We can hear The Great Escape planners cackling as we emerge, bludgeoned by lack of rest, for the preternaturally early start of Day Three. And so, before the sun has even scorched away the morning mist, we’re at Queens for the Generator showcase – a rag-tag assortment of delights from the UK regions designed to break London’s assumed stranglehold on new talent. We’re not sure anyone else shares the regions’ concern, but nonetheless there’s a good crowd for alt-blues sextet Detroit Social Club: a reasonable troupe that trawled the annals of trad-rock and found a few effecting hooks to dust off. Sadly, they also find its penchant for overly long jams and today hit too few peaks. Passable.
In the awkward loft-space at Life, surely the most poorly realised gig space in the world, French indie also-rans Revolver sum up the mood of the crushed and sweating crowd with a wonderfully Parisian ambivalence. “’Elloo, we’re very ‘appee to be ‘ere,” they assure us, smiling, but sounding for all the world as if our presence is as unwelcome as a bunch of fiercely inserted, onion-sized anal beads. Theirs is a well-worn blend of upbeat, skippy Kooks and a messy Libs-jangle that, apparently, earned them a Franco-hit across the water. We’ll be surprised if they have another.
There’s an impenetrability to Summer Camp, the accidental, low-fi summer-of-love-child from electro-tinged enigma Jeremy Warmsley and the lilting Elizabeth Sankey, the (now presumably part-time) editor of oh-so-hip lifestyle meta-blog Platform. Maybe it’s the lingering fear of exposure, hung over from their secretive online gestation (where they posed for months as an unknown Swedish MySpace); or maybe it’s the way their soft-struck dreamy pop seems to hold a nostalgic diffidence in our hectic, bleeping zeitgeist. Either way, tonight it’s compounded by Warmsley’s palpable frustration as endless sound problems threaten to crack their usually blissed-up exterior. Nonetheless, Sankey retains her allure as the sultry ingénue, dulcet and graceful as a soft-edged version of Cocteau Twins’ Elizabeth Fraser and, when duetting with Warmsley’s solid timbre, Summer Camp do exude a slow-burn warmth that’s an appealing counterpoint to 2010’s synth-led exuberance. In their retro-philia they’ve carved a closed-book niche that may yet prove short-lived but, like the sun-blessed days they hark back to, let’s enjoy them while we can.
Lured to Digital’s Australia showcase by the promise of a free BBQ, it’s a pleasant surprise that the musical offerings offer reward of their own. That said, being slightly hungover at two in the afternoon is not the best state in which to view Teenagers In Tokyo, what with their penchant for brutally pulsing bass, Pagan drums and vocals that frequently give way to shrieks. Outstanding stuff, though.
Bridezilla are better still, their four-fifths female ensemble building an orchestral cataclysm to devastating crescendo.Taking their musical cues at least partially from Godspeed You Black Emperor!, they enthrall and terrify in equal measure.
Just about making up for the disappointment of reaching the front of the BBQ queue as the food runs out are Sydney’s Dappled Cities, whose complex, mathy rhythms maintain the high quality, jangling guitars underpinned with whip-crack percussion and soaring, Mercury Rev melodies. Theirs are complex, intricate arrangements that shift and confound like the Minotaur’s labyrinth, well-suited to a half-lit club cowering from the heat outside.
The queue for Broken Social Scene has achieved a mythical status in the wake of the festival, referred to in the same hushed, cowed tones as Voldemort. Certainly it was a thing of malice, although its evil pales next to the colossal wrong of the mere forty-five minutes of stage time afforded to arguably the biggest band on the bill. Still, the Canadian ensemble did their best with what they had, minimising banter in favour of a pretty flawless set primarily drawn from their new album, band members exchanging instruments and stage positions chaotically as their numbers swelled from seven to eleven. Highlights? All of it, really, but particular mention is needed for the superb slow-crawl menace of Sweetest Kill and the frenetic brass-backed closer Meet Me In The Basement, which made the foolishly-premature curtain call marginally easier to accept.
Back at Digital The Big Pink darken the mood magnificently, waves of bass and guitar coruscating through the baying throng, most of whom are only really here for one song. Yet when Dominoes finally plays out – last, wisely – it’s a sound so utterly divorced from the rest of the set as to be almost funny, its drunken chorus belonging to another band entirely.
And so on to Terraces for the folk siblings Angus and Julia Stone. On paper, this midnight tryst, with the delicate acoustics and gentle, smoky harmonies, backlit by the type of moonlit beachscape that surely birthed the Sydney duo’s haunting sound, should have been perfect. Yet we’re blighted by relentless chatter as half of the crowd, unable to see or hear the band in Terraces’ abysmal layout, resort to a night of drunken banter. It doesn’t obscure the stiffer turns of Big Jet Plane, or the harmonica-infused Just A Boy, but the Julia-led, softer edges, such as this year’s Hold On, or the plaintive, yearning harmonies of I’m Not Yours, are lost in a clattering din that, so nearly, wrecks it all. But not quite. For while Angus and Julie succumb at times to a sugary sentiment that belies a greater depth, there’s a darker, twilit resonance here that gives a captivating edge to their live offering and can, even if only for a moment, hold all else as silent.
The Queue launches a final, punishing offensive at Esben and the Witch’s late-night Duke of York show, bodies strewn in its wake as fans clamour for some festival-closing gloom. Largely unseen in the darkened cinema the Brighton three-piece certainly deliver, caustic beats and coven vocals misting the old cinema with a marked unease. They can’t compete with the combined effects of enveloping seats and three-day sleeplessness, though, becoming for many the least-likely soporific imaginable, albeit one likely to inspire enough fever dreams to take us through to next year’s installment. Until then, the Queue slinks back to its lair in malign preparation.
Christian Cottingham and Ben Edgell