The Best Acts at The Great Escape 2016 (that I saw)

Sorry for the quiet spell on the blog, it's been quite the time... I'm back from The Great Escape (my ninth time) in one piece, more or less, and in lieu of a full day by day recount of the weekend and the thirty odd bands I saw I'm going to cherry pick the absolute best. I'm also going to stop waffling and get on with it.

Hyphen Hyphen
Facebook
Friday at Brighthelm

Yes. This was the one TGE 2016. 

Hyphen Hyphen are a French electro pop quartet whom appear to be pretty popular in their home country (so much so that they won best live act at the 2016 edition of their Brit Awards equivalent - I now know why) but I'd never heard of until looking for a band to end my night on Friday, I went with Hyphen Hyphen simply because I'd already seen Ary three times this year and their description on the festival app (which was much improved this year, just missing Spotify integration and defaulting to the correct time on the line-up page in my opinion) sounded interesting. The show was their live UK debut and will certainly not be their last, surely soon to be singled out by bigger and better blogs than this as a future crossover artist (with 1.3M views on their "Just Need Your Love" video perhaps they already have).

It took about a minute to fall in love with the band, emblazoned in warpaint and radiant smiles and just about long enough for front-woman Santa to catapult from the side of the stage and launch into the first of the bands hypnotising songs. I've seen some commanding leads in my time and Santa immediately joins the select best, filled with a boundless energy that sees her catapult around the stage quicker than anybody I've ever seen in my life and coupled with this incredibly powerful voice, each song filled with soaring, ethereal melodies, glistening 80's keys and tribal drums and after half an hour passes in the blink of an eye I'm itching for more. Unfortunately it is 2am and the venues security are quickly chucking everyone out of the room before we can even give them the reaction they deserved.

This is how to put on a show.

I'm later asked to describe them and the best I can muster is London Grammar on acid, that'll do for now. Go and discover them yourselves UK.

Muna
Facebook
Saturday at Coalition

Another band making their debut UK performance this weekend and another set to hit the headlines, LA's Muna performed a ridiculously accomplished set of their flickering, 80's indebted pop-rock. They also received the absolute biggest reception of any band I saw at the years festival. It was similar to last years Aurora show in the same venue, the audience immediately putty in the hands of a band clearly on their way to bigger things (it probably helped that the band clearly had a handful of friends in front rows whom knew every word to every track).

"Loudspeaker" is a song I featured on this blog a year ago, the name of their recently released EP and the bands closing track. It's glistening dark pop filled with crystalline vocals and the perfect summation of the girls sound, undoubtedly likely to draw immediate Haim comparisons although much more cinematic with each polished guitar hook, pulsating synth beat and rich vocal washes over you with a rich, warming glow. You feel like you're starring in your own 80's montage. 

I'm pretty soon making an unscheduled trip back to my nearby hotel room to drop of the bands vinyl.

Dream Wife
Facebook
Friday at Photomatic

Packed into a tiny shop in the lanes, handed a free beer and sweating profusely; pretty much the ideal situation to finally catch Dream Wife live I'd say.

The Brighton based band did not disappoint in their home town with a raw, shrill and energetic show that reminded me of a slightly more pop Dolores Haze (whom I'd caught up with again after seeing twice, quite brilliantly at By:Larm in March the night before). Rakel Mjöll's vocal changing from innocent pop sweetness to snarling, ferocious bite in the blink of an eye amongst driving grunge rhythms, killer pop hooks and chaotic drums, the packed room lap it up and my friends who see the band at one of their other shows return with similarly positive reviews. 

Noisy, aggressive, poppy, brilliant.

Julia Jacklin
Facebook
Thursday at Komedia and Friday at The Haunt

I have one simple question to ask you. How the fuck had I not heard of Julia Jacklin until the day before The Great Escape? Not only seemingly one of the talked about acts of SXSW this year (and soon to be the same after her shows at TGE) but every drop of her music couldn't be any more 'me' if she had come into my house, taken my record collection and tried to replicate it. 

Both of her sets I catch are chocked full with wounded country ballads that are akin to Angel Olsen and Caitlin Rose, filled with stirring electric guitars from her wonderful backing band (when the sound desk broke at The Haunt and caused a twenty minute delay they took to some impromptu jamming - I doubt Julia will remember the second half too fondly, the mix was certainly not as you'd like) and intimate, honest lyrics.

"Pool Party' closed both sets and is Julia's debut single, it sums up the shows, a combination of swelling instrumentation and devastating voice that makes you linger after her every word, it's achingly pretty, beautifully sad, outrageously brilliant. 

