BRIGHTON, UK – A GREAT EUROVISION ESCAPE

The Eurovision Song Contest might have its own legion of followers, but you don’t have to look further than Brighton’s The Great Escape festival for international appeal. Taking over the seaside on the very same weekend, the annual event’s line-up serves up a Continental as fine as it does fish ’n’ chips and 2022’s event was no exception. Amongst 185 international acts on the bill, here are some choice artists (in no particular order) who ensured their busman’s holiday was well worth every mile travelled.

BRIMHEIM (Faroe Islands via Denmark) @ Waterbear Venue

Don’t let the pearls and prairie dress fool you; Helena Rebensdorff means business. “Ok, can we get started now?” she asks the back of the room, teeth gripping the pick between her lips, as bodies continue to pile in and plug the gaps of an already at capacity audience. With the answer affirmative and her four band mates nestled into the archway behind her, they launch into tracks from her frank album can’t hate myself into a different shape: each one a delicate unfurling of the truth. Stripped back intros lure listeners into a false sense of security before anthemic blasts of synth and guitar-fuelled shimmer. Making way for a simple vocal, her voice soars impeccably with vulnerability in its wake; embittered with Sharon Van Etten disdain, she is disappointed in you, herself and the world around her, under scathing Este Haim grimace. Placing her instrument aside for elegant highlight ‘baleen’ feeder’ she sings, “I wish I didn’t care what you think of me,”  her hands playing at her body, hinting at its meaning. It’s fitting “Brimheim” means ‘home of the breaking waves’; her first UK show ever, just metres from the ocean, might be uncharted waters but this afternoon she has transformed this beachside cavern into a new home on the range.

JAYWOOD (Canada) @ Green Door Store

With guitar worn high on his hip and Looney Tunes Space Jam t-shirt the uniform of choice, this afternoon, with 3-piece band in tow, Jay is playing feel-good cosmic jams of his own; alternative funk pop melodies flowing with danceable grooves and pounding bass from his forthcoming Captured Tracks LP. Like dreamily mellow affirmations of positivity glimmering within the dark, “This is brand spanking new,” he introduces of uplifting soul-funk number ‘Just saying.’ Guitar down and ringleading the Canada House audience in a singalong; his percussive set overflows with the warmth of Toro Y Moi summoning the summer, emitting uplifting festival vibes – even if his hometown of Winnipeg couldn’t be further from Brighton beach. “We’re from the prairies, our roads are fucking trashed don’t come,” he jests by way of respect for his newfound audience. “You guys have the fucking ocean, why would you ever leave?” Banter, like the songs, is strong; Canada quite literally is in the house and even inside, the sun is shining.

PARTY DOZEN (Australia) @ Komedia Basement

Whatever you do, don’t look saxophonist Kirsty Tickle in the eye. Her mouth may be preoccupied with another blast on the horn hanging around her neck, but head and gaze are the source of encouragement as her urgent nods and po-go bounce swiftly gee up those braving the front row. Like a punked-up snake charmer unleashing a tirade of pent-up stress relief, she loops squelch with an array of pedal effects before tilting the sax sideways and wailing down its bell, causing distorted vocals to escape like a manic megaphone. Behind her, percussionist Jonathan Boulet thrashes away on drums and, almost drowning out the hefty industrial chinks and throbbing bass of the Viagra Boys meets Zombie Zombie krautrock style backing track, the pair playfully call En Garde in a sonic duel without words, each frantically cranking up the dial whilst trying to catch the other out. With just two members on stage it could be the most exclusive social gathering ever, and yet, everyone’s invited.

JOHN MOODS (Germany) @ Patterns Upstairs

John Moods’ work here is done. Not because the smell of BBQed frankfurters in the air or the empty boozy miniatures and bottle tops strewn about the tables suggest a well-thrown Zeitgeist German showcase party; it’s that every single face about the room is sickeningly smacked with the glee of a kid at Christmas. Satisfied with his labour – a set of dreamy, romantic ballads and good vibes sung whilst bouncing between the light vocal harmonies and flute of his Mood-setting colleagues – he declares “Now for the announcements,” whilst unwrapping a scroll of paper like a town crier without a bell. After notices about his new album, merchandise and messages of thanks, John drops off the low stage and roams about the audience for one final scout around under the venue’s upturned UFO shaped silver canopy. Looking everyone in the eye with appreciation, the aftermath of a party it’s not, but a soothing treat for the last ones standing. Mood by name, mood by nature.

