To paraphrase that Marmite film classic, the streets were alive with the sound of music! Over three long days and nights, Brighton did truly come alive as The Great Escape juggernaut rolled into town for its 13th edition. The festival for new music saw over 500 acts playing in 40-odd venues, representing countries from all around the globe. If you add in the The Alternative Great Escape, and the plethora of events and pop-up performances arranged off the back of TGE and AGE, you’re looking at closer to 1,000 acts in 80-odd venues. Yes, it was mad, but glorious. Helped along by some beautiful mid-May sunshine, somehow within all the chaos, Brightonsfinest were out in force, documenting, commenting, and enjoying what we like to do best. Watch live music.
So, brace yourself. If you were there, hopefully memories will be stirred. If you weren’t, dive into our thoughts about the state of new music, and check out our many recommendations.
What a year! With the sun glistening across the entirety of the weekend, the stage for The Great Escape was prepped for their biggest festival yet, as thousands flood towards our wonderful shores. This year’s combination of the beach stages and heat went hand in hand, emphasising the uplifting vibes the festival always brings.
Thursdays are hardly anyone’s favourite day of the week, but heading into Komedia to catch All Our Exes Live In Texas soon changed that. An Australian four-piece folk group, the band’s incredibly precise and co-ordinated harmonies were truly a beautiful thing to behold and their happy-go-lucky sense of humour was second to none. It seemed that all of the Australian acts were the ones to watch on Thursday. Shortly followed were The Teskey Brothers, whose highly intense lyricism, melody and passion were all incredibly hard hitting, the addition of the brass section bringing the perfect level of variance to keep their sound remarkably fresh. The Faim then took over and kept those down under vibes pumping, but this time bringing a far more intense rock sound; vocalist Josh Raven is a performer like no other, throwing himself into the crowd and shifting his body in all kinds of bizarre fashions whilst not one dropping a note. The final stop with the Australian groups was Haiku Hands, who made for an undoubted highlight of the entire weekend. Their eclectic style, perfectly timed choreography and simple lack of adhering to norms has made their sound truly unmistakable; few bands are pushing the limits of music like this group are. If you’re ever in search of a party, it seems that Australia know their way around a good time.
The rest of the first day was spent with some more local homegrown acts, a quick trip to The Hope & Ruin for 21-year-old Jerry Williams demonstrated an incredible level of vibrance and personality. You can tell from the smile on Jerry’s face how much fun she has performing and the crowd were more than on her side as her summer tunes filled the room, she is a definite star in the making who you should definitely keep on your radar. Horatio’s made for the day’s final stop as possibly one of the hottest bands in the country right now, Pale Waves, brought their iconic style to the crowd. Singer Heather Baron-Gracie’s style of performance is terrific, like something straight out of a Tim Burton movie, her jagged movements couldn’t be more contrasting to the breezy tunes the band play. Yet, as a collective, the result is phenomenal and it is no surprise why they have been so successful.
Following such an intense day, Friday had the bar set high as the hunger to hear more new material set in once more. Kicking the day off were Day Fly whose smooth lo-fi lounge beats and incredible ballad vocals provided just the right level of groove and energy to get the day moving. Russia were the next country to tackle and Wet Red was the perfect act for the job. The group’s ‘Gaga-esque’ visuals and intensely punchy sound truly got the room moving and gave the day the first burst of extreme colour that it needed. As the queues for the beer tents in the beach area became longer and longer, Denzel Himself made for a terrific break to get out of the sun, capturing all gaze through his incredibly raw performance and pure madness as he bounds through the crowd in a fit of pure energy and rage, luckily not spilling anyone’s drinks. A far more tropical sound followed with Stereo Honey, whose colossal indie sound and exquisite vocals from Pete Restrick are truly a sight to behold. The band only continued to bring forth anthem after anthem and have more than secured themselves as the act to keep an eye on over the next year as there will almost certainly be big things heading their way.
The day’s momentum showed absolutely no signs of stopping and the evening’s line-up was possibly the strongest of the entire weekend. Bloxx’s set at Horatio’s was fantastic and showcased an entirely new wave of talent which was invigorating to the last second and gave the room a strong opportunity to dance off their dinners. Meanwhile, Rina Sawayama’s intensely choreographed set at the beautiful Wagner Hall stage was colourful, flamboyant and showcased the future of pop through a great level of catchiness and uplifting tracks. Finally, though, Superorganism’s headline set at The Old Market was, just, wow! As the band enter the stage, singer Orono Noguchi walks on with a colossal “WHAT’S UP BITCHES?!” before thrusting into ‘It’s All Good’ and the rest of their unbelievable self-titled record. The level of colour, creativity and unencumbered fun behind their set made for the pinnacle of the entire weekend; if you ever get the chance to make it to a Superorganism set, don’t even hesitate, just go and thank me later!