She plays in London again tomorrow before returning in September. That's pretty good news.

Al Bairre
Facebook
Thursday at The Prince Albert

2015's TGE highlight Al Bairre return a year later to pretty much the same reaction, 'oh fucking yes, this is awesome'.

The Prince Albert stage is tiny, it doesn't lend itself too well for a band as boundless as Al Bairre but it's okay, bouncy indie-pop knows no boundaries and soon enough the afternoon crowd is nodding along to each rhythm and smiling to every infectious, exhilarating track. The good news is this year I know the words to most of the tracks and I'm left grinning like a slightly mad cat, a slightly drunk cat too as I'd perhaps had a few too many beers in the afternoon beforehand.

I said it last year, I'll say it again. Go and listen to this band now. Two sold-out shows in London either side of the festival signal people are. 

The Big Moon
Facebook
Saturday at Komedia

I think this is my fifth time seeing The Big Moon already (not my last) and easily the best, a new track kicks off the set and it's brilliant. It sets the tone for a great 'matinee' show to please a packed early Saturday crowd.

Fun and engaging, polished and charismatic, the quartet whirl through half an hour's worth of brilliant guitar pop, there's killer hooks at almost every turn, plenty of shredding guitar duals and enough singalong choruses to pack a stadium.

With tracks like "Cupid" and "Sucker" already in their arsenal, the future keeps on getting rosier for this outstanding quartet. 

Dagny
Facebook
Thursday at Komedia

Now signed to Island Records (which will hopefully mean we'll have some more music to share soon) Dagny is surely a shoe-in to appear on pretty much every 'Sound of 2017' list and now I've seen her a couple of times, I'm happy to be along for the ride.

There's an additional guitarist at Komedia in comparison to the show I caught at By:Larm and it only adds to the dynamic performance. I love the fact she employs a real band around her, I do struggle with singers and laptops, the live band not only makes for a compelling live show but adds so much 'feeling' to the music over a digital backing. I'm running out of things to say about "Backbeat" so I'll just say this, magic.

Aldous Harding
Facebook
Friday at Paganini Ballroom

Playing exactly the same venue as twelve months before Aldous Harding is the real deal. It's a set that's entirely made up of new music from her amusingly titled forthcoming record Party and one that beguiles from start to end.

Her music is fascinating, the first four track all see Aldous on her traditional acoustic guitar playing long-lasting finger-plucked melodies filled with wounded tales of personal battles and losses before she switches to vocal duties alongside a friend playing keys and changes key completely, from heartbreaking whispers and spine-tingling emotions to strong, defiant bellowing and dramatic arm movements which both have the audience equally transfixed throughout. The set, as the year before, is littered with Aldous' dark humour and unnerving faces, you aren't quite sure if theatrical or real, I think it's probably both. 

Don't miss her when she returns to the UK later in the year.

Ekkah
Facebook
Saturday at Synergy Centre

I already knew that Ekkah knew how to get the party started, now I know they can end one too. Ending Saturday with a typically disco-laced set in the strange surroundings of Synergy Centre to a healthy crowd who danced away like the venue was still the night club it was some years ago (and I can remember go to when I visited a friend at uni some dozen years ago). 

"Last Chance to Dance" sums it up perfectly, just listen to that bass-line. Its funky throwback melody moulded with infectious hand-claps and ultra smooth vocal hooks sound like the love child of The Jackson 5 and 80's Madonna and the result is just is good. "

The absolute highlight though is the look on everyone's face as they enter the building after being ID'ed (and I'm talking everyone, especially Robin at Breaking More Waves). 

By:Larm 2016 - Wednesday & Thursday Review

Over the next couple of blog posts I will write about the favourite acts I saw during the four-day festival By:Larm held annually in Oslo, Norway. This was my first trip to Norway and obviously the festival and I'm already hooked.

I'll briefly start at the end by saying By:Larm was an absolutely fantastic way to experience new Scandinavian music and that Oslo was a fantastic city (bloody expensive mind, everything you hear about it is true – 7 pound beers – ouch to my wallet!). Thankfully the flights and accommodation were relatively cheap. 

My friend, who I talked into coming with me last October/November when I had the urge to book tickets after seeing the initial line-up, said it reminded him of The Great Escape about five or six years ago and that analogy is spot on. It's smaller, more compact, less commercial, less crowded (over the weekend there was only one show I wanted to get into that I didn't and that was in a 95 person capacity venue that I turned up-to just as it was starting, so it's hardly surprising) and incredibly high in quality, diverse artists. There's no male-centric lines-up here and By:Larm revels in its buzzing, positive atmosphere and its focus on exciting new music (although, boy, Norwegian men are tall!). 