BUDJERAH (Australia) @ Prince Albert

More storyteller than songwriter, there’s something incredibly enchanting and impressive about how Budjerah can silence the usual chatter of a Great Escape venue. The evening crowd are hung on his every word which is sung as well as spoken; each breath is a soulful vocal drawn from the inside looking out. Between the brave opening cover of Sam Cooke’s ‘A Change Is Gonna Come’,  and original song ‘Missing You’ about the time he missed friends after dropping out of school in pursuit of a record deal, he shares proud stories of his indigenous roots, songwriting partners back home, and musical influences (namely D’Angelo and Amy Winehouse who played London’s Jazz Cafe where he recently “got to perform”). Serenading the audience with his own reworking of an Ed Sheeran song, he politely gestures to his hand-painted guitar which depicts the story of his own life from his upbringing in church and love of soul music to the meaning of its “fish” representing his original song “My Name.” Don’t forget this one.

A.O. GERBER (USA) @ The Mucky Duck

Friday 13th was always going to rear its ugly head in unexpected ways. For A.O. Gerber, it’s the sticky keys on her keyboard which are causing problems. Most might quit, but smiling through, she confesses and moves on with an inspired method of distraction. “Have you all met my sound tech Phoebe?” She gestures right. “Everyone say hello!” Phoebe waves and between the pillars in this small pub, A.O. continues to perform an intimate set of meandering songs from her debut album Another Place To Need. Despite the Open Mic setting, with tables moved out to make space for the day-long Hand In Hive / Sub Pop showcase, ‘In The Morning’ is beautifully heartbreaking (“Wish I could drown this fucking heart of mine”), ‘Tell Me’ is a hauntingly delicate acoustic ballad bringing to mind Angel Olsen, and A.O. ‘s simple, less-is-more fusion of guitar with keys and Casio style drum beats brings to mind the DIY ethos of a less weird Tickley Feather. The songs are confessional, as from a cathartic need to be written and performed, lending themselves to a personal portrait of an artist who writes in solitude from within the confines of her home. It’s a set proving that frustration is often better out than in.

HATIS NOIT (Japan) @ St Mary’s Church

Call it witchcraft or hypnosis, Hatis Noit knows how to cast a magic spell. Tonight, mobile phones are silenced, and standing tall, a Bjork-like resemblance of a beating heart in red dress, matching unicorn horns nosepiece, and gently holding a colour-coordinated microphone, Hatis is a scarlet sorcerer summoning the outside elements as her operatic chants of layered Gregorian vocals rise above a backing soundtrack of waves and seagulls. Singing in Japanese, her songs convey joy and the emotion of triumph over tragedy, particularly when referring to the Tsunami which caused a nuclear power plant disaster for families in her hometown. Haunting, it resonates among the church pews meeting stunned silence as she gracefully delivers her message to the heavens for any angels listening in. Her delivery is disciplined, rising above motorbikes rumbling outside, a phone dropping between in pews at her most a cappella moment, and even when a ghostly piano and choir of male voices from next door resound to steal the limelight. “Thank you for having us,” she beams, perhaps alluding to the many layers of her vocal personalities.

GRACE CUMMINGS (Australia) @ Komedia Basement

Watching Grace Cummings is a transcendent experience. With a roar as though rising from the depths of Laurel Canyon itself, the hefty tones of fellow Grace (Slick), Janis Joplin wail and contemporary rasp of Brittany Howard with Stones and Zeppelin Classic rock ferocity, this afternoon’s audience is being transported to the 1970s. With lyrical licks about leaves and cowboys, it’s a powerfully driven ride across a wild and free natural landscape which spirals off into the sonic abrasion of her denim clad band members whose separate parts instinctively meander together. “Are you ready?” she asks, her satin shirt shimmering under the spotlight. “Yeah!” exclaims a voice from the sound desk, confirming the techs are strapped in for the ride. “Thanks for giving time to an unwanted instrument,” Grace tells the crowd by way of an introduction, possibly referring to the opening number’s use of keyboard which remains redundant for the set remainder, in favour of a storm of spiralling guitars around her. ‘Heaven’ is a closing call to arms; with a low growl of “Ave Maria ” and shimmering percussion, the band play out the final bar over and over ten times or more giving an age-old saying, new life.

KRAPKA;KOMA (Ukraine) @ Zahara

“Everyone knows what’s happening, and what our songs are about,” quietly intones Alona Kovalenko (Koma), sitting conspicuously between keys and drum pads in her monochrome trouser suit. To her right, Ira Lobanok (Krapka) assesses the crowd, in equally eye-catching electric blue, from behind the shield of her open laptop. “We are proud to be the voice of our country at this Great Escape.” A multi-instrumental electronic duo from Lviv, it’s not surprising to see, under the neon rainbow strip lights of this basement, a room full of those showing their support to the only Ukrainian band performing at this year’s event. Despite technical issues enforcing a 30-minute delay and a painstakingly gaffa-taped backdrop giving up mid-set, the pair – alongside visual artist Becky-Boo (who, side of stage, occasionally turns her head to pull faces at crowd whilst conducting projections of crashing waves and flickering faces behind the duo), and vocalist Pixi Ink – treat the audience to some dreamy downtempo magic. To use their namesake (“semicolon” in English); it’s a colourful, glitchy and trippy set of soothing electropop soundscapes hinting at the free Jazz of their backgrounds. A tote bag bearing the flag of their country hangs from the table with the words Good evening, we are from Ukraine in their native language. It’s perfect product placement for a good evening indeed.*

