Great Escape 2011 – a review

Great Escape has become the UK’s answer to SXSW, the multi-media, multi-gig event that swamps out a small city and has become a focal point for a weekend of music. With a combination of panels, hanging out for the delegates and loads of gigs for a fifty quid, three-day wristband for the fans, it’s an important event on the calendar.

Louder Than War were in town chairing a pop and politics debate with a panel that included Labour’s Kerry McCarthy MP and the local Tory MP Mike Weatherly and was also hosting the annual pop quiz.

Off duty it was case of running around seeing bands”¦

Brighton is a great town for this kind of action. Ornate Victoriana and by the sea – you can run around pretty quickly and if it wasn’t for the fact that every gig was swamped out, you could theoretically get to see a lot of bands.

And that’s the big problem this year. The venues are mental busy – almost a victim of its own success Great Escape is creaking and groaning under the weight of hopeful punters rushing from venue to venue and, instead of the usual 20 bands you can cram into the evening on one of these weekend events, this year it’s a paltry 3 or 4”¦ but we still caught some great ones.

EMA are a revelation cutting through the dustbin indie that so often clogs up these bills. Fronted by the charismatic former Gowns singer, Emma Anderson, who sports the ultimate bowl cut that hangs down past her nose like a pair of bleached curtains, the band are tight, sinuous and lean. Their songs chug, holding the tension – the guitar, bass and drum core holds it back making you wait for the explosion at the end. The added electric violin is a great touch, adding a freak psychedelic and off kilter weirdness to the template.

But it’s Emma that dominates, her voice is cut crystal – one part Siouxsie, one part Patti Smith, one part ice goddess with emotional wreckage, one part Cat Power and a million parts herself, she is a major new voice on the scene and with her band’s highly original, brooding and dark sound she is going to be the poster girl for every fucked up teen in the UK by the end of the year.

Yup, she’s that good.

We tried to get into the Vaccines, we really tried. There must have been about two thousand people outside the theatre, waiting and hoping. Even Cerne Canning, the band’s affable manager, couldn’t get us in.

Ironically, twenty minutes before, we had been checking out Yuck! At the end of the pier and chatting to Árni Hjörvar, the band’s affable bass player. He told us that the Ian Mackaye from Minor Threat link up with the Vaccines c/o the Internet that we at Louder Than War had brokered had worked and that the Vaccines were buzzing about going to visit the Dischord House in Washington DC when they tour the USA.

Whilst he was telling me all this Yuck were cranking up a storm in the background. The London based band’s brew of post Dinosaur Jnr scuzz and Teenage Fan Club uber melody is highly effective and has seen their debut album, released this year, acclaimed in most quarters including here on LTW.

The youthful band have dug into the past to peer into the future and twisted the distorted guitar melee of J. Mascis into a template that still sounds cutting edge and somehow contemporary. They also have the songs to back it up and it’s no wonder the end of the pier bar in Brighton is swamped way past capacity.

Josh T Pearson is mumbling down a mic on his own onstage at the Pavilion. It shouldn’t work atall, and last week’s review on the LTW site was not keen. But there are two ways of looking at this. His lack of polish and chaotic presence is endearing and there is plenty of this during the first five minutes of the set when he stands there and ad libs.

Pearson strokes his one foot long beard and mutters that he forgot to shave this morning and then hums down the mic like an old wino looking for loose change for a bottle of hokie Thunderbird. He’s got the audience in the palm of his hand, but that’s because they know when he’s ready he’s going to deliver.

Minutes later he cranks up his semi acoustic and the basic chord structure and skree provides the base for his lonesome, yearning songs that sees his bruised and worn voice that has a hue of the late Johnny Cash to it, fill the room.

Romantic, dark and world weary with songs to match, Pearson is at the top of his.

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