Words & photos: Poppy Richler
Set in the coastal city of Brighton, Mutations went off with a bang for its third year running. A welcome extension to festival season, Mutations is an inner-city 4-dayer for alternative, indie, electronic and experimental music from the UK and beyond. This year, the event took place in a number of Brighton’s most famous independent venues, including The Hope and Ruin, Prince Albert, Folklore Rooms, Green Door Store, Patterns and Chalk. With previous line-ups including Jane Weaver, Goat Girl and Squid, Mutations proved its chops yet again, boasting a line-up of both dynamic up-and-coming and established musicians. With sets from Baxter Dury, Lynks, PVA, The Umlauts and so many more, we left with a serious excitement for new music.
Brighton is a musical landmark for many reasons: its ever-growing scene has watched bands like Porridge Radio, Dream Wife, Black Honey, Opus Kink and more walk its streets – the streets that witnessed the infamous 1964 riot between 3,000 mods and rockers, perfectly depicted in The Who’s ‘Quadrophenia’ movie (the mods won). We kicked off our day at the wristband collection at Chalk, conveniently placed right next to the scribbled-over walls of Quadrophenia Alley.
The drunken shouts of Sunderland football fans (“we’re shit” chant being a highlight) on the three hour delayed train to Brighton graced our ears, but this meant that we missed entrance to the murky world of Deadletter and the tuneful mayhem of KEG. Every mishap comes with a silver lining, and ours was an enhanced drive to see as-many-bands-as-possible-in-one-day. We saw 8 in 7 hours, with photos of 6. Not bad, right?
Kicking off the day were The Goa Express at The Hope and Ruin – arguably one of the UK’s most famous independent venues. Visiting it felt like a proper pilgrimage. Mutations’ ‘ones to watch’, the band brought their rock ‘n’ roll psychedelia to a packed-out audience at 2pm. Seeing the venues so full this early in the day was fantastic, as it demonstrated both the festival and ticketholders’ drive to see not just the big names, but the fresher faces too.
Up next, a seaside walk took us to the subterranean Patterns for Cheap Teeth. Listening to their music is always an enjoyable experience – packed with pithy lyrics, the instrumental arrangements make the music dangerous, terrifying and wholly intriguing. The live experience was even better – the stage presence this four piece harnesses is incredibly magnetic. Lead singer Joe Laycock threw himself into the performance with more energy than we’ve seen from a frontman in a long time.
Approaching The Folklore Rooms, the familiar angst of Legss’ Ned Green wafted through the window – an angst we were only able to catch the tail ends of, yet still gave us that punch in the gut Legss always delivers. Onto Moa Moa at The Green Door Store! The Speedy Wunderground signees bathed us in their perfect blend of dazed electronica and light guitar, providing the musical escape necessary to continue the day.
The final stop on our agenda was CHALK, the biggest venue of the festival. The music at the others stopped at 6.30pm, encouraging music-lovers of all tastes to come together for the final few bands. Up first was Manchester’s PORIJ – the technical prowess of this 4-piece, not to mention the obvious genuine love for the music they were playing, radiated from the first to the final chord. PORIJ’s drums and bass are properly hard. Flanked by the ethereal vocals of lead singer and keys player Egg Moore, the music seamlessly blended the worlds of guitar music and electronica with the performers actually smiling (who knew this was possible?).
Keeping the pace up, the dynamic duo Maria Uzor and Gemma Cullingford (aka Sink Ya Teeth) brought their Chicago-based grooves, drumstick whirls, and 80s house beats to a crowd willing to give back dance moves perhaps only acceptable in the 80s. The inimitable Yard Act followed. Frontman James Smith’s performance was humorously replete with stage naps, screams and asking for change from the audience. We knew Yard Act were good, but that performance blew us away.
Finally, headliners Working Men’s Club brought the day to a close with a performance that takes the crown. There’s always something frustrating about a moody band that doesn’t talk directly to the audience. We’re not sure how WMC achieved it, but this solemnity translated as badass in the finest sense without a hint of pretention. Perhaps it was the complex array of synths, pedals and subwoofers that made the ground shake and jaws rattle, courtesy of Liam Ogburn, Rob Graham and Mairead O’Connor, or perhaps it was lead singer Syd Minsky-Sargeant’s grotesque facial expressions, bodily contortions and crowd dives that kept everyone hooked. Taking inspiration from acid house, 80s electronica, techno and fuzz, the performance can be simply described as immense.
Inner city festivals are often comparable to marathons – it’s a constant rat-race against your own drive to see as many bands as possible and everyone else’s identical intentions. This can be thrown off when every set is 5/10 minutes late, there are 1-in-1-out queues outside each venue, meaning you miss half the bands, and the venues can be just a bit too far out of the way. However, none of this was a problem for Mutations. It was perhaps the most prompt festival we’ve witnessed – the timetable was designed to prevent queues, accommodate everyone, and even allow time to do a little walkabout of the pier. All in all, we had a fantastic day at Mutations and can’t wait to be back next year.