NAYA ALI (Canada) @ Green Door Store

If the world was about to end, Naya Ali would be the one to save it. “Alright, let’s keep the shizz going,” she declares through her grill, before turning towards her beats-maker sidekick to check he’s good to go. Launching into a rap attack of positivity, the long straps of her Mission Impossible style dungarees swing behind her as she bounces stealth-like – a graceful robber or the superhero to rescue us. Her Marvel name? Ali – to mean “elevated”. Her weapon of choice? Rhymes of supersonic flow, and as her trusty sidekick waves his arms around to the glitchy electro, boom bap and trap underneath, the crowd bounce along with hands in the air. Unscrewing the cap from her water bottle and tossing it aside (“I’ll get it later!”) she asks, “how you all doing tonight?” before suddenly remembering it is only 3pm in the afternoon. “Hey, we’re in a cave!” she exclaims of Green Door’s nocturnal vibes. Laughter ensues and with everyone on side, the MC unleashes her final tactic for preventing Armageddon; meditation. Everyone closes their eyes; the frantic strobe and house lights are plunged into darkness and alongside wobbly atmospherics Ali delivers a poetic vision posing one simple question; to reach your goals do you fight with the snakes or accept them and keep walking? Not all heroes wear capes.

HIGHSCHOOL (Australia) @ Folklore, The Quadrant

It’s only a matter of time before Brandon Flowers discovers Australian band, HighSchool. With a knack for a synth melody like The Killers’ showman himself, danceable guitar riffs à la the now sadly defunct Finnish band French Films, careening Drums-like whimsy, mellow surf numbers with Smiths-like charm, and New Order danceability, their indie hearts firmly rest on their narrow vest top sleeves. But crammed into the corner of this upstairs pub, this is a band whose highly hung guitar melodies proudly glimmer with romantic sheen. There’s little talk, preferring to let the music do the self-loathing (or perhaps exhaustion is setting in from previous official shows of the day) but as the crowd bobs along and vocalist and songwriter Rory Trobbiani does his best running man arms on the spot alongside sister Lilli on keys and bassist Luke, everything is just fine. “This is a new song for Ivan,” he tells of the newest member to join the band. Clearly Ivan’s getting into the swing of it; as Rory repeatedly sings “it was only a dream,” Ivan makes his way to the top of the amp and whatever the fantasy was, feels like it could become reality.

BALMING TIGER (South Korea) @ Folklore, The Quadrant

It’s impossible to know where to look at the chaos unfolding in this unsuspecting pub corner on North Street. Wearing turd brown tracksuits which offset spectacularly elevated levels of spirit, one band member of this 6-piece collective clutches a soft toy cat and pounds upon the stage with her fist whilst upside down headbanging. Another has possibly had one too many and with half-closed eyes, steadies himself on the banister beside him. Their leader, with jalapeño buzz cut spits out alternative hip-hop rhymes about social media misuse (‘I’m Sick’) and trusting yourself. With too many members to fit on this small stage, the socially conscious band spill to the floor. Moving to every beat like a synchronised swim group on dry land, the troupe bounce in a moving circle before the song transforms into a ballad. It’s all captured by another member, on his compact handheld video camera. “We are the alternative K-pop band, love is our mission,” their singer exclaims before set highlight ‘Kolo Kolo’; an enthusiastic back and forth of “Hakuna Matata” with the audience.

Honourable mentions: Kills Birds (USA), Unschooling (France), Roller Derby (Germany), Bad Waitress (Canada), The Bobby Tenderloin Universe (USA)

*Support Ukrainian creatives Artery is a free job platform helping displaced Ukrainian music professionals fleeing war, find jobs they love in great teams. Visit the site if you’re an employer looking for talent, or a displaced professional looking for a way to share your talent.

COME ONE, COME ALL: JOHN HALL’S GROOVY BALL

“…so when you get drunk Wilson, and you reminisce of the Hacienda, be told with a beautiful story of your own proper John Hall bender.


