The weather has turned out glorious in Brighton on the second day of The Great Escape – but Friday’s bill at Club Uncut is of a decidely darker bent.
Up first at the Pavilion Theatre tonight are Nashville’s The Black Belles (pictured above), Jack White’s grungey garage-rock protégées. They released their debut single, “What Can I Do?”, on Third Man in 2010, but have since kept a low-profile, even when sneaking out their debut album late last year.
“What Can I Do?” was pretty pagan-gothic (both in its video and sound), but the newer tracks from the group, seemingly always dressed for Halloween in their huge black hats, black lacy dresses and black lipstick, show a wider set of influences – from twangy surf-rock to dirgy Sabbath riffing, from White Stripes garage thrash to Karen O-like growling from frontwoman (and collaborator on White’s Blunderbuss) Olivia Jean. Indeed, “Honky Tonk Horror”, the most immediate of the group’s songs (and also their new single) appears to showcase all three over the course of its full-pelt three minutes.
The band are now a trio following “a recent change in our lineup” (the departure of organist Lil’ Boo), but their fuzzed-up, vicious sound still shakes up the Pavilion Theatre on one thrilling short song after another.
Blanck Mass perhaps don’t know the meaning of the phrase ‘short song’, though. Benjamin John Power, usually one half of Fuck Buttons, prefers to meander non-stop through a variety of moods during his 45-minute set. He begins with loops of children’s babbling, before settling into an extended piece of organ-toned synth drones. The funereal sound has more than a hint of the gothic to it, touching on Tangerine Dream circa Zeit, but also the apparently unchanging soundscapes of Terry Riley and Steve Reich – there’s a similar time-distorting element to much of Blanck Mass’ set, the dense held drones causing you to lose track of the passing of minutes. At times, it’s reminiscent of those massively slowed-down (by around 500%…) Justin Bieber tracks that appeared a couple of years ago, beautifully glacial.
Around halfway through the set, Power begins to introduce rhythmic elements into his sound. There are definite echoes of Warp artists from the ’90s, such as Autechre in the off-kilter rhythms, and also Boards Of Canada’s unsettling vocal samples, spun off into a sea of echo and glitchiness.
It was an impressive, if slightly dated-sounding, performance, but it would certainly have packed more of a punch if there had been visuals involved. Luckily, Forest Swords, tonight’s headliners, brought along a screen and a projector to go with the onstage duo’s spacey electronic textures. A strong dub element is provided by live bass guitar from an additional member, but the tracks sometimes stray into more modern, dubstep-influenced fare, complete with soul vocal samples submerged in harsh digital echo – not unlike the ’90s Bristol sound of Tricky or Massive Attack remixed by Burial.
In front of the visuals – scratchy black and white footage of dancers, lit-up signs from early-20th-century Paris and Berlin, and other ephemera – the pair weave their slow, steady way, the pace only changing when a bizarre drum and bass break enters without warning, sparking whoops in the spectators keen for some more immediate Friday night thrills. But Forest Swords prefer to keep their elegantly stoned, dark style going rather than give in to the crowd. All power to them.
Come back tomorrow for a report on the final night of Club Uncut at The Great Escape.
Photograph: Richard Johnson