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The Great Escape

Oh, we do like to be beside the seaside, especially when it's rammed with new thrills. Various Venues, Brighton (May 15 - 17)

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Vampire Weekend, The Wombats, Joe Lean & The Jing Jang Jong, Crystal Castles, Santogold, The Ting Tings (celebrating a Number One single, no less); The Rascals, These New Puritans, Friendly Fires… Oh yes, all those names that have been so ubiquitous in the last six months are present and correct at the British seaside’s (far, far superior) answer to South By Southwest, plying their trade and vying for attention with each other, Late Of The Pier and an actual pier. Want to know how all their shows went? Us neither. Much as we love the lot of their talked-about little arses, slightly off the beaten track in Brighton there are less obvious thrills to be unearthed.

So we instead begin early on Thursday evening with Liverpool’s Eugene McGuinness: an often criminally overlooked baby-faced Scouse minstrel with a battered acoustic. On the evidence of the new songs he plays alongside the best bits of his ‘The Early Learnings Of…’ mini-album, though, this should change. Similarly (although, at the same time, not similarly at all) Ida Maria is slowly-but-surely starting to shine. Her set is full of snide between-song chat and, in the likes of ‘Stella’ and ‘Oh My God’, tunes that are as awash with melody as they are attitude. More magic is elsewhere provided by the much-talked-about mini-Arcade Fire-isms of Broken Records, ex-Field Music man David Brewis’ odd-but-beautiful School Of Language and Jeremy Warmsley, whose ‘The Art Of Fiction’ benefits massively from being experienced in the flesh. And so, feeling we’ve had a productive first night of seaside fun, we’re ready for a blast of Yeasayer at a ludicrously packed Club NME. Singer Chris Keating’s forced faux-Curtis mannerisms may swiftly start to grate, but shut your eyes and it’s a prog-infused trip perfectly suited to this kind of environment and time in the morning. The night ends with a celebratory late set from That Duo What Have Just Had A Number One Single. Don't know the singer’s name, but it sure as hell ain’t Hel.

A stroll along the beach and Friday begins with the off-kilter dance-pop brilliance of Tubelord, which turns out to be a far more potent hangover cure than you might imagine, before Telepathe continue things in headache-pummelingly avant-garde fashion. The far more straightforward thrills of Sergeant are next and, while they may not have the out-there inventiveness of these two, what they do possess is an ever-expanding arsenal of choruses, of which ‘Counting Down The Days’ is but the tip of the iceberg. Manchester’s newest heroes Twisted Wheel, too, are straight-down-the-line in the best possible way (see ‘She’s A Weapon’) and together this pair provide the perfect interlude before we dive into the doom-laden guitar malestrorm of A Place To Bury Strangers. Now, ‘maelstrom’ is a word that’s used a lot in the context of these NYCers, but when you see ’em it becomes apparent why. Buzz band of this millisecond Magistrates are up next, and do a kind of Roxy Music disco thing before the night climaxes once more with Stacey/Mary-Jo-Lisa/whatever she’s called and her chart-topping drummer pal.

Saturday, and due to most folk playing multiple sets, it’s getting tough to find new talent. OK Tokyo’s goofball-pop raises the smallest of smiles and Lowline manage to provide an onslaught of noise and tunes at the same time. They’re topped only by Canada’s Black Mountain, who scale heights appropriate to their name. The Great Escape programme reckons their name “may refer to a large pile of hashish”, and certainly their brand of rock’n’roll is greatly enhanced by such pursuits. Still can’t remember that friggin’ girl’s name, though…

Hamish MacBain

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