Festival-season kicked off at the weekend, with Brighton’s Great Escape treating us to monumental downpours (Thursday), glorious sunshine (Friday) and shedloads of often incendiary, shit-kicking live music, either from newcomers like Ho99o9, Sunflower Bean (above) and The Big Moon or big hitters including Paul Weller, Alabama Shakes and The Maccabees.
In case you haven’t seen it, check out our live report from NME Radar’s bumper seven-band bill at The Haunt on Friday night, which saw a secret set from The Vaccines and some of the best new alt acts around (Wand, Bully, The Garden, Yung and Rat Boy all included) tear up the stage.
Our writers on the ground at the festival have compiled their best ‘n’ buzziest moments from the three day party.
1. Sunflower Bean (Corn Exchange, Friday night/Bleach, Saturday day)
Co-vocalists Julia Cumming and Nick Kivlen lend Brooklyn trio Sunflower Bean the sort of outlaw cool last seen when Juliette Lewis and Woody Harrelson were ‘Natural Born Killers’. Their psychy rock’n’roll wouldn’t have sounded out of place on the Oliver Stone film’s cult-classic soundtrack, with their debt to the likes of Patti Smith and 80s pop. At the Corn Exchange on Friday night – one of four amazing shows the still fairly-unknown act blew many away at over the course of the weekend – they showed The Great Escape that they weren’t afraid to dive into some dense, distortion-cloaked psych jams, and yet they still managed to steer clear of self-indulgence. Could they be the missing link between the Velvet Undergound and Tame Impala? In any case, they’re natural born thrillers.
Kevin EG Perry
2. JME & Skepta (The Dome, Saturday night)
JME & Skepta sparked the weekend’s most animated scenes at their heaving Dome show. After riotous support from Stormzy, Skepta swaggered onstage to the tune of ‘That’s Not Me’, its chorus shouted back en masse as thousands pogoed, having vacated their seats to form a giant moshpit. JME soon joined him to swap bars, and the pair – co-founders of the Boy Better Know label with Wiley – launched into a set of their solo hits and, on songs like Meridian Dan’s mayhem-inducing ‘German Whip’, collaborations as featured artists. Diligently attempting to determine whether the mandem or single ladies could make more noise, the pair fired up Boy Better Know classic ‘Too Many Men’ before storming into Skepta’s ‘Shutdown’ for a riotous finale. Chants of “Skepta!” ring out as balcony members stamp on their seats for more.
3. The Big Moon (The Haunt, Friday night)
The Big Moon – pictured above before taking to the stage at The Haunt – are a rare breed of new band. They’re the kind that are already supremely confident and self-assured, even in the face of technical difficulties, like those that briefly paused their festival-owning performance on Friday. Glitches laughed off, they also proved they’re a band who seem to be able to write a whole clutch of consistently brilliant songs at will. Nearly every song in their set could be a single – from the jagged edges of ‘Eureka Moment’ to the galloping, loved-up ‘Nothing Without You’ and ‘Cupid’’s matchmaking narrative.
4. The Maccabees mad closing party (Corn Exchange, Saturday night)
There’s an attitude to Maccabees songs – a kind of endearing hopefulness and of seeing the good in things – that means that, even though there have been some radical sonic progressions from 2007 debut ‘Colour It In’s youthful energy to their forthcoming new LP’s nuances and confidence, everything still gels. Still in their first run of shows back after two and a half years in the studio, their midnight headline slot on The Great Escape’s final day was a joyous return that managed to tie the effervescent bounce of oldies like ‘Latchmere’ with the crashing swells of new track ‘Spit It Out’, while still sounding cohesive. It showed a band with enough of a solid core foundation of what they’re about to be able to switch up the top layers and have it still effortlessly make sense, and a band that have quietly become one of their generation’s finest.
5. Loyle Carner (Patterns, early Saturday morning)
20-year-old MC Loyle Carner had the tough job of playing upstairs at Brighton seafront venue Patterns in the early hours of Saturday morning just after Ho99o9’s punk-rap freakshow (more on that below) and Drenge’s grunge masterclass had decimated the basement room. Still, one of the things that makes The Great Escape so exciting is the variety on offer, and Carner’s smooth-as-treacle vocals and honest, expressive lyricism meant he more than held his own against his noisier neighbours downstairs. Like Cantona, who he pays tribute to along with his dad on the song of the same name, he held the crowd’s rapt attention – never quite sure which trick he’d pull out next.