– Leon The Pig Farmer

John Hall is missing. Scan the faces assembled by the stage and nowhere within his usual 4-feet-from-the-front can today’s man of the moment be seen. It’s late afternoon at Manchester’s Ritz where already, a wide-eyed gang of his groovy friends and acquaintances are uniting for a gala celebration and musical fundraiser marking his existence. Of John I know little; our paths first crossed in the snug of Salford’s Eagle Inn. He’d taken a liking to a friend’s socks and since then has been the guy with a grin on his face, panning his camera back and forth from artist to audience whilst filming the scenes unfolding before him (and sharing the gig footage online for fellow revelers to see). Today is a celebration of life and music in John’s honour and, like a Marvel comic power-huddle uniting the forces of his favourite musical friends met in sweaty mosh pits along the way, it’s now from the balcony where he watches. Below, legions of guests gather to revel in a bash to behold, like Capote’s Black & White masquerade ball had it been held in Manchester. Only without (pandemic-precautionary!) face masks, where rainbow is the colour, and everyone’s invited.

“oo’s missed discos?” booms a bold northern accent down the microphone. Loose Articles don’t ask questions; they demand answers, and in no time at all the audience respond to their interrogation as the local 4-piece punch through a set of X-Ray Spex style post-punk stompers, transforming the venue’s basement into their own euphoric dungeon. Doused in traffic-light hues giving each member a green-red aura, their bratty B-52’s-meets-Bis bounce, Cramps-like shrieks and whistles blown unleash their own torrid tales of grievances including a trundling bassline fuelled by the familiar frustration of the 142 bus route. ‘Chaos’ captures the party atmosphere as the band disappear from view among an increasing number of bobbing heads, almost censoring Natalie‘s beaded flame-print leotard which later, outside, catches the eye of a bouncer who chuckles with the humour intended.

Having been cooped up too long has much to answer for; it seems walking stick waving is the newest demonstration of live music appreciation as Cheshire trio Déjà Vega take to the stage. Crooked handles aloft as though a gang of rogue geriatrics have fought their way to the front, a pair of crutches happily dance in the air, bouncing each riff back to the band. Bassist Mike’s left knee wobbles, almost powering their Diiv-like propulsion as singer Jack roams the stage denting a cowbell. There are fewer stomped-out stage patterns as Liverpool’s The Mysterines thrust their metal-lite grunge upon the crowd, but singer Lia’s understated delivery allows her game face and songwriting to do the talking. “It’s always the same, life’s a bitch” she rasps in her hauntingly low register whilst taking out the tension on a battered guitar. Under red light, the band tease further tracks from their forthcoming debut album and show confidence as they embrace their heftier side, choosing to filter out lighter hits from their set like recent single ‘Take Control’.

Now performing as a 6-piece, The Blinders’ familiar opener ‘Gotta Get Through’ launches the expanded collective’s amped-up set, only witnessed so far as a stripped-back Lounge Lizard session. Latest LP Fantasies Of A Stay At Home Psychopath is interspersed with old favourites ‘ICB Blues’ and ‘Brave New World,’ with the meatier sound resonating as a band having found their stride. Some intricacies such as the shimmering tambourine of percussionist Paris and added guitar are inevitably lost within the traditional vista, but overall it’s a welcome return. “Shut the fuck up,” frontman Thomas hushes to an over-enthusiastic audience, indicating something important about to happen as the band themselves step away from their instruments, leaving just keys player Johnny to accompany ‘Circle Song’. “I’m thinking, I’m thinking some, how the hero always dies young” is poignant as the lyrics are delivered towards the balcony blurring all else into the background. Picking up pace, a couple twirl each other unsteadily among plastic cups at their feet as the gloomy ‘Black Glass’ moves towards its dramatic climax, and Document bassist Max steps forth on harmonica for a rousing ‘Rat in a Cage’.

Hovering in the wings, Dave Haslam watches on before positioning himself at the decks for the night’s latest DJ set. Earlier, psychedelic scholars Astral Elevator, plus Jason Boardman and Jeff O’Toole took to the helm and now, in his Modern Lovers t-shirt, Dave steps up to flip through his CD wallet having famously bid farewell to his vinyl collection a few years earlier. Turning up the gain on bangers beginning with The Fall and Iggy Pop, a small group of Sunday night pleasure seekers force the venue’s sprung dancefloor to work overtime.

Also hard workers, Chadderton’s Dirty Laces open their own set with intent; “If you’ve not seen us before, you have now” tells singer Charlie, because there’s no time left at the end. “We’re halfway through but have just one song left”, he warns before the band plunge into the early Verve guitar sprawl and classic 70s rock refrains of 7-minute epic ‘You’. Hair now released from its scrunchie and stuck to his face, he steps down to join the front row and makes way for his bandmates’ instrumental outro. Upstairs however, it’s all about Intros. Tonight isn’t a politics party but the bard of Cabbage known as Leon The Pig Farmer is raising his own toast for our musical champion; “So deck the halls with Johnny, make your own hall of fame, make your own Lesser Free Trade Hall, be like John, don’t be the same, so let’s gather the reverb nation, applaud on all four walls, mark my words with appreciation and raise a glass for mister John Hall.”

