Crystal Fighters are the highlight of a day of new talent at The Great Escape

The Great Escape 2010 review

published: Thu 20th May 2010

Crystal Fighters

Thursday 13th to Saturday 15th May 2010
venues in Brighton, East Sussex, BN2 9NA, England MAP
£55 for a 3 day gig pass; day tickets also available.
last updated: Tue 11th May 2010

I may have been slightly over-excited heading down to The Great Escape, but what the hell – I adore Brighton. I spent my train journey circling bands on my print-outs of the schedule, and was pleased to see that I should be able to catch quite a few bands that I keep hearing about but haven't gotten around to listening to yet. Such is the point of The Great Escape.

Midnight Beast
What was a reasonably sunny day when I got up in London was getting steadily colder and cloudier as the train headed Brightonwards, and I began to wish I'd dressed slightly more suitably.. But for all the lack of sun Brighton was actually quite warm when I arrived, and after checking into my hostel and grabbing my wristband I was ready to explore what the festival had to offer.

Due to a lack of events occurring during the day, the Prince Albert was absolutely rammed for Danny and The Champions of The World – something I really should have foreseen. Nevertheless, I could hear them, if not see them, so that was the first of my 'must-catch' bands ticked off the list.

Danny & The Champs were playing upbeat, cheerful country music which sounded absolutely great. They also covered ‘My Girl' and 'Dancing In The Dark' – although cover isn't really the word as these should properly be described as reinterpretations. I loved them, although the harmony Danny was singing on 'Dancing In The Dark' seemed to confuse the crowd when he tried to get them to sing along. They played a fantastic set, and I have to say I've never seen a tambourine played with such gusto.

Heading to Freebut next, I caught the end of Nullify's set while waiting for Tubelord, which made me wish I'd seen it in full. Hugely up-beat electro-pop played by 5 guys who seemed to be having a huge amount of fun on-stage, even when technical problems disturbed them mid-song (the member in question mimicked the sound his keyboard was supposed to be making at the time). Tubelord, on the other hand, turned out not to be Tubelord, and also very much not my sort of thing, so I went for a wander.

Having not caught any of the 'Primrose Chill' at the Camden Crawl, I was keen to see some of the Alternative Great Escape while I was here. With this in mind I headed to the Live Lounge which was being curated by Recharged Radio – a station who offers radio play to independent bands on the grounds that it's almost impossible to get otherwise, and also promotes new and independent record labels.

The Self Help Group were up first. It's nice to see the rise of the accordion in music again, especially music which isn't predominantly folk-based, although I was a bit disappointed to see that she was only using the bass buttons and not the keyboard itself. They played a very guitar-driven fusion of jazz and American-folk, and managed to produce a laid back sound without making people want to fall asleep. They also covered 'Bad Moon Rising' – today was a day for covers so far – which I really enjoyed.

Next up, j*e*s*p*a. Two guys, their guitars, and lead singer Tony's stunning, soulful voice. I don't think anyone would dispute that their music comes from the heart. Both skilled guitarists, their parts are intricate and intertwined, with lyrics that soar over the top and bring the whole thing together.

Tony forayed into falsetto with a frequency that would have been dangerous for a less-skilled singer. With his voice, however, it really gave their songs some shivers-down-the-spine moments. And the harmonies, when they occurred, sounded excellent – their voices complemented each other perfectly.

They played quite an upbeat set, with tracks that definitely would have had people singing along had they known the words. Between them they also kept up some lovely cheerful banter between the songs – as they put it, "anything to avoid Dead Air".

Next up – Japandroids – band number 2 on my 'must-catch' list. They started late due to sound issues, and promised to rip through as many songs as possible. Unfortunately, those same sound problems continued to plague their set, with the guitar continually cutting in and out, must to the frustration of guitarist Brian King, who kept promising their set the following night would be better. The crowd seemed to be enjoying themselves in spite of this, and a mini mosh-pit started up just behind us (much to the disgruntlement of the people at the front). Good fun, but I didn't get much of a feel for their music. They're going to have to stay on my list.

I was toying with staying here for Blood Red Shoes, but at Chris' insistence we headed to Digital for Crystal Fighters, having missed them at the Camden Crawl due to clashes. It is possible that I will be forever in his debt for dragging me to this, as they were absolutely fantastic. With a brilliant stage presence and some fantastic tunes, they were definitely a highlight of the festival for me and could easily have played a more prominent time slot – we came out of the venue feeling like it was about 3am.

Crystal Fighters
The frequent strobes were timed to their music perfectly (something which is so often not the case), increasing the atmosphere almost to breaking point. The final song they played was obviously the one everyone knew, and suddenly the whole room erupted into a bouncing, cheering mass of people (mob is probably the correct word, although certainly the happiest mob I'd ever seen). Although part of me wished the crowd had been like this for the whole set, a larger part of me knew that with so many acts still to go, I may have died if it had been. If I never see these guys again I will be a sad person.

Eager to find something that would keep us in the same mood, we headed to The Hope for Jaguar Love. The programme said described them as "once-noisy", and said Whitney "has turned his scream to Bolan-esque purr". If this is true, I dread to think what they sounded like before. There was a discernible melody, but it was overlaid by an awful lot of screaming. I'm sure they were very good, but they weren't for me. The Pavilion Café was next on the agenda for The Slits.

The Ruby Suns
Unfortunately, The Slits had cancelled (to the widespread disgust of twitterers), but this did give The Ruby Suns the chance to play a full set, having apparently only managed 1 ½ songs earlier due to the sound problems which continued to plague Japandroids. The crowd was slightly lacklustre – probably due to the scheduling change – but they played a fantastic set. Lots of tribal drumming with great melody lines – very upbeat and dancy. Singer Ryan McPhun spent the time between tracks complaining about their earlier slot, but given that the power was cut halfway through their second song and they were told to leave the stage, that's hardly surprising. I'm very glad they were given another chance to play.

Next up, Brighton Coalition for Modular DJs. Although they were obviously running hugely behind schedule as John Talabot was just starting up as we arrived. He played some good stuff but the venue was fairly empty – I don't think anyone was really there to see him, just to have a bit of a dance, and given that he wasn't playing classic 'club-tunes', they were a little bit lost. On the way back to the hostel, we were slightly confused by the huge crowd outside Digital, as there was nothing in the programme. So we went inside to have a nose and found Fenech Soler playing an unpublicised gig to a full house of excited people. They worked the crowd well, although everyone seemed so over-the-moon to be watching them that it didn't really take much. To be honest, I didn't really see the hype. They seemed to have put more effort into their costumes than their music, although the fact that I was standing right under the speaker probably didn't help as all I was getting was bass. I was tired and footsore, and it was time to sleep.

review by: Hannah Morgan

photos by: Chris Mathews

Thursday 13th to Saturday 15th May 2010
venues in Brighton, East Sussex, BN2 9NA, England MAP
£55 for a 3 day gig pass; day tickets also available.
last updated: Tue 11th May 2010

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