The Great Escape is a window into a world of music that you know barely anything about, but come away a richer person with an expanded knowledge of new music.
During the hustle and bustle, battling queues, dodging recommendations that just don't suit you, it is sometimes hard to stay on track in the quest to find new music you love. But through sheer determination, battling exhaustion, unconventional accommodation (hotel floors) we found our way and couldn't be happier to have a new collection to draw upon and make our 2017 extra special.
Quinti-lingual Kwenders was born and raised in Kinchasa, Congo before moving to Montreal in 2001 where he's been living ever since. This music that he's brought to the UK for his first ever tour here is very much a reflection of the diverse range of influences he's been fortunate enough to gain from living in two vastly different continents.
Elements of Congolese rumba, South African house, hip-hop, rock and more all come together in an irresistably, cohesive way. The project has only been going five years but he's making good headway. The vocalist, who has a four-piece band as opposed to the two-piece stage outfit here today, has already supported Arcade Fire in Montreal and is on to his second LP, produced by Shabazz Palaces member Tendai Maraire - an artist signed to Subpop who came from Zimbabwe before settling in Seattle. Here in Brighton we don't quite have the numbers that a gig supporting The Arcade Fire can provide but the small Green Door Store room is packed to the brim with people instantly warming to the group despite knowing nothing about him. Kwenders' charismatic stage presence, awesome dance moves, and warm personality means he has theability to loosen up the stiffest of hipster crowds. Definitely one to watch.
Scotland's presence at TGE is highly visible this year. The range of genres on display stretches from the bluesy yelp of young chanteuse, Emme Woods through to distorted surf-pop of The Van T's, via epic pop from Saint PHNX. SAY Award-nominated, melody-laden, girl-group Teen Canteen and C86-inspired indie-shamblers Spinning Coin. Motherwell's rock-rap crossover The LaFontaines and nu-pop Dundonian Be Charlotte are also in the mix.
At Gigwise, we're particularly ennamoured by the 18-year-old from Paisley, near Glasgow, called Shogun. He's writing raps without even a splinter of censorship and in a society that increasingly encourages people to keep up appearances and convey a sense of self in particular way that's 'normal' that's something that's particularly exciting. He's playing in Patterns (formerly Audio) was a temple for breakbeat, drum 'n' bass, hip-hop - and other underground sounds - for many years. For Shogun - one of the best new British MC's this year, it's a healthy continuation of its legacy.
As days go, Shogun's pretty hungover but is still smashing it. It's a privledge to hear his rap on the viral track 'Vulcan' live. It's a cut that posists him as the Irvine Welsh of the 21st Century as he captures the hardship of growing up in a rough part of Scotland incredibly well. The stanza: "I lost a parent, well I never had him / Daddy was a no show and the pain burned out so slow / Dead beat big brother, can't even tell my mum on her birthday that I love her," is just one stanzas that shows the cold, hard realities that this man faces and how effectively he is dealing it by channeling any woes away from violence and into rap.
It's difficult to stand out as an electronic duo, you have to be pedalling some truly astounding music to be noticed as there's just so many bands doing the circuit in this format at the moment. Cut_ it seems are - ahem-, a cut above the majority and have worked tirelessly to create a live show that brings to together the robust beatsmithery of dutch electronic music's forefathers and combines it with elements of hip-hop, r&b and dub.
The dub influence, it seems, comes from the duo's history playing in reggae band together whilst hip-hop stems from the singer growing up in a neighbourhood in Amsterdam with a strong Surinamese identity. This and a love of commercial hip-hop has filtered through by osmosis of growing up there. As for their set, the Komedia venue is packed out for a mid-afternoon, and it's testament to how well their Polica-esque songs have caught the internet's slipstreams that it feels like a late night high-octane affair. It's difficult to imagine a new duo from Holland being able to top them at the minute. Exciting times ahead.
Janssen is another act from Holland, who was part of the Dutch Impact showcase like Cut_. However, he is cut from an entirely different cloth and crafts music solely from organic instruments. As a fan of the likes of Sufjan Stephen, Iron and Wine and The National, he borrows from an exciting palete of sounds to create the most stirring indie pop to come out of Holland in years.
Such is the power of his songwriting and range of his beguiling voice, members of Sigur Ros and The National pitched in to record on his latest album, Cousins. Compliments don't come much bigger than that for a newcomer without an international distibutor and it's testament to his fine songwriting craft that he's managed it. Live, the seven-piece band translate superbly and there's a softness in touch ample awareness of knowing when not to play as much as tehy know when to make it soar. Magic.
Not so much a 'find' but a necessary revisit and the fourth time in as many months Gigwise has seen the multinational, pan-gender electromash six-piece. What's quite remarkable to see is how quickly HMLTD have gone from Brixton pub scene reprobates to one of the most highly-acclaimed new acts in the UK.
This time last year they played a tiny stage at Field Day now they've got queues down the street with every journalist and record label under the sun trying to get a glimpse of the anarchy. As usual, frontman Henry Spychalsk is the most dynamic and provocative of the lot using his sexy Stalin look and piercing glare to get a reaction down the front as people mosh and giving back as much as tehy're giving. As a venue, The Haunt has a great sound that lends itself well to the electronic element of this band and it's impossible to not feel that this is just the beginning of a huge lifelong journey at the forefront of the music industry for them.
Smerz were one of the most talked about groups on the opening night of The Great Escape with A&R's from major record companies all hyped to check them out. It's understandable why they might be so interested as the Norwegian duo's music as it's among most exciting electronic music to come out of Copenhagen's infinitely rewarding undeground music scene in recent years.
