Opening a festival at midday on a Thursday might strike some bands as a poisoned chalice, but nothing so trivial is going to faze The Spook School’s drummer Niall McCamley. The moustachioed, boundlessly enthusiastic sticksman could be a Will Ferrell creation, his energy sometimes riding the line between irony and authenticity, but there’s no doubt that this band means it. The Glaswegian quartet’s set brims with bittersweet indie pop melodies, guitarists Nye and Andy Todd’s vocals playing off against those of bassist AC Cory. Much of their third album, ‘Could It Be Different?’, gets an airing, climaxing with ‘Body’, the latest in a long line of deeply personal songs on the subject of self-identity from this most enjoyable of bands.

One of the innovations at this year’s edition of the festival is a set of stages on Brighton beach, so it’s down to the Dr. Marten’s Stage for Boy Azooga, Cardiff’s buzziest band in some time. Bathed in glorious sunshine, their thick, kosmische guitars have enough pop and groove in their mix to entertain the sun seekers as much as their own devotees. But then again, it is a rare band that has a song dedicated to Jaki Liebezeit and gets Radio 1 airplay, so they obviously know how to serve multiple masters.

The Beach Club plays host to a number of relatively big names throughout the weekend, including Nashville’s Soccer Mommy. Frontwoman Sophie Allison tells us that they have flown in from the States especially for this festival, and accordingly this set sees them seizing the moment, albeit not at the expense of their slacker, too-cool-for-school persona. Aching, woozing slide guitar chords backdrop Allison’s tales of doomed relationships, her delivery simultaneously angsty and aloof. They allow pop tunes to break free from the mix at carefully selected moments, gratefully received by a sea of bobbing heads and smiles.

Back inland, Amsterdam songwriter Pitou has found a beautifully appropriate setting for her set in the form of the Greek-style chapel of the Unitarian Church, a stunning building that alas is currently clad in restorative scaffolding. Inside though, the history and mystique is still in full exposure. Pitou is performing just days after the release of her excellent EP I Fall Asleep So Fast and the pews are filled for her arrival. She is flanked by two seraphic backing singers, the three spinning and diving in sophisticated vocal formations that reveal Pitou’s background in classical music. She introduces ‘Give Me a Glass’ by telling us that it’s a song about alcohol, so we’re likely all going to hell, but at least we got a little slice of heaven here first. These arrangements will work everywhere, but by the rousing reception at the end of this set, there is an understanding that this was a little special.

Rounding out Thursday are Bossy Love, the Glasgow duo comprised of one-time Operator Please frontwoman Amandah Wilkinson and former Dananananaykroyd drummer John Baillie Jr. It might be the end of a long day for everybody, but when Baillie cracks into his first intro, it becomes clear that we’re only just getting started. Wilkinson gives the most memorable stage performance of the weekend, despite spending less than half of the set actually on the stage. She is a living embodiment of Bossy Love’s music, a powerhouse of fire and vitality, regularly jumping into the crowd to engage extremely directly with those fortunate few. The stage is nothing like big enough to contain Wilkinson tonight, the festival might not be big enough for them next year.

Russia enjoyed their first ever showcase at The Great Escape this year, and amongst their most talked-about new acts Kate NV gets the show on the road on Friday at the Queens Hotel. Her set is a refined, thought-through narrative arc. Alternating between her synthesiser and keyboard like a chess grandmaster switching between two sides of the same board, she builds electronic towers in our minds before judiciously toppling them in time for a run of crystal, glittering pop songs that are crying out for mainstream attention, most memorably of all ‘Sayonara’. At her shiniest, poppiest self, she is deserving of at least the sort of status that La Roux once held. The set ends with an extraordinary freakout, her jerky dancing degenerating into a convulsive explosion of motion in every direction, her voice losing all sense of control.

As the Russian showcase continues, the official lead national partner of The Great Escape this year The Netherlands begins its own showcase over at Komedia. The queues are far greater than the capacity in anticipation of Pip Blom, the celebrated rock quartet proving to be the hottest ticket of the afternoon. They are Factor 50 cool, their garage-indebted sound perhaps not reinventing the wheel, but certainly offering a state of the art new wheel model that you should know about if wheels are in any way useful or interesting to you.