Saturday has notoriously been the cool down day of the festival as the ache of constant walking sets in. The day was kicked off in Bau Wow with 19-year-old Dizzy Fae, bringing a enjoyable set: the fluorescent lighting bounced incredibly off of her neon hair made for not only a pleasure for the ears, but also the eyes! From here, Australia seemed to once again take centre stage for the next part of the day, with Odette bringing forth some incredibly powerful soul tunes which provide the brilliant balance of delicacy and punch behind them, before passing the baton over to City Calm Down, whose enthusiasm was clear from a mile away. The band were all incredibly energetic as they bounce around in sync with the crowd, once again the subtle addition of a horn section added wonders to their already remarkable sound. A quick trip over to Brightonsfinest’s very own stage at St Mary’s Church just in time for Her’s was next. The titanic size of the venue could so easily dwarf bands but, in this case, no such issue was faced. The band’s sound carried well into the rafters and was truly a sight to behold.
With the evening setting in and legs in sheer agony, the final stops were Brighton new comers Comfort at Crowns. Comfort’s sound is impossible to describe and brings with it a combination of everything from chilled ambient electronica to harsh rawness of intense sound and roars. I would definitely recommend any local to get down to one of their upcoming sets. The Old Market once again finished my evening after catching rising star Tom Tripp and his accompanying band play some absolute tunes, the level of talent in this band was incredible and truly brought each of Tom’s tracks into an entirely new light. The final act of the weekend was new found sensation Tom Grennan. After receiving so much attention, there was a lot of expectation riding on this set, but there was no disappointment to be found. Tom’s style of performing is on an entirely new level, he spins, kicks and thrusts himself around the stage like a madman whilst bringing his husky and infectious riffs along, I could think of no better way to end the festival and, by the response from the crowd, neither could they!
All in all, this year was an undoubted success. The addition of the beach stages were a beautiful touch and the sheer diversity of acts put on this year was unbelievable, with so much to enjoy, it’s a shame you can’t make it to everything, but of all the acts seen, The Great Escape really is a weekend not quite like any other.
As my first piece for Brightonsfinest, I was delighted to be given the opportunity to attend The Great Escape, a festival I’ve wanted to go to for quite a while now but never had the opportunity to attend.
Both myself and the 20,000 who attended the festival couldn’t have wished for better weather: in fact I didn’t see a single drop of rain throughout the entire weekend, making this year’s new beach venue the perfect addition to an endless list of exciting venues, all located within walking distance.
Thursday began with Phobophobes at the sun-soaked Beach House. The colourful stage setup was definitely not representative of the band’s sound but the lighting and atmosphere was a great way to kick off the festival. They progressed through their psychedelic setlist, giving off a Nine Inch Nails-esque vibe.
As I moved onto Marine Room at Harbour Hotel, I witnessed Silverlake, a modern r’n’b/pop collective who displayed tremendous vocals and emotion throughout their performance. The bands talents intertwined with each other respectively, making for a tremendous live show.
Mid-afternoon, I decided to head up to Yonaka’s single release party for their new single ‘FWTB’ at Brighton Youth Centre. The event consisted of the band handing out face masks with their new track title on for the crowd to wear, along with plenty of free beer! Yonaka are always a joy to watch and are hard to define as a genre, due to the vast influences of hip-hop, rock, indie and pop. The best way to describe them and this set would simply be fun. The band have a solid collection of hits already and the outfits for each show I’ve attended are almost as exciting and unpredictable as the music!
Anais took to the stage at the East Wing of the Brighton Centre performing some chilled r’n’b with a combination of heavy bass and killer vocals. Both Anais and her band looked delighted to be on stage, which made them even more thrilling to watch.
Over at Wagner Hall, Husky Loops performed an experimental mixture of electronic, indie and hip-hop-inspired tracks. The set was an absolute spectacle, partially due to the VEVO stage setup but mostly because of the band’s unique sound.
