Mutations festival started off drenched in grey clouds, gale force winds and torrential rain. What better way to warm yourself up than to enter the cosy candle lit setting of The Mucky Duck for a couple of ‘secret’ warm up shows then?
Local boy Jacko Hooper was the first offering of the day. A one man, acoustic guitar playing, songwriter with lovely, warm vocal tones and a capo fixed on the right fret to match them. He said in-between songs that it was nice to be able to roll out of bed to come and play for us, the slowly increasing crowd were glad he did.
Then, out of the rain and wind, enters the cowboy. Sporting a black leather jacket with tassels, stars and stripes scarf and a big white cowboy hat, Josh T Pearson, the headliner of Saturday night, had arrived into this tiny pub and barely anyone batted an eyelid.
He’s no longer the long-haired, bearded, Jesus look-a-like that most people will know him as. He even commented since he was last in Brighton about 4 or 5 years ago he’d “Got a haircut, and started doing yoga, and it’s working wonders with the ladies.”
This was no ordinary performance by any stretch of the imagination, it was a way of him showing off his new group – The Two Witnesses, as was even displayed on his make shift, permanent marker branded, card-board sign that he duct taped to the wall behind them.
Suddenly, the rainy Sussex pub setting was transformed to a scene straight out of ‘O’ Brother Where Art Though’. The beautiful, Deep South, country harmonies between Josh and his second witness complimented each other perfectly and created an equally tense and uplifting experience.
I’m not sure the everyday pub goers eating their lunch at the back of the room were ready for the anti Satan, pro-Jesus, gospel extravaganza which followed. Actually, I’m not sure anybody was.
His deadpan, Texan drool often had the whole crowd in stitches, with lines like “We should’ve worn the ass-less chaps” and “This is a song that your grandmother would have loved, had she been born in Texas, a hundred years ago…” Although, it was hard to tell if we were meant to be laughing or if he was being serious, I think/hope that was the point. And people say Americans don’t get sarcasm…
The closer was a borderline orgasmic anthem about heaven coming down and filling my soul with joy, which even got the not-so-sure people at the back converted and clapping along regardless. Overall, it was an odd experience, but one that left me keen to see what the evening show would have in store. Unfortunately, I had a double booking, so I’ll have to keep on wondering.
Sunday was another ominous looking day, so what better way to cement the cold, wind and wet than with the Brighton staple institution of the metal scene, Sea Bastard. I can’t help but wonder if the name of the festival was inspired by their music.
Stepping into The Haunt as they were playing was more like stepping into the eye of darkness. It was dark, grimey, heavy, stoner doom at its finest. You can’t help but feel like it’s an acquired taste though. It certainly shows the diversity of the festival’s billing. To go from a gospel singer one day, to the opening of hell’s mouth the next is quite a leap.
‘The Hermit’, the lead singer Monty tells us, is a new track from their soon to be released 5th EP. I could only dream of trying to interpret the lyrics, but I don’t think it’s a happy message. It was a mammoth wall of noise. Each droning chord kicked you in the stomach, devouring what little bit of soul the festival-goers would have had left after a heavy Saturday night.
Lightning Bolt are two people who make a lot of noise. Miles away from the doomy noise of Sea Bastard, this duo have a pace and technicality to their sound, making the long walk down to the Concorde 2 well worthwhile. The pair couldn’t really have looked more worlds apart on the stage. To the right was the impressive drum kit, with the drummer and vocalist, Brian Chippendale, sporting a Mexican wrestling type mask with some kind of distortion microphone concealed within it attached to his voice box. To the left was a comparatively normal, almost uninterested looking bassist, Brian Gibson. The gap in the middle of them was filled with possibly one of, if not the, largest stack of speakers I’d ever seen in the venue.
At points, it was hard to tell when one song ended and another began. The unquestionable talent of the drummer is what really stood out for me. The speed and aggression he played with was unparalleled, and complimented perfectly by the occasional, inaudible screams he would make. Between the noise from the bass making you think the roof was going to cave in at any moment. The sound of the drums punching you in the face repeatedly felt like being in a war zone. There could have easily been an army of drummers and bassists on stage, rather than the two miss-matched noise merchants that left the crowd broken and bloodied and begging for more.
Sunday headliners, Metz’s performance was impressive to say the least. The four piece punk noise-rock group channelled the spirit of what I would like to imagine the first Sex Pistols shows were like. But, in contrast, the heavy, belligerent sounds came from a group that had the appearance of a bunch of marketing executives. They were animated and aggressive to say the least, John Lydon would be crying into his Country Life butter after watching guitarist and vocalist, Alex Edkins, screaming the most recent single Eraser out to the crowd.
Mutations festival is a welcome addition to the wintry months of November for Brighton and I can’t help but feel I only scratched the surface of it. A kind of less pretentious, more eclectic version of the Great Escape; without the crowds, delegate passes and monstrous queues at every venue, you’re left with just the music, which is what this is all about. Here’s to Mutations 2016.
Words by Tom Ricards
Saturday images by Laura Brown
Sunday images by Xavier Clarke