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By Mary Chang
on Thursday, 21st June 2012 at 4:00 pm
Brooklyn ‘it’ band Friends took the time out of their busy schedule in Brighton at this year’s Great Escape to perform the hit that broke them, ‘I’m His Girl’, for Bands in Transit. Not sure what is going on with Stephanie Urbani’s, um, style of dress, but watch it below and form your own opinion.
The band just released their debut album, ‘Manifest!’, on Lucky Number, and you can read Tom’s review of the album here.
By Mary Chang
on Thursday, 7th June 2012 at 4:00 pm
Mystery Jets were one of the hottest tickets in town at the Great Escape this year, with the Corn Exchange even shutting me out on the Thursday as they went delegate queue-less.
But all is not lost. The band – minus bassist Kai Fish, who has since left the group – performed two songs from their new album ‘Radlands’, ‘Greatest Hits’ and ‘Hale Bop’, for Bands in Transit. Evidently, this was filmed on the Friday as there’s a bright blue sky framing that Union Jack fluttering in the wind in this video. Enjoy it below.
My review of and more video from their performance at the Academy of Arts at Liverpool Sound City will premiere on TGTF soon.
By Mary Chang
on Wednesday, 6th June 2012 at 4:00 pm
I’m squeeing inside just typing up this post…
As many of you know, I just love the Crookes. But what song was the first of theirs I ever heard? Well, it was ‘Backstreet Lovers’, of course. I couldn’t not videotape it when I finally got to see them live, so here it is for your enjoyment as well.
By Mary Chang
on Thursday, 31st May 2012 at 1:00 pm
After a happy meetup with my NYC PR friend Marni and some finger food from the final press reception of this year’s Great Escape, I was on my own again. As a wheat allergy sufferer, finding food to go can be a bit of a challenge; for example, pasties aren’t too good for my body, and neither are sandwiches. I can have an occasional hamburger bun, but I try to avoid bread and pasta where I can. Knowing I had hours ahead of me for my last night at the festival, I decided to duck into the Yo Sushi! across the street from the Hub that I’d been eyeing for days. After a particularly unsuccessful time – I guess Brighton’s locals aren’t fans of raw fish, as I only managed 2 plates of salmon sushi after sitting there for 40 minutes – I up and went. Gutted.
My evening had to be restructured entirely on the announcement that Reverend and the Makers would no longer be supporting Africa Express Soundsystem, so to this day I still have yet to set foot and cover a show in the Dome. Next year. I had a difficult choices to make: I sadly had to give a pass to Perfume Genius at St. Mary’s Church because there was no way I’d get back up to the Pavilion Theatre and get in successfully for Beth Jeans Houghton and the Hooves of Destiny, a band I’d circled in red early on as a must see. Then there was some confusion in my mind who I should see before then. In a fit of slight desperation, I started reading the band descriptions in my now dog-eared schedule book for some guidance. I’d heard of Fanzine and thought maybe going to see Novella the band before them, might be interesting. Maybe. “Encountering drone and dream-pop with the same glassy-eyed nonchalance, London trio Novella may seem dazed, but their grass-roots credentials prove they’re far from confused.” They had also graced the Dome prior to Maximo Park’s appearance on Thursday night, so I thought, hmm, that’s a plan.
The Audio sign was relatively easy to find. I breathed a sigh of relief. However, a mix of drunk stag party participants spilling out on the pavement and actual festival goers made for bewilderment requiring me to ask the two bald guys out front for help. I don’t know what is up with most of the bouncers that work the Great Escape, but geez, when a woman comes and asks you a question nicely, is it so hard to answer truthfully and without nastiness or sarcasm? I got another “there’s no way in hell you’re getting in there” kind of response. Then I asked about Above Audio. “Oh, you can go right in there. There’s no queue.” Now you’re talking my language.
Funnily enough, Above Audio was where my mate Ed and his mates had gathered. “You’re not going to like this very much,” he commented about the first act up and Brighton locals Regal Safari. He meant because they’re chillwave, and this is true, I’m not a fan of that genre. But perhaps it was all the alcohol that was flowing, but I quite enjoyed their style of dance music so much I could feel my feet, though sore, still itching to move to the beat. After the set, my friends soon departed but I wasn’t alone for long.