“Life’s changed dramatically and yet it remains the same” offers Cabbage co-frontman Lee as a long-awaited live welcome whilst teetering on the stage edge. Delivering a high-energy set of delightfully grotesque anthems from latest album Amanita Pantherina including angular songs about Jeremy Corbyn and for the second time this evening, transport-inspired woes (this time it’s trains), a swaggering Leon returns and the band recall their own story of meeting mister Hall during Cabbage’s earlier incarnation. “John spied me, he said ‘You gotta be in a band, what you called?’ His response to the initial band name? “Oooh, do you want some psychedelic drugs?” and The Ritz descends into rapturous laughter and applause.

Leaving the night on perhaps an even bigger high, headliners Peter Hook & The Light briefly lure the man of the moment, or rather, an enthusiastic waving groovy arm, from the balcony for all to see. Cradling his low-slung bass with typically wide power-stance, ‘Hooky’ and co deliver a hefty Joy Division set featuring John’s ‘favourite song’ ‘Novelty’, an electrifying audience sing-along of ‘Love Will Tear Us Apart’ and, casting a light from the shadows of a tough year, ‘Atmosphere’ is dedicated to “all those not lucky enough to be here tonight”. But that’s life; it is tough, and the set serves a stark reminder that whilst there will be a time when we no longer see John in the crowd, rest assured our lovable music-lauding laureate will still be around somewhere; perhaps getting a good angle, making more friends from strangers, or even admiring another great pair of socks.


>> Concert For John has raised over £10,000 so far, kick-starting the charity John plans to establish for assisting grassroots musicians at the start of their careers. Current plans include providing free, clean, rehearsal space in Manchester. Check back soon and a link will be added here for how you can support the cause.


NEW YORK – PENNSYLVANIA, USA – FONTAINES D.C. STORM THE EAST COAST

“I wanted real adventure to happen to myself. But real adventures, I reflected, do not happen to people who remain at home: they must be sought abroad.”

James Joyce – An Encounter, Dubliners

The eyeballs of Fontaines D.C.’s Grian Chatten are fixed towards the ceiling. You can hardly blame him. It’s a typical November night in Brooklyn – in September. Just days before, Hurricane Dorian was hugging the south-eastern coastline and nudging ever closer to New York City; its path an unpredictable whirlwind leaving only chaos and destruction behind. All day, the Music Hall of Williamsburg has been hammered by inclement showers and bracing gusts so tonight, as the Dublin 5-piece take to its stage, there’s a very real threat of “tearing down the plaster”  as Grian delivers ‘Hurricane Laughter’; stoking the storm’s eye with their turbulent tones and enough stabs of sonic distortion to leave Mother Nature herself recoiling in its wake.

It’s the opening night of Fontaines D.C.’s month-long, debut North American headline tour and the next phase of the band’s explosive trajectory. Following an emergency culling of their festival appearances since returning to the UK after a momentous SXSW in Austin, Texas and the release of their Mercury-nominated debut album Dogrel, they’re now reaping the benefits of having had a brief well-earned rest. As the thick brogue of Luke Kelly delivering his poem ‘For What Died The Sons Of Róisín?’ resounds through the speakers, the band are called to the stage and with a simple “Good to see you,” tonight’s sold out crowd brace themselves for lashings of frenetic noise that ricochets off every bolthole.

Whipping the congregation into a frenzy through an aggravated release of poetic sermons, Grian blesses each audience member with his gaze and as the tension mounts, they become euphoric. Geeing up the crowd, he wrings his wrists and paces back and forth with controlled convulsions. ‘Too Real’ sees a schizophrenic transformation in the pit from appreciative to cataclysmic, as the mass surge to the left. Phones are hung on to* and stances widened as Grian dons a Peaky Blinders style flat cap likening him to a Victorian baker boy in his shirt-slacks combo. Meanwhile, guitarist Carlos O’Connell launches himself into the crowd; kick-starting a domino effect of fans hurling themselves off the stage and riding a wave into the shadows.

The lone stage-diver repeating such behaviour in Philadelphia the following evening could only hope for such a smooth ride. Part-way between a diner for locals and intimate burlesque theatre with its low red lighting and wooden interior, the second night’s venue is Johnny Brenda’s. Sitting in Fishtown on the corner of a bustling intersection, the city’s Saturday night suburb is neon lit like a 50s film noir. Opposite, late night coffee is being served at Joe’s where the din of the venue’s groups of men drinking into the early hours carries across the street. Commotion and layers of half-conversations spill on to the sidewalk, fuelled by one, two or perhaps even five rounds of Boilermakers.

