of potato, but it soaks up breakfast) we head to Horatio’s, the bar on Brighton Pier, surrounded by picket fence, fairground rides and merrily tacky holiday jollity. We’re very early for the bands we’ve come to see but, from past experience, this place reaches capacity fast. We grab pints and chat outside on the decking with a Swiss guy called Matthias whose business is aiding entrepreneurs in corrupt, backwards countries (a loaded way to describe it but, since I’m not naming countries, we’re probably OK). He also puts on a small festival at his home in Olten. He phones his friends. They can’t get into Horatio’s. We just made it. The view along Brighton’s coastline is now a sun-hazy delight.

pip blomIt's a Heavenly Records showcase which starts with Dutch indie outfit Pip Blom, named after their singer (pictured left). She and her brother Tender are both curly-haired balls of energy, exuding a joyful enthusiasm. They ramraid their way through a set that spikes indie’s guitar-driven retro with the playful use of two synths and a bounce to the rhythms, aided by Tender’s regular attack on a stagefront drum. They make pop music and deliver it with aplomb (or, perhaps, a-pip-blom-pom?).

However, Pip Blom are put in the shade by the outrageousness and fire of the next act, Kneecap (pictured below right), a hip hop trio from West Belfast who, with the release of a partly fictionalized, and reportedly wild, Michael Fassbender-starring feature film biog this summer, are likely to achieve a higher profile. Before their set has even begun, they’re taunting the door staff, encouraging the queue outside, who can see the stage via open sidedoors, to “rush the cunts”.

DJ Próvaí is on the decks with his trademark woollen balaclava in Irish colours, while MCs Móglaí Bap, and Mo Chara, both in shades and baseball caps, weave about the stage. They tell us they haven’t slept, that this is the earliest in the day they’ve been awake all week and that “half our lyrics are in Irish, we’re not having a nervous breakdown, and we just took a tab of acid.”

kneecapThey are lightning fast, sparring with each other, the backing varying between old school Run DMC/Beastie Boys-style steroid funk breaks and Bad Boy Chiller Crew-style 4/4 big room club bangin’ (although not as cheesy as that). One song, we’re told, was written about COVID, “a great time for a wank, I’d wank eight times a day, I was spunking dust.” This lot have no filters.

Another song utilizes the excellent riff from 808 State’s “Cubik” (well overdue a sampling), then they have the room singing along to the title chorus of cokey drug anthem “Your Sniffer Dogs are Shite”. They really do seem a bit trollied but also holding it together, offering a shout for Palestine – “we all want the opportunity to live in peace” – and closing with a beefed up drum&bass-tastic version of their slanderous drug-partying-with-the-D.U.P. tune “Get Your Brits Out": “Guess who’s back on the news, it’s your favourite Republican hoods.” The Guardian called them “post-Good Friday agreement bad boys” which is apt. They’re definitely naughty but also bring the party, riding raucous humour and stomping dance beats.

aliceLooking around, though, I notice that everyone is old. More this year than in previous years, I find myself surrounded by an audience mostly over 40, even when watching bands in their teens and twenties. What’s going on? Where are the young people? Is it the cost of attending the event? It’s like an inverse Logan’s Run. And if you get that reference, you too are ancient.

There’s a countrywide drop in the popularity of small venue gigs. Geographical anomalies exist, where thriving city scenes survive but, more commonly, the trend is towards stadium tours and 1000+ capacity gigs. Instead of the laborious but very “real” gig circuit, artists build we’re-all-mates-honest para-social relationships with their fanbase via online, notably TikTok. They only tour when they can play larger venues. If all this is true and not the disgruntled warblings of another old fart, it’s a sad business.