Kevin EG Perry
6. Dice’s house party (Campbell Road, Saturday night)
One of the best bits of The Great Escape is always the DIY house parties that end the weekend. This year, The Magic Gang threw an even wilder one than in 2014 and Demob Happy tried to put on the sequel to last year’s sweatfest at their Nowhere Man cafe – only for the council to intervene. Luckily, ticketing app Dice’s bash in the world’s tiniest living room avoided a similar fate (even though environmental health did land them with a hefty fine afterwards). After a glacial set from locals Big Society, the lights were turned out and Yak took things up several gears, kicking off with their wired take on Lonnie Donegan’s ‘Cumberland Gap’ and finishing with a ballistic version of ‘I Wanna Be Your Dog’. When Gengahr played at 1am, though, the house was so packed you couldn’t even get near the doorway to see them beefing up the tender sounds of their debut album, accompanied by a champion crowdsurfer in Superfood’s Emily Baker. Intensely fun.
7. Ho99o9 (Patterns, Friday night)
Around midnight Friday, Ho99o9’s dreadlocked TheOGM stormed onstage in a pretty white wedding dress and blue balaclava, abhorrent drones pealing from his synth; moments later hell-raiser Eaddy stormed in, downed a crowd-member’s pint and spat it in his face. Along with the drummer’s sleeveless Cramps T-shirt, these images should serve up insight to why this New Jersey trio are one of the States’ buzziest bands. The tag that’s stuck is “rap punk”, but it sells them short; a more accurate term would be ‘omni-punk’. From Bad Brains to Odd Future, Sex Pistols to System of a Down, punk has proven a genre-blind pandemic, and Ho99o9 have every strain going. Later in the set, Eaddy dove headlong into the crowd. Seconds later he’d sprawled on the floor, but after a theatrical writhe, he was straight back up, starting an instant moshpit. Get ready to jump in.
8. La Priest (The Haunt, Thursday night)
Filling The Haunt out to capacity with barely two released tracks to his name, it’s a testament to the completeness of ex-Late Of The Pier man Sam Dust’s technicolour vision that his Thursday night headline slot felt like a well-oiled machine rather than a new artist testing the waters. Clad in white silk pyjamas and beaded necklace like some kind of bedroom shamen, Dust veers between an array of homemade synths, guitars and samplers, weaving an eclectic web of dance beats and huge club-ready drops mixed with dreamy Connan Mockasin-esque gauzy pop, squelching electronic, brilliantly overblown guitar solos and various vocal effects. Dust’s return is fast proving to be one of the year’s most exciting.
9. Nah (Patterns, Friday night)
Some choice EP titles from Nah’s Bandcamp page: ‘Woe’, ‘End’, ‘just being alive and shit’ and ‘Nobody Cares What Happens, No One is Interested’. On an academic level, the most instructive might be ‘Demolition’; the aim of Nah’s unsettling music is to obliterate any expectations of melody and song structure, before getting to work on your eardrums. The Philly-based one-drummer-band has the haunting, wired intensity of a dazed trucker who accidentally stepped into your service station of his drumkit while triggering disembodied samples with his sticks – from atmospheric lurches to eviscerated female vocals. Just one reason you won’t want to look away.
10. Swim Deep (Corn Exchange, Saturday night)
Turns out their sound isn’t the only change Swim Deep have been ringing of late. Headlining at the Corn Exchange on Saturday night, the Brummie quintet seemed like a completely different band to the one presented in 2013. Old songs like ‘Honey’ and ‘King City’ fizzed with a fresh sense of fury and bite, frontman Austin Williams lurching about the stage howling and screaming. New songs like the bonkers, eight-minute long rave epic ‘Fueiho Boogie’ and the unquestionable pop genius of ‘Namaste’, meanwhile, showed that Swim Deep might have already scaled some notable heights but album two should have them conquering even greater peaks. “We’re hungry and we’re angry,” Austin told the crowd at one point, and everything about their performance backed that up in the most brilliant way.