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By Mary Chang
on Thursday, 21st May 2015 at 2:00 pm
Part 1 of my Friday roundup at the Great Escape can be found here.
At the recommendation of my host in Brighton to check out the Old Market stage west of the city centre during the Great Escape 2015, I had hoped to see XL signing Empress Of play, as the schedule indicated two shows on the Friday. However, when I scanned her Twitter and Facebook, she made no mention of leaving the States for the Great Escape 2015 so all I can assume is that she must have cancelled at some point but the schedule was never amended. It then fell to my new SXSW 2015 buddy Rival Consoles to give me the electronic oomph I needed that night. I am proud to say I navigated the bus system in Brighton like a pro, arriving outside a hospital and finding St. George’s Church easily from there.
After arriving, I was really happy to be seeing a different kind of space than what I was used to in Brighton. The only other real church space I’d ever seen a show at in town was the Unitarian Church, and that was only briefly in 2013, where Marika Hackman held the room spellbound with her voice and guitar. St. George’s Church was a whole ‘nother matter: in addition to being a beautiful space with stained glass windows, you could sense the air filled with the power and glory that only a place of worship can offer, and that was before a single note was played.
Rival Consoles got to work on his consoles (no pun intended), thoughtfully turning knobs and pressing sequencer keys to craft several of his masterpieces live while a ever changing display of dots and lines pulsated on the projection screen behind him. The acoustics, as you can imagine for a cavernous, sparsely furnished space like a church, made for incredible music. It was, in an word, awesome. When he was finished, the applause was deafening.
Then it was back on the bus into town, where I snuck in for the last couple of songs by Hooton Tennis Club, who were playing the BBC Introducing stage at Shooshh. Everyone I know it seems has gone gaga over their Heavenly Records’ laid back single ‘Jasper’, but I’m still not convinced, and even less so after I saw them play. Having seen astronomyy there the night before, I know the sound system is decent, but all I could hear was loud, loud guitars and even louder drums, all muddied. Guess this music just isn’t for me.
Unfortunately for me, I arrived at Coalition minutes too late to be admitted for the press guest list. To be honest though, getting in halfway in the middle of Slaves’ set list was sufficient for me to get a flavor of what the live Slaves experience is like. They were scheduled to play at the NME showcase Saturday night at the Corn Exchange but somehow I just felt that Coalition would be the better place to see them at, and I am pretty sure I was on the mark with this one. Coalition is a dark, sweaty basement venue, just the right kind of atmosphere for the wild antics of punk rockers Isaac Holman and Laurie Vincent.
In the vein of Brighton’s own Royal Blood, they’re a duo who really don’t give a monkey’s, but there is a comedic element to their music. It’s not all doom and gloom. These are guys who clearly never take things too seriously, as during the airing of recent single ‘Feed the Mantaray’, a man dressed in a manta ray suit jumped into the crowd and crowd surfed. I couldn’t help but laugh. The moshing and shouting reached a fever pitch during songs ‘The Hunter’ and ‘Cheer Up London’, and during set closer ‘Hey’, both members somehow found themselves crowd surfing, shirtless, to the crowd’s utter delight. What the hell did I just witness? I’m laughing about it now just typing this out.
Having not been tempted at all by any of the headliners – I’d already seen Kate Tempest at SXSW 2015 and had my fill of her in Austin and I had no interest in seeing Alabama Shakes, Skepta or JME – I thought I should probably see at least one big name I might not get a chance to see otherwise. The VEVO UK-sponsored Wagner Hall, where other friends caught young Derry singer/songwriter SOAK the night before, seemed to be just the ticket.
There is a lot of buzz about George the Poet at the moment, and how much of that comes off of Kate Tempest making social commentary through the spoken word can be quite the debate in certain circles. There is, however, no denying that the man has incredible charisma as a performer, which is crucial for any entertainer and even more so if your craft is dependent on the word. George Mpanga has an interesting take on things, having graduated from Cambridge despite being talked down to by a teacher who said he shouldn’t even have tried to apply. But his mother believed in him. And in response to support the disenfranchised and in his words “if I can embody a viable alternative, the idea that it might be OK to stay in school, to aspire to university, then people will hear what I’m saying”, he writes to educate but also to entertain.
The live experience begins unusually with hip hop performer Shelz the Dancer and Mpanga is joined onstage at times by blonde sidekick and sometimes support act Tom Prior. Generally, Mpanga’s messages lean towards the positive and when they don’t, they seek to inform those who might not know or understand circumstances because, as we all know, knowledge is power. The only moment I cringed was during his song ‘Gentleman’, where he describes how girls with low self-esteem sleep around because they’re looking for love in all the wrong places. I get the sentiment and where he’s trying to go with it but the story he tells seems to suggest he took advantage of such a girl and it’s hardly a sympathetic angle, is it?
