Drill in Brighton was one of the best urban multi-venue festivals of last year – curated by Wire on a rolling basis, this year in Chicago. One Inch Badge, the promoters who organised it, were so inspired by its mix of forms and acts that they set up their own version this year – Mutations!

It was a great first attempt. Inevitably smaller than its illustrious predecessor, the 2 days fell out as Sat = Mostly Country in Hove (Actually) and Sun = Mostly Noise in Brighton, with a Trance Aftershow. Definitely something for everyone! Cleverly they minimised the venue clashes, though it still meant choosing Neko Case over Chelsea Wolfe and Om over Jane Weaver (wrong choice!).

Saturday morning started at 1pm in the Hope and Ruin, an excellent punky pub with good beers and audience face-to-face with bands on the minimal stage. Saintseneca from Columbus Ohio appealed as they were impossible to classify – intense folk rock psych, anyone? It was their first trip abroad! LP ‘How many Blankets in the World?’ should be worth checking out.

Widowspeak from Brooklyn drew a packed crowd but were not my cup of anything – shoegazy dream pop which sent me to sleep. Everyone else liked them. Whereas Willis Earl Beal was very much awake and amazing! Superb soul voice in the vein of Isaac Hayes or JB, and a powerful sense of theatre – tattered cloak, eyeless mask, imaginative use of barstool. Nothing like as bluesy as the recordings I’ve heard, and with a great sense of self-depreciating humour, as he espoused his Church of Nobody and asked us not to clap although falling asleep was fine – not to this gig, bud!

Next, off to church in deepest Hove...which took a while, even by bike, so a tiny audience for first act All Tvvins. Shame as these lively twins from Dublin reminded me of early U2. On tour now with Kodaline. The alcohol free bar didn’t help...I thought churches were OK with wine?

Still, a beautiful venue with great sound...and perfect for the iconic Neko Case. Surely today’s headline act, although third on the bill, many people had come just for her, and she didn’t disappoint. She joked that she had the rare achievement of getting a box set while still alive, the wonderfully named ‘Truckdriver, Gladiator, Mule’. She played songs from all her country noir career, including Hold on Hold on and Margaret v Pauline from the classic Fox Confessor Brings the Flood, and the beautiful Maybe Sparrow. She referenced John Peel as the man to introduce her to a UK audience before Twist the Knife, which topped the much-missed Festive 50 in 2000. She looked great, in a grey tracksuit, and seemed really happy, laughing with her band. I could have watched her all night.

However, she was followed by a related and also good looking artist whom I enjoyed if anything even more...Josh T Pearson. Gone are the long hair and matted beard, he’s now nattily dressed in a huge white Stetson, attributing his new health to yoga and clean(er) living. His set was a wonderful mix of the heartbreaking and the hilarious...his inter song banter referencing the church venue, the fact that he was single and that he was playing live for the first time for a while as he needed the money. He played Woman, When I’ve Raised Hell like resurrected Cash, and a supremely witty and sad new song StillBorn to Rock, about losing his girlfriend because kids would have ruined his career, which seemed very autobiographical. He ended the set as half of the Two Witnesses, a gospel duo covering extremely Christian numbers from the Louven Brothers and er, Sister Act 2, possibly with just a touch of tongue in that neatly shaven cheek.

It was brilliant, and a pleasure to meet him at the aftershow to find he was more or less the same as on stage, humour and deep emotion combined. Also great to see that he was really into his rock...he had made the trek earlier to see Chelsea Wolfe, whom he praised very highly. We vaguely arranged to meet the next day in Om’s set...I didn’t really expect this to happen, so missed him, but it seems that big Stetson was indeed seen amongst the head nodding crowd.

Maybe a good job we didn’t meet, we may have disagreed about Om. I do like their records, but here they seemed to play the same song 10 times, each version building from similar breathy vocals but never quite achieving a crescendo. Keyboard player Robert did a nice line in tambourine tossing, but I preferred his live work as Lichens.
Sunday was a harder and noisier line-up to ‘enjoy’, though there were many highlights. Anyone playing well in the wonderful Prince Albert is going to be a pleasure, and Lowly from Denmark were a breath of fresh air, sounding quite 80s and foreign, both in a good way.

The singer of Ought from Montreal had real stage presence, definitely one for fans of Pavement. Storm someone-or-other was blasting away outside, but here in the Green Door Store all was mighty hot. So much so that I arrived late for Blanck Mass at the Haunt. It was a measure of just how stunning this show was that even wedged in at the back I was blown away. This solo project from Fuck Buttons B J Power can be hard to listen to on record, but was much more funky live, with transfixing visuals, more like a wild rave than the experimental electronics of the album.

One more highlight awaited...Lightning Bolt! Highly influential, one of the original ‘two blokes with guitar drums and vocals’ bands from before the White Stripes, I first saw them in a riotous Portland Arms in Cambridge many years ago, when they played in the midst of the audience. Luckily this time they stayed on stage, so we could all still see, but the absolute frenzy of their playing is delightfully unchanged. Effects pedals give an amazing intricacy to what might otherwise be just deafening noise, and the highly skilled drummer shouts into a mike embedded in a huge voodoo mask he wears.

Amazingly amongst the sweaty rhythmic charge there’s a lot of humour too...two audience members are sent to the side of the stage for unspecified bad acts, with the punishment turning to a prize as they are given drumsticks and invited to help with the pounding. Sorry to Metz who came on next, but you just cannot follow a band like that!

Kevin Hand