Brighton’s annual seaside showcase may have set off with some April showers but that didn’t dampen the spirits of our reviewers, Max Pilley and Jo Southerd. Here are their highlights from the best new music from across this fine planet…
Starcrawler (Max Pilley)
Arrow de Wilde is here for your attention. Her snake-hipped, slender, vampiric stage presence as Starcrawler frontwoman is one of this festival’s most unforgettable experiences. The band take the already cool venue The Haunt and transform it into the CBGBs of the 1970s. Their confrontational glam and chunky-chord hooks suggesting that they’re opening for the New York Dolls and The Heartbreakers. Their recent debut single ‘Ants’, a set highlight, was issued on blood-spattered vinyl, and indeed de Wilde begins spitting blood through Dracula fangs at one stage near the climax tonight. The band’s tunes are spirited, but it is de Wilde’s contorting, convulsing, confounding magnetism that could just be their key into stardom.
Klangstof (Max Pilley)
“I like it here ‘cause it’s raining,” Klangstof frontman Koen van de Wardt tells us. Boy, has it been raining! The Amsterdam band have covered the planet over the last 4 years, so a gig in Coalition, a club literally on Brighton beach, may well feel close to home. The majority of their set is a majestic, head-swirling beast, each track an intrepid adventure through each audience member’s mind. Primarily based around guitar and synths, Klangstof’s songs start delicately, before mushrooming outwards in all directions, blossoming and bearing fruit just as you are in rapture to what came before. An element of restraint runs through it all, until the moment comes for a cascading, climactic guitar solo. Top stuff.
Kojey Radical (Max Pilley)
In the world of The Great Escape, every conceivable space is filled with a band. In this case, the space in question is the subterranean lobby of the ornate Queens Hotel and the band is that of Kojey Radical, the London poet and rapper. He claims to be surprised that so many have shown up to see someone that hasn’t released a track in seven months, but it’s called anticipation. His album is on the horizon, and based on this it will be special. Fuelled by jazz breaks and metronomic delivery, his songs as well as his between-song chatter espouse his sincere and clear-eyed philosophy that the only things that separate us are man-made. For fun, he throws in a cover of Avelino’s ‘On a Roll’, but it is his own repertoire that has this hotel cellar bouncing. His tantric, manic dancing is just a bonus.
Dead Pretties (Max Pilley)
There is an ever-present contingent in the music sphere that guitar bands are done. They’ve always been wrong so far and based on Dead Pretties they will continue to be for another few years. It’s true that they are cool in a familiar, almost studied way, at one stage introducing their new single apologetically, as if the concept of releasing music is a capitalist industry sell-out. But this is all forgivable because that single, and every song they play, is blisteringly good. They might look like The Libertines but they sound more like The White Stripes if they found a third sibling/spouse. They are driven, focused and tight – qualities often overlooked by London indie bands. And most of all they are shudderingly loud, bar bottle-rattlingly loud, in fact. In a sea of overhyped, underprepped bands, Dead Pretties are worth an appointment in your schedule.
HMLTD (Max Pilley)
Few new bands have had more screen inches devoted to them in 2017 than the former Happy Meal LTD. The London six-piece will inevitably draw suspicion from some for apparently spending more time in front of the mirror than anywhere else, but their music is far from typical either. Tracks head-dive from Cramps-like jaunts into brain-splintering psych rave ups, with tracks like ‘What You Wanted’ and ‘To The Door’ catalysing the crowd into an elated frenzy. Frontman Henry Spychalski is by no means the only eye catcher on stage, but his persona lies somewhere between Alex DeLarge and the Joker, the sort of thing that you can get away with in a band as musically bold and brash as this. Where this is all heading is still unclear, but it’ll be worth a watch.
Zeal & Ardor (Max Pilley)
Switzerland is this year’s official partner for The Great Escape, with its artists spread across Brighton all weekend. Zeal & Ardor do, supposedly, originate in that country, but the idea that they are even from this planet is a tricky one to believe. Their five-prong attack is unlike anything else on offer, a culture shock in a festival culture that is as broad, progressive and welcoming as could be imagined. Hitting the stage at nearly midnight at a point where some may secretly have been flagging, they are an all-conquering blast of adrenaline; strobe lighting in musical form. A triple guitar frontline stands alongside vocalist Manuel Gagneux, whose black metal stylings are all that could possibly hold its own in this avalanche of noise. They finish with ‘Devil Is Fine’, one of the year’s best songs, a fusion of industrial rock and spiritual gospel. Any fans of Algiers, Swans or Deafheaven take note.