Suddenly it was Blog Up all over again when Shell Zenner, Mike Bradford of the Recommender, Robin of Breaking More Waves and I found ourselves in the same patch of club space. Seriously, given the number of shows happening at that very moment in Brighton, what are the odds? (Also, how do we NOT have a single photo?!?) We exchanged advice and moans of conflicts remaining for our weekends and at Robin’s advice, I stayed for Gold and Youth, a Canadian band Paul Lester has compared to Depeche Mode. They’re an electronic band but in the ‘80s sense that seems to be a nostalgic bent a lot of bands are trying to ape. Not sure if I agree with their label Arts and Crafts’ description of “neo-noir Los Angeles, cinematic haze and midnight solitudes”. But there is a definite dark, brooding nature that history has shown works extremely well with industrial synth action going hand to hand with great songwriting, and if this one performance is anything to go by, I think this band – now augmented with a female singer and bassist! – will be going places. Watch some live videp of the band below. (Sorry for the guy who was walking back and forth in front of the camera; that was their roadie and I was already taking my chances standing on the stage…that said, I have to say that I love the fact that in most UK venues, you can video as much as you please. Not the way with American venues…)
I am sure it is quite ironic, seeing that I’m an American, that I’ve not seen Howler live before. However, I shouldn’t have even bothered to head to Komedia, as it felt like the whole of Brighton descended on that very venue’s upstairs for Alabama Shakes. (Zzz.) Should I tell you what the bouncer there said to me? I should. (Incidentally, he is the same bouncer that took a horrible photo of me with the Crookes that morning and demanded 5 quid for his trouble. Very funny.) I asked where Komedia upstairs was. “You’re not getting in, it’s one in, one out now.” (Please keep in mind that I had arrived an hour before Howler was due on stage, and nearly 3 hours before Alabama Shakes’ set time.) I asked if this was the line he was giving every single punter who asked (insinuating he was just putting out false information). He gave a stern look. “No, I’ve been saying that all night to compensate for my small penis.” And there you have it, folks.
You really can’t follow that up with anything else, so I asked how the capacity for the Komedia’s Studio Bar. Wordlessly, he pointed his bald head in the direction of the door. I have no idea why Komedia downstairs doesn’t put on shows at night – they have the space, so they should, why not? – but after getting a little lost (admittedly still buzzed from the cider imbibed at Above Audio) I finally made it to catch the last couple songs of JD McPherson, who is best described as a white man having a go at being Little Richard and succeeding. After the disappointment of not getting into Howler, this was an impressive find and unlike anything I expected to hear at the Great Escape this year. I imagined this must have been the way the Beatles felt when they first heard ‘Tutti Frutti’. Watch his video for ‘North Side Gal’ below.
I gave up the illusion I was getting close enough to take photos; the bar was packed full of sweaty revelers who hooted their approval for their new god. It might not have been the most inventive or original music at the festival, but who cares when you’ve got a whole room of very happy people? I was situated in the back, next to a group of girls in cute dresses and flower headband contraptions that must have taken forever to arrange. When I inquired – successfully – if they were part of a hen party and went on to declare my admiration for their outfits, I got hugs all around. Apparently they had not been treated well by the festival punters they’d spoken to, who had all declared that they were there specifically to get pissed. Their spokeswoman quickly clarified to me that it was the bride to be’s request that her hen do take place around the Great Escape because music is so important to her. That’s it. You’ve all been informed. When I’m getting married, I’m having my hen do around a music festival. That’s the way to do it!
Seeing that I had been thwarted on getting in on the venue Howler was playing way before the fact, I decided it was probably best if I stopped swanning about and headed to the Pavilion Theatre, where I would stay for the night. Not really sure how queues work for this place; maybe they counted everyone in the downstairs bar in the capacity? I arrived at the Club Uncut stage with the room half full, people sitting cross-legged on the floor while Hans Chew played. Jazz and blues are not my forte, unless there’s a definite rock ‘n’ roll edge to it (see JD McPherson above), and while he and his guitarist sounded well matched, I wasn’t feeling it.
