And we’re off, starting the three day music weekend in the company of acts from Norway, Canada, France, Australia, Iceland, India, three from Finland and a couple from down the road.
Thursday 16th May
Midday and the beach is filling up – as is The Haunt, a dark little basement just behind the promenade previously colonised by British Sea Power for their Krankenhaus club nights. Lots of early starters wanting to catch the first bands of the day. Onstage at this unruly hour – though perhaps, to them, it does feel like a rather surreal midnight – are Australian sisters Beth and Skye, also known as Echo And The Empress. They do pretty, sunshine pastel folky indiepop, and it’s a great way to wake up.
Made In Japan – aren’t. They’re Australian too. Loads of people in here are Australian. Brilliant, seem to have stumbled upon one of those specific country showcases that are always rich pickings at events like this. “The drummer is the singer, you know that, right?” an Australian voice asks the soundman. So he is. You don’t see that so much these days, do you? Sadly the vocals are a bit of a weak link in what’s otherwise decent slightly brooding indie rock of the swirls of minor chord delay variety: they just don’t seem to go anywhere, at least in a way for which those of us spoilt by an upbringing soundtracked by northern English post-punk might hope.
To the other side of the world, then, via five minutes’ walk: Iceland has always punched vastly above its weight musically, and the increasing number of British music fans making the trip to Iceland Airwaves each year has put even more of a spotlight on the country’s emerging artists. Today their embassy of music is Above Audio – well, they’re sharing it with Canada, anyway. Musically this does kind of make sense.
We last saw Oyama on a cold winter’s day in Reyjkavik where the ice wind could lift you off your feet, where their effects-heavy haze was like a lovely warm blanket; here it works equally well as a woozy summer afternoon dreamstate. First band member of the day wearing *that* classic Sonic Youth t-shirt; it’s the drummer. It usually is.
A boy and a girl with similar voices, though he has something of the Dean (Galaxie 500) Wareham about him – and so does the music, though it’s more upbeat. All your classic sonic cathedral words could apply to this blissed-out, fuzzy half hour and they do it so well. So well they’re allowed to do their last song despite running over a little and it’s pure Ride, with the guitarist out front pushing his head into the speakers. An excitable Italian in a dayglo tie-dye is shouting “Shoegaze!”. Yep. And nothing wrong with that.
We’ve headed to Bartholomew Square only to find the band we wanted to see went on early and there’s nobody on for ages, so we take a flyer on Tigercub at the Mesmerist. (Or Tigerclub, depending on what listings you read. But no, Tigercub it is). Ah, the classic grunge trio formation – blond one, dark haired one, one with cap: this young local band’s inspiration comes from the more tuneful end of nineties guitar-mangling, kind of Dinosaur Jr junior, aside from one sort of glam blues one but we’ll let that go. “It’s never too early for a moshpit you know…” invites the singer, somewhat hopefully. It probably is. You can certainly have a go when they support Dinosaur Pile-Up on tour in July, though.
Aside from the regular pubs and venues, pretty much any space in Brighton that you can stick a stage in has one. So next stop is the Brighthelm Centre, a bizarrely orange theatre kind of place. Plush orange carpets, orange curtains, orange chairs… and Monster Island, a band I’m more used to seeing in places like the Black Lion in Salford and who are really not a plush carpets kind of band. They’re more of a Wire-y splatter of post-punk, dirty krautrockish keyboards, spikes of Northern bitterness sort of band. The snarly “Lancaster House”, in particular, is reminiscent of all those abrasive, anti-rockist 80s DIY bands like Big Flame. They sound like they should have a flexi out (now there’s a retro music delivery format I don’t think the hipsters have tried to revive yet. Thankfully. Cassettes are bad enough). And the overly upholstered surroundings might be wonderfully inappropriate, but on the other hand it’s great to see them somewhere you can actually decipher their streams of incisively pissed-off consciousness through a decent PA. The bassist loses a string. Oh well. Thing is he only had three to start with. But as they say, that’s just “taking punk rock to its natural conclusion”. They’re fucking great, anyway. Shame there’s not more people here.
