In my mind, the only way to measure the magnitude of influence that Brighton has (in terms of music) is to emphasise it’s differences with an exterior point of reference. In this case, the point of reference being my hometown, Canterbury, Kent. Canterbury seemed quite musically up to scratch, the town has one large capacity venue, a few mid-range capacity venues, and a handful of pubs, clubs and rent-out studios. From these, there formed the bedrock of small capacity venues that all the newest music would be played at.
Initially, I thought this spectra of venues made sense, until I actually began to attend the events that were held there. I quickly discovered that the large venue was for reserved specifically for ‘family-pleasers’ like pantos or that stop-drop-and-popstar you once saw on ‘Nevermind The Buzzcocks’, the mid-capacity venues could only be played by someone who could fill seats for two hours (cover bands and musical sing-alongs), leaving the only places that would ever put on new or original music to be the smaller venues. Unfortunately, this meant that all bands that were giving it a good go would quickly be discouraged as they found themselves playing to empty rooms, not because of the poor support for new music but because the PA systems in these places were often so cheap and nasty that the only way you could hear the band clearly was to stand outside and listen in. So, from either side of the fence, it felt like you were experiencing the shadow of where music once was. A very surreal way to experience live music, to say the least.
In stark contrast to my sleepy, shitty Kentish birthplace, Brighton is a musical dynamo. A constantly vibrating continuum of high-energy acts, events and venues that is showcase to the paramount creativity of those that, both, inhabit Brighton and those that visit. There’s an overwhelming sense that Brighton is a magnet for those that feel dissatisfied with their familiar yet boring home comforts of their own cities, towns, village. Having seen Kentish bands, FUOCO and Gang, play both in Brighton and in Canterbury, I feel confident in stating that these bands ultimately feel more at peace onstage in front of the large contingent of music lovers and likewise creatives that Brighton has to offer. This stands in contrast to the audiences back at home, where it feels like everybody is at a gig because there is nothing else to do. Not only does Brighton have a large community of music lovers that ultimately make the gigging environment in the city a lot friendlier, but the city as a whole appears to be a creative fringe for those who really want to push the envelope. Seeing posters that advertise ‘Beat Poetry Slam Night’ or ‘Vegan Book Fair’ would inspire cynicism in a lot of people, but to me it further emphasises the point that the populous of Brighton are ‘making it happen’, in the vaguest of terms.
To me, the success of Brighton’s music scene rests largely on its venues. Cool, friendly and ultimately enticing, the venues are the places that make going to see the live music worth it in many ways. With the right atmosphere, these venues can turn a fairly standard line up into one of the best nights you’ve ever had. The place that I think encompasses this attitude best is Sticky Mike’s Frog Bar.
Sitcky Mike’s is an understated, under-celebrated, ‘blink and you’ll miss it’ style venue. Located on a perpendicular road that connects North Street to the seafront, this joint is only identifiable pertaining to the little orange banner stating it’s namesake hanging to the left of the front door. It’s the subtle and bespoke appearance of the venue that adds to the electric atmosphere that can be felt as soon as you barge open the saloon doors to the basement, where all the magic happens. A measure of a band’s success at Sticky Mike’s could be gauged in terms of how well they read their audience. The epitome of this being MUNEZ’s relationship with their fans in what transpired to be their last show as a four piece (adhering to the departure of the wonderfully creative, James Gale). MUNEZ were soft spoken, tender and flexible, but not afraid to use their weight when proving useful. The crowd lapped up their sublime use of feedback to create atmosphere and when the only hiccup in their set occurred (drummer, Timmy, needing a replacement bass drum pedal) the audience was patient and thoughtful. The band slaked the thirst of an audience who seemed right at home with MUNEZ’s unique brand of soft surf-rock, that could only be linked with the very early works of bands like The Wipers or Weezer.
Alternatively, a band that I believe had no concern for the audience at Sticky Mike’s was I CRIED WOLF. Psych-Grunge duo FUOCO opened this particular show, as always, the boys wound up the audience into a passive aggressive state of awe and bewilderment, as far as sets go, they don’t get much better than that, powerful, confident and colourful. Then came I CRIED WOLF, whose set was so filled with tasteless stage theatrics that by the end of the first song alone there were mutterings in the audience along the lines of; ‘This has to be a joke’. The music was perfectly fine, emo-rock that verged on heavy metal in places with a very strong vocalist behind them, but their onstage rapport (consisting of some of the flashiest guitar poses since Steve Vai’s god-awful resurrection) was so over-egged that half of the crowd found themselves quickly darting to the door for a fag break.
Lastly, touching on how Brighton remains relevant as a culturally and politically forward thinking city, I’d like to state my profound and unrelenting love for the diversity of Brighton. Bands and acts from all over scramble to play Brighton (BLEACH being home to shows by Nottingham’s Kagoule and Los Angeles’ Craft Spells), but perhaps more importantly, Brighton is home to many different walks of music. From the psychedelic tendencies of Gang to the weekly free-form jazz nights at The Bee’s Mouth, from the countless reggae nights on the corner of London Road and Preston Road to the Peter Hook inspired post-punk nights at the Prince Albert. The truth of the matter is, Brighton has to be one of the most musically accommodating places in the world, there really is something for everyone. You only have to take a short trip to King’s Mansions to find a collective of french teenagers who are making better Motown-inspired jams than you ever could.
Words by Harvey Dent
Categories: Brighton’s Music Features