Wednesday. Virgin Suicide. Pokalen

Facebook

For me at least, Virgin Suicide were head and shoulders above are any other act playing on Wednesday evening, the launch event for the festival held at Vulkan and its neighbouring Pokalen.

It's impossible for me to write about the Copenhagen band without referring immediately to Suede, the unmistakable tone of the vocal, the shimmering, jangling guitars, that blight sing-along choruses, it all reminds me of them in their swaggering pomp. Clear, energetic pop that brought a smile and dance to all listening down the front.

I'd not heard of the band before but the UK, it seems, is already taking notice of the band with them receiving The Guardian new band of the week (and an amusing review which said very much what I said last Wednesday) just days later. don't be surprised to hear a lot more from this promising young band.

Thursday. Siv Jakobsen. Mono

Facebook

I have to be careful here, I'm probably posting about Siv Jakobsen more than is justifiably allowed and I wouldn't be surprised if I received a knock at my door from the police with a restraining order any time soon! That said however, oh my fucking god, this show is incredible. What a way to start the festival officially. 

I'd seen Siv play before last year at The Great Escape in Brighton (twice in fact) playing solo acoustically and that was beautiful but the addition of a gorgeous string quartet and impeccable keys add a dimension to the tracks, primarily taken from last year's The Lingering EP that simply took my breath away. 

I'll be honest and say I was worried when I walked inside the venue and saw a darkened spit and sawdust sort of place, the sort you'd expect to be hosting rock acts but the second Siv and band start playing I forget all about that and am instantly transported to somewhere magical. The sensation was similar to that I had when I saw Broken Twin in Copenhagen a fortnight ago, it makes you want to close your eyes, soak in every emotion and hug the person nearest. You will be glad to know I managed to restrain myself!

The half-hour set disappears almost in the blink of an eye and I'm left longing so much more (I do see Siv again on Saturday -  so that will be me writing about her again soon then!).  Highlights are difficult to pick, "Bullet" is one of my favourites from the release and the strings here were especially well-placed, swooning and seductive it pulls on every heartstring and "How We Used To Love" will remain one of those songs that touches me every time I hear it. There's a new track and it stands up brilliantly with a stronger, more forceful vocal that is reminiscent of Laura Marling on Once I Was An Eagle, it hints at even more exciting future ahead, as if we needed that.

Unnveig Aas. Verkstedet

Facebook

I've heard the name said a handful of times now and I still have absolutely zero idea how to pronounce Unnveig Aas but I can safely say that I was blown away by their set and this coming directly after the incredible show I'd seen at Mono just before.

I obviously have blogged about Unnveig Aas so I was familiar with her material but still, I wasn't expecting her live sound to be quite so vast and grand, with a pedal steel, a super tight band and a completely unexpected commanding stage presence I was truly reminded of the Country gallop of Caitlin Rose and you should know how much I love Caitlin... 

The music fluctuated from bounce to croon giving plenty of time for toe-tapping rhythms before soothing with gorgeous ballads as Unnveig stared wide-eyed into the crowd and danced in unison with her exemplary band. It was something to saviour and sitting back here in the UK now and knowing what I know about what I saw, I regret not seeing her other show on the Saturday. For sure, those that did were in for a treat.

Ary. Rockefeller

Facebook

I keep thinking Ary is one of the hyped Scandinavian artists at the minute and this years Aurora, well after seeing her twice live over the weekend in By:Larm I'm removing the Aurora comparisons. The sound really isn't that similar...

Ary is more experimental and exotic, the synths and beats are firmly placed high in the mix (perhaps too high at times) and she comes backed by two male backing singers - the first time I've seen them since Hurts years ago (do they still have a solo male backing singer?). Anyway, the result, especially on the incredible "Telescope" is nothing short of exceptional and the crowd in the packed venue respond accordingly as Ary shows herself to be a natural in front of a huge audience, swaying and smiling in equal measures as her tracks show why she's destined to spend much more time in the limelight during 2016.

Dagny. Rockefeller

Facebook

If I was unsure how good Dagny was after hearing just one track, now I know for sure, she is set to be an absolute star. Sure the familiarity of "Backbeat" is undoubtedly the set highlight but the material played during her half-hour set stands firm around it and I, for one, am fully appreciative of the tight backing band she employs around her. A traditional four piece set up that adds sheen and gloss to her ready made pop aesthetics.