Back in the Mesmerist, My New Favourite Tribe are another “oh look, there’s a band on in there” unknown quantity, but turn out to be fairly run-of-the-mill indie funk, save for some ridiculously twinkly-plonky keyboards that get three quarters of the way to “Funky town” at one point. And the song where they briefly turn into Editors. It’s their bassist’s first ever gig, apparently, and something of a baptism of fire what with how high up in the mix he is, but he passes.
The Jubilee Square festival hub’s getting going by now, fuelled by carrier bags of cans from the supermarket over the road, as people finishing work join the party to the summery surf-infused mainstream-indie sound of Finland’s answer to The Drums (remember them? They were, like, massive for ten minutes about two years ago?) Big Wave Riders. Get many big waves to ride in Finland, do you?
Not many big waves here in Brighton today, that’s for sure. This is definitely the best weather I’ve seen in several years’ Great Escaping. Down on Marine Drive there are families catching a few last rays on the beaches, and the long hike out to Concorde 2 is only about half as long as I’d thought. Damn, could have got another band in… Quite a few people have made the trek down to the large seafront venue to see Whirr take to the stage to open the evening schedule. Don’t know anything about them but according to the festival guide they “emit a soundscape of alternative shoegaze indie that is dolorous and dense but also subtle and spacious”. Lots of my trigger words there, plus a recommendation from a bloke who does a shoegaze news Twitter feed means high hopes; Italian shoegaze man’s turned up…. But despite being on the listing on the venue door they’re not here. Nobody seems to know why. The walk back feels longer…
Digital smells of sewage, though this is soon forgotten. Eaux are another band of bewildering biography, mentioning folk, 60s psych, “avant-pop” and industrial. My take? Um, electronic gothgaze? Kind of like a space-chilled Factory Floor with washes of colour in place of the stark monochromes. There are layers of pulsating beats and synthesised drones, but then the pure angel tones of Sian Ahern shimmering on the surface. And if you listen carefully you can hear Section 25’s ‘Looking From A Hill Top” echoing down the years, along with the ghost of Donna Summer’s Moroder days.
Having convinced myself it is physically possible to walk all the way from Digital on the seafront to Green Door Store up in the station arches in 15 minutes, I’m still amazed it works. And good to see a decent crowd in for Black Lizard, given that they appear to have fallen off (or never made it onto) some of the official listings.
Black clad (well, mostly) and red lit, Black Lizard sound like one of those bands periodically adopted by Sonic Boom and/or Anton Newcombe. Yes, this is proper classic rock’n’roll space blues – from Finland. A bit Spacemen, a bit Mary Chain, a bit Wooden Shjips, a bit lots of things that were on Creation in the late 80s and had very tight black jeans, even a bit later-eras Primal Scream (there’s some shining like a star over a tambourine-assisted groove). If we were being completely objective there’s basically nothing much here that’s not been done quite a lot – but music isn’t objective, is it? I love this sort of thing and they do it wonderfully.
Back across town to Komedia next where Jenny Hval is being Nordically unsettling. Untethered, unhinged, her voice is striking, leaping from coldly robotic pronouncements to whispers to Bjork-esque flights in a heartbeat. There are so many depths to this it’s hard to know where to start, but with just a guitarist and drummer and her own keyboard as a canvas (and at one point a light-up plastic voice distorter) she creates stunning pictures, as dark as they are lucid. There are some troubled things going on I’m her lyrics, too – one track starts “That night I watched people fucking on my computer” – and even when she’s trying to explain herself it’s “Oslo is where we’re from; Oedipus is… far away but still relevant, sometimes.” She speaks poetry over radio noise, then her boys brew up another storm; she jokes about her country’s black metallers but there’s some of that same spirit there, of deep forests and ancient lore. It’s a hell of a lot to take in over just a half hour set – something she actually acknowledges – but I think a fair percentage of those in here will be investigating further.