The headliner for the night were the Cribs from Wakefield, whose mere headline appearance to an essentially hometown crowd at Live at Leeds 2015 threw everyone in town off schedule. The trio, ubiquitous live since the release of their latest album ‘For All My Sisters’ on Sony in March, hadn’t played in Brighton for several years and naturally, a good portion of Great Escape 2015 wristband holders were chomping at the bit to see them play live. I give props to the security at Wagner Hall, because they kept a close watch on how many people were allowed into the performance space, ensuring it was not dangerously crowded. Which you can imagine is a major problem when a band like the Cribs perform, a band that notoriously invites and incites wild moshing at their shows. You’re probably wondering why someone who has claustrophobia would venture into a rowdy mosh pit late on a Friday at a music festival, but I have to say, having not seen the Cribs live in 3 years, I was curious. (Although I stood my ground pretty well, I do wish to thank the photographers and their gear near me, as I basically dove for cover into their crowd when things got to be too much.)
While songs from ‘For All My Sisters’ seemed requisite given it was the band’s most recent release, in general it was the much older material – in particular, ‘I’m a Realist’, a particularly boisterous version of ‘Mens’ Needs’ and the Johnny Marr-era ‘We Share the Same Skies’ – that really got the crowd riled up. I don’t know if it was a matter of where I was stood in the performance room, but the audio didn’t sound as crisp and good as I would have expected a VEVO-sponsored venue to have. Make no mistake, the lighting rig and other production values at Wagner Hall made for a classy experience, I was just really surprised that the sound wasn’t any better.
At the end of the day though, it wasn’t so much as how good the Cribs sounded to their fans as how physical and mental their performance was. This was evidenced by the antics by the Jarman twins at the end, with both Ryan and Gary seemingly all too eager to destroy their guitars by launching them directly into their amps. If that isn’t rock ‘n’ roll, I don’t know what is. Below you can watch VEVO UK’s recap of Friday’s performances at Wagner Hall, including interviews with the artists by Radio 1’s Phil Taggart and a fleeting glimpse of yours truly.
By Mary Chang
on Thursday, 21st May 2015 at 11:00 am
While Friday at the Great Escape 2015 wasn’t a blazing scorcher by any means, we were able to put the brollies away and the hardier types were already tucking into their pints and all before the noon hour. As described in the second half of my Thursday roundup, one of the things that stuck in my craw all festival was the fact that there seemed to be queues everywhere. Coming off a less well attended than usual SXSW 2015 where I could get in most everywhere I needed to with my badge, the queue situation in Brighton was getting old and fast. After being turned away at the Komedia Studio Bar for the Dutch Impact showcase where I had hoped to see electronic duo Tears and Marble, I had to be content to go back to the Prince Albert and the Music from Ireland showcase.
In my failed attempt to get in for the Dutch show, I had sadly already missed one of my faves from SXSW 2015, Orla Gartland, and instead joined the throngs waiting for the Riptide Movement, noted by my holiday host in Dublin the week before as his favourite live act in Ireland at the moment. You couldn’t get a better vote of faith, could you? As also alluded to in my review of Tropics‘ late night appearance in the same venue Thursday, the Prince Albert is not for the faint-hearted when rammed. Still, I figured it was early enough in the afternoon and people wouldn’t be (that) pissed. That said, being Irish, they’re probably used to playing to raucous, inebriated crowds.
Frontman Mal Tuohy does an excellent job of rallying his troops for what ends up becoming a stomping singalong on songs like ‘You and I’. Do you remember what Mumford and Sons sounded like when they first brought out ‘Roll Away Your Stone’ in their early shows live and everyone was behind them? There is that same ‘I feel good, I feel alive’ element in the Riptide Movement that is very appealing and easily so to everyone, where everyone feels included, and you can also tell they’re having loads of fun like early Vaccines too, which is immediately felt by their audience. It seems to pretty much be a no-brainer that they’ll be the next big rock band out of Ireland on the basis of the strength of their energetic and unapologetically so live show.
Back outside, it was time to head over to the PRS Foundation’s showcase at the Dome Studio Bar, where Boxed In were playing third on an amazing afternoon bill starring SXSW 2015 alums Jay Prince, Spring King and PINS. I guess people were itching to see earlier shows on Friday because again, I was faced with a queue and the sinking feeling I would never get in to see any of the show, trying to hold my fist back from waving because I could hear the distant patters of ‘Mystery’ and felt annoyed I was not inside. I finally made it in halfway through their set, the place packed and I felt very lucky to have seen them perform at the much smaller Nation of Shopkeepers at Live at Leeds 2 weeks previous. I was confused though, as Boxed In mastermind Oli Bayston said this afternoon show would be an acoustic performance, and this most definitely was not one.
No matter though. The crowd whooped it up, dancing to and clearly enjoying the unique blend of keys, pop and dance Bayston had concocted for his self-titled debut album released last year on Moshi Moshi, the grooveathon known as ‘Foot of the Hill’ providing a set highlight. Due to a miscommunication, a previously arranged interview with mastermind Oli Bayston fell through; I hope to pick that back up sometime while they’re on tour, so you’ll have to wait a bit longer for it. Amusedly, while I was waiting around for this interview that didn’t happen, I nearly got stepped on by one of the girls from PINS who was trying to set up onstage; she apologised profusely and I told her not to worry about it at all.
