Mutations Festival, Brighton, 4th – 7th November 2021
The past eighteen months have been tough on the music industry and, along with the hit to musicians in not being able to play live, many independent venues have struggled to stay afloat. Bringing an abundance of current and breakthrough talent to Brighton, Mutations Festival offered up the chance to take in four days of live music and support a whole heap of local grassroots venues at the same time.
With some tough clashes to choose between, we started Thursday in style with Holiday Ghosts, opening proceedings in the shadow of the pier amusements at Patterns. Singing songs about the city you’re in was as good a way to kick things off as any, and the standard was set for what was to come.
Moving across to the largest venue on the agenda, Chalk played host to the ethereal songs and bitter-sweet musings of Bill Ryder-Jones. A world away from the TV advert-friendly indie pop of his days with The Coral (though still repping them on his guitar strap), Ryder-Jones has proved to be an accomplished writer, singer and producer. His set could have been twice as long and still not long enough. Closing the first day, This is the Kit filled the room with the sounds of enough instruments to start their own music shop and an ambience that would send everyone home happy and ready to return for more.
Left: This is the Kit, Top Right: Holiday Ghosts, Bottom Right: Bill Ryder-Jones
Friday night and the lights were low, and in a nice touch that ensured Hove wasn’t left out of the picture, the evening’s activities moved across to The Brunswick and The Old Market. Highlights at The Brunswick included Hull’s Low Hummer, wearing their indie hearts firmly on their sleeves, they have a new album release if you’re inclined to hear more. Glasgow two-piece Memes engaged the crowd with their charm, energy and Hazmat suits, ending with a singalong to a German techno track, as you do. Folly Group had to take a short intermission for a guitar string break but picked things up and made a strong impression.
Along the road at The Old Market, the ‘main house’ drew in a big crowd as soon as doors opened. Hotel Lux took starting position, their brand of nonchalant Dr Feelgood-esque contemplations well received by likely a different audience to usual. Next up, Billy Nomates seemingly actually has lots of mates who knew her songs word for word and bounced off her vigourous performance. The biggest pull of the night came in the form of Mr Maserati, king of the migraines himself, the inexplicably charming Baxter Dury. For no discernible reason abandoning his trademark suit for a full camo and goggles ensemble, Dury entertained as only he can, a set showcasing most recent album The Night Chancers while incorporating a string of old favourites and new songs alike. The suit returned with his encore, the crowd had a party, Friday night ended well.
Top: Billy Nomates, Left: Hotel Lux, Right x 2: Baxter Dury
A full day on Saturday began by confirming Keg’s status as ones to watch, except ironically not every could get in to watch them as their reputation meant there were queues up the stairs to The Folklore Rooms to see them. It’s testament to the quality of a band when they sound as good from outside as they do inside the room; their charisma, humour and stacks of energy warrant the hype. And for those who missed out, there would have been photos but it was so packed and hot it fogged up all three available camera lenses.
A trio of recommended acts followed at The Albert, a tight squeeze for the frenetic pace of TV Priest, a very welcome return for the slick post-punk of Social Haul, and a thankfully rescheduled set from Famous who are clearly not as famous as they should be. In the midst of this veritable hat trick of musical delight, back at the Folklore Rooms, Legss were possibly one of the only bands that were ready to start early and had to wait, winning over the room once things got going with their raucous South London vitality. After a quick break, it was back to Patterns to catch some wit and riffs from Mush, followed by current 6 Music darlings Yard Act at Chalk.
Left: Mush, Top Right: Famous, Bottom Right: Yard Act
And so we made it to day four. An early start paid off as we were treated to a spiky yet enchanting performance from deep tan at The Albert, a welcome calm before the beautiful chaos to follow as Lynks took centre-stage at Chalk. Never one to forget their mask, Lynks put on a show that was far from your regular Sunday afternoon entertainment, complete with adroit choreography and guest vocals from Barbara the table. Imagine if you’d come to Mutations and missed Lynks, that would have been a great shame indeed.
Left & Top Right: Lynks, Bottom Right: deep tan
The rest of the day kept the stakes raised high, continuing with an immersive set from Nuha Ruby Ra at Komedia Studio. A late start but definitely worth the wait for PVA – having seen them before in multiple venues, Chalk seemed like the perfect fit and they once again balanced keeping existing fans happy whilst doubtless picking up new ones along the way.
There were all kinds of good things happening at The Umlauts’ slot at Patterns, an art school project with the potential to become a masterpiece, check them out if you get the chance. And later on the same stage, way more established but still sounding fresh, Big Joanie supplied a lovely atmosphere, some great tunes and a message of inclusivity to lift the spirits of anyone who may have been flagging.
Left: Nuha Ruby Ra, Top Right: The Umlauts, Bottom Right: Big Joanie
Finishing up at Chalk, Scalping managed to speak volumes whilst only playing instrumentals, silhouetted on stage and painting pictures not just with projections but also the intricacies of their music. This was followed by BEAK> playing their blend of reverb heavy, synth driven tracks to a full house, and we ended the weekend with lots to reflect on.
It’s heart-warming to feel like live music is a normal part of life again, there are stacks of good bands and artists to see, and we can only be grateful that all the venues involved survived the non-year that was 2020. All in all, Mutations was a treat for many reasons, and we’re already looking forward to seeing what they do next year.
Words / photos by Callum / Siobhan
10th November 2021