Cults vs Warpaint @ the Great Escape Festival 2011, Brighton, UK, 12.05.11
We arrive on the crowded street outside the venue and find ourselves in a stressfully long queue for delegates. This is my nightmare. The other queue is even bigger, but this is of little comfort as we are only too aware that Warpaint (above) are now on stage as the minutes tick by. A burly security guard approaches our line and tells us in loud tones that, “We’re now up to capacity and there is no real hope of getting in”. I am not perturbed. “Wait,” I say with a sparkle in my eye. In the coming minutes, one by one most of the other delegates give up the wait and wander off, bumping us up to the front of the queue.
A short but excruciating while later, we are relieved to be ushered in and I feel a surge of excitement as I recognise the atmospheric riff of ‘Undertow’ coming out of the mega-sized PA filling up the massive venue with the sounds of Warpaint reigning supreme. Despite the epic size of the Brighton Corn Exchange, the place is packed to the rafters. Warpaint look incredible: strong and gentle, rhythmically lost in the sway of their own relentless tripped-out riffs. The crowd are already eating out of their palms, dancing, arms lifted, whooping and writhing. The sound reaches up to the high ceilings, and the beautiful round stained glass windows of the Corn Exchange seems like a venue made for them. In fact they seem to have transformed the place into some kind of Spiritualist Church as the haunting choral power of their group vocals and siren-esque calls cause us to abandon ourselves and dive right into an ocean of ethereal sound.
Warpaint may not be a heavy band, but this doesn’t stop the front of the crowd from going wild availing themselves to the biggest moshpit the festival is likely to see. The crowd surfers begin their onslaught next as Warpaint continue to bang out their otherworldly bass-heavy beautiful sound, much to the displeasure of the angry security guards who have their work cut out controlling everyone. I bet they weren’t expecting this from the all-female band on stage, but Warpaint are capable of eroding so many beliefs about girls with guitars, beginning tonight in Brighton.
Their enchanting set continues with ‘Composure’, casting spells with words, voices and singer Emily Kokal’s hand gestures over the crowd through a wall of sound. As they continue on ripping up the stage, causing a storm that only mermaids can survive – lulling the audience with the sultry melodic dirge of ‘Shadows’. Everyone here is transfixed. Right when we all start to feel hypnotised and stoned from the music, Warpaint come at us hard with the upbeat stomp of set closer ‘Elephants’. The crowd goes wild and it’s a long time before the applause fizzles out.
I feel stunned as I gather my friends and photographer to leave the venue – no one knows quite what to say, but we’re all smiling and satisfied. What an amazing band! Then it’s off to the pub to rest our feet and talk about the magic we just witnessed, before jumping in a taxi back to the hotel, still full of excitement and tiredness to prepare to do it all again tomorrow – day two of the Great Escape festival. Can I keep up this pace?
Photography: Greg Neate