Walking back onto New Road, a band was setting up under the Metro Free Gigs Airstream awning for what would be the Bullet Stage. They hadn’t started playing but I recognised that quiff…wait a minute. That’s the Dunwells from Leeds, isn’t it? Indeed it was. I had no idea I’d run into the band just walking around Brighton like this but I hung around as a large group of people amassed to watch this open air concert. A homeless man and his dog camped out in front of the group, keen on hearing this band play, the man enthusiastically clapping for them. For a show taking place in the middle of the madness, I think it went well, with EP title tracks ‘Show Me Emotion’ and ‘Lucky Ones’ sounding grand and much more fuller and richer live than on record.
A bit later on, it was time to do some Alternative Escape gigging. First up on my agenda was Get Inuit, who were performing as part of Alcopop Records’ showcase at the Pav Tav. Like an idiot, I was looking for an actual venue with a marquee reading “Pav Tav” and it wasn’t until I put two and two together that all I was looking for was the actual Pavilion Tavern. (Yes, it was my first time trying to find the place. ::insert canned laughter here::) I’ve been quite interested to hear the Kent four-piece play their self-described “dirty-pop” to a Brighton crowd. Bless frontman Jamie Glass, he’s got this nerdy yet very adorable way of addressing the crowd in between songs, coming up with connections no-one else would ever think of, such as trying to come up with an alternative nickname for the people of Brighton without insulting them. Anyone else would get bottled but with his self-deprecation, he gets away with it.
In another pleasant surprise of the afternoon, I was pleased to witness that Get Inuit are actually a harder-rocking band that the previous self description might lead you to believe. I suppose the pop label is more a nod to the catchy melodies of their songs, but phwoar, when they play, it’s loud, guitars and hair are flying, and everyone’s having a good time. ‘Cutie Pie, I’m Bloated’ is a prime example of this, where you can help yelling along with them, “I wanna be your stick in the mud!” while not really understanding exactly (or caring) what that means. Footstomper ‘Mean Heart’, which we gave away as a free MP3 of the Day last month, didn’t disappoint either, with James Simpson’s guitar bangings much appreciated. Huw Stephens is already a fan, so why aren’t you one yet?
Bar Rogue is on the seafront-facing side of the Royal Albion Hotel, and it’s where Earworm Events put on a 3-day onslaught of bands while the Great Escape 2015 rumbled on in other locales in Brighton. I arrived while London’s Longfellow were still soundchecking, so I guessed there were technical issues, later coming to a head when Ali Hetherington’s keyboard stopped working for a moment.
Save for the nonexistent lighting that made my photography near impossible, the setup was fantastic: just as frontman Owen Lloyd quipped, the intimacy felt like you were playing in someone’s living room. Compared to their Live at Leeds 2015 set, I had arrived early and was present for the whole thing, able to fully enjoy the grandeur of early single gem ‘Siamese Lover’ alongside newer EP tracks ‘Where I Belong’ and ‘Chokehold’.
Part 2 of my Friday coverage of the Great Escape 2015 follows this afternoon.
By Mary Chang
on Wednesday, 20th May 2015 at 2:00 pm
Part 1 of my Thursday (day 1) roundup of is this way.
Up front the seafront I went and back to Patterns to check in on some relatively new American friends. Philadelphia band Cold Fronts, who I met last year supporting Chicago’s Empires on their North American tour. At the time, they weren’t known outside of Philly and I had made the suggestion to frontman Craig Almquist that they had a vibe and sounded a lot like the Cribs (one of Almquist’s favourite bands) and to see if they could get in touch with the band to maybe support them one day. So Cold Fronts’ people called the Cribs’ people…and the next thing I hear, Cold Fronts are supporting the Cribs’ New York residency in March 2015 just prior to SXSW. Is that mad or what? See, kids? Dreams do come true. (A sidenote: when Mary Chang suggests you to do something to further along your career, it’s probably a good idea to do It. Because, you know, you might end up supporting the Cribs one day.)
Probably one of the biggest regrets I have from the Great Escape 2015 is leaving their set early to run up Brighton’s hill to see another band I’d heard good things about. As I was stood waiting for the Cribs the next night at Wagner Hall, a local musician and his girlfriend who were behind me were telling their other friends, “we saw these guys from America last night, they’re called Cold Fronts, they were amazing. The best part was when the singer got up top of the bar and started dancing!” And I missed that! ::grumble:: This was a sentiment that was repeated in multiple venues I stopped in for the rest of the festival, and I couldn’t help but feel proud to be an American once, knowing a band I like and support won over the Brits at a music festival across the pond.
There were two persistent themes throughout my time in Brighton during the Great Escape 2015: queues everywhere and equipment problems at venues. The latter proved problematic twice for my plans for the evening. I left Patterns early to go back up to the Brighthelm Centre in anticipation of catching CLAY
, a band from Leeds that sound like a more poppier Jungle on their early track ‘Oxygen’. Unfortunately, like Patterns that afternoon, the venue were facing a major delay in getting things sorted for the evening. I waited for a while, chatting to a fellow American who happened to be visiting London from her graduate school program in music in Valencia, Spain, but then realised my time would be better spent down at the Old Ship Paganini Ballroom, where I assumed I’d be seeing up and comer North West singer/songwriter Adam French.
His father befriended one of my American friends in an Irish pub the night before (I wasn’t there because I’d left her to go home and plan out my 3-day schedule – seriously, you can’t make this stuff up).
