A surprise set from The Vaccines last night (May 15) topped a bonkers bill at the NME Radar stage of The Great Escape. Set at the Brighton festival’s The Haunt venue, the night saw rare UK shows from stateside newbies everyone will be shouting about come Autumn (The Garden, Bully, Wand) along with NME faves Yung, The Big Moon and Rat Boy, before Justin Young and his West London crew took over to defend the throne.
Proceedings burst into action with California duo The Garden, who played an electrifying set of nonstop strobes and battering beats with the manic intensity of the Prodigy. Drummer Fletcher Shears, who has feral eyes and wild white hair, started the set climbing 8-ft speaker stacks and jump-rolling onto stage, before taking up live drums halfway in as twin brother Wyatt took over vocals. After variously tapping into jungle, surf rock, rave and cross-genre groups like The Horrors and the Fall, the duo celebrated their last minute onstage by blasting a sordid postpunk nightmare with the refrain, “I’m gonna drink his soul tonight.” Business as usual for the Burger Records pair.
“The Garden was fucking awesome, that was so cool,” said next act Bully, as they took the stage with the bedraggled aloofness of a band who just emerged from a Daria marathon in a mate’s garage. Led by screecher-guitarist Alicia Bognanno, the Nashville four-piece stormed through a grungy set of hell-for-second-hand-leather gems that’d fit nicely on Massachusetts label Exploding In Sound, home to bands like Krill and Speedy Ortiz. As well as ripping your hair from your scalp, the songs are smartly structured – one, delivered midway in, cracks from a muttered lullaby into a satanic scree that’d make Brainiac jump. What’s more, after the set, Alicia proved herself a certifiable good egg by sticking around to sign posters for fans.
Next up were Wand, a stormy psych-rock group so unambiguously dark that their bassist literally has Friedrich Nietzsche’s face tattooed on his arm. After an instrumental intro that sounded like Sunn O))) being beamed up to Mars, the Los Angeles four-piece plunged into transcendent, sludgy drones, pierced by theatrical squeals from Cory Thomas Hanson, whose oversized red jumper and black school trousers make him look dressed by his mum. Nonetheless, he owned the stage with elaborate rock-school poses and possessed facial contortions that turned the deathly reverberations into an act of triumph.
The Big Moon brought things back to a lighter tip after Wand’s sludgy riffs, overcoming mid-set technical difficulties to prove their worth as one of the most highly anticipated bands of the night. ‘Cupid’ excelled in Elastica-esque nonchalant attitude, and their now-traditional cover of Madonna’s ‘Beautiful Stranger’ showed off the band’s fun side. They capped things off with an impassioned version of debut single ‘Sucker’, leaving the stage to long-lasting waves of cheers and applause.
Essex teenager Jordan Cardy, aka Rat Boy, brought his exuberant hip-hop indebted set to the packed venue next. Joined by his three-piece backing band, the 19-year-old charged between playing guitar to attacking midi samplers during his energetic performance. The likes of ‘Carry On’ and ‘Stick Up Kids’ formed early highlights of Cardy’s set, showcasing his soundclash of punk, indie and hip-hop. Blur’s Dave Rowntree was watching his new Parlophone label mate from the crowd, tweeting that Rat Boy was “an unlikely superhero” afterwards. Debut single ‘Sign On’ marked the closing stages of his turn, with the behatted frontman jumping into the crowd with his guitar as his band rung out the final notes of his performance.
Coming onstage after midnight were The Vaccines, where boozy anticipation had come to a foamy head. The band’s three-years-coming third album, ‘English Graffiti’, is finally out later this month (May 25), and their queue stretched round the block. Shortly before 1am, the venue erupted as Justin Young, guitar mounted on his shoulder like a machine gun, strolled onstage and ripped into ‘Teenage Icon’. Adoring fans young and old were squeezed in tight and buzzing like hot atoms.
A succession of crowd-baiting anthems followed. ’Wrecking Bar (Ra Ra Ra)’ and ‘Wetsuit’ sparked a shoulder-barging pit that didn’t let up, even as new tracks diversified the set. ‘English Graffiti’’s lead single, ‘Handsome’, got a particularly mad response, with fans shouting its sarky “thank God I’m handsome” chorus like Directioners swept up in reverie. Meanwhile, recently shared track ‘Dream Lover’ had the diehards showing their colours, with fans hopped up on Oranjeboom and sincerity thrusting their fists to the sky and echoing back Justin’s words. Perhaps less Wrecking Bar than Wrecked Bar, then, but a night no level of inebriation could make you forget.