Upstairs the band have jumbled the previous night’s setlist and as they take to the venue’s corner stage, Grian greets the sea of faces at his feet and those scrutinising from the surrounding balcony with an awkward wave. At the rear of the stage hangs a velvet curtain, strung with what seems to be the clear plastic crystals from a cheap jewellery box, and the room is doused in UV light. Opening with ‘Television Screen,’ it’s an energised set; from the atmospherics of Carlos working the amp, extorting its feedback with each swing of his guitar and beer bottle string sliding, to the hefty punk beat laid down by drummer Tom Coll and Conor Deegan’s thundering bass. Tugging at his baggy stripes, Grian jerks as though to shake off any shred of lingering self-doubt and it’s intense, like watching a band fighting to escape the confines of a matchbox.

As ‘Liberty Belle’ rings out for what could be the city’s adopted anthem (the bell itself, a symbol of Philadelphia), a rogue reveller hugs the monitor at Grian’s feet and struggles with it as he crawls up on to the stage. Predicting what comes next, guitarist Conor Curley is on standby; wearing his white cowboy shirt with fringing and halfway holding out a hand to assist, he’s like Frankie Avalon in Grease’s ‘Beauty School Drop-out’ dream sequence coming to the rescue, until it’s too late. Rising from his knees, the unexpected visitor hurls himself across the room, head-first into the tiny venue’s supporting pillar – taking Grian’s microphone out in the process. The interruption is over as quickly as it begins and apart from a crafty lyrical edit nodding to the fact it happened, the band power on through.

The rest of the set is seamless; the blue hue pulses with the strobe effect of a Stranger Things electrical warning and the band are on fire. Whether over-compensating from the effects of a late night prior, or simply finding their stride, tonight is just better. Everything is wound tighter and cranked up a gear higher. Rubbing his face, banging his chest and dipping his hands deeper into his pockets as if to awaken himself, Grian’s pacing is most noticeable when contrasted by the band’s statuesque shredding. The most affecting moment is ‘Roy’s Tune’; a tender performance showing a band who can do beauty as well as they do brawn. ‘The Lotts’ is suitably gloomy, its spiralling 80s melancholia haunting through beautifully smoggy refrains and Grian breaks out the tambourine for electrifying new song ‘Televised Mind’ – a ferocious cyclone of rhythmic unravelling with dizzying wads of Orwellian dread.

Moving from one skyline to another, the Fontaines D.C. storm is ready to wreak havoc on its next location; both nights’ sets are just under the hour offering a short, sharp, shock from a rising band who pack one hell of a punch. Or to quote Philadelphia’s revered local hero Rocky Balboa, “The world ain’t all sunshine and rainbows…” but therein lies a damn good place to start.  

*Not mine. It’s still in Brooklyn… somewhere. Big thanks to my gigging partner-in-crime, Denise, for sharing her pics!

AUSTIN, TEXAS – SXSW 2019: 10 TOP SETS

Returning from SXSW there’s only ever one question; ‘which band was the best?’ After taking some time to reflect (and sleep!) it’s without doubt, this year, the charge was led by British bands… so instead of choosing the best acts of the week, here’s 10 killer sets from around the world that made this year’s trip to “The Lone Star State” so great…

Amyl and the Sniffers – Thrasher x Vans: Death Match @ Weather Up

There’s a storm brewing at Weather Up. On the edge of town, a good ten blocks from the downtown action, chaos has erupted and the pit of colliding human-sized atoms bouncing off each other are being rewarded for their eneavour to one of South-by’s most easterly venues. Call it rage, a tantrum or simple flip out, singer Amy Taylor knows how to summon a storm. Her bandmates create a relentless tirade of 110mph rapturous punk-rock as ignited by the spirit of Johnny Ramone and swilled down with a vodka-infused Gatorade chaser. Yelping in her Aussie twang, “I’m not a loser!” Amy grins as she sings with a mischievous glint in the eye. There’s some chat about poppers, the moshing becomes a scrappy swirl, dust clouds tan the revellers and just like Debbi Harry with the sass and savvy of a guttersnipe alley cat, she launches herself upon the crowd and rides their arms on one giant wave of enthusiasm – a solid celebration from the newest queen of punk-rock, positioning this band as the best kind of SXS-mess.

Ratboys – Stereogum Range Life @ Cheer Up Charlies (Outdoor Stage)

They say you can take a band from its hometown but can’t take the hometown out of the band. And as the clouds gather above the swinging canopy which is gradually picking up momentum over Cheer Up Charlie’s outdoor stage you can’t help but think, from their on-stage attire, Chicago’s Ratboys are right to be tuned to the climes of their Windy City. Standing centre-stage, singer Julia Steiner occasionally glances up to the sky from under the fold of her Chicago Bears beanie and seemingly gives a few knowing smiles to partner-in-rhyme Dave Sagan and the Ratboys live band, before they launch into a rollicking set of honest songs about toxic friendships and taxing relationships from their latest GL (Good Luck) EP. Emitting sweetness through summery strumming, gauzy choruses swell from alt country undertones and offer a hit of serotonin through the grey of the day; fresh, like the packs of free Stereogum gum being handed around the crowd.

