For a festival in its inaugural year, Mutations had a hell of a line-up, featuring an eclectic range of musicians and savvy bookings spread across the best and most intimate of Brighton’s venues.
Opening the festival was Ohio’s Sainteneca on their first ever visit to the UK. This seems like a fitting opening act as, being a folk-rock band, they seemed to fully encompass the ‘relaxed’ vibe that followed throughout the first day. Known for their diverse range of instrumentation, and with ironic facial in abundance, they stormed through their set with tender moments followed by quasi-heavy breakdowns that made them come across as Father John Misty on cheap speed – which is brilliant.
There seemed to be a theme running throughout the whole weekend – first times. Not only was this the first ever Mutations festival, it was also the first time in Brighton (sometimes even the UK) for many acts such as the aforementioned Sainteneca, as well as the band that followed them, Widowspeak, who sounded like a paranoid Kid Wave, and also Ought. This shows Mutations’ dedication to pushing things forward – doing things that haven’t been done before, and taking risks. And, mostly, it pays off.
An early highlight was Willis Earl Beal [pictured above], and his partly stand-up set. Beal, a self-proclaimed “walking, talking, living, breathing fucking cliché,” arrived on stage with a beer in hand and dressed in all-black like a parody comic book supervillain with a black fedora, eye mask and cape adorning the pessimistic drawn-on face present on the cover of his 2013 album, ‘Nobody Knows’.
Beal, who is playing his backing tracks straight from his iPod, like a “weird rockstar”, even stops one song prematurely, claiming that he “doesn’t want to play this one”. It’s unclear whether Beal was a highlight because of the actual music or because of his bravado. The music itself was airtight and intriguing, but what’s more interesting is his unpredictable stage presence. His attention to perfecting every note alludes to his hunger for fame shown through the fact that he once went on X Factor USA, but if Beal is a popstar-in-waiting, then he’s a popstar-in-waiting with a self-destruct button. He stops midway through his set, claiming that he “can’t fucking stand these songs”, and asks the crowd if they’ve ever been “sick of the sound of your own fucking voice?” Wills Earl Beal is a true popstar whether he wants to be or not
One of the most upbeat performances of the first day came courtesy of Dublin-based Le Galaxie. Mutations can pride itself on the diversity of its line-up and for reaching out and trying to appeal to everyone, but something about Le Galaxie’s performance felt askew. While one must admire the effort put into their complex songs and the musical knowledge that they require, their performance just didn’t click. Their all-white outfits felt like a contrived attempt at a band identity that was as passé as it was unoriginal. Sporting the all-white attire also made their lead signer, with his bald head and massive ginger beekeeper-esque beard, look like Action Bronson’s Christian brother.
I can see the appeal that their music can have to some – it’s good ‘hype’ music and can be endured, maybe even enjoyed, if you’re intoxicated enough, but with lyrics like “tonight I feel like I’m working overtime”, entwined with the general normcore-guys-ironically-dressed-in-white aesthetic of the band, just makes them feel like the project of a quirky supermarket section manager – the one with the beard net – at Morrisons, being brought on at the Christmas party just to keep him quiet for another year.
However, the first day was a generally a success, with Josh T. Pearson even pulling off a decent Velvet Underground cover. Surely there couldn’t have been a better to bring the opening day of a brand new festival to a close than with a performance from Christopher Owens, formerly of Girls, who is easily one of the most intriguing and influential musicians of modern times?
Born into a Christian cult, named Children of God, which he ran away from when he was 16 to start a new life in America, Owens returned to Brighton, his favourite place in the UK, to play inside All Saint’s Church. Owens is currently touring the UK, without his band, alone via train with nothing but his guitar. So when Owens graces the stage to a surprising sparse crowd for a headline act, especially one of Christopher’s appeal, he is equipped with nothing but a drink, his guitar and a bouquet of flowers, which he places at the front of the stage. He doesn’t even have a setlist. It doesn’t matter though, for every song in his back catalogue would be a treat to hear live.
The spontaneous setlist that we’re given is nothing less than a treat. Comprised mainly of his iconic work with Girls, with a scattering of his solo work, highlights include Alex, Broken Dreams Club and Lauren Marie, which he plays after asking the crowd if there’s anything they want to hear him play – one overzealous fan proposed Girls’ Summertime to which Owen bluntly replied: “It’s not summertime”. Owens brought his set to an end with a cover of Don McLean’s American Pie, a song which he claims not to have played since he was “about 15 or 16” and claimed that “anyone that can remember all the lyrics is totally badass.” He may not have remembered every single word, but a man with an unbelievable backstory and back catalogue, such as Owens, is badass in his own right.
Check back tomorrow to find out what we made of Mutations Festival day 2…
By Ryan Lunn