I arrived to the Paganini Ballroom to much confusion. After making my way to the front of the crowd, the music the band onstage was making didn’t match up to my idea of French, who sounded to my unsympathetic ear like another Ben Howard. No…these guys sound more like Friendly Fires, the first band I’d fallen in love with as a music blogger 6 years ago, crossed with the melodic guitars of Two Door Cinema Club and pop whiffs of The 1975. Interesting…
, fronted by Albert Cerny and his Czech buddies who split their time between Prague and London, I steeled myself based on Cerny’s bouncing around on stage that the music would quickly turn bog standard boring to me the way Bastille’s does, but phew, they didn’t. Incredible vibrancy in the music from Cerny and his mates, and their punters shouted their appreciation for the band, which Cerny himself said he was surprised about – I guess he thought they wouldn’t be well received, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. Their debut EP ‘We Are Making Love Again’ is out on Monday, and expect that – and them – to go stratospheric.
I couldn’t wait around for Adam French after all, because I had a hot date with a man who had so far proved very elusive. astronomyy had been given a shout to SXSW 2015 but turned it down, so I assumed I’d be able to see him live finally at Live at Leeds 2015. Thanks to the HiFi Club being plagued with equipment issues, it was not meant to be, though he amused himself after the incident by checking out the bands at Nation of Shopkeepers, stood behind me while I was photographing Boxed In but was too bashful to say hi (I really don’t bite!) while I had no idea whatsoever.
Whatever happened before meant nothing now though, stood under the overly bright lights of Shooshh’s stage and prepared to be amazed. Shall we say I was not disappointed in the slightest? astronomyy seems to me a master of production and the studio, but from what I have read, he is new to the live scene, so these series of shows and festival appearances this spring are like a baptism by fire. Songs like the upbeat ‘When I’m With U’ feel like the next logical, soulful, more chill progression from my previous love Friendly Fires, maybe if the xx had convinced their former touring buddies that less is actually more. If not readily apparent from listening to his music online, he also plays a mean guitar, which is a surprising fact that makes the live experience the more awesome. It’s kind of like finding out the guy you fancy also knows how to bake cupcakes – ooh.
There is a fragile beauty to the minimalist nature of astronomyy’s music that I find intoxicating. This is not hit you over the head with production kind of r&b (you know who I am talking about), nor is it the kind that turns me off in a second with all of its swearing and awful language (though, okay, there is some occasionally), but to me the vibe is so strong and more important. If you read the lyrics, ‘Nothin On My Mind’ is about finding that perfect love that transports you to another place and time, where nothing else matters. That is a good way of explaining what good music does to a music fan: it takes you away from anything that is hurting you and puts you on a higher, better plane. I don’t know, maybe I have just bored you with my waxing philosophical on astronomyy, but yes, the man’s music does something to me very special and I am looking forward to hearing much more from him.
Maybe I should have called it quits after having a near religious experience with astronomyy at Shooshh, but I thought I should try and shoehorn artists #10 (NYC singer/songwriter duo Jack and Eliza
, who I caught just minutes of at Patterns upstairs after leaving Shooshh) and #11 into my Thursday after deciding a very late night set by Belgian electronic artist Mugwump
(who would have been #12) at Sticky Mike’s Frog Bar was not in the cards. Tropics
, aka Chris Ward, was scheduled to perform at the Prince Albert, whose upstairs performance space I generally avoid because it’s always hot and sweaty and therefore deathly claustrophobic. I don’t have fond memories of seeing my first Great Escape band ever
, Francois and the Atlas Mountains, in that room. But a music editor’s work is never done, so in I charged.
How Ward was wearing long sleeves and looking so relaxed, I have no idea. I guess he and his band were in the zone. Two women next to me were throwing shapes and not to the rhythm of the songs, so I think it’s safe to say they were very, very drunk. The atmospheric ambient music of Ward, from the sexiness of ‘House of Leaves’ to the soulful ‘Rapture’, demands a captive audience (I think anyway) and while there were plenty of appreciative punters at the Prince Albert, the overall amount of squeezing, pushing and shoving around in that relatively small space distracted me from enjoying Ward’s craft. Suffice to say, I hope I get an opportunity to listen to his music in a much more relaxed way one day when sweat is not pouring down my face and I haven’t been running around for the last 12 hours. One day. Soon. I hope.
By Mary Chang
on Wednesday, 20th May 2015 at 11:00 am
Ah yes, Brighton. London by the sea, rainbow flags a-flyin’, the smell of skunk hanging in the air if you walk down the wrong alley (or most places if it’s sunny), a place populated by way too many aggressive seagulls. It has been 2 years since TGTF last stepped foot in the seaside town to cover the annual emerging music festival here, which of course is The Great Escape 2015. Some things have happened since John and me were last in Brighton and due to some things in 2014 transpiring to keep us away (and I think for good reason too, if you want to get all moody and astrological about it), it was time for my return.