Art d’Ecco – Desert Daze + Ritual Events @ Hotel Vegas (Inside Stage)

Apostrophe placement has been a hot topic this week. From The Beths’ Jonathan Pearce talking about spelling of ‘y’all’ to Liverpool’s Her’s declaring at the Brooklyn Vegan party they “know it’s grammatically wrong, but don’t care.” Fellow apostrophe rogues Art d’Ecco are a figment of Lynchian subconscious and the most glamorous of punk-rock dreams. Hailing from the Pacific Northwest, the Hotel Vegas back room is dwarfed by their super-sized Bolan-esque tones and spiky starboy synths. Hook-laden stompers brim with Patrick Wolf pop majesty, Gossip shimmer and Public Access TV indie rock sensibility. That the singer looks immaculate with a raven bob framing porcelain sky-high cheek bones, bold colour to the eyes and lips, and is sporting a shimmering jacket kissed by the mauve and pink hues of the dive bar lighting, whilst three of the most dapper suited and booted band members sway to the beat, makes it all the the better. No-nonsense, just genuinely danceable, straight-up glamorous indie rock n roll with the biggest of hearts. Like being given a naughty VIP pass, the entire room is enticed to join the party in their nostalgic but forward-facing world.

Mike Krol – Hipster Robots Suck @ The Side Bar (Outdoor Stage)

Rocking back and forth in his Elvis t-shirt with one foot on the drum kit, Mike Krol is taking care of business. It’s a good job; most of the crowd who’ve gathered around this DIY backyard stage – complete with monitors on patio furniture – have been awake just a few hours and what they need is a shot of driven and raw garage-grunge adrenaline. Surrounded by band, Mike leans forward in his shades and pulls himself up, holding balance before dropping back off and pacing the stage. A sermon of his sharp take on the world through scratchy Strokes-tinged yelps, Mike tambourine-bashes like he’s secretly powering the band through each track; if he stops, they stop and together they clatter through songs from latest album Power Chords. ‘What’s the Rhythm’ is a highlight, enticing the sun from behind the clouds and transforming the yard into a blazing hot sun trap, keeping it all very cool but igniting a fire for his SXSW debut. “I tend to avoid SX like the plague,” he says, “but I don’t know why. This is a lot of fun.”

Durand Jones & The Indications – Ticketmaster Showcase @ Stubbs BBQ

When ‘screaming eagle of soul’ Charles Bradley passed away he left a James Brown wail-sized hole in the lives of many soul fans. Durand Jones & The Indications might not be able to fill it, but they’re doing their damndest to try. As the sun sets over Austin’s famous outdoor venue, the crowd are hit with the talent of the 7 musicians before them. Durand can hold a breath-defying note to challenge the sustained chords of the organ and his voice effortlessly soars to sooth the most jaded of South-by souls. On ‘Is It Any Wonder?’ the drummer’s time travel-inducing falsetto harks back to a golden age of smoke-filled jazz clubs and just like a tight family unit raised in Daptone’s House of Soul, the skills of each member are given chance to shine. Stepping back into the spotlight after a stint on saxophone, Durand takes the mic and gestures to The Indications’ trumpet player; “we like to play a game,” he tells the crowd, before trying to catch her out in an improvised contest of call-and-response. Fans of Marvin Gaye, Smokey Robinson or Nick Waterhouse will recognise the band as vintage soul enthusiasts rather than revivalists; a fresh young band who can take a pause as well as they can throw a party.

Dreamer Boy – Vinyl Me, Please: Rising @ Empire Control Room

“Do you wanna go to Nashville?” asks one Zach Taylor, donning his Stetson and grinning before navigating the edge of the stage and joining the clumps of crowd in front of him. Tonight, wherever we find ourselves; his hometown or Austin, the true destination is more complex. Better known to friends as Dreamer Boy, his mellow chillwave is befitting of the stage name as it filters through the speakers and laps upon glitchy Bieberesque r’n’b pop. Singing and flexing wibbly auto-tune alongside synths from right-hand man and Love, nostalgia collaborator Bobby, this stripped-back dive bar set is that of a DIY bedroom set-up, yet Zach’s showmanship shines as he weaves about huddles of curious cats, serenading them with teenage love songs on the right side of awkwardness and sweetness. Wherever we are or wherever we’re heading, this set is one wild trip.

