Pumping UV rays are a welcome sign on the Brighton seafront, usually reserved for enough wind to send a kite to Mars, yet Friday at The Great Escape is a comforting breeze of the first option.
The sheer variety of nationalities making themselves at home on the Sussex coast has definitely rubbed off in multicultural bliss, giving new talent from around the world the opportunity to play some of their very first UK shows to a captive audience looking for the next big thing.
Opening the second day at The Great Escape is no mean feat, particularly with the remnants of late night shows still hanging around in both the crowds blood-alcohol level and in enthusiasm, but at the Dutch Impact showcase, Pink Occulus masters that with ease. With the sensual swagger of D’Angelo and the sharpness of Lizzo, her sound is a vibrant mix of soulful jazz and hip-hop, merging into a powerful schmorgasboard of electro sounds and rising beats. Her free-flowing style is captivating, standing as a full package of depth, passion and rhymes and one who could potentially produce some genre defining records over the coming years.
On a day in the UK with any glimpse of sunshine, outdoor stages such as The North Road Stage particularly come in handy, with the site playing host to a sea of festival-goers and locals alike catching a range of bands. These included The Dunwells, who sit squarely within that easy-listening Kodaline camp of Radio 1 housewives, something they grasp with open arms and perfectly complimenting the feel-good atmosphere that included burnt hot-dogs and the strong smell of sun tan lotion. Yet it’s on the Alternative Escape that the nooks and crannies truly came to life, with The Magic Gang taking to a small garage off the seafront to play an energetic and rapturously received set. When bands of all shapes and sizes including members of Swim Deep and Mystery Jets gather to see a band, then you know it’s something sure to be the next great unifying force in indie-rock, and that is exactly what was served up. Rattling through cuts from their recent self-titled EP, each track is greeted like an anthem, bellowed out in unison and erupting cheers across the garage yard and makeshift bar chucking out discount booze from Tesco multipacks like it’s going out of fashion. A local Brighton band themselves, their melodic pop vibes hark back to Weezer in their prime, and like the Californian wizards they’re set for pure dominance over the indie-rock scene over the next year – if this landmark moment is anything to go by.
Slightly longer in the making is SWMRS, the west-coast American pop-punk princes (who previously went by the name Emily’s Army) are now focused on tearing down any venue they can get their hands on. Twitching into life, their passion is an uncomfortably infectious package, complete with defiant teenage anthems such as “I Hate Los Angeles” and the modern day love swoon of “Miley” that erupt fevered pits in the confined Hope And Ruin walls. Unhinged yet perfectly entwined, it’s a potent introduction to a new era.
A striking bubbling pot of influences, Inheaven have made quite the name for themselves over recent months and their cinematic live presence is certainly one reason why. Blending The Hives frantic pulsations and the more panoramic soundscapes of Joshua Tree-era U2, the band are truly a menacing force for the future. Frontman “” has the aura of an icon around him, pulling around the stage and maintaining the eyes of a capacity audience throughout their blistering set. If there was a band throughout the weekend born to take over the arena stage, then Inheaven are well and truly it.
Anthems pop doesn’t come more current than Clean Cut Kid, Gigsoup favourites and filling radio airwaves across the country, their bluesy Americana meets edgy garage sound has reached a stage of effortless efficiency. Their catalogue of instant crowd pleasers such as “Pick Me Up”, ‘Runaway” and “Vitamin C” are rapturously achieved and ensure a heart-warming set is had by all. That drive and passion seen in a band such as Clean Cut Kid is equally evident in rising upstarts Saltwater Sun, taking to the Mucky Duck Pub hosted by acclaimed tastemakers When The Gramophone Rings and Hand In Hive, and packing a set that straddles the line between effortlessly cool and unbarred tectonic punches. Seasoned with Fleetwood Mac-esque harmonies, they’re an alluring sea breeze hiding a dagger edge.
There are always undeniable “moments” at The Great Escape, where a band puts on a show so immediate, powerful and captivating that it stands as the trigger point and calling card of the whole weekend. This year, that went to Crows, taking over The Alternative Escape at The Black Dove, with a true punk rock set that harks back to the memorable shows that defined rock music’s iconic figures. In a pub that ultimately could hold around 80 people, the Londoners rolled up, plugged in and went about destroying the place. Frontman James Cox is a man possessed on stage, his uncontrollable presence is a sight to behold and he commands the band through their recent “Unwelcome Light” EP in riotous fashion. Prowling through the crowd, jumping on tables and climbing the walls, there’s a touch of Ian Curtis to his descent, that ultimately makes him a new wave svengali. Enigmatic cuts of “Whisper” and closer “Crawling” send the tightly packed crowd into delirium, with Cox being carried on the crowds shoulders and booting the pub ceiling in ecstasy. It’s the definitive live spectacle of 2016, and the most exciting band in modern rock. Brighton paid witness to the birth of punk’s next chapter.
Switching gears and taking on the early morning showcases with aplomb, Nimmo are an unexpected revelation, a multi-instrumental dance sound system that takes the pumping nights out in London’s finest establishments and turns them into euphoric live bullets of colour. A youthfully invigorated modern version of Hot Chip, opening track “Dilute” is an arching club breeze, riding over mid-90s trance keys into a layered explosion that showcases the incredible blending of vocals that defines these dance floor supremos. Segueing between tracks with ease, Nimmo are the party band of 2016 and are sure to transform festival fields and venues alike into neo-dance celebrations as dance music is taken into the modern day live setting.
Talked about on every poll list and every publication going, Formation can’t escape that LCD Soundsystem connection. What acts both share is a distant knack for indietronica gold, matching a distinctly New York sound with clear US hip-hop influences in a real transatlantic pot. Yet it’s not to be mistaken the British roots at play, wordsmith “Will Ritson” has a flowing pattern to his style that calls to mind Akala’s vibrant delivery. Whilst Nimmo was clubland in full swing, Formation are a much grittier prospect, one that will find fans continuously throughout their festival appearances this year, one cowbell at a time.
It’s a shimmering way to close the night, pulling the curtain on a momentous day yet opening the door on true nighttime superstars. Invigorating and fresh, new music is in rude health.
This Great Escape article was written by Jamie Muir, a GIGsoup contributor