Within 30 minutes of leaving the flat I’d booked for the duration, the Great Escape 2015 wasted no time to remind me of my first rain-drenched event here in 2012. Like a scene out of Mary Poppins, my brolly turned inside out, pieces fell off and yes, it became entirely inoperable. Somehow after getting my photo pass from the press centre in the Dome, then getting lost (a recurring theme when I’m running behind schedule) I made it to the Brighthelm Community Centre without looking like a wet cat; the place is connected to a church and it was where the Creative Scotland afternoon showcase would be kicking things off. First up were the rough and tumble Model Aeroplanes, who you readers are aware I’m a big fan of. You might think that at 12 noon on as dreary of a day as it was, they were unlikely to draw a sizable crowd.
Wrong. The lively four-piece all the way from Dundee were raring to go, and a pretty packed out room awaited them. ‘Deep in the Pool’ is their latest single, and as their past releases, it’s a fun little guitar number that I expect will go down well in front of festival crowds this summer, as will recent tropical-tinged single ‘Club Low’. However, I still have a soft spot for earlier songs such as ‘Whatever Dress Suits You Better’ and the lovely honeyed way ‘Innocent Love’ has about it, and their guitar-swinging energy was just what Brighton needed on the rainy start to the festival. The band also brought me a gift: bottle of very special Dundee marmalade down with them, which was a very sweet and nice touch – thank you lads!
From the footloose and fancy free and sunny indie pop / rock of the opening band, The Merrylees couldn’t be more different. Having already supported the likes of legends Paul Weller (in town to play a not so secret show on Saturday) and Richard Hawley, the Merrylees are clearly on to something, but what that is might be marmite for at least part of the British population, the six-member strong band finding themselves galloping away on a country/western-themed bent for most of the set.
Confusingly, lead singer Ryan Sandison of the group has a haircut and dresses all in black like Alex Turner, yet when he opens his mouth, he sounds nothing like the Sheffielder, instead alternating between a croonery vocal style (ah, so now the Hawley connection makes sense!) and the theatrical, as if he’s playing to a cabaret in the West End, not a community centre rec room this afternoon. The cautionary tale in ‘It’s Catching Up With You Now’ is dark Hawley-esque territory, as is the haunting beautiful ‘Turn for the Strange’, and their debut single produced by Bill Ryder-Jones, ‘For You’, barely skirts the psychedelic line until heralding horns kick up the dust. Definitely unique, but I wonder if they can really make a go of it. I bid my adieus to new Scottish friends made and master of ceremonies, BBC Radio Scotland’s Vic Galloway, and emerge to head down in the direction of the seafront to immerse myself with music from another part of the UK. (Hint, not England…)
What used to be known as Audio on Marine Parade was just recently refurbished, turning into another nightclub called Patterns. I’m actually disappointed that I can’t tell you the place has changed dramatically and for the better – all that really obvious to me was that the stage in the upstairs performance space was rotated 90 degrees and the actual stage was made lengthwise longer. I’m never in a club long enough nor do am I there to check out the cocktails or the clientele. The upstairs area Thursday afternoon was host to the Gorwelion Horizons showcase being put on by Music Wales. No stranger to the funding project after meeting funding recipients The People the Poet at SXSW 2015 in March, I was eager to see who else was on the Welsh music radar and also to meet BBC Radio Wales presenter Bethan Elfyn, who appreciated the work I’d done in reporting on their show in Austin.
The venue was running at least an hour late, as when I arrived after getting a bite and a drink in a pub, I assumed I would enter in the midst of Cut Ribbons’ set. No, the tall, leggy blonde Casi, with her soulful vocal stylings, had yet to perform. The Bangor-born beauty and her band crafted a very pop, radio-friendly sound that I can see having massive mainstream appeal. I prefer the icy crunchiness of a track like ‘Grace’, while Radio 1’s Huw Stephens favours for his Radio 1 programme ‘Roads’, with its syncopated r&b beats.
Cut Ribbons were to close out the Gorwelion Horizons showcase, and they’re definitely more my bag. Fusing the best elements of electronic, rock and even a little pop, the London via Llanelli group also employ alternating and harmonising male/female fronting vocals, which I can always get behind. ‘Walking on Wires’ has a relentless rhythm and anthemic quality, almost as if Kodaline had gone much more electronic and added a female frontwoman to join Steve Garrigan. If you are a fan of Prides, you will want to take note of Cut Ribbons too; the Glaswegians remixed the Welsh band’s ‘Bound in Love’. I reckon they will be future touring buddies once Prides’ debut album on Island Records is out in July.
This is also the kind of music you want playing while you fall in love with someone under a mirrorball in a club. Well, I do anyway, in my dreams. (I assume John has a completely different kind of fantasy, probably involving Josh Homme and Dave Grohl beating some guitars in.) Pardon the cliché, but ‘Clouds’ lets you float satisfyingly, the synth notes and guitar notes springy, while the main vocal lines are gentle until the chorus pulls you in with “…and that’s what lovers should do.” Vigorous nod. Yes.
After a brief break for food and drink, it was down to the Arch to check out two bands at what was formerly known as Digital. Along with the new to me dance club Shooshh and our old friend Coalition where we hosted the TGTF stage in 2011 (starring a then-unknown Foster the People, I might add), The Arch is one of several true seafront clubs in Brighton. Clash Magazine’s night there began with STAL, an electronic trio from Paris. Well, at least I thought they would be straight electronic and that would be the end of it. That would have been perfectly fine with me, because I love electronic and if they kept laying down big beats and synths, I would have been a very happy panda.
