ESNS 2022 proves for the second year in a row that live music discovery can still thrive in a digital world

2022's digital instalment might not have the atmosphere of the fully in-person festival, but it makes up for it with accessibility and opportunity.

We’ve been here before. 2022 is the second year ESNS has been sent to the digital realm – but actually, that’s not a reason to get upset. 2021’s edition was one of the pandemic’s great triumphs; hundreds of sets by exciting new acts, available to watch at will, it was a treasure trove of music discovery. What is lost in the atmosphere of Groningen’s many venues, bars and bike-filled streets is gained in accessibility and opportunity – to which end, this year’s instalment proves equally brilliant.

Recorded in the grandiose surroundings of London’s O2 Academy Brixton, Enny‘s set shows exactly why she’s one of the UK’s most in-demand talents right now. ‘I Want’ feels like a classic in its own time – sharp, smart and bright; it’s everything modern music should be. Enola Gay‘s waves of scuzzy feedback and night-vision grainy visuals couldn’t be much more of a juxtaposition if it tried – and honest, it probably is. It’s also just as essential. An injection of raw energy, the Belfast four-piece may form part of an increasingly crowded scene of post-punk affiliated noiseniks, but they’re marking themselves out as a banner act.

Joe & The Shitboys might well be the greatest ‘remote recorded festival livestream band’ on the planet. Across the pandemic, they’ve delivered performances that show just why they’re a live act that draw not so much whispers, but full-on eulogies from those lucky enough to experience them in the flesh. With a reassuringly direct “go fuck yourself” to kick things off, ‘Personal Space Invader’, ‘Pull The Trigger’ and ‘The Good Ol’ Days’ – all delivered within three minutes – confirm that no other band will fit anywhere near as much raw power into such a short set. Be it peered at through a laptop scream or screamed face-on, even a global catastrophe isn’t holding this lot back.

Sometimes, it’s hard to place exactly what we should be expecting from Finn Askew. Riding a hype wave for a couple of years now, his performance – acoustic, on a balcony – does show that his songs strip back to a compelling core. A mix of influences and genres, there’s more than enough to suggest that one big moment might not be that far away.

At a point when nothing feels cooler than a throwback, Frances of Delirium‘s grunge-pop gems seem perfectly placed. ‘Let It All Go’ bounces off every surface, while ‘I Think I’m Losing’ is a far weightier beast, initially turning down the pace to increase the impact. A mighty end to a gloriously cathartic set.

Now NOISY have their instruments back, they can maybe save up for a bigger space to record their videos in. Filmed one at a time in what appears to be their home studio, they’ve at least had a tidy up first. Their genre-spliced beats and hooks belong in bigger spaces than a cramped box room, but they’ve got a nice cushion to make up for it.

Leon of Athens, confusingly, might be London-based, but the Greek popster is far more direct musically. With an EP written with David Sneddon (hello, fellow Fame Academy fans) to come this spring, there’s a sheen and sparkle that echoes some of our favourites – definitely enough to keep one beady eye on. That’s if we can pull it away from much-tipped newcomer Mimi Webb. Already pulling up chart trees, her performance certainly packs in the drama. Flora, fauna and a piano all back up a performance that showcases just why she’s a chart certainty at this point. One for all the family, what she lacks in edge she makes up for in undeniable vocal power. Not so much a tip as a definite banker.

Sprints feel like a band travelling at pace. From their opening song, ‘Modern Job’, they’re a different concern from so many of their increasingly predictable peers – and not just because of the presence of lead vocalist and songwriter Karla Chubb. Resolved to be angry in the best possible way, they’re a tense, determined beast. ‘How Does The Story Go?’ demonstrates they’re also a band with more than one side to them – bouncing off the walls of 2010s math rock with an elasticated refrain and some oh-so-now talky-singing (no, we’re not using that word). Of all the bands playing this year’s ESNS, they’re easily amongst the most thrilling of the lot.

From a Dork perspective, though, two bands dominate this year’s offerings. In our scribbled notes, we’d probably call them two of the most exciting acts on the planet right now. The buzz around Leeds four-piece Yard Act certainly backs that up. With the wind of a debut album that’s exceeded all expectations behind them, title-track ‘The Overload’ manages to take their idiosyncratic brilliance and make it feel positively accessible. Frontman James Smith a constantly moving target, his righteous diatribe is delivered with the showman-like swagger of an urgent young Jarvis Cocker that just spent a night out with the bins. There’s more to Yard Act than comparisons of indie and punk past, though. A fourth wall experiment gone right, there’s no other band quite like them. And nor should there be – theirs is the kind of magic trick you only get right once.

In the other corner stand Wet Leg – a band who somehow arrived to a wave of fevered, goosebump-raised excitement and turned the dial-up from there. If there was any worry their sardonic, awkward art-punk wouldn’t translate as brilliantly to the stage as it did to record, this performance should put it firmly to bed. Captured at last year’s Bermondsey Social Club show, opener ‘Wet Dream’ already feels prepped for bigger stages. Album track ‘Supermarket’ proves they’ve more tricks stashed away in their shopping basket yet, while ‘Oh No’ stomps in its big boots all the way home. With only four tracks currently properly released, they’re already a band that feel far bigger than even the loftiest, most optimistic assessment would dare suggest. The scary thing is, on the strength of this three-month-old live set – yep, they’ve had a full quarter of a year to push on since this – they’re only just getting started.

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