24 May 2017

Pull My Strings: A Review of the Great Escape

Some cultural context for the Great Escape, a multi venue festival that takes place in Shoreditch-on-Sea every May, comes from well before the festival was first held - 1980 in fact. The Dead Kennedys' were invited to the Bay Area Music Awards, to pick up their 'best new wave band' accolade, but instead of performing California Uber Alles, as planned, they rocketed into the first 20 seconds of Cali... before Jello Biafra belligerently sneered "hold it! We've gotta prove we're adults now. We're not a punk rock band, we're a new wave band." The band dropped black ties onto their shirts with painted on letter esSes to make them a group adorned in huge dollar signs, and lurched into a freshly composed number called Pull My Strings. Contained within that song is all the context you need to understand what the Great Escape is like.

I swizzed a free ticket, and whilst I was aware of it's rep as an industry festival, I didn't know that it would be quite like it was; hours of queues, hours of queues in which men in burgundy hoodies discuss 'lucrative content' in shrill middle class voices, whilst men with bad haircuts discuss 'the most exciting next big thing' with the monotony and excitement of the google translate audio voice. Nearly everything has a sponsor; bands that sing "Patti Smith wouldn't put up with this shit!" mere moments after plugging VEVO.

Please don't get me wrong at this juncture though; there's a lot of fun to be had, dozens of good bands, and if the weather's nice, Shoreditch-on-Sea is one of the nicest coastal cities in the country, but there's a lot of negatives to first sift through. The next of these on my agenda's the (and I quote Pull My Strings here, probably for the last time because I'm writing this quite drunk and I'll forget to relate the rest to the first paragraph) "fat-ass bouncers who kick the shit out of kids who try to dance" - Time: Thursday. Place: The Black Lion. Shame's surprise headline set was pulled 4 songs in after shrivel-cocked, little-Hitler bouncers felt an ounce of retaliation for a night of kicking the shit out of kids tryna dance.

Not a complete loss, as Shame's thunderous slot at The Haunt a few hours earlier was a bombastic oasis of energy, vigour and noise, one of the highlight's of the festival. They may have a punk aesthetic, and a sound which takes cues from post-punk, but Shame's grasp of dynamics and drama makes them one of the most enthralling bands on the planet. Their set's a juxtaposition of quiet, menacing whispers, and then instrumental explosions, menacing poise, and then Iggy Pop like stage shamanism. One of the next great bands, Shame are vital at a time like this, and seemed instantly worlds ahead of the many ten-a-penny guitar bands at the festival.

The other band that completely ruled the festival were HMLTD, and if this band aren't the biggest thing in the country in a year then I do well and truly give up. So forward thinking, yet so fun, so completely unique in every way, their two sets at The Haunt and the Prince Albert might well have been the best two sets to take place all festival. Frontman Henry Spychalski looks like a blue haired Ziggy Stardust, with the insanity and depravity of Cracked Actor magnified by a million, whilst the band's fearless fusion of everything from trap to junked-up Americana, from techno to glam rock, is everything you need and more. Absolutely astounding as a live spectacle, very few artists have ever such a concept of drama and cinema within performance down to an absolute T; journalist Simon Price called them "the most important band for years", and you'd be a fool not to agree.

From the strobing breakdown to Stained, to the depravity of Is This What You Wanted, which gets more and more amazing with every live performance, HMLTD are a transportative force operating on a level a million miles above anyone in the mainstream (which, to think of them infiltrating, isn't far of a leap in the imagination). At the Prince Albert especially, a live spectacle which saw the band hurtle around the stage, producing an impressive sound that shook the ceiling of the 100-cap pub venue. As the closed with the duo of Proxy, which sounds like a vampiric disco-era Sparks with a taste for blood, and Where's Joanna, a chaotic cocktail of glam rock, reggae, and psychobilly, it became more and more apparent that this is a genuinely great band in the making.

Elsewhere, the miasma of Melt Dunes' aggro-psych had a particularly garagey flavour to it as they headlined Strong Island's alt-alt Escape at The Globe on Friday, a festival krautrock rage brewed as their ferocious hell-strewn riffage locked into a Can style groove. Previously on that oh-so-fantastic noisy lineup, the garage rock furore of Brighton power trio Strange Cages lit up the basement, whilst the wooze of cosmic slackers Drug Store Romeos filled the chamber with the most beautiful, daydreamy sound.

Echochamp's all-dayer yielded bombast from Birdskulls' skater punk, but the highlight of that day's alt-Escape came from either fuzzed-out sunseeker psych-punk of the Parrots in a sweaty, sweaty Globe basement, or a depraved set from Hotel Lux at the Richmond, which saw frontman Lewis Duffin's scorching poetry screamed atop Monks-like garage punk confrontation.

And bar the bouncers' using a drunken crowd to take their insecurities out in the form of violence might well have tainted The Black Lion's alt-Escape, the lineup saw an array of London artists coming at you preposterously fast. The psychotic blues-leaning garage of the Dead Pretties was an early highlight, whilst Matt Maltese's haunting post-apocalyptic bunker ballads filled a hushed pub with a forlorn whim. The guttural country garage-psych of Phobophobes plunged the place down the rabbit hole as lyrics like "selling your body for more than it's worth" fell on a jaded crowd, whilst Sorry's angsty grunge proved just why they are the kind of next big thing that the aforementioned industry men might well be getting moist for.

An industry event populated by wankers, who not only champion bland soon-to-be-industry-darling music but revel in telling people having fun "shame on you" (something someone actually said to me for dancing during HMLTD), the Great Escape is somewhere where a density of good things do happen. Shoreditch-on-Sea - where every single walk no matter how small is up a hill - might be a nightmare place to hold a multi-venue festival. Especially in May where it's too windy to actually sit on the beach. But hey, if you go looking for a good time, you'll find one.

Photos: April Arabella - SITE HERE

(Words: Cal C)