We hypothesised last week as to why Denmark might have such a good scene at the moment in our review of SPOT festival and argued that it's largely down to government funding the arts allowing artists time to develop. Well, if Smerz have been on the receiving end of those cheques then it's obviously working.
Ultimately, they are a modern reworking of Portishead with a taste for soft techno. It's an interpretation and expression through digital effects that works to create a dizzying hedonistic atmosphere without being too heavy - it's perfect for 1am on a Thursday night. It would be fully justified to see Smerz break out into the mainstream and we can't imagine that phasing them either, they'll likely continue tapping into the deepest parts of their mind to paint sonic pictures to be proud of for their rest of their lives.
Nottingham's Crosa Rosa are possibly the best unsigned heavy three piece band in the country at the moment, which is why when Gigwise was asked to recommend a band to The Alternative Escape line-up they were our first choice. It's sheer bedlam inside the intimate surrounds of Brighton Youth Centre (it's BYOB here) and this band who channel the likes of Tad, Nirvana, Black Sabbath, and Clutch as the Sunny seaside shores of Brighton feel a world a way as we're swept by a current of delay, fuzz, reverb and catchy pop.
The band are very early in their career and could work in mainstream or underground circles. Having already played Reading and Leeds festival within their first year of being a bdn they're very capable and given the right opportunities, this band will flourish.
Confidence Man are a four-piece founded after four Aussie housemates drunkenly deciding to give their indie bands a break and start an electronic project with synchrnised dancing and stage costume. Remarkably, within six months of writing and demoing the show, it's become a serious project - Heavenly signed them and international festivals started coming in quickly.
It's not surprsing how quickly things have blossomed, because, as they say, if you're good live then success follows, and Confidence Man are INSANE live. They are easily one of the most fun live bands we've seen in years. Key to making them such a phenomena are the characters that they adopt. Particularly the front two. Janet Planet and Sugar Bones are sexual deviants with a dead pan stare that could knock out a Kangaroo in the ring. The stillness of expression on their face juxtaposes the electrifying stage moves that are so wild they sometimes pop their shoulder bones.
Having the privledge of hosting this monumental show is the end of pier venue Horatio's - and it's packed out. The Heavenly label who signed them are here, too. We turn around, trying to peel back our fixated stare at the stage and see glee on their faces as if all expectations of a band that they were already excited about have been smashed. The songs are fantastic, too. The LCD Soundsystem meets B52's fun of single 'Boyfriend's is one of two singles already out and it's a fun dig at the guilt-tripping manipulation men show women by buying their love with low level favours like cooking once in a while. The line: "He tries to make me breakfast. But I hate bacon and eggs," portrays this. Later on in this song Janet Planet manages to get the entire venue to GET DOWN whilst waiting for a disco house wig-out to drop. On paper, this band could set off a craze and be imitated broadly but it's doubtful anyone will be as good. Confidence Man deserve to rise to the top and will be THE festival band of the summer.
In Brighton Normanton Street are massively well-known and have built a solid reputation through gigging in Brighton. They're a jangly band who brandish semi-hollow bodies Gretch guitars that give a vintage feel that matches their mod attire. Meanwhile, singer Phoebe Freya whose vocals are up there with former Mr.Scruff collaborator, Alice Russell. Either side of Freya are two singers/rappers originally from Bradford who have great flow and rival the likes of Ghostpoet and Mike Skinner for their acute, witty portrayal of every day British life. Their gig at Mesmerist wasn't announced and they played a showcase of bands from their own label QM Records, all of whom have helped create a buzz inside what is the coolest off party on Thursday night. Staunchly independent, effortlessly melodic, and superb live; Normanton Street are an exciting proposition.
DGS Samurai Champs
DGS Samurai Champs are a group that fit neatly next to artists signed to hip hop/R&B acts Drakes' OVO Sound label and those pumping out minimal electronic future soul under LA's Soulection Collective. This urban sound has seen them gain a lot of traction in Canada's most populous city, Toronto. As for their home city of Regina in the state of Saskachewan they're cutting a path of their own bringing their distinct sound to a part of the world that's far more used to its Neil Young-esque singer/songwriters than anything of this ilk.
This new dawn is best measured by looking into Regina's most exciting new DIY label, Trifecta Collective. It's an umbrella with which a lot of young artsits such as LOA, WrongKrowd and VBRTR release awesome music. As for their set, Samurai Champs smash it at the Shoosh venue on Brighton Beach and get the crowd popping, everyone feeds off the energy of the front duo. Particularly exciting is seeing singer Marvin Chan scale to the venue ceiling, precariously position himself at the top fo the PA whilst keeping his vocal in perfection the whole time. A definite surprise under-hyped highlight.
Keeping our head in Saskatchewan for the time being we're enamored by the vocal talent of young Colter Wall who's often compared to Townes Van Zandt. There's a gruffness to his baritone that suggests a life of hardship weathered by too many days smoking cigarettes and working the fields. Turns out he has spent some time working on a ranch and the cowboy hat, belt buckle and voice are well earned but there's no way the melancholy can be anywhere as genuinely torn up as Townes'. Nevertheless, as a 21-year-old songwriter with a guitar playing in Brighton Unitarian church he has the entire venue under in his palm and if he stopped you'd hear a pin drop - that is some feat in this easily distractable world. We're looking forward to watching Colter Wall become more of a prominent name this side of the pond.