At the Green Store Store, Black Futures performed one of my favourite sets of the weekend. The electro rockers had an unrivalled stage presence that was reminiscent of the likes of Chemical Brothers, The Prodigy and Linkin Park. The set wouldn’t have been out of place on the main stage at Glastonbury, so they’re definitely a band I’ll be eagerly anticipating new music from.
On Friday, Au/Ra performed a selection of funky pop tracks that wow’ed the crowd. Her interaction with the crowd was entertaining and at times hilarious, making jokes and referencing video games such as Fortnite.
Lion took to the stage at Coalition, ripping through an emotional and triumphant set that felt like a heavy, modern Blondie. Her style was unpredictable and varied throughout the set and I’m excited to check out more of the band’s studio work.
Valeras brought their riffy pop anthems to Green Door Store. They’re a youthful group who pelted out anthem after anthem and they haven’t changed much since I first saw them. Valeras are a band who are great at giving the crowd what they want and their performance of ‘The Mask’ was a highlight of the weekend.
Canadian group Hillsburn took to Sticky Mike’s Frog Bar to perform their incredible melodic pop anthems, with their set even featuring a violin player. There’s nothing better than a band who can incorporate a range of different types of instruments into their set and Hillsburn managed this flawlessly.
Great bands deserve a great venue, so I was delighted to see Superorganism were scheduled to play Friday evening at The Old Market. The crowd were ecstatic throughout the show and The Old Market was absolutely packed out, despite being one of the bigger venues on the bill! The band’s costume design and performance was jaw dropping, with the highlight being their hit ‘Everybody Wants To Be Famous’.
As the lack of sleep and two days of drinking alcohol began to catch up with me, Hero Fisher was the perfect way to start the last day of the festival. Performing a stripped back set at Queens Hotel, the crowd stood silently, listening to every last whisper of Fisher’s stunning vocals as they massaged the room.
Over at The Walrus, Partner performed a back-to-basics rock’n’roll inspired set, which begun with a clip about how people still love traditional rock’n’roll. Judging by the packed out crowd, they definitely do, in fact I was pumped for the set by just listening to the band’s soundcheck!
Despite being quite selective with indie bands, Marsicans blew me away at the Komedia. The band looked thrilled to be performing to a crowd full of fans who were singing their songs back word for word. While I was only seeing them for the first time, they felt like a band I should already know, running through a list of catchy upbeat tracks. It’d be easy to dismiss the drummer amongst all the excitement, but he was easily one of the best I saw all weekend. Marsicans are one to watch.
If you’re into artistic fashion, Wet Red at The Arch would be all you need. Their collection of dark pop tracks contrasted well with the Sia/Gaga-like outfits that seemed to change just as quickly as the tracks did.
Later, Gender Roles performed one of the best sets I’ve probably ever seen at Sticky Mike’s. The band have taken grunge influences and managed to make it catchy, without compromising any of its spirit. This, along with their powerhouse selection of bangers, made for a winning set.
Back at Patterns there was a surprise performance from Nothing But Thieves. I’ve been dying to see them since the release of latest album ‘Broken Machine’ and they sure didn’t disappoint. The band played through a small selection of their hits old and new, stating in the least arrogant way possible that the venue was the, “Smallest they’d played in a while”. You could tell it was a breath of fresh air for the band and a delight for the crowd to see them back.
As the last act I saw at TGE 2018, Conner Youngblood at The Prince Albert was a nice wind down from the festival. Youngblood gave a relaxed melodic performance throughout using interesting vocal effects, bass-filled backing tracks and combined whistling with vocals as part of his one man show. Despite his talent, Conner appeared softly spoken and shy at times, I don’t think he could quite believe the reaction and attention from his crowd.
Overall, The Great Escape was a combination of great music, good weather and passionate music fans. Having not been before I’d definitely love to go again and am already excited for who I might discover next time.
After the nightmare of last year’s weather, wasn’t it beautiful to see the sun shining gloriously for all three days of The Great Escape this year? It certainly made queuing to get into venues all the more easier. The queues started early this year, too, with my first act, Cardiff’s Boy Azooga. One of the biggest buzz bands of the festival, for sure, having just played Jools Holland a couple of days before, but to see queues along both pavements outside Latest Music Bar was a surprise. Nevertheless, the swarms of people who got there early were right: Boy Azooga are fantastic. Half art-rock in the vein of Django Django and alt-J, and half a krautrock-influenced dynamo; the four-piece headed up by Davey Newington are a mightily impressive live set-up and debut single ‘Face Behind Her Cigarette’ could be the sound of the summer.