STAL, however, had other plans for us. I’m still not sure exactly how to explain what I witnessed. I’ve never heard of the band and neither had another music editor friend of mine who was also at the Arch, and I was just gobsmacked by the amount of singing along – and screaming and squealing – there was by the girls down the front, who then went over the barrier and crawled onstage to get their set lists after the band finished. How on earth did we ever miss these guys? Upon further examination of STAL’s Soundcloud, you learn that STAL is actually the stage name of Pierre-Marie Maulini, who acts as lead vocalist, guitarist and synth player live.
Because they are both French, I think STAL will be inevitably compared to M83; nevertheless, I find the celebratory, positive feel good vibes of STAL’s ‘Gone’ to be a real winner eclipsing anything I’ve heard from Anthony Gonzalez (I know, them’s fighting words), while the interesting juxtaposition of otherworldy synths and banging guitars on ‘Burning Desire’ live reminds me oddly enough of the bombast you might feel at, say, a Muse concert. I have heard the complaint on occasion that electronic music is too fey, too feminine, not manly enough. Well, listen up. If a bunch of Frenchmen like this can make electronic sound muscular, have a listen and you might change your mind.
Neon Waltz were next up on the Clash showcase. Another six-member band, it seemed trying to fit them and all their gear onstage at the Arch would be a difficult feat, but they got it to work. The band from Caithness in Scotland just released their debut EP on Atlantic Records in April, ‘First Light’, so it’s still early days for them. I really liked what I heard on the EP, so I was disappointed when I heard them play ‘Sombre Fayre’ Thursday night, the gentle beauty of the lead vocal on the records lost against the harder instrumentation. I’m guessing the mix in the club wasn’t right, since an electronic band performed before them. Or maybe having so many instruments on stage was muddying up the overall sound? I’d be really curious if they are ever in for a Sofar Sounds session or something similarly acoustically just how different it would be.
Part 2 of Thursday’s coverage at the Great Escape 2015 follows this afternoon.
By Mary Chang
on Thursday, 7th May 2015 at 2:00 pm
Part 1 of my Live at Leeds coverage is this way. For more of my photos from the event, check out my Flickr.
After the highs achieved and all before the 5 o’clock hour at Live at Leeds 2015, I suppose it was inevitable that there would be some kind of letdown ahead. Any music writer will try and map out a reasonable festival schedule that doesn’t have you running yourself ragged, but that too is an inevitable part of the festival experience for us, whether we’re in Austin, New York, Sydney, Liverpool or Brighton. However, the one thing you can never really plan for technical difficulties or cancellations.
There was no mention at all on her Facebook page – and the complete lack of a Twitter account didn’t help either; take note, bands: your fans really do want to know if you’ve decided to pull out of a major event – so it was with much disappointment to learn at the press area Saturday morning that Lonelady, the only show I had pencilled in at the Belgrave Music Hall and the main electronic draw for me all day, had been replaced by someone else. I will say that the sting was slightly taken off by the Patty Smith’s Dirty Burgers Chris and I had eaten there for lunch, as they were without a doubt some of the most delicious burgers I’ve ever had.
In my mind, it was to be left to Worcestershire’s astronomyy to pick up Lonelady’s slack and bring out the beats. I will say first that I have no idea about all the specs and details it takes to run a music venue, but the HiFi on Central Road certainly upset a whole lot of people Saturday in Leeds. What should have been a huge celebration of all things electro and soul in their basement venue turned into a massive problem, which I should have guessed when I ran from the Academy down to the club and astronomy hadn’t even started performing yet. After waiting probably an additional half hour after his appointed starting time, venue staff announced astronomyy would not be going on at all. Boos and jeering began and sadly, it would not be the last of such at the HiFi.
I used the downtime to visit with my Wakefield friend Matt Abbott, a friend of mine who formerly made a name for himself in music as the wordsmith behind Skint and Demoralised, is now a spoken word artist, performing as part of A Firm of Poets, who were at the featured lineup at the Black Swan, part of the Fringe portion of Live at Leeds. I mention the Fringe, as even if you’re skint (no pun intended) or don’t fancy paying for a wristband to Live at Leeds proper, there is still plenty on in town during the weekend that’s free and open to the public if you fancy it.
After we said our goodbyes, I thought it would be a good idea for me to head up to A Nation of Shopkeepers to see what the fuss was about BAD//DREEMS. I have pretty bad claustrophobia – I famously requested my biology midterm exam seat assignment in a university lecture hall be changed one semester, as I had been given a desk directly next to a wall – so this turned out to not be ideal for me at all; the place was packed, which was great, but after I had successfully passed the event bouncer who let me into the place, I found myself pinned in from all sides from people either trying to get drinks from the bar or those who refused to be kind and to make way for anyone else.
