Alone on stage and poised behind an array of buttons and wires is Brighton’s Beardyman, warming up for DJ Shadow’s headline set in the Dome. It’s a venue sharply at odds with the basements and sticky floors of the rest of the festival, tiered seating and a brutal entry system a far remove from the ad-hoc and slightly frenzied approach found everywhere else.
None of that matters for Beardyman, of course. He makes even the city’s grandest performance space seem like a tiny club, his semi-improvised beatboxed take on a varied playlist of tracks and genres captivating from the off. As he – Darren Foreman – states midway in, bar a few synthesised notes every sound comes from his voice, looped and layered and skewed and warped into parodies and approximations of other artist’s tracks, a covers set by way of a fever dream. Nods to Dizzie Rascal, Cypress Hill and Daft Punk garner rising cheers and increasingly dropped-jaws, with the most audacious moment a launch into DJ Shadow’s Organ Donor: ‘Oh god, I promised I wouldn’t do this but the setting’s right there…’ he offers by way of apology, entirely unnecessarily as it’s a better version than the one heard 90 minutes later.
The expectations were probably too high for DJ Shadow to ever meet, his new show hyped in glossy Brighton Festival brochures and extensive online features to such an extent that the stage set-up – essentially a papier-mache globe with a few projectors dotted around – couldn’t help but underwhelm. And indeed, Shadow’s own understated entrance, with his trite invitation to ‘join him on a journey’, didn’t help to allay fears of a repeat of his disappointing last tour in support of 2006’s The Outsider. ‘A new performance experience that reimagined the potential of live visuals’ screamed the marketing with its usual zeal, a promise that the show never – predictably enough – met. There was much to enjoy, certainly: the 3d effect created through projecting onto the sphere was genuinely impressive, and the visuals overall were extremely arresting. But they came to define the show, Shadow’s music relegated to just a volume behind the flicker, the man himself largely unseen and never really a presence.
Musically his sound hasn’t really progressed, the new material aired doing nothing to disrupt a flow of reverbed beats and moody samples, although it’s still a potent setlist, wisely drawn primarily from Shadow’s first two albums. But then the audience weren’t here tonight in search of change: Entroducing was a formative album for so many, and for much of the audience tonight was more about sating nostalgia than looking to the future. So what if that’s the opposite of what this festival’s about.
This time last year Warpaint were the future, their end-of-the-pier Horatio’s show lauded by all who saw it. For 2011 the LA four-piece get the Corn Exchange, vastly larger and considerably less intimate than the club they played last time in Brighton, Digital back in October. NME logos burn from the walls of a hall that never quite stops feeling like it should be housing convention stalls instead of music, but – as the several-hundred strong queue of people outside cursing those of us within attests – this is a band destined for bigger venues, whether they suit them or not.
And they don’t, really. Warpaint’s songs are dark and lonely things, swirling like siren song as they clasp at the ankles, tugging downwards. Emily Kokal‘s vocals hover at the fringes, sweet melodies tinged with malice and decay against a backdrop of rhythms hypnotic and insistent. But they lose something in this space, the heat and the branding and the ceaseless glare of mobile phone screens withering any atmosphere away. Not that the band don’t do their best: an early Bees sets an appropriately windswept tone, and new track Jubilee Real provokes a flurry of excitement, even if much of it is channeled through Twitter. Undertow and closer Elephants garner the largest response, predictably, but impressive though they are Warpaint’s set leaves little lasting impression, their bleak portent dissipating moments after they leave the stage.