I had another band to sit through, but “sit through” is the wrong phrase to use, because they actually got me up and hopping. Solar Bears, a Irish electronic duo, brought the beats and had me and my new friends (friends who actually enjoyed Django Django the night before and were being respectful and not shouting at each other!) and I were dancing up a storm. Yes, there were people being stupid and sitting on the floor still, but man, it was their loss. Apparently film scores and soundtracks play a big part in their musical upbringing, but I enjoyed what I considered a quite dynamic and fun electronic music experience.
Beth Jeans Houghton and the Hooves of Destiny. Ooh. I don’t think I was adequately prepared. I was disappointed they weren’t dressed up in multi-coloured outfits. But Beth herself explained to the audience that they had just come back from a tour of Europe and were exhausted, and she was wearing a t-shirt that belonged to a bandmate and after a cursory nasal check, announced that it smelled. (Er…TMI.) When people say a woman’s voice sounds like a songbird, I usually am let down when I finally hear the woman and find she sounds nothing like a bird. Beth Jeans Houghton doesn’t sound like a bird but her operatic tones give any bird on a tree near you a run of its money. On paper, you’d think that her style of singing wouldn’t work in the pop environment, and that’s where you would be wrong. But listen to a bit of the live performance of below and decide for yourself.
EMA followed with a down and dirty, grungey sound. And she had props! What looked like a hollowed out mirrorball hung from Erika M. Anderson’s mike stand. And for ‘Angelo’, she festooned herself with strings of lit Christmas lights; if you don’t believe me, watch the video below.
And that’s how my Great Escape ended, hanging with new friends and checking out a band I knew little about. Both things are what this festival was about. And I feel incredibly lucky I got to experience it this year, see 21 bands, and interview the Crookes. I feel quite isolated and alone in Washington, so something very special about the Great Escape was that it gave me the chance to meet so many bloggers and people involved in the music business in the welcoming realm of UK music that it gives me a fuzzy feeling just thinking about it. Same time, next year? Make mine a Kopparberg pear cider and I’ll see you down the front.
By Mary Chang
on Wednesday, 30th May 2012 at 2:00 pm
Being at the Great Escape can be surreal: wending your way through crowds; down unknown cobblestoned lanes, only to find yourself at a dead end; drinking to be sociable and to have fun but not drinking too much that you won’t remember anything the next day, for you have know you have to come up with not just intelligible but thought-provoking reviews. So there’s nothing like a bit of Real Life to put you squarely back in the present. As I was getting ready to take on Great Escape Day 3, I was stopped by a phone call from reception saying she had arrived.
My spot of Real Life was provided by my good friend Jennie; we are and have been sisters in the Duran Duran fandom for years. Obviously (but unlike most of the Guardian’s readership it appears), we are both chuffed that Duran Duran were chosen to play at this summer’s London Olympic Games. Jennie often reads my Facebook page for a laugh, if only to bemoan that she knows nothing about the ‘indie’ bands that fill up my time and cause my heart to go a-flutter. I explain to her that I’m going to see a band from Sheffield in mere hours, following that with an interview, and all my insides have gone to mush, because I’ve had an ostensible band crush on them the first time Steve Lamacq gave their first single a spin on his Radio1 programme. (And that would be quite a while ago, since as you remember, Radio1 stupidly gave Lammo and his ‘In New Music We Trust’ show the boot in summer 2009.)
This is all happening while we’re watching her daughter, now talking and walking yet very bashful around ‘Auntie Mary’, playing around in this giant sandbox Brighton has down by the seafront. I can see now why Brighton is a kid’s paradise; the world’s your oyster when you’re playing in the sandbox, innit? It’s kind of sobering, stood there watching kids play and being kids, accepting this isn’t the life you’ve chosen. Reunions in my circle of schoolfriends now include everyone wanting to see my holiday snaps from England or wherever else I’ve been, everyone gawking, “that must be nice, to go on vacation whenever you want. You can’t do that…when you’ve got kids.” I’m not sure how or if I’m supposed to answer. Part of living life is coping with the hand you’re dealt. That’s how it’s been with me. On the other hand, sometimes I want to say to these people, “you chose that life.” And I chose this life. And music.