I suppose it’s your right to be territorial if you’ve gotten to a venue early and wish to stay, but some people were getting very tetchy and unhappy and it got to the point where I felt like I was going to faint and I had to leave. I did hear BAD//DREEMS’ music through a window outside and I very much enjoyed the guitar rock I did hear. If anything, the crammed in like sardines atmosphere suggests that the people of Leeds were very keen on seeing and hearing the Aussie band play, which is really fantastic for a band so far away from home. They’ll be in Sheffield tonight (the 7th of May) at the Rocking Chair, and I hope I get out of the airport quick enough to see them.
A return to the HiFi to see electro soul duo Honne and their full band setup including a bass player, drummer and a backing singer was worth the wait. However, because of the delays introduced by the astronomyy set that never materialised, the entire day’s lineup was delayed, causing some already drunk by then Yorkshire youths to start acting up, shouting insults in Honne’s direction. I feared a riot , which wouldn’t have been great since the HiFi space is in a basement, so you’ve really got nowhere to run.
Thankfully, they were able to get their act together (literally) and played a truncated yet satisfying set, including the Hype Machine favourite ‘Warm on a Cold Night’, which I imagine will be the song all of their fans will request for years to come. The equally soulful ‘All in the Value’ was another set highlight. Seek out their just released this week EP ‘Coastal Love’ on their own Tatemae Recordings.
As I was stood down the front for Honne, I couldn’t help but fret that I really should have left in the middle of their set to get to Leeds Town Hall for Dutch Uncles, who released their third album ‘O Shudder’ in February. If I’m entirely honest, I was hoping for an appearance of Muncan alongside frontman Duncan Wallis for the track ‘Decided Knowledge’. While I was fretting, I was scanning Twitter to see if there was any point to head there, figuring that the Cribs’ appearance later in the evening likely meant there’d be a massive queue for the hometown boys. Someone had posted a photo of the queue already forming hours ahead of the Cribs’ set, so I skipped them in favour of food, which is a necessary part of festival life, even if you have to force yourself to eat!
Trudging back up to A Nation of Shopkeepers, I arrived at the venue in the middle of a set by all-girl group Jagaara from North London. Punters were gushing over their music, which doesn’t sound all that unique to me: guitars, electronics, female voices, this is well-trod upon ground, folks. I guess I’ll have to investigate them more to form an educated opinion.
I was really at Shopkeepers for Boxed In, whose appearance at Blackjack London and AIM’s Friday night showcase at SXSW 2015 was super fun. I, along with Boxed In mastermind Oli Bayston, were about to be bowled over by the reception in Leeds. I spoke to several people in the audience prior to their set and they all said they had Boxed In’s debut album released last year and couldn’t wait to see the band perform. (Bayston and co. weren’t supposed to be my last band of Live at Leeds; I had intended to stay for the last band Real Lies. But due to technical difficulties at the venue and nearly an hour of waiting after Boxed In, getting my ears pummeled by squeals from the speakers that weren’t supposed to happen and no actual music, I called it a night.)
Running just a mere 5 minutes behind schedule, as soon as Bayston played his first keyboard note, the crowd turned the place into a vibrant dance party. The irrepressible rhythm of ‘Foot of the Hill’ encouraged the ladies to my right to do the dance equivalent of Peter Crouch’s robot moves, arms and legs flailing; ‘Mystery’, the Boxed In radio hit everyone was waiting for caused everyone to shake their tail feather.
As someone who spends a good part of her time trying to promote dance music as a fellow fan, to be able to witness such a spectacle and with so many people enjoying themselves watching a electropop act was equal parts validating and exciting. Fantastic. What a wonderful way to end my first Live at Leeds experience. Fingers crossed I will return next year!
By Mary Chang
on Wednesday, 6th May 2015 at 2:00 pm
For more of my photos from Live at Leeds 2015, visit my Flickr.
It’s always a bit daunting to come to a brand new city and hit the ground running at a music festival you’ve heard about for years and have only heard the highest praise for it. Such was my personal trepidation ahead of Live at Leeds 2015, the 9th annual installment of an event where artists descend on the West Yorkshire town, drawn in like moths to a flame.
I’ve no idea how anyone ever did this festival prior to the advent of the smartphone. It seemed by the time I finally sussed the lay of the land and knew where all the venues were, it was all over. In between 11 AM of picking up our press credentials at the First Direct Arena until midnight, the 13 hours were packed with bands; running around to see said bands; catching up with friends, many of whom were in some of those said bands, but others who were new mates; and familiarising myself and falling in love with nearly every venue I had the pleasure of stepping into. I’d like to take this opportunity to thank everyone for their kindness, hospitality, good food, and of course the amazing music that makes an event like this so worthwhile, ensuring my first Live at Leeds experience was a good one.
Despite the intention I set for myself at every festival – “Don’t get lost!” – construction and obstructed signage at the Leeds Coach Station turned me around and made me late for Longfellow performing at the Wardrobe on the east side of the city centre. The group from London recently released the new EP ‘Remedy’ on Fierce Panda Records (read my review of it here) and were eager to perform in front of their first-ever audience in Leeds. Ever the testament to the city as supportive to the British music scene, the 1 PM gig was well attended. Good on you, Leeds!