Komedia’s shallow stage and low ceiling lend a sense of drama to proceedings and a sense of complete mystery for anyone not lucky enough to be within three people of the front. The compression in the room intensifies with the arrival of Canshaker Pi, the garage punk group from Amsterdam that have drawn understandable comparisons with Parquet Courts and fellow newcomers Bodega. Guitarist Boris De Klerk prowls his side of the stage like a mother lion defends her cubs, whilst frontman Willem Smit scowls his vocals out. Their songs are often short of two minutes in length, and it even seems that the shorter they are the greater the cheer from the crowd. Bassist Ruben van Weegberg stated in an interview for this site that he knows a show has gone well when they’ve managed to get the Brits dancing. Guess this was a good one then.

As night time begins to draw in, the pop kids congregate around Wagner Hall for the arrival of Rina Sawayama, the Japanese-British hipster pop siren. She may come armed with the promise of avant-garde pop futurism, but what she delivers is, in fact, a relatively routine rendition of noughties diva pop power vocals and dance sequences. There is a pair of suggestively acrobatic dancers in tow, as well as a producer at the rear of the stage whose main contribution is the addition of inaudible drum pad snare hits. The audience get their pop rush hit, but there is little in the way of invention or redefinition of the form.

An altogether more thrilling brand of future pop is on display at The Arch down on the beachfront, however, in the form of J-Pop queen Kyary Pamyu Pamyu. An ecstasy of strobe lighting and glitter, she arrives on stage in a snow mushroom costume and the set gets more and more surreal from there. There is a sense of high demand in the room, a dedication to burning the greatest possible amount of energy in the short half hour window. The beats are consequently heavy and deceptively intense, for such a hyperactive form of music, this is serious business. The J-pop genre may be well established, but its presence in Brighton still feels invigorating and when the set crescendos with ‘PONPONPON’, it’s hard to imagine a fresher experience was had anywhere in Brighton this weekend.

By Saturday, the pace has slowed somewhat, with many punters taking the opportunity to venture into new venues in an attempt to make a precious new discovery. It is at the home of the BBC Music compound in Jubilee Square that Onipa causes some major ripples. The quartet play their first ever show – yes, first EVER show – in front of a growing outdoor crowd that frequently loses all self-consciousness and gaily throws shapes in the sunshine. Onipa, which translates as ‘Human’ in Akan, the native language of the Ashanti people of Ghana, are led by K.O.G., an ultra-charismatic frontman who appears as bemused as he is overwhelmed that the group have elicited such an extreme response. The music ranges from afrobeat to dub to hip-hop and far beyond, with K.O.G. striking the balafon with such exuberance that the wooden bars are often knocked out of place. Tom Excell, formerly of Nubiyan Twist, is the musical leader of the group, offering lead guitar and a miniature mbira-like instrument played solely by his thumbs. Onipa’s songs are mostly pleas for humanity to prevail over adverse circumstances, something that doesn’t seem as far-fetched after witnessing a heart-warming debut set like this.

Rounding out the weekend over at Bella Union’s stage at the Sallis Benney Theatre is the ever-entertaining BC Camplight. He begins by telling us that his new album is due to be announced in two days’ time, so tonight will be dominated by new material. “Think of yourselves less as guinea pigs than as people who aren’t going to hear the songs you like,” is the very BC Camplight way that he puts it. On tonight’s evidence, ‘Deportation Blues’ should be a humdinger, with the title track and ‘Fire In England’ both marrying deadpan humour with serious subject matter in a way that has become familiar. That same approach to disarmingly candid and conversational songwriting is alive and well, his set virtually a stand-up routine in song form, not unlike John Grant. We still get old favourites like ‘You Should’ve Gone To School’ and ‘Just Because I Love You’, a convivial and immensely satisfying end to a weekend that has been bursting with new ideas and musical optimism. If anybody tries telling you that bands aren’t coming through at the same rate as they used to, buy them a ticket to next year’s The Great Escape and you’ll never need to hear from them again.

Vegan-Leather---Horatios
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Tuvaband
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Pitou---Church
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Dizzy---Green-Door-Store
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Bossy-Love---Komedia
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