Tinnitus seems too gentle a word for the rampaging aural hangover that greets us on Day Two. Luckily, it’s a gentle start back at Horatio’s Bar where the celtic warblings of Helsinki quartet Vük ease the swelling ears. It’s a workable pastiche of sombre pump organ, synthy trills and a drum and autoharp nest to lend moments of urgent mysticism, but most parts labour in their own sobriety, failing to form much in the way of memories: strange, as their array of unconventional instruments should in itself pique interest. They’re all considerable musicians, but just don’t yet have the songs to match.
Quite a contrast then to the effervescent post-pop at the beachside Fortune of War, where Everything Everything host a short-but-sweet first showing. Infectious as ever.
Eschewing the hectic, pop sensibilities of their post-punk peers, Polish trio Kamp! pick out a synth-led drama laden with tasty loops and hooky, Bowie-esque vocals. They might struggle to pack an album with their Eastern-European gloom-riffery, but their half hour showing at Brighton’s Coalition was a promising peek.
Following onstage was the unbridled smarm of Othello Woolf, a crooning new-soul wannabe who struts out his queasy Club-Tropicana funk-pop with an admittedly well-drilled punch, but layered with an unwarranted cocksureness that makes you want to land a well drilled punch on his Simon-Le-Bon-adoring kisser. Not for us.
At literally the other end of the ego spectrum is the homebrew sparkle of Darwin Deez, toe-tappingly rhythmic and packed with hooks for all its makeshift simplicity. Between tracks come divinely half-cut, synchronised dance routines, worked to a ragbag collection of 80’s pop gems and played out with aplomb to rapturous cheers. Sonically goofy but unmistakably lovable, the New Yorker’s exude a slacked out twinkle that will carve them a cult-like fanbase in every town they play.
London’s electro-soul trio Chew Lips, meanwhile, slither clean-cut synth loops over a growling, lounge-act class that’s best heard within five millimetres of a twenty foot amp. Fronting the fusion is the prowling Tigs – a potent East-London tigress that claws and arches over the stage with a sassy Karen O vocal that she belts, relentless, into one pulsing, surging, dirty-disco peak after another. “How are you Brighton?” she purrs, sequins sparkling in the strobe, one hand clutching her gin as the other feels her own heart: beating to the closing, writhing outro of the peerless Salt Air. Glorious.
On record, East London’s Gold Panda has made some of the most captivating, fragile and interesting electronica of recent years, shot through with melancholy and nostalgia whilst remaining defiantly danceable. You’ve no chance of engaging in the latter at his early evening Life performance, though, with the alcoved venue swollen with a crowd surging as one to every beat, slaves to the rhythms of the hoodie-shrouded producer, hunched over his equipment like a villain in his lair. The menacing stabs of new single You carve an unsettling tone, but it’s the shivering Back Home that gets the biggest response, although the overwhelming sense of being trapped in an air-raid shelter drives many to the respite of the connecting tunnels.
Ellie Goulding is pretty much what you’d expect, really. Not necessarily a bad thing, of course – hers is a great voice, and her songs never want for energy – although the absence of anything really innovative and striking leaves the West-Londoner seeming a touch, well, overhyped perhaps? Not that anyone here cares, but as last year’s stunning cover of Bon Iver’s Wolves revealed Goulding is capable of far more than the pop songs garnering the cheers this evening.
We claimed earlier that the primary requisite of the Great Escape festival is luck, but it’s not really. It’s a priority wristband. An uneasy throwback to the inequities of apartheid they might be, but the grey metallic plastic allows the wearer to skip their way merrily past the terrifying queue snaking back from Dephic’s Corn Exchange headline appearance. This might be the largest of the venues this year but with the schedules inexplicably thinning out after eleven it’s where the masses migrate, the vast majority to be turned away by unsympathetic door-staff and left to fend for themselves. The sheer relief at gaining entrance ensures that the Manchester band were always going to be well-received, but they still work hard for that applause, commingling riffs with beats in the age-old build-and-release template but with masterful effect. The strobe lighting is a touch too Guantanamo, but the cyberpunk cool is undeniable – so much so that when we’re ushered out by stone-faced staff an hour later Brighton seems appallingly rustic.
Christian Cottingham and Ben Edgell