In which our ever-flappable music industry inside-outsider heads to The Great Escape for a day at the seaside in his gentle quest to see 365 live performances in 2022. The task is simple: look through the enormous list of TGE performers, work out where they are actually performing so you don’t spend you’re entire afternoon loping wearily through the Brighton Lanes going from gig to gig to gig, write a list of 21 acts you want to actually check out, with chronological timings in place, and then watch the whole plan collapse in on itself within two hours, or at least when the free industry happy hour drinks kick in in the middle of the afternoon.
Good times then, and baaaad attitudes ahoy. Any day out by the seaside which starts off with the green-haired industrious self-proclaimed ‘ugly pop’ of ZAND is always going to be slightly interesting. They open up the lunchtime showcase at Revenge, a proud LGBTQ+ venue at the bottom end of the pier with a handful of similarly feisty artists. ALISSIC comes hot on Zand’s heels, a Brazilian singer with a Chrissie Hynde fringe and an urge to instil some gothic fun into proceedings. “Britney meets Tim Burton” says the blurb. A vigorous version of The Klaxons’ ‘It’s Not Over Yet’, itself a cover of a ’90s Perfecto club classic by Grace, sums the whole caboodle up.
Next up, PYRA performs with little more than a microphone, a barking backing track and the most puffed-up sleeves since Bjork last encountered a clothes rack backstage. It’s arty, it’s tarty, it’s a part-Thai part-pop party. Anxiety-inducing American JULY JONES finishes off the showcase with a similarly reckless disregard for social protocols. Like their predecessors they are radical and alternative but blatantly pop at heart, which means they are trojan horsing mainstream melodies into the alternative realm, or judging by some of the fantastical haircuts, perhaps even vice versa.
At the other end of the pier the New Zealand showcase is occurring at Horatios. Given the lunchtime sunshine and the lovely view through the windowns one assumes someone remembered to bring the weather with them. JESSB comes across as a salty Salt’n’Papa, bouncy of groove and brazen of rap. She also comes across like a Croydon teenager from 1990, which messes with the whole furiously exotic Down Under premise, none more than when she ships out an especially hip-popping track about a French footballer playing (sometimes) in Manchester called ‘Paul Pogba’. MILD ORANGE are much more in tune with our genteel expectations of NZ music, four mind-mannered chaps with guitars which are spiky, but never prickly, and a casual flair for melodic understatement. A perfectly named band, if that isn’t too much of a cackhanded compliment.
OPUS KINK aren’t in tune with anyone else at all right now, apart from their own inner turmoil. Along the promenade at the Music Venue Trust Stage, on a lovely wee Airstream caravan cunningly repurposed as a transportable live platform and then placed in a compound of giant live tents belonging to the massive likes of Amazon and dumped on the beach, the brass-pumping Opus Kink sound is ragingly unapologetic. It’s also furiously honking, like really angry goose, and then admirably grumpy, like the Bad Seeds casting shadowy shadows across the sundazzled pebbles.
One thing which is really great about The Great Escape is the tidy tradition of it all. Seasoned festival goers make a mark in their diaries as favourite promoters pop up again and again in familar venues. Enter the 6 Music / BBC Introducing crew, whose annual showcase takes place deep within the bowels of the Old Ship Hotel in the Paganini Ballroom, a venue much cherished by weary TGE troopers whose aching feet can take some blessed comfort from some of the plushest carpeting this side of a crispy palace come sundown.
The music is plush, too – CIEL are frazzled and fancied, a trio taking the core ingredients of garage rock and shoegaze to create a sound which is unsettlingly smooth but also casually unnerving. They also have a guitarist who looks most excellently like U2’s The Edge in a blond wig. DARK TROPICS are even more poised and graceful, working out a heartfelt analogue-based sound which is swoony, gently unfurling and entirely glamorous – perfect for a plushly-appointed hotel ballroom like this, then.
Dark Tropics would also be a good fit with our very own MOON PANDA, who by some curious coincidence are playing next around the corner at The Black Lion. Considering that The Great Escape runs for four days and features over 400 acts, many of whom are playing more than once, you might say it’s searingly careless of us to find that Moon Panda are playing at exactly the same time as their fierce panda labelmates CHINA BEARS over at the Waterbear, but those are the shakes you makes at The Great Escape, so while the Bears bare all with their insistent emo rockings down the road Moon Panda are sighing and dreamy and a lovely comedown after the chaos before.
Extra special props to the recherche electro balladeerings of ENJOYABLE LISTENS, who we saw in Birmingham, Hastings and Old Street last month (and who is therefore more of a regular in the Diary Of A Pandaman’s diary than the Pandaman himself), and who manages to perturb the Black Lion security by crouching atop the PA for much of his raucously fragrant set.
Still, Moon Panda and the Black Lion. China Bears at Waterbear. Now that really is animal magic.
PANDAMAN’S 2022 GIGGING TOTAL: 116