Ah, that’s where the crowds are. Downstairs in Komedia for Is Tropical. Tundra to tropical via one flight of stairs. Frankly you have to be either utterly amazing or have no concept of Spinal Tap-ism to come onstage to ‘Thus spake Zarathustra’ and get away with it; they on the other hand do the sort of uninspiring modern “indie” you’ve forgotten before they even get to the end of a song. We try three and give up on them.
Back upstairs then for Blek. Who, as we quickly assess, are treading a fairly well-worn path of energetic and noisy guitar pop, but with a joy that’s utterly infectious and some cracking tunes. Also, they have come all the way from Mumbai (“and it’s fucking hot down there”, the singer tells us) – as far as I am aware, the first band I’ve ever seen from there. I love the idea of these lads sitting there in the sweltering heat of their city on the other side of the world and probably listening to some of the same records I do and then making their own. We’ll even forgive him a “this one goes out to everyone who’s a female in the house” and the fact that said song rhymes “you’re so mean” with “fruit machine”, because with this band we actually find ourselves singing along with songs we’ve never heard before. Great fun.
Someone told me Boats were the best thing they saw at either Live At Leeds or Sounds From The Other City the other week, and I can’t remember which or indeed who, but they’re next on in here so might as well stay put. Canadian, apparently. How many countries is that today? The male singer looks crackers, all beard and corkscrew hair and mad eyes; the female singer produces a trumpet about two minutes in; there’s a geeky looking one in glasses battering himself with a tambourine, they all bounce like they’re on pogo sticks, and you look at them and you wonder how these disparate people even got together to form what turns out to be a truly great band. It’s properly wayward technicolour indie pop insanity, where familiar elements of things like Neutral Milk Hotel and Arcade Fire and full-on psychedelia are crunched into a joyously peculiar shape, and all the while there’s him and those eyes, those I’ve-got-a-cabin-in-the-woods-where-I-do-things-you-don’t-want-to-know-about eyes. In short – great songs, brilliant performance, and we leave grinning like idiots. Cheers!
From little clubs to the great hall of the Corn Exchange next, where Melody’s Echo Chamber is – or are? – headlining an NME-programmed bill. The vehicle for the musical endeavours of French (yes! Another nationality!) singer Melody Prochet, last year’s self-titled debut album had lots of people very excited. Sadly it’s all rather underwhelming – psych-lite, though its potential as a gateway drug to shoegaze and full-blown psychedelia for some doesn’t go unnoticed. Her songs are decent enough, Stereolab-like in the vocals (and no, not just because she’s French) but the backdrop feels rather lacklustre.
Back to the seafront it is, then, to Coalition where On An On are about to go, well, on. The words Snow Patrol in the programme blurbs would normally have me running a mile in the opposite direction, but they also come highly recommended, so here we are. It’s fairly inoffensive 6Music pop flavoured with indie and electro, and whilst the Snow Patrol comparison’s a bit mean they don’t do much for us.
Time for some more Finns then; back to the Brighthelm Centre (which is only slightly less strange late at night) for Husky Rescue. A band whose decade-long career has seen numerous line-up changes based around founder Marko Nyberg; its 2013 form being a three-piece – albeit one with about six people’s worth of instruments between them. Their leftfield electronic pop is variously laced with twinkly oddities, folkish touches, melancholy shimmer, pulsating synths and gorgeous melodies. Singer Johanna Kalén (who’s actually Swedish) is naturally compelling – as well as wearing what looks a lot like a psychedelic bedspread. They’re eclectic and original without it ever sounding forced or incoherent, which is actually quite a tough call to pull off.
It’s only just past 1am but the live music’s winding down and so are we – sometimes at these things it’s best to quit while you’re ahead. After all, there are two more days of this yet….