Who needs multiple summer festivals full of predictable music, when there’s a winter gathering, in the city that is a permanent festival anyway (Brighton), curated by one of the most influential and creative bands of the punk era (Wire)? This is Drill, an eclectic mix of artists either inspired by Wire, or selected by Colin Newman and co to appeal anyone who listened to John Peel for more than 3 songs and still enjoyed it.

Four full nights plus two afternoons and a pre-party, all for a very reasonable price…

Thursday;  Sons of Noel and Adrian (during happy hour at trendy bar Audio) proved a very acceptable precursor to Wire…who were themselves a precursor by Graham Duff, mysteriously absent from the programme, who turns out to be a local BBC scriptwriter doing a funny turn…which is OK as he is a massive Wire fan. Indeed he plays guitar with them later, along with assorted friends and relatives, as the 20 strong Pink Flag Orchestra. Wire has embraced Krautrock since the early three chord days, and many songs elongate into tight motoric grooves. They play in black against a bright blue backdrop. Not ones to do the hits, they start with a sonic poem (23 Years Too Late) followed by Drill for the first time. I recognise the beautiful song about landscapes, Map Ref 41N 93W. They have lots of passionate and friendly fans, mostly men of a certain age (mine), who tell me it’s a classic performance. And no, they didn’t play ( I am ) The Fly although a band of that name does play a small pub venue on Sun evening.

For complete contrast, a few of us make it to the late night show by cut&paste pioneers/cabaret geniuses Cassette Boy. DJ Rubbish careers around the stage in a wig, in front of a huge screen, flanked by 2 suspiciously young men in monkey masks. I last saw Cassette Boy about 10 years ago…maybe it’s a collective name, a process not a person. Anyway, it’s a wonderful party, dancing to hilarious sound/visual collages with an underlying anarchist theme. Check them out if you need help with SAD this winter.

Another Rockclub correspondent (we are all Kevins, This ones from the US) enjoyed Telegram and These New Puritans, then got drunk with Bristol’s Scarlet Rascal…shocking!

Friday;  Surprisingly both a little hungover we fail to meet…but see 2 great gigs. The other Kevin  loves British Sea Power with the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra brass section in a church, which does sound good. I in the meantime fall in love with Savages. A total show, lights, drama, passion…the audience is completely immersed (and about 50% female, giving a nicer atmosphere than many rock gigs). All the band are in black except the glittering drummer, with singer Jehnny Beth, mesmerising, in a black chiffon top. They start with lots of new songs, all moody and magnificent...including Slowing Down the World and the poignant I Adore Life, dedicated the recent passing of Nick Talbot (Gravenhurst) just the day before. In a quick chat later with Graham Lewis of Wire, he also loves the gig and opines that the new stuff should take them even further from being just another all-girl rock band. Seeming pleased with our positive responses, Jehnny smiles and powers into a blistering second half, with all the highlights from Silence Yourself, towering over us as she balances on the barriers. They end with a stunning finale of Husbands, Sad Person and an extended version of their empowering anthem, Don’t Let the Fuckers Get You Down. Polite notices in the loos about not filming the performance are obeyed…great to see a band without a forest of phones in the way. Savages rightly try to control as much as they can of their output, offering us their own amazing video films rather than distorted fan footage on Youtube.

Toy end the evening on a long psychedelic note, followed by Krautrock Karaoke…not (sadly?) members of the audience queuing up to sing Autobahn, but members of Drill bands (and indeed some of the audience) riff-based jamming in the K-r style. No names announced, but we seem to recognise members of Wire, Githead, Toy, and the singer from Wytches doing a suitably over the top vocal. Savages are in the audience, still smiling.

Saturday afternoon; has an electronica theme in the Haunt, hosted by excellent Brighton shop Resident Records. It starts with Brighton’s AK/DK, who plays great warm danceable stuff with analog machines whirring in the background, real drums, and treated vocals, followed by the more poppy Fujiya & Miyagi, who play an excellent song about the devil serving Minestrone soup from a Ford Escort.

Saturday evening;   is a hard choice: I go for new locals Speak Galactic, which I enjoy a lot. Their young mastermind sings through a veil of red hair, sounding like a dying cat but in a good way, over elegant soundscapes that morph into mad wig-outs. After Spectres come Esben and the Witch, playing powerfully building songs from ace new Albini-produced lp A New Nature. Dig Your Fingers In is a spooky highlight. They could have gone on all night…except this is early closing Saturday because the venues can make more as nightclubs later on, I presume.

Sunday; needs a change from all these guitars…so it's the boisterous big band jazz funk of Almighty Planets, who prove a good warmup act for Mercury winners Young Fathers…who create one of my gigs of the year. Knowing little about them in advance apart from taciturn interviews, I leave numb and drained, after an intense hour in which I cannot take my eyes off the stage. It starts with a military drum, the key fourth member of the band standing over a small kit which he beats mercilessly throughout the set, holding all the other diverse elements together. The rest is simply 3 guys rapping and singing, alternately or together, over a deafening bass that penetrates the whole body with occasionally, other sounds. But what songs…and what presence…the men weaving around the stage, hair flying, abruptly stopping, all in perfect harmony. The whole thing channels the spirit of past heroes….Kuti, Gaye, Scott – Heron…yet remains original, beautiful, tense but ultimately uplifting. Afterwards I just sit on the beach, staring at the sea, unable to move on to the next venue…nothing could follow this.

So, its perhaps good that the next venue, the lovely Albert pub, is totally full for mighty Italian jazz rockers Zu…the first queue I have seen, pleasantly surprising as much of the ethos at Drill is big names in small venues. I’ve just about recovered in time for Swans…always an assault on the senses, here at deafening volume. As Michael Gira says, these are not songs but experiences. They turn the lights up to reduce the us and them feeling, which does alter the intensity a bit. Gira seems very happy, and ends with effusive praise for Wire, one of his early inspirations…which is good, as they turn up to join Swans and finish the festival as they started, with a long shared version of… Drill, of course.

A few small negatives – we drooled over the initial listings and underlined all we wanted to see, only to find that many of the best acts clashed. Standard festival angst I suppose. Distances were long between some of the venues - OK for those of us on bikes but still necessitating some careful planning and decisions. Most venues were deafening and earplugs became the norm. Lots of positives though – very little queuing, and very friendly bar staff and security, both a bit of a contrast with the well-established Great Escape in the same town. High drinks prices, but no more than the average nightclub…and great to find some proper beers – a pint of LSD in Sticky Mikes Frog Bar seemed deliciously appropriate (Langhams Special Draught, from Sussex). Fantastic organisers, imaginative line-ups and venues, great music. Roll on the next Drill…though as the last one was in Seattle, it could be anywhere…

Kevin Hand
Dec 2014

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