Track after track is filled with glistening pop melody complete with a clever, infectious style and lyrics and it's apparent to all in the room, even more so after "Backbeat" sends the crowd in rapturous applause that Dagny will soon have room after room singing along to her every word (once further tracks are released of course).

Dolores Haze. Verkstedet

Facebook

The undisputed never heard before highlight of Thursday and probably the entire festival are Swedish quartet Dolores Haze. It wasn't until after their set that I turn into their Facebook and see that nine my friends already like them, clearly I'm just late to the party. But what a party it is.

The set is filled with hard hitting drums, grungy riffs, punchy bass-lines and brattish vocals that hiss and delight in equal measure. Sure it's punky attitude that we've all heard before but something sets the quartet apart. The feisty energy and enthusiasm throughout the well rehearsed set is the sort that you can only get soaked up within and soon I'm nodding my head in agreement to each distorted guitar line and squealing vocal yelp.

There's more mellow moments too but the cover of Peaches "Fuck the Pain Away" sums up the set, growling with intensity that is raw and certainly divisive but for those who sign-up it guarantees a fun, frenetic experience. I'm completely sold and plans are made to see them again the next day. 

As you can tell, Thursday at By:Larm was really quite spectacular. 

By:Larm 2016 Preview - Ten Acts to See

Facebook

I'm very much looking forward to my maiden trip to Norway next week. The reason is simple, By:Larm 2016 has a quite incredible line-up of talent. I’m excited to see lots of acts I’ve never seen before and a few I have amongst some no doubt new, spur of the moment discoveries in venues and a City that is new to me but looks sensational. The festival runs from 2nd – 5th March around Oslo and I’m hoping beer comes priced reasonably!

I'm sure I'll get my fill of sights in too - a boat trip on Oslo Fjord and Sognsvann Lake are my current essential trips (if you can do them in freezing conditions that is - the forecast is set as cold and snow!). As a newbie it would be great to know of any treats that I must do during my four days in Oslo so if you’ve visited Oslo before please let me know of anything.

The rest of this post will list ten acts I have down to check-out at the festival next week. Most will come as no surprise to long-time readers of this blog. I could easily have listen more too such is the depth of the line-up. There's a few unavoidable clashes ahead! 

If you've any further recommendations, shout-out below. Hopefully see you in Oslo?!

ARY - FACEBOOK

·         Rockefeller presented by BI

Thu, March 3, 10:30 PM > 11:00 PM

·         Drømmeteltet

Sat, March 5, 1:30 AM > 2:00 AM

Ary, surely a potential future star armed with an intriguing, show-stopping vocal and music that could just as easily fill a dance-floor as a late-night neon-lit drive. Her gorgeous, icy and emotive vocal will no doubt see her billed as this years Aurora (including by me) but if you listen to “Telescope” you can truly sense the magic, a glistening glow of shimmering, atmospheric bliss. I can’t wait to sample it and more live.

MONICA HELDAL - FACEBOOK

·         Rockefeller presented by BI

Thu, March 3, 8:30 PM > 9:00 PM

·         St. Edmunds Church

Sat, March 5, 10:00 PM > 10:30 PM

One of the acts I’ve seen before in London, Monica Heldal has this style of guitar playing and vocal that will totally enchant you. Her voice is filled with an exquisite tone and delivers emotion by the gallon, her tracks vary from country-leaning folk to rocking blues riffs with flourishing instrumentation and the result is simply devine. Her playing in a church promises to be a must-see. 

DAGNY - FACEBOOK

·         Rockefeller presented by BI

Thu, March 3, 11:30 PM > 12:00 AM

·         Drømmeteltet

Fri, March 4, 10:30 PM > 11:00 PM

Dagny’s debut single "Backbeat” catapulted her to the attention of many blogs around the world, a ridiculously infectious pop song full of vibrant, upbeat melody, captivating vocals and youthful exuberance. 

PALE HONEY - FACEBOOK

·         Mono

Thu, March 3, 9:00 PM > 9:30 PM

·         Rockefeller presented by BI

Fri, March 4, 8:30 PM > 9:00 PM

Last years’ Youth was Pale Honey’s debut album and after missing a couple of London shows I’m looking forward to breaking my live duck in Oslo. That release was a collision of part introspective darkness and propulsive (yet minimal) pop melody that draws you into a dreamy, idyllic world before hitting you with the odd thud of abrasive noise. That’s exactly my sort of thing.