But before we risk falling into an entire post philosophising, you might be wondering which band I was referring to. And that would be the Crookes. It seems everyone else I knew who liked them had already seen them loads of times. Even a close mate’s band went on an entire tour with them. So I gave my goodbyes to my dear friend and her dear little sprog to queue early outside the Hope. As happened all weekend, a simple question of, “which is the right queue for delegates?” was met with a smarmy answer: “Pick one. Maybe you’ll be lucky.” I held my tongue in and hoped for the best with the right-hand queue. But I can tell you, there was about as much order as a queue to board an Amtrak train in Washington bound for New York. I got there early, and once they let us go inside to form a queue, I was #3 in line. And I was not going to be cut in front of by girls who showed up late and started their own queue parallel to ours. (For the record, they tried, but I ran – I mean ran – so I was practically stepping on the shoes of the bloke in the queue in front of me. A thousand apologies, dude. But desperate times call for desperate measures.)
I looked behind me, hearing American accents and thinking I’d get some back up in this regard; when I tried to exchange pleasantries with the couple, I was disappointed that they sounded snobby. And entitled. “We come every year.” I kind of gathered this by the tone and their badges, which in hindsight I probably should have examined more closely but I didn’t feel like bothering, as I had it in my head that they were just posh punters. As you can probably imagine, I didn’t run into too many Americans at either music festival I attended, and the Americans I knew and spent time with are all involved in music blogging or PR, so they’re all lovely people. Anyone else, though, was a different story. I hate thinking this is the way we look to everyone else at music festivals abroad. No-one should swan into these situations thinking they’re better than everyone else simply because of their nationality. Dear me. Maybe offering up those fish and chips the other night at the Queens Hotel gave me good karma? All I know is that the quickest way to alienate yourself in a new and potentially uncomfortable situation is acting all holier-than-thou…
So after practically running over Punter #2, it was up the stairs and into the performance space. Whoa. The Hope is tiny, with room for about 100, and that’s shoe-horning them in. For my first Crookes appearance, I couldn’t have hoped for a more intimate experience. They were a late addition to the Great Escape, so I could hardly believe my luck. Glad I arrived early…
While I organised myself with notepad and cameras, I said hello to singer/bassist George Waites and explained I was from America. Poor guy, I think I may have given him a whole load of anxiety playing for someone who’d come all that way to see them. (Sorry George! Geez, I’m already apologizing all over on this Saturday, aren’t I?) They started with ‘Chorus of Fools’, a track off their 2011 Fierce Panda debut ‘Chasing After Ghosts’. “You and me / were fated to be / so damn blue”: I remember hearing these words and thinking they were some of the saddest lyrics I’d ever heard. Yet in the confines of a herky jerky, animated set by the Crookes, there was no sorrow to be had. The stage, which of course was just as tiny as the ‘club’ area was, buzzed with life as arms, limbs and guitars went flying as they were played (mostly) with reckless abandon.
Newer singles ‘American Girls’ (dedicated to the memory of the girls they met last year on their SXSW sojourn; watch it above) and ‘Afterglow’ sounded wonderful. So did songs on from their debut EP ‘Dreams of Another Day’, released in autumn 2010, which seems like a lifetime ago, yet still sound amazing, like ‘Backstreet Lovers’. Waites explained to me later in the sunshine that they were sat in someone’s car after lecture when Lammo spun the song the first time and how unbelievably weird and exciting that was. They’ve got a new album out this summer called ‘Hold Fast’ but you can hear them talk more about it in this interview I posted last week.
After the Crookes, I changed gears and headed over to Komedia. I should have paid better attention to the signs for upstairs, downstairs and the studio bar, because later that night, I didn’t know where I was going and it probably would have helped to have a better nose for navigation. My purpose: I was going to catch the only Juveniles set that didn’t have conflicts with any other band on my list. I’ve seen so many Kitsune bands, it made sense to go see this band before they blew up like La Roux, Delphic and Two Door Cinema Club, if only to be able to say, “I saw them at the 2012 Great Escape. In a basement. Neener neener!”
