The Great Escape
10 May 2014: Brighton, UK
With the European South by Southwest about to start in Brighton, PopMatters gives you the heads-up about the UK acts to keep an eye on over the coming year.
As this year’s SXSW starts to slip into the realms of memory, this week sees its European equivalent—The Great Escape—kicking off in the UK seaside resort of Brighton.
Presenting over 400 new artists from around the world (as well as the opportunity to spend three days in arguably the country’s funnest city), the festival is an A&R man’s dream. It will also witness what harsher readers might term a veritable infestation of hipsters, all vying for bragging rights over the coming year about which Amazing New Bands they may or may not have been the first to see.
As with my preview last year, this list should in no way be viewed as definitive, if only because not every exciting new UK act is playing.
Rather, this will give you a guide as to which way the wind will blow over the next 12 months—as well as a few pointers to stuff that may otherwise have passed you by.
Fat White Family
Given how industry clusterfucks like TGE inevitably resemble beauty contests as much as music events, it’s always refreshing when a band clearly couldn’t give a damn whether anyone likes them or not.
Keeping that in mind, there are a few things that you need to know about six-piece South London insurgents Fat White Family, who bring their own special brand of nasty to the festival Thursday and Friday nights.
1. Their debut album Champagne Holocaust—a deeply disconcerting mixture of proto rockabilly, queasy creepy-crawl pop and sexual innuendo—was one of the records of last year.
2. Their gigs, which have been described elsewhere as ‘feral’, have occasionally left audience members fearing for their own safety.
3. Frontman Lias Saoudi recently called Arctic Monkey Alex Turner “that little c*nt” following the latter’s horribly pretentious acceptance speech at the Brit Awards earlier this year.
Really, what’s not to like?
These New Puritans
Having dutifully ploughed an outre-but-still-recognisable post-punk furrow with their first two albums, 2013 saw These New Puritans ordering completely off the menu with the angular, neo-classical, Field of Reeds.
The move saw them shift from merely critically lauded to worshipped, with comparisons now suddenly ranging from the divine Talk Talk to British industrial magi Coil. At the same time, their live show, which was never exactly just some dudes in jeans, also evolved, into a kind of brass-heavy alt pop chamber orchestra.
Their slot at Big Venue (aka the Brighton Dome) on Friday night will be a fascinating journey into the avant-garde indie hinterland, no doubt.
Just as interesting will be how the fans of the deceptively more by-the-numbers-sounding headliners Wild Beasts take to them. Love-fest, or the art rock equivalent of an angry Parisienne bourgeoisie kicking-off during the first performance of The Rite of Spring? We wait to find out.
(Probably the former, to be fair).
The email has just arrived, literally as I’m typing now. Good lord—Kaiser Chiefs are playing an, erm, ‘secret’ show (announced via Amazon ten days in advance) on the Friday of the festival.
For those unaware of this peculiarly British band, they pretty much owned the UK 2004-2008, releasing a string of semi-ironic, massively-popular sing-a-longs (including the really rather fabulous, almost impossibly insistent, “Ruby”).
They subsequently crashed in a perfect storm of over-exposure and marketing innovation-driven hubris (releasing an album where listeners chose their own tracklisting) and have been trying to recover that lost momentum ever since.
So what makes them one of the UK bands to watch in 2014? Well, one reason is new album Education, Education, Education & War which, if hardly ground-breaking, at least shows enough to suggest that they’re at least still up for the fight.
Most of all though, it’s that they’ve had the chutzpah to choose a cauldron of potentially slavering hipster hate to stage what you assume is a serious attempt to regain critical acceptance. I predict a… no, it’s gone.
Best-known until now through Rudimental’s “Waiting All Night”, 20-year old Ella Eyre might be the best hope—this year at least—for a credible new female soul voice to represent the UK on the world stage.
All the early signs are good, with her aforementioned vocal work lifting what would already have been a very solid piece of neo-drum ‘n’ bass to a higher plane. Her solo material meanwhile, what little of it we’ve heard, is fine, too—in particular hook-laden first single “Deeper”, during which she seems to channel croaky-old Roisin Murphy Moloko.
According to an interview given to the BBC (following her second place showing in their Sound of 2014 poll), if she had a spirit animal it would be a lion. This is probably fitting, not only because of her voice, but also the confidence with which she’s carried herself until now. Hopefully, unlike other recent Great Hopes for Brit R&B—say, the currently missing in action Arlissa—she can follow through on that early promise.
Like Chvrches last year, Royal Blood arrive with the indie hype machine already threatening to go into meltdown. (One Jools Holland appearance already; the words ‘The White Stripes with beards’ echoing up and down corridors at the NME… you get the idea).
The Brighton duo—drums; funky-ass fuzz bass/vocals—make hook-laden noise-rock, with each of their singles so-far subsequently revealing a little more of their sound. “Little Monster” shifts and undulates like a decent QotSA album track, while the stuttering, muscular “Out of the Black” makes you wonder what they’d sound like with a full band behind them.
Best of all though is “Come on Over”, which alongside some gentle blasphemy (“there’s no god and I don’t really care”) includes a chorus drop, which, if not quite “Smells Like Teen Spirit”, is at least neck-breaking enough to bring it to mind.
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