Back From a Great Escape


Written by Tshepo Mokoena
Photos and illustrations by Danielle Goldstein, Tshepo Mokoena
22 Sunday 22nd May 2011

It's hard to believe just how quickly another long weekend of live music flew by at Brighton's Great Escape this year. In the classic withdrawal symptoms technique, I've been reliving the manic experience by flicking through the program in awe of the line-up the booking team pulled together. Like SXSW on UK shores, the Great Escape is more of a true new music fan's festival: a lovely music geek-fest, in fact. Bands showing their chops (often each playing several gigs in a day) are either fresh off the blog hype bandwagon, recently signed or veterans on the indie scene. Here's a round-up of some of the best from our weekend on the coast.

Main Image: James Vincent McMorrow by Tshepo Mokoena
Cloud Control
Cloud Control by Danielle Goldstein
The first day at the Great Escape is typically the calmest, with several people only down for the weekend. It started menacingly murky, but things picked up just in time for the aptly-named Cloud Control. The trio took over the Relentless Energy Drink Street Gig stage at Jubilee Square, covering for an absent DELS. Their music is that of a pop sensibility heavily reliant on lush swells of vocal harmonies. Since they played a pared-down set for the acoustic stage, they came across all shimmery, folky and 'rootsy'. 
Big Deal
Big Deal by Danielle Goldstein
With just enough time to rush past pop-up gigs on the city's streets, it was onto Big Deal playing on the pier. We've already spoken to this duo about their music, and their no-drummer-necessary setup blew people away at Horatio's. Alice and KC sound just like a teen dreamer's bedroom musings, but in a way that's neither twee nor affected. Songs about school, homework and lust have never sounded so genuine and heartbreaking. That two guitar and vocal arrangement contrasted sharply with Canadians Suuns, who tore Audio to shreds within their first five minutes on stage. Ripping into 'Armed For Peace', they played a face-melting set with an intensity strong enough to lift any festival-goers feeling that early evening slump. 
PS I Love You
PS I Love You by Tshepo Mokoena
Day two kicked off with journo types already sinking their first pints by 11:45, in anticipation of Paperbag Records' PS I Love You playing early at the Prince Albert. A relatively new duo in the scuzz-pop world, they packed out the room. One of their four sold out gigs of the festival, the Albert was filled with singer Paul Saulnier's wailing vocal and the beautifully technical drumming of Benjamin Nelson. Shambolic textures mingled with a guttural organ sampler and ridiculously adept guitar solos on Saulnier's part. Four to the floor kick drums have rarely sounded as innovative as these guys make them. 
Oh Land
Oh Land by Tshepo Mokoena
The afternoon's Relentless Energy Drink Street Gig came from James Vincent McMorrow (top image), on a concrete feature jutting out into the ocean. His folky vocal, delicately finger-picked guitar and performance flair pleased everyone who squeezed onto that piece of rock in the swelling sea. Sets from Ghostpoet and Oh Land at Digital showed us what can happen when artists really do live up to the blog hype, with both sounding like seasoned performers beyond their years. Little Dragon rounded off the night with a set replete with electric energy and a contagious physicality. Hip hop collides with alternative pop so well when they're responsible for it.
2:54 by Danielle Goldstein
And so came the heartbreak day: the final leg of the festival, as dominated by 90s inspired fuzz-pop and art-prog. Braids started off proceedings with their own blend of twinkly pop, offset by shouty vocals and big prog breakdowns. Raphaelle Standell-Preston's Austra-like vocal contrasted with the groans, whispers and actual rap reeled off by EMA's Erika Anderson. Grungey guitars backed her almost brattish performance of new material, all crotch thrusts, Jack Daniel's swigs and microphone swings. London alt-industrial rock newcomers 2:54 opted for more of an introverted performance. The crowd had swiftly transformed into that of just about any Shoreditch night, with hipster hearts been broken with every swish of singer Colette Thurlow's hair. 
Yuck by Danielle Goldstein
Next that evening I pushed my way to the front of the room to watch Yuck give a stand-out performance of the weekend, crunching through their first album's material. More believable than The Pains Of Being Pure At Heart, these disgustingly young Londoners play Yo La Tengo-esque fuzz pop with tummy-wobbling bass and a beautifully focused intensity. They set us up perfectly for the madness of Factory Floor across town. Their house-inspired experimentalism sounded like the dark, pulsating montage club scene from a drug film. In a good way. After three hours sleep it was back to reality, and goodbye to the seaside.
Music lovers and industry types united to celebrate the greatness that is live performance. Nothing can really beat that, now can it? See you next year, Brighton.
Find out more about where Relentless Energy Drink will be this summer at

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