by / May 22nd, 2013 /

The Great Escape – State’s Top 12

When it comes to the multi-venue, urban festival it seems as though every other event going would suggest its own version of SxSW. Founded in 2006, The Great Escape would have a better claim than most. With 350 acts playing in 30 venues (plus an Alternative Escape fringe) and an extensive industry convention, the already hipper than hip seaside town is bursting with music. Everywhere you turn there’s some sort of activity underway, from buskers to bands leaping out of backs of vans to play guerrilla gigs and a general party atmosphere. It’s not perfect – the spread out nature of the venues makes seeing anything more than a small proportion of what you want tricky and the queues to get into some shows are ridiculous – but generally State felt right at home. Here’s our pick of the action:

Billy Bragg

If his audience at the Dome aren’t quite your standard Great Escape goer (the festival’s largest venue works as a stand alone ticket), Billy Bragg himself fits right in. Tomorrow he’ll deliver the key note speech on DIY culture but tonight he’s back to the day job. Back with a band after a while playing solo, the set switches between the melancholy of the new album and the fire of his politcal passion. The four song encore acts as a microcosm for the whole night, balancing the humour of ‘Handyman Blues’, the emotion of ‘Tank Park Salute’ and Clash inspired versions of ‘Waiting For The Great Leap Forward’ and ‘Help Save The Youth Of America’. (PU)

Caitlin Park

An Australian performer who caught the eye and ear with her recent album Milk Annual and her penchant for seemingly incongruous samples overlaying her folky musings, Park’s appearance is much anticipated as she sets up in the basement of the Queens Hotel. Her set comes generally minus the samples of the album but the songs still retain their tender timbre and her voice floats through the room to the receptive ears of all. Special mention also goes to her British band, Benjamin Fletcher and David Ford, who after rehearsal time of about a week are bang on the money. (TS)

Cousins

So used are we know to the sight of a guitar and drums combo that the tired old comparisons no longer apply. Cousins, from Halifax in Nova Scotia, do fit into the seat of the pants end of the genre however, flying through a set of power pop – papering over an cracks in their line-up with a wall of guitar and vocal effects and an approach to live performance that leaves the walls of the grungy venue The Hope running with water. (PU)

Fight Like Apes

While they once would have been a main attraction at an event like this, the Fight Like Apes rebuilding process sees them occupying a late night slot at a free fringe venue. It’s no band thing though, for as their Camden Crawl Dublin gig proved, they are a band reconnecting with their audience. Playing on a raised area at the back of the Pavilion Tavern (the Pav Tav to its friends), they’re on top form – with Mary especially a dominating force. The encouragingly sizeable and knowledgeable crowd respond accordingly and soon chaos ensues, leading to bassist Conti getting a crack on the head from a falling speaker and State spending our night catching mic stands and flying audience members. It’s good to have them back. (PU)

Gavin James

Even though technically this is his second time in Brighton, Gavin James announces that it feel like the first time as on his first sojourn to the coast, he had ‘drunk that tequila with the worm in it’. Already making a wee ripple for himself in the UK thanks to his Daft Punk’s ‘Get Lucky’ cover, he has skills beyond skillfully placed covers however and in a tiny gig in a pub on the seafront he demonstrates that ably. Startling self-penned songs combine with a gentle but imposing stage presence ensured that Gavin holds the joyous crowd tight in his big amiable grip. (TS)

IYES

One of a number of Brighton based acts playing their home town festival, trio IYES find themselves in the homely surroundings of The Blind Tiger pub. As with the majority of the non-music venues stepping into the breach, it works very nicely indeed and the locals thrive in the intimate surroundings. Their electro pop may not be the most original sound of the weekend but the tunes are strong and in Melis Soyaslanova they have a cooler than cool frontwoman. (PU)

Night Engine

Such is the nature of TGE that many acts make the most of the opportunity and play multiple shows across the weekend. By the time we catch Night Engine at fringe venue The Mesmerist the Londoners are on their fourth outing, belying their status as one of the UK’s most talked about bands of the moment. Singer Phil is certainly worthy of the interest alone, imposing his presence on an audience that veer from the curious to the converted. Their sound is straight out of the David Bowie / Talking Heads school of enigmatic rock but there is certainly something about them that suggests all that hype might just be justified. (PU)

Parquet Courts

Playing back to back gigs at The Haunt followed swiftly by a festival closing set at The Loft, New Yorkers Parquet Court (pictured) know exactly how to smash their way through the middle of a rock n roll song, taking their guitars on the journey of a very short lifetime. Mixing hard garage punk bits with broken pieces of melody, they make a noise of kidney wobbling proportions that sends the Brighton crowd a moshing and a surfing themselves around the already sweaty interior. There is almost a mini-mosh riot when they are not allowed by the gig management to do an encore but the crowd all go home dripping and happy (eventually). (TS)

Peter Kernel

Neither a man called Peter nor even a solo artist, Peter Kernel are in fact a Swiss-Canadian trio who are fine exponents of art-punk, smashing into their guitars and each other, plowing a furrow through ‘Pixies on a bad trip’ territory. Barbara Lenhoff makes catherine wheels with her blonde hair, lighting up the Komedia Studio Bar and her byplay with fellow fronter Aris Bassetti holds together some serious sound, even if their time rolling around the floor together does cause Barbara’s bass some technical issues (ie. it breaks). (TS)

Soak

Although it may seem incongruous to spend time at a UK festival watching acts from home, it’s always tempting to see how Irish acts are faring in another territory. There’s certainly a buzz about Soak this weekend, not least from the audience in the Komedia Studio. It’s a potentially tough task for the performer but she does manage to silence the chatter with her twin weapons of beguiling songs and charming stage persona. She doesn’t quite manage to hold their interest for the full set but with every gig Bridie Monds-Watson is becoming a more accomplished performer and that career path is still very much on track. (PU)

Tellison

One of the great plus points of TGE is how the festival goers embrace the concept of new music, always expecting to find an undiscovered joy around the next corner, yet there are still some acts who are greeted like long lost friends. West Londoners Tellison may not mean an awful lot in State’s world but the Pav Tav is certainly excited to see them. What follows is one of those shows where all the various elements just fall into place. Enhanced passion is the order of the night – musically in a Hundred Reasons sort of way, crowd surfing up to the low ceiling from the punters – and we can’t helped but be thrilled by the whole thing. (PU)

Wounds

With the hardcore and punk scene in Ireland hardly expansive, it’s no surprise that Wounds have been plying their trade across the water – attracting support from the likes of Kerrang! They certainly draw an appreciative crowd to The Hope and respond by confronting them head on. Looking as messed up in person as they sound on record (Aiden Coogan is sporting a full on shiner), it’s quite the experience and one that easily puts them on a par with the US and UK bands doing the same sort of thing at the festival. Don’t be surprised if they fail to make it home much over the next while. (PU)

Reporting: Tim Smillie / Phil Udell