Next-up was my first official taste of this year’s ‘The Beach’ venue which, it has to be said, had an incredible atmosphere all weekend. The murmurs of people chatting between the stages, as well as the distant sounds of wonderful music from the tents on either side gave the event more of a camping festival vibe. Situated between both tents was the Dr Martens stage, which was a lovely outside stage hosting cracking names and hosted by Brixton’s Represent Radio. Opening that stage was London two-piece Girlhood who, luckily, were made for the roaring sunshine. There’s definitely late 90s hip-hop vibes a la The Fugees to the duo but, for me, they had the conviviality of The Avalanches which, in the sun, created a carnival-like atmosphere.
The carousel of fun continued, and the first trek of the festival appeared, with
Haiku Hands at Komedia. Without a doubt the best act of the whole festival, the Australian pop trio are a revelation. With filthy pop-meets-dub beats, as well as the threesome’s absurdly good stage presence – which includes synchronised dance moves and streamers thrown into the crowd – the band achieved the one thing you’re looking for in an early afternoon festival set: an unbelievable crowd reaction. The packed room was busting as many moves as the band on-stage!
The evening commenced with Limerick trio Whenyoung at The Haunt, who were taking time out of their Peace support slot to wow the Brighton crowds with their brand of indie-pop. Another packed-out Brighton crowd saw a very polished set, which is unsurprising considering that this year alone they’ve supported the likes of The Vaccines and Public Access TV. Their indie-pop is not exactly unique, but lead singer Aoife Power’s vocals make them stand out with her beautiful, distinctive tones. Likewise, Bristol quartet Swimming Girls at The Prince Albert presented another exciting crooner. Vanessa Gimenez has all the makings of the next indie darling and, with her voice recalling the likes of Izzy Baxter from Black Honey and Lana Del Rey, they look set to push on to the next level. Especially with brilliant songs such as ‘2 Kids’ and ‘Tastes Like Money’.
Arguably one of, if not the, biggest set of Thursday came from former Brighton residents Dream Wife. Having graced the front cover of our first ever Weekly Music Guide, I was very excited to see them, as were the swarms of people who crammed themselves into Beach Club. They were simply phenomenal. Playing songs from their debut album, every single one sounded like an anthem and it was no doubt the rowdiest gig of the festival. For a three-piece, it’s incredibly impressive the amount of raw sound and passion they create between them.
After some fiery punk, it was time for some blazing beats from South London rapper Ms Banks over at The Fader’s East Wing stage. Having dropped her mixtape The Coldest Winter Ever under a month ago, the tension was palpable in the busy conference room. Her set was a triumph, showcasing her playful ability to fuse the worlds of UK hip-hop and r’n’b, as well as American trap influences. Along with scorching beats and clever wordplay, every song, as Ms Banks would put it, “Bangs”. It was without a doubt one of the more electrifying sets of the weekend.
With the stimulating one-two of Dream Wife and Ms Banks still reverberating around my mind, I decided to end the first day with neo-soul artist Yellow Days, who performed a tantalisingly laid-back set at The Arch. It’s hard to believe that it was only back in October that we first saw him play the tiny upstairs room at The Joker, because now he’s a bonafide superstar. Performing songs from across his early EP and last year’s mixtape, Is Everything Okay in Your World?, it was a beautiful set that truly showcased his husky voice and his capability of shifting from genre to genre with ease.
One of my most anticipated acts of the weekend, Boniface, kicked off the Friday at Green Door Store sublimely. As soon as you walked into the room there was an instant buzz around the venue, as if something special was about to happen – and they didn’t disappoint. The Transgressive signees straddle pop sensibilities from the 70s to now, but with a decidedly melancholic edge. While latest single ‘Phantom Limbs’ explored the bombastic 80s with its roaring synths and jostling drum beats, ‘Again and Again’ sent the room into silence with frontman Micah Visser’s extraordinary, heartfelt vocals. After a delicious slice of indie-pop, it was time for a change of tact. After the buzz he created with his Komedia show the night before, I decided to check out Denzel Himself for myself at Beach House. It too was a special show and his superb fusion of rap and punk is incredibly provocative and captivating. Like a more melodic Death Grips, his single ‘Bangin’’ was very impressive; with reverb-drenched guitars and ghostly echoes of rasping, hardcore vocals, it was an exciting afternoon set.