Emerson Snowe – International Day Showcase @ Austin Convention Centre

You’ve got to hand it to Jarrod Mahon, even when presented with the most sterile of spaces, under his Emerson Snowe moniker, he is a pure entertainer. Stood with guitar in hand and only a backing-track for company, he sweetly delivers dreamy nursery rhyme pop to ‘Ballroom G’s rows of chairs, and their occasional occupier. Majestic swan song ‘If I Die, Then I Die’ is a glittery waltz wrapped in a smog of Lemon Twigs splendour and sensitive synth ballad ‘Could You Love Me?’ sees Jarrod showing off his best sides to the cameras transmitting his image across multiple screens surrounding the stage. It’s a tricky set for the Brisbane songwriter but in his world, if the party doesn’t come to him, he’ll take the party to them; when not strumming his guitar, he sings whilst climbing and hanging from the rigging and ducking under the TV monitors, before leaping off, strolling down the aisle, and leaving those in their seats to serenade unsuspecting delegates in the foyer outside.  

The Wants – Quit Your Day Job @ Cheer Up Charlie’s (Indoor Stage)

It’s early days for this Brooklyn 3-piece who’ve been infiltrating the city’s subterranean scene and gradually causing a buzz with the defiant, murky sound of their own rhythmic underworld. Tonight, with an extra member in tow, an unexpectedly short 20-minute set proves only one mission; to leave the crowd wanting more. A clue in the name, perhaps? ‘Ape Trap’ and ‘Clearly A Crisis’ possess the stark art-pop bounce of Franz Ferdinand with the stop-start stomp of Gang of Four, and the bobbing heads of a packed crowd pick up speed as the tracks gain momentum. The set is mostly industrial doom-laden post-punk and danceable guitar grooves powered by throbbing basslines and singer Madison Velding-VanDam’s monotone, interspersed with a side helping of anxiousness and melancholia. The brevity of the set might hint at a lack in material but could only mean one thing; more good things to come.

Avalanche Party / The Blinders – End of Trail Records @ Valhalla

A special moment in the trajectory of Avalanche Party and The Blinders’ careers to date, SXSW was always going to be more British invasion than pilgrimage. A billing featuring both acts would only result in the deepest of war wounds and a trail of destruction left in its wake. Punked-up poets, each perform solid sets, erupting with a blistering and unapologetic gut-punch of monumental proportions. Yet, it’s the surprise collaboration between the two, in tribute to The Amazing Snakeheads’ recently passed Dale Barclay, which is pivotal and emotional. Performing a rousing ‘Memories’ from Dale and his band’s Amphetamine Ballads album, Avalanche Party frontman Jordan, typically bare-chested and sweat-clad after an impassioned performance from within the crowd, is joined by The Blinders’ singer Thomas who swigs from his Lone Star and positions himself at a second mic. Together, the band stir up the Snakeheads’ distinctive stoned groove, and a cacophonic sound erupts, unravelling into bittersweet scenes of beautiful disarray. Dale would be proud.

Fontaines D.C. – DIY Magazine @ Swan Dive (Patio)

“My childhood was small, but I’m gonna be big,” intones singer Grian on frantic post-punk number, ‘Big’ before pacing the stage and shaking his wrists with pent-up energy. Taken literally, it’d be a bold prediction for the Dubliners; building a buzz at the world’s largest music event, particularly with an unreleased debut LP, is no mean feat; there’s stiff competition. But putting similar confidence into their set, the Fontaines frontman roams his invisible cage and surveys the faces surrounding the band. ‘Boys In The Better Land’ is ferocious and the 5-piece hammer through each track with vigour. Through the band’s relentless commotion their usual nonchalance is, tonight, injected with restless spirit; guitarist Carlos stands tall on the speakers, hunched under corrugated awning whilst bandmate Conor shreds his strings with a cig gently resting in his lips. Wearing a baggy pinstripe shirt, Grian’s resemblance to Ian Curtis is evident as he clutches at the mic before adding to the band’s racket with a tambourine in hand, moving their position from big prediction to big premonition.

Honourable mentions (in no particular order): Blushh, Illuminati Hotties, Sharkmuffin, Odonis Odonis, Sneaks, Pkew Pkew Pkew, Cherry Glazerr, TC Superstar, The Beths, Squid, Black Midi, Thyla, Black Belt Eagle Scout, Madeleine Kenney, Viagra Boys, Dylan Cartlidge, Murray A. Lightburn, Anteros, Whenyoung, Samia, Bedouine, Trudy and the Romance, The Texas Gentlemen, Fatherson, The Mystery Lights, Oh Sees, GRÜN WASSER, Sports Team, Gabriella Cohen, Fruit Tones, Her’s, Sweet Spirit…