I have no idea who writes the blurbs in the Great Escape booklet but the claim that the band 22 “describe themselves as ‘an instructional guide to spiritual enlightenment, harmonic individuality and universal transcendence’” would make me believe I was about to see a Norwegian Enya. I’d describe it more like thrashy, metal prog from Trondheim, Norway. This generally is not my thing, but I have to say, with their wireless guitars, band members jumped down from the stage to the wooden floor of Komedia downstairs, axes blazing. It is sure more fun watching prog rockers leaping all over the place than standing still on the stage, concentrating on their chords.
After all of 22’s gear was sorted and removed from stage (and they left with the audience cheering for them, I might add), then came Juveniles and their stage setup. It is clear from hearing ‘Ambitions’, the hugely dancey song of theirs featured on Kitsune Parisien II released in February, that this band likes synths. So it’s no surprise to see not just one but two major synth setups onstage. However, this is not to say that they didn’t have the opportunity to eschew the synths for a moment and play guitars instead and bring out the funk, such as in ‘Blackout’ video below.
They’re the perfect blend of Two Door Cinema Club (melodic and infectious tunes) and Holy Ghost! (funky disco) and given the right and continual promotion by Kitsune, they could be the next big thing in dance / electropop. Watch this space.
You will probably not believe how I spent the rest of my afternoon. I set up shop in the now deserted press centre, borrowing a staff laptop to catch up on email and shore up the loose ends for our stage the following Friday at Liverpool Sound City. Disappointingly, I found out my last chance for a Dome show would not happen; Reverend and the Makers cancelled as Jon McClure was unable to sing. Yet again in Brighton I was forced to change course, but you’ll read my further frustrations in the next installment.
I also met a Wireimage photographer from Portsmouth and saw the AU Review guys again, before I ducked outside to see Simon Price of the Independent and his red ‘horns’ presiding over the celebrity front table during John Robb’s pub quiz. (It would not be the last time I’d see Mr. Robb but that’s for another city and another post…) And it must sound really strange that I was waiting for a NYC PR friend of mine there, as we’d never met before. But that’s something that surely can be said about the Great Escape: be prepared for the unexpected…
By Mary Chang
on Tuesday, 29th May 2012 at 1:00 pm
I was back at LIFE, ready to roll to have an audience with another band we’ve written about, Hannah Clark and FOE. Maybe it was the great sunny weather, but by the time I made it back upstairs to the loft performance space of LIFE, the room was rammed. There’s this weird red glowing light in the place as well, so I felt like I was in one of the panic scenes in the film The Hunt for Red October. Since there was no way I’d get to the front for photos, I took advantage of my small size and anchored myself to the staircase, hoping for the best just to hear, since I couldn’t see.
I really like the way ‘A Handsome Stranger Called Death’ sounds on Lammo’s 6music programme, so it was disappointing to hear the loud buzzing sound of feedback coming out through the speakers, pretty much obliterating any chance of hearing the vocals clearly. I felt like leaving and then I felt a presence behind me. Something you learn in Brighton during the Great Escape: you will probably run into everyone you know from London, Manchester, etc. in the music business. I turned around to leave and head back down the stairs, and who do I see but Andy Clutterbuck, the singer of Films of Colour?
Something else I learned in Brighton: expect to be sidetracked if the weather’s nice. There’s really nothing like hanging out on the seaside with your friends, soaking up the last rays of daylight, watching the sun set. You see, in Washington, the latest the sun sets is about half past 7. In England though, it can still be daylight past 9. I had a full night of bands planned and insisted to them I needed food, so I had my first Pizza Express experience (I know, shocking) with them. We’re sitting there, waiting for the food to arrive. The Pizza Express in Brighton looks out directly onto Jubilee Square, and there were bans schedule to play all night. This is where things get a little weird.