Fuelled by Tuaca and ale, Finetime and I wander back up the Pier to meet our regular Glastonbury Festival pal Don Carlton at seafront bar Daltons. They have their own non-Great Escape gigs on. We luck out, catching the end of a set by Sixties-flavoured psyche-rockers Looking Glass Alice who are fronted by the striking Sarah MacQueen (pictured above left). She’s in full Grace Slick mode, wearing gold-glitter knee-length boots and a white wizard-sleeved folkie cotton top. Husband Alfie, in a loose medieval-style tunic, tight white trousers and pixie boots, makes much of the music on guitar and synth.

It's daytime, they’re on a stage that’s about six inches high (albeit with a strip of rainbow lights running along it), in a bar full of randoms out for a beer in the sun, but they maintain course, delivering the three songs we catch with verve, mustering something midway between 13th Floor Elevators, My Baby and Intastella. A happy find.

claraWe’ll fast forward the next couple of hours as Finetime. Don and I retire to Sawadee Thai Restaurant on St James’s Street to feast on noodles, tempura, paeneng prawns, coconut rice, Singha beer, and lots of sake. Suitably boosted we hit Patterns, a two-floored central seafront nightclub. We’re early in the downstairs section for Texan band Being Dead as I suspect (correctly) that they will be popular and don’t want to be stuck in a queue outside. Thus, right at the front of this small low-ceilinged space, we see the act prior, a set by Dublin-based Enniskillen singer Clara Tracey (pictured above right), and her band. Long-haired, clad in a red jump-suit, with a zip down the front, hers is a quiet sort of music, tinted with Gallic chanson romanticism. There’s even a song about Jane Birkin.

It takes a moment to bed in. Such soft, late night music doesn’t immediately blend with our boozy mood but, although she’s a shyly smiling performer, led by her fluttering voice atop elegant, classically-tinted piano, there’s an honesty and originality here. Upon listening since to her debut album, 2022’s Black Forest, I’ve engaged further and would recommend. A talent. She ends with what she considers a rock-out but is more a twangy David Lynch film blues.

deadBeing Dead (pictured left) on the other hand, I am familiar with, the only artist I see whose vinyl I own (as per the Vinyl of the Month review here). They consist of drummer-guitarist-vocalist Falcon B*tch [that’s her asterisk, not mine) and drummer-guitarist-vocalist Gumball, who swap guitar/drum duties midway through the set. She’s an animated, tattooed blond in Heidi plaits and he has one of those overgrown bowl haircuts like The Byrds in their pomp. Underpinning them both is female bassist Ricky Moto, deadpan in a white tee shirt.

Their music is original and immediate, ecclesiastic-ecstatic urgent Beach Boys harmonies neatly attached to propulsive reverbed garage rock in a Modern Lovers vein. It’s pacy and euphoria-inducing. However, they somewhat spike the rolling momentum by stop-starting, talking to the sound person and generally homing in on niggles with the sound. Of course, this is conscientious but bands, especially if they only have a short set, and if the sound is loosely acceptable (as theirs is), might be better off engaging with the crowd, running roughshod over messiness, driving the show forward. Anyway, smartly wrought songs, just a tad stilted in presentation.

rodeoThis only leaves a visit to Nottingham six-piece Midnight Rodeo, back up the Pier at Horatio’s. Yet more Byrds haircut action here, brown leathers, massive collars, the band all in a line at the stagefront. They surround singer Maddy Chamberlain, physically and sonically, with a musical stew redolent of Sixties films, twangy, organ-fuelled, groovy. One can imagine them in the background of a party scene featuring Michael Caine as Billion Dollar Brain-era Harry Palmer. There’s a smidgeon of The James Taylor Quartet in their genes although less mod, more freaky-deaky. For me, it’s about shaking a leg rather than individual songs. Then again, that might be the “elation of a long day”.

And that’s the end of The Great Escape 2024 review…

…except we popped into a non-Great Escape happening downstairs of the Hope & Ruin on the way back to the station and became involved with a heaving mass milling, sweating, jabbering and generally having a good time to the funkin’ indie of curiously named Dutch outfit Parker Fans.

And from there, well, let’s draw a veil…

Below: watch Being Dead performing live on Austin, Texas, radio station KUTX

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