SUSANNA - FACEBOOK

St. Edmunds Church

Fri, March 4, 7:00 PM > 7:30 PM

I’d not heard of Susanna before a few weeks ago and the track “Burning Sea” (although she has a comprehensive discography behind her). The track is the first heard from her forthcoming LP Triangle but I love what I heard straight away, wrapping me up in a similar sense of foreboding darkness to Anna Von Hausswolff (well the track does start with the line ‘I belong to the darkness’) as droning keys and howling instrumentation collide with Susanna’s crystalline vocal. If it’s all this good, consider me smitten.

SIV JAKOBSEN - FACEBOOK

·         Mono

Thu, March 3, 6:00 PM > 6:30 PM

·         St. Edmunds Church

Sat, March 5, 9:00 PM > 9:30 PM

Siv Jakobsen, as I’ve documented here before, was one my favourite discoveries of 2015 and the Norwegian singer-songwriter's track "How We Used to Love" one of my favourite tracks of the year, easily one of most beautiful, affecting tracks of recent time. Each carefully placed space and each finger-plucked melody adds to its emotional power, complete with bruised vocal and strings drenched in sadness, the result brings tingles each and every time I hear it – and that’s been often this year.

On her seven track EP The Lingering Siv has clearly taken influence from the beautiful yet chilly landscapes that surround her home, a sparse yet natural beauty and intimacy that pulls you deep into a magical world of romanticism and memories that you never want to leave. 

EERA - FACEBOOK

·         Revolver

Thu, March 3, 9:30 PM > 10:00 PM

·         NRK P3 Sentrum Scene

Fri, March 4, 9:00 PM > 9:30 PM

EERA is the new project of Anna Lena (formerly recording under the name Anna Lena and the Orchids) who re-imagines herself with "White Water", a track which is both familiar and new to fans of her earlier project and one that offers a bewitching introduction to newcomers.

Anna is blessed with an evocative, haunting vocal that seeps into your consciousness, natural and melancholic it slowly unwinds amongst chugging guitars, steady percussion and beautifully poetic lyrics. Nothing too much seems to have changed, that's until we reach the end of the verse and searing guitars transport the listener to St Vincent territory before calming once more, this bubbling flow continues until the tracks conclusion offering a confident, polished introduction to an artist whose time to step out of the shadows has surely come.

CHINAH - FACEBOOK

·         Gamla

Fri, March 4, 9:30 PM > 10:00 PM

·         Rockefeller presented by BI

Sat, March 5, 9:30 PM > 10:00 PM

I’m absolute sucker for glistening, cinematic electro pop filled with a gorgeous vocal and that’s exactly what you can expect from Copenhagen’s Chinah. "We Go Back" is speckled with smouldering vocals and glittery, restrained synth pop melody that harks straight from the eighties. It's irresistible too, add kaleidoscopic guitar licks and retro keyboards to sweetly alluring choruses and the result is this smooth, nostalgic triumph. 

ALICE BOMAN - FACEBOOK

·         St. Edmunds Church

Fri, March 4, 9:00 PM > 9:30 PM

·         Rockefeller presented by BI

Sat, March 5, 12:30 AM > 1:00 AM

Alice Boman is one of those artists I seem to feature here every time she releases a new track, if you press play on any one of her tracks you'll soon understand why. Her voice is a killer. Alice’s music heads straight for the heart. Her two EP’s far offering stark and fragile piano-led ballads full of haunting, echoey atmosphere and Alice's sweetly-hushed vocals, the result is an intimate, bare-boned experience capable of bringing you close to tears.

SARA HARTMAN - FACEBOOK

Drømmeteltet

Fri, March 4, 11:30 PM > 12:00 AM

Sara Hartman, a Berlin-based, US-born singer-songwriter hits the ground running on her immaculate single “Monster Lead Me Home”, a flawless piano-pop gem which propels rich, powerful vocals and sparkling instrumentation to results that excite for the teenagers’ future ahead.

Dagny - Backbeat

Facebook

I've been in half year review meetings for two days straight at work. I needed something joyous to brighten my mood. I find it almost as soon as I turn on my home computer with Dagny. A Norwegian artist now based in London. 

Her debut single "Backbeat" (that's what her PR says, it was also premiered on Beats 1 by Zane Lowe and she has 4.5k fans on Facebook so I'm not quite sure I trust that!) is a ridiculously infectious pop song full of vibrant, upbeat melody, captivating vocals and youthful exuberance. The sort of track you imagine will feature in the next Taylor Swift approved playlist. I almost feel ready to head out my door to tonight's gig. Thank you Dagny!