I arrived just in time for EP standout ‘Where I Belong’, showing their knack for anthemic songwriting. Their set also included BBC 6 Music stalwart ‘Kiss – Hug – Makeup’, another EP number ‘Chokehold’ and what frontman Owen Lloyd calls “their birthday song” they bring out for celebrations, ‘May the Light’, which appears on their 2014 mini-album ‘Prelude’. Longfellow’s set ended on a high note with live fan favourite ‘Medic’.
Staying put at the Wardrobe, I got a full dose of Racing Glaciers. I have to admit in recent years, I’ve had a jaded eye for any band that has a synthesiser set up centre stage; I’m half expecting a couple of plinky-plonky notes being dropped not for any good reason but just because it’s required these days. Seeing that they appeared directly after Longfellow and also have a keyboard player, logic would dictate that the sound system would make Racing Glaciers’ anthemic style I sussed from them on record translate to something similar sounding to the Londoners who played before them. Instead, the massive loudness and brashness from the band from Macclesfield, including, dare I say it some funky bass notes live, suggest to me that they’re a band who should not be so easily pigeon-holed. Their self-titled and ‘Don’t Wait for Me’ EPs certainly deserve further attention.
After a brief catch-up on the way with TGTF friends The Orielles who had just finished their own gig at Leeds Beckett Stage 2, I was on to my third band of the day. I had a general idea that I would be trekking north and upwards towards the Mine in the Leeds Uni Student Union, but I had no idea the labyrinthine path Google Maps had laid out for me would take me up steps of Rocky-isian proportions. But if there’s anything that will inspire me to get somewhere and quickly, it’s a band.
Half out of breath by the time I reached Leeds Uni, I arrived just in time for the final soundchecking by Oxford indie pop band Pixel Fix, whose ‘Running Thin’ EP of summer 2014 was one of my favourites from last year. They have that poppy, bouncy synth thing going that’s not quite as dancey as Friendly Fires but nearly there (see ‘Lungs’) and that’s where they shine; I’m not as convinced by the oozy, woozy, r&b jam attempts but hey, that’s what sells on Radio 1. What is entirely evident is the undeniable energy that can only radiate from youth, with frontman Marcus Yates definitely looking the part with his spiky blonde hair. With the right kind of promotion, Pixel Fix are the kind of band you expect playing to a crowd of screaming teenagers in a venue near you. Soon.
Despite my prior impression that the place would only be filled with hipster uni kids bopping their heads side to side to the beat, there were plenty of adults too, many of them chatting with each other and saying how good this band was and how quickly they expected them to “make it”. This isn’t a common occurrence from where I come from, so I base on these overheard conversations that the older generation of Leeds music fans has excellent taste and hopefully good prescience!
What goes up must come down, yes? Or so the saying goes. Once I figured out how to get to and up to Leeds Uni, it was reasonably quick work to get back into the city centre. In my rush to not be late to my next band appointment, rushing through the corridors of Leeds Student Union, I nearly collided headfirst into Tom Ogden (you can’t miss him with that gorgeous, flowing Pantene hair of his) and the rest of Stockport psych band Blossoms, who were checking out bands before their set at the Stylus later that day.
Following a quick hello and a run back into town, I was at the Academy, whose front door oddly shares frontage space with pretty amazing Gothic architecture (the whole thing is a Grade II listed building). As much as I adore Oxford’s Stornoway, Leeds Academy has a capacity of 2,300 in the main space, and I had a hard time believing their folk pop sound would translate well into such a cavernous location.
Boy, was I wrong. As I am sat here typing this up while on holiday in Ireland, it occurred to me yesterday while seeing a larger than life mural of U2 on the side of a building in Temple Bar that Bono has nothing on Brian Briggs at this point. I enjoyed a good portion of their third and latest album ‘Bonxie’ that was released a short time ago on Cooking Vinyl, but I found the collection uneven and hoped against hope that the new tracks would sound amazing live.
At least I was right on the mark with that prediction! My feeling is they had such a good time working with an outside producer for the first time, it freed them as both musicians and people, and it gave them just the right encouragement to step outside their comfort zone that perhaps they might not have felt without working with Gil Norton. Straight out of the gate, frontman Briggs seemed much more at ease speaking to a throng of people than I have seen him ever, which was incredibly good timing, seeing that a massive crowd had assembled at the Academy to see his band play.
Their opening salvo ‘Between the Saltmarsh and the Sea’, smartly continuing the Stornoway tradition of artfully arranged harmonies, was simply and devastatingly beautiful, its expansiveness reaching into every nook and cranny of the Academy and certainly into each and every heart present in the venue, and album single ‘The Road You Didn’t Take’ followed suit. The uplifting nature of both ‘Get Low’ and ‘Lost Youth’ can’t be beat, and in a surprising turn of events, a rousing, folk-ified cover version of Yazz’s ‘The Only Way is Up’ had fangirls and fanboys of all ages singing along – loudly, I might add – to the Oxfordians. Nods to their early years with 2010’s ‘Beachcomber’s Windowsill’ were also included, including an unexpected but completely appreciated dedication to your humble editor on ‘I Saw You Blink’. All in all, it was a performance that you couldn’t ask for anything more from. Except more songs: calls for an encore went sadly unheeded.
Stay tuned for part 2 of my Live at Leeds 2015 review, which will post tomorrow here on TGTF.