James, Films of Colour’s drummer, squints to look in the distance, says, “that looks like the guy that’s in our music video.” Andy dismisses this: “no way, that’s impossible.” James, not to be outdone, insists it is and says he’s going to go out and say hi. It wasn’t until days later when I was at 93 Feet East on Brick Lane in London that I figured everything out. James came back and announced it really was the guy they saw in New York City who had starred in their video. We all agreed this was serendipity. Then I could hear the thudding of a bass guitar and sense the melody. Wait a minute, I said to myself. That sounds like ‘Whole Again’ by Paula and Karol, the Polish band I discovered at SXSW. Independent of me, the two bands had seen each other in New York in the days before SXSW. Six degrees of separation? Nah. Just one degree of separation: TGTF.
I hated to dash, as having a sit-down dinner was a welcome and relaxing way to spend an evening, even at Pizza Express. But I bid adieu to the Films of Colour chaps, as I had a date with the Fly. Not literally, but the magazine was putting on a show at Blind Tiger starring the untypeable alt-J and the band that is probably going to be the toast of this festival season, Django Django. After getting shut out of their Pavilion Theatre show the night before, I requested guestlist for this show and swanned in without queueing. Which was a very good idea, judging from the massive queue outside.
alt-J are not going to need my endorsement, and I have been having a hard time getting down ‘Breezeblocks’. (Sorry, the nasal vocals really get on my nerves.) There’s something about the vibe of this band that makes me unsettled. Before you start getting sore with me and think I took advantage of the system, the Fly showcase was the only place all weekend I requested guestlist for, and it was specifically to see what the fuss about alt-J was all about. Unfortunately, my experience was tainted by the fact that the entirety of Blind Tiger felt like an oven and there were far too many people inside. Where was the Brighton fire department to lodge a complaint on the exceeded occupancy?
Many of these people were very pissed and unaware they were seeing a potentially future famous band. I decided to hang out on the side, instead of trying to cram in down the front for photos, determining this was a far safer vantage point. It was, except I felt like I was getting stood on by loud, annoying people shouting at each other who really didn’t care about listening at all. For goodness sakes, if all you’re here for is drinking, leave and go somewhere else to have your conversations, so you can let some people in the queue in!
So I heard alt-J – sort of – but was handicapped by the shouty discussions around me. What I did hear confirmed my previous opinion of the band. There’s something vaguely Everlast in Joe Newman’s delivery: he’s trying to be hip hop slick, in a disaffected way, which I guess is where the Radiohead comparison comes in? Not really sure. Sorry, not impressed. But if the crazy moshers down the front are any indication, no-one’s going to be listening to my opinion anyway.
Beyond the cancelled shows and showcases and bad luck of losing my camera bag earlier that day, I wasn’t expecting something else. Oh dear, somehow I managed to stand right where Django Django’s guitar tech needed to be. (You don’t want to see my photos. They’re horrible.) Granted, I give him a lot of credit for wedging himself into a small space closer to the stage, in front of the aforementioned obnoxious drunks, but the guy was taller than me, so I couldn’t see much of the soon-to-be-celebrated quartet who met at Edinburgh art college. Singer Vincent Neff had similar issues with the heat as I did, at one point complaining to the audience, “it’s like a pizza oven in here, does my hair look okay?” I laughed. I couldn’t even begin to imagine what it must have been like to perform under those conditions, if I was so uncomfortable just standing there, watching.
Not like anyone cared. I don’t know what the crowd was like at the Pavilion Theatre but oh my, people really went for the Djangos. It was like everyone was under the liquid spell of their special ‘Firewater’. I’d not heard ‘Default’ live yet, after being denied it at another tiger-themed venue at SXSW, Easy Tiger Patio in Austin. Tonight, it was peerless. Blind Tiger may have been a hot, sweaty mess, but no-one cared. It was an all-out dance party.
That was the end of the Fly Magazine’s programming, as well as the venue’s for the night, so after the most of the punters had departed, I came outside for air. Fresh air had never felt so good in my lungs. I felt like I’d been in a war. No more bands for tonight. Even though it wasn’t even midnight, I went back to my hotel to make myself a cup of tea. Yeah, not very rock ‘n’ roll at all, right? But I had a very important gig and interview in the morning.