The punk aesthetic didn’t stop there either as the Dr Martens stage hosted Kent punk’s Lady Bird. Signed to Slaves’ Girl Fight Records, the similarity between the two bands is instantly recognisable. They both have a tongue-in-cheek stage presence, constantly cracking jokes without even a hint of a smile and they both make raucous, fairly simple punk music. However, they’re a lot of fun, and a very impressive live prospect. Just don’t forget your earplugs! The joy of The Beach stage is the lack of walking, and the hop from the Dr Martens stage to Beach House for Stereo Honey was remarkably easy. The band, who we first caught supporting Yonaka and Anteros at Patterns back in October, deliver haunting songs in the vein of The Boxer Rebellion and Muse, with lead vocalist Pete Restrick’s sumptuous croons no doubt proving the band are on track to be the next indie dreamboats.
It was then time for some exceptionally polished pop at VEVO’s Wagner Hall, which is an extremely beautiful venue. First up was 17-year-old Dutch artist Bülow, who was playing her first ever festival. Honestly, it was an honour to experience this, and she had all the fashioning of a star in the making. Her final song,‘This is Not a Love Song’, is a very impressive and honest pop song that mixes modern hip-hop, electronic, and r’n’b elements with the clean production and catchy pop songwriting that won Lorde so many fans a few years ago. If Bülow isn’t a star in the very near future, something’s gone very, very wrong. Someone who’s already making pop waves is London artist Rina Sawayama, whose performance was brilliantly bonkers. With turbo fans, leather jackets and glasses, as well as a dance duo behind her, her performance was more reminiscent of a music video than a gig, but with catchy pop songs aplenty, it was a hell of a lot of fun.
For pretty much the whole weekend The Old Market had a stellar line-up of incredibly big names, but how many were actually worth the trek all the way along the seafront? Norwich duo Let’s Eat Grandma, however, were more than worth the walk and provided an intensely atmospheric set of art-pop from both their debut album, I, Gemini and their upcoming record I’m All Ears. Already their new material sounds extraordinarily more refined and insightful, with a whole load more killer dance beats to groove to, as the whole of the packed-out Old Market crowd duly did.
Rising star Gus Dapperton continued the excellent indie-pop with his show at The Arch. Standing at six feet three and sporting a bowl cut, big round glasses, a baggy jumper and Air Force 1s, he’s a captivating presence to behold. Impressively, though, it’s his music that sticks longer in the memory. Essentially millennial indie pop, Dapperton creates a delicate and eccentric brand of synth-heavy pop that the teenage audience that packed out The Arch couldn’t get enough of. Likewise, straight after at Coalition next-door was pop prodigy Børns, who has clearly also captured the hearts and minds of the hundreds of teenagers, who passionately turned up for one of the busiest sets of the day. Børns is terrific, a truly modern pop star who has all the makings to be one of the biggest in the world. Donning a look that is not too dissimilar to Jack White, but with music that has more in common with pop icons such as Prince and Michael Jackson, it was a beguiling and dazzling performance inside the dark confines of Coalition.
While everywhere was seemingly filling up to capacity, with queues going down the road at the likes of The Haunt and Komedia, I decided to downscale from mainstream pop in big spaces, to brash indie-punk in a dingy pub basement in the form of Yassassin at The Walrus. The band, named after the legendary Bowie song from Lodger, made playful garage-pop with delightfully sharp edges, but they also showed they have a playful side as they threw inflatable globes into the crowd and blew bubbles in between songs. As it felt like most of the festival was standing in a queue, this felt like a very good decision.
Every Great Escape Festival I seem to end up in some weird situations. This year it came from a 2:15am set at Bau Wow from Russian funk band Sado Opera, who are utterly, utterly nuts. Covered in Charlie Chaplin-esque white and black make-up, and outrageous costumes, they were a disco pop, queer performance group striving for gender and sexual equality. They’re an insanely eye-and-ear-catching band that encapsulate all the best aspects of Euro-trash. Absolutely bonkers, but exactly what The Great Escape is about.
The Saturday this year was established as the championing of Brighton acts everywhere around the city. With the big hitters such as The Magic Gang and Demob Happy about to play some of their biggest ever gigs, as well as various up-and-comers everywhere you looked, I decided to start my day with Knightstown at Fat Cat Records’ showcase at the One Church. Easily one of my favourite sets of the weekend, the electronic duo created bliss electronica that falls somewhere between ambