The Great Escape 2015: Bully, Drenge, Tobias Jesso Jr and Ho99o9 set day two’s agenda

DIY picks out highlights from the second day of action in Brighton.

The appeal of Manchester’s Spring King is their potential to go off the rails at any point. In their short existence, they’ve turned tiny venues to rubble. They even invited one of their dads to come on stage and play saxophone, at one point. Still, that doesn’t mean Tarek Musa and co. are looking for trouble when they take to an early-afternoon set at the Dome Studio Theatre. But Spring King are magnets for chaos.

Musa has a fever, an amp’s blown up after one song, and the four-piece are looking dumbfounded as a crowd laps up their relentlessly-paced garage punk. “Does that sound good from where you are? Really?! Because it sounds fucking shit up here,” quips Musa. They seem confused at the response, but the pursuit continues. They charge through ‘Momma’ and breakthrough single ‘The City’ like there’s some self-destruct button on their instruments that’ll detonate if they play any slower.

It could collapse into meltdown at any moment, but Spring King’s set is charmingly ballistic. The will-they-won’t-they balancing act between disaster and triumph is why they’re such an exciting band. It’s on display more than ever with today’s show.

Photos: Spring King.

So much of The Great Escape is about buzz, but occasionally a bit of tuneful noise stops it getting boring by the sea. Nai Harvest have that in spades, rattling at pace through their early evening Coalition set before heading off for another slot across a crowded weekend for the two piece. Next door at The Arch, Chicago's Meat Wave blast through a more muscular set to equally impressive results. But at The Haunt, a perfect storm is forming.

Bully, to be entirely blunt, are the real deal. Of every band playing The Great Escape, this scuzzy four piece mix the hype with the talent better than possibly any other. There's nothing gimmicky or flash in the pan about the Nashville four piece. Not even slightly. Their imminent debut album 'Feels Like' is already flashing signals that it could well be a modern classic, but live they're even better.

A packed crowd, featuring more than a few of their peers, strives for a glimpse of Alicia Bognanno as she stands at the mic, owning the stage. There's no extravagant movement; bells, whistles or unnecessary fluff - Bully simply carry themselves like a Very Important Band. Completely disarming, no arrogance, just an ease in their own skin, every track feels quietly confident in its brilliance.

Photos: Bully.

Kevin Devine has spent the past few evenings playing sold out shows at London’s St. Pancras Old Church and in a couple of hours time, he’ll take to Brighton’s Unitarian Church for his official Great Escape show. Right now though, it’s five in the afternoon and he’s stood on an ever-so-slightly raised area at the back of a pub, guitar in hand, leading a packed Pavilion Tavern through a condensed version of hits. The Alternative Escape has never seemed so… alternative.

Quiet Lion’s four-way vocals start the day off with a touch of beauty, with the band instantly lifting the audience into their world of swirling harmony and melody. Oxfordshire two-piece Cassels aren’t as gentle, hammering big ideas into even bigger songs but genius has never been about understated whispers and the pair makes it look so effortless. It’s a confidence that’s mirrored by Waylayers, frontman Harry Lee casually leans over the barrier like his soaring vocal delivery is merely a conversation at a bar and the electronic flared anthems they straddle, the backdrop for his charm. Hindsights are less forthcoming in their approach but their emotional fueled punk resonates far beyond the first few rows.

A rather nonplussed H. Hawkline stands onstage in Brighton’s Dome Studio Theatre, grinning at his keyboard player Steve - best known as North Welsh musician Sweet Baboo. The crowd loves Steve, and a chant starts up accordingly. “Hey, hey!” starts Huw Evans, before joining in himself. Despite his fake protests, H. Hawkline actually has a very solid camaraderie with other Welsh musicians making weird, surreal pop music. Gruff Rhys has previous produced for Evans. He also played in Means Heinz with Sweet Baboo, and Cate Le Bon.

Now, though, H. Hawkline is Huw Evans’ solo affair. Named after a Richard Brautigan book, H. Hawkline’s songs come from a similar world of “strange-pop.” Pinging up and down the fret-boards, his lyrics are equally charming, clever little thoughts; “I never open my post/ I’m a moronic morose” and “today’s one of those days when I just want to pop a balloon.” Hazy, playful and delivered through a lens of the slightly surreal, he’s the perfect remedy for an overcast Brighton evening.

Photos: H. Hawkline.

“Why don’t you tell the truth sometimes, you know you should?” sings Tobias Jesso Jr in between awkward giggles and pained expressions. He’s struggling with a detuned guitar, one that’s been left on stage for a quick detour from the traditional piano routine. This Vancouver musician can’t do anything but tell the truth. He’s resolutely honest, to the point where if something goes wrong, he wants you to know about it.

99% of the time, he doesn’t make a single fault. Racing through the majority of his ‘Goon’ debut (“I’ve got thirty minutes, not enough time for you to hear me talk,” he quips at the start), he brings a brutal dose of honesty to the Dome Studio Theatre. Where songs like ‘Without You’ and ‘True Love’ are close-to-the-bone serious, Jesso Jr likes to counter heavy emotions with a dry humour. Minus his full band, he tries to make up the numbers by humming the horn sections parts of ‘Hollywood’ - he ends up sounding like a kazoo. And even when the guitar goes skewiff for ‘Tell the Truth’, the response is ecstatic.

By the time his set runs dry, he promptly leaves the piano chair, gives a quick finger to the battered guitar and waves goodbye. Here’s the truth: If Tobias Jesso Jr didn’t have this goofy side, the purpose of his work would be too heavy-going. As it stands, he’s a star, a unique and fun personality in a world of dreary, energy-sapped songwriters.

A quick dash around the corner to The Mesmerist sees Black Honey causing all sorts of chaos with a hometown crowd at their fingertips. Technical difficulties and a lack of space hamper their set but Black Honey aren’t going to let such trivial matters dampen this celebration. Screaming, frantic and glorious, the four-piece bring their snarling pop to life with wide eyes and a sense of urgency that matches their ascent.

Back at the Pav Tav, things have got busy. Woahnow’s Tim Rowing-Parker thinks it’s because the crowd left it too late to see Slaves but their flamboyant punk is more than enough reason to squeeze forward. Anthemic and with a devilish grin, the three-piece tear through a glorious set that starts at brilliance and only gets better. Capturing a sense of frustration in the room, Johnny Foreigner twist it into something beautiful as the room is united under their smirking fury before exploding in a glorious release of togetherness and it’s all Nai Harvest, playing their second of four shows across the weekend, can do to keep that momentum and solidarity going as the evening comes to a triumphant end.

Photos: Tobias Jesso Jr.

TheOGM flips a button on his chaos-causing machine, and from that point on, he and his bandmate Eaddy are streaks of poisonous, fast acting venom. Rapping about choice topics like Heath Ledger’s ghost and cum rags, spliced screams and choked breathing jarring across the room, tonight’s aggressively, theatrical show puts Ho99o9 far more in line with hardcore punk leaders Black Flag, Minor Threat, Circle Jerks and Bad Brains than Death Grips.

Theatricality is at the core of Ho99o9’s show. Eaddy stalks the stage, psyching out and eye-balling his front row, while wedding-dress and Pussy Riot-esque blue bandana wearing TheOGM flings himself at the barrier, howling and spitting. Lighting rigs barely survive Eaddy’s haphazard crowdsurfing, and the pit is a tangle of flailing arms and legs, bayed on by Ho99o9 the whole time. There’s something almost campy and self-aware in the shock-value, from the inverted 666 in the duo’s name, to their morbid, slasher flicks lyrics. Like your music raw and aggressive like sushi on a rampage? Ho99o9 only have one setting; all out destruction.

Photos: Drenge and Ho99o9.

Drenge are fresh from power naps, and if anyone’s in need of a refresh turn midnight at Patterns, the Loveless brothers know how to provide just that. After watching L.A. group Ho99o9 bring a new, twisted meaning to thrash, it’s up to Eoin, Rory and bassist Rob Graham to up the ante even more. Drawing on their two records in equal measure, they achieve it with chaotic, fuzz-encrusted results.

With barely a word spoken between songs, the trio race through ‘Running Wild’ and ‘The Snake’ like there’s no tomorrow. A last-minute addition to the fest, they begin with such pace it’s as if they want their appearance to remain a secret. Word’s likely to spread about tonight’s set, though. Stretching over an hour, it’s a lesson in drawing new strands out of relentless force.

Heart-stopping thrills like ‘Never Awake’ and ‘Bloodsports’ tend to steal the show at Drenge gigs, but it’s left to the sludgier, more impassioned songs to close things out in style, as the clock winds way past the previous day. ‘Standing in the Cold’ is a dank, depressing juggernaut, linking up with ‘Fuckabout’ to make Patterns an emotional pit of a setting for the group’s final bow.

Photos: Fraser A Gorman, Nai Harvest, Creeper.

It might be the early hours of the morning by the time that The Cribs hit the stage, but there's no lagging in energy levels over at Wagner Hall. Currently in the midst of their festival run, the Wakefield trio are well-practiced in the art of causing chaos; it takes mere seconds for the room to explode into life, with the first beer flying across the room just thirty seconds in.

Blitzing through the hits isn't the only thing on the agenda for the Jarman brothers this evening; it's apparently been three years since they last played in Brighton, so they decide to offer up a taste of their new record for good measure. Cuts like 'Burning For No One' and 'Different Angle' sound brilliantly scuzzy alongside high octane favourites 'Mirror Kisses' and 'Men's Needs' and set closer 'Pink Snow' is as gloriously noisy as it is grandiose. From stage invaders to smashed guitars, you get what you pay for when it comes to The Cribs: carnage, in the best possible way.

All photos: Emma Swann / DIY. Words: Jamie Milton, Stephen Ackroyd, Sarah Jamieson, Ali Shutler.

Tags: Bully, Drenge, HO99O9, Tobias Jesso Jr, The Great Escape, Festivals, Reviews, Live Reviews

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