The Big Moon (Max Pilley)
Love in the 4th Dimension is the debut album by The Big Moon, one of the year’s most irresistible joys. Several hundred Great Escape revellers eschewed an almighty host of alternatives on Saturday night to wander down to the end of Brighton pier to indulge in the album’s cherished, punk-speed indie pop gems – indeed, too many did, and some were unfortunately turned away. Had the pier snapped off at the opening chord of the first song and drifted into the Channel for 40 minutes, not one of us would have known or cared. Nearly the whole album gets an outing, with (relative) slow ones like ‘Formidable’ being fed back to the band twice as loud by the lucky attendees. ‘Sucker’ is the final track, the fizziest, sassiest and most addictive of their young career. You’d go a long way to find a better festival climax.
Monico Blonde (Jo Southerd)
To say that Thursday night is wet is an understatement. I collect my wristband and walk down to the seafront, where the view is grey and underwhelming. I take refuge in the Queen’s Hotel and the packed out room soon warms me up. Monico Blonde‘s blistering set is a maelstrom of squealing guitar solos and anthemic choruses. Their life-affirming indie rock is polished and precise, with a razor-sharp edge. When the four boys cut loose, they are nuclear, creating a colossal sound that is somehow bigger than the sum of their parts – a testament to the awesome musicianship on display here. It’s exactly why festivals like this exist: a whole room of industry bods and music lovers alike all blown away at once.
The Van T’s (Jo Southerd)
Are The Van T‘s Scotland’s best kept secret? Fronted by Glaswegian twins Hannah and Chloe Van Thompson, this band are a breath of fresh air – which is impressive, considering they’re playing in one of the darkest basements in Brighton – but everyone downstairs at Sticky Mike’s Frog Bar can feel it. There’s serious attitude in their dynamic concoction of grungey surf rock. Somewhat reminiscent of Kenickie, if not in their sound then in their heady mix of poppiness and punk. With the magic ingredient – that special something that only two sisters singing in harmony can bring. I could have watched them all day.
Aldous Harding (Jo Southerd)
The Paganini Ballroom is as fancy as it sounds, and its the perfect setting for 6 music’s latest darling. The room is dark, the crowd is enormous, and Aldous Harding is… intense. Her distinctive voice peals through the room like nothing I’ve ever heard before, emphasised by the totally stripped-back nature of the set (her only accompaniment is a twinkle of piano or tinker of guitar from H. Hawkline, who just played his own atmospheric solo show across town). Playing songs from the acclaimed new album, Party, the New Zealand singer is utterly captivating as she takes us on a journey drowned in melancholic beauty.
Dakota (Jo Southerd)
On Friday the Dutch Impact showcase is the place to be: it’s one in/one out for Dakota. The crowded Komedia feels like a little spot of a paradise as we all soak up their breezy, sun-kissed vibes. But it’s not all floating into the sunset on fluffy cloud – there are moments when the steady and mellow really hots up and packs just enough punch. Dakota deliver a confident set of luscious, Cali-coloured psych – and while there certainly isn’t a lack of bands making ethereal dream-pop right now, these girls deserve your time.
Estrons (Jo Southerd)
On the way to Bleach, the sun comes out – hooray! It’s a solid 20 minute walk from the cluster of venues in the centre of town – even further from the seafront. But no one regrets making the journey when Estrons hop onto the stage. In fact, people are queuing down the street to witness the Cardiff band, and it’s only 3pm. Estrons are loud and fast from the get-go, equal parts distortion and adrenaline. Kallstrom herself is a firecracker on stage, bouncing furiously through hit after hit – there’s not a dull moment in the whole set. And she can really sing. It’s a sweat-fest, and it’s flawless.
Click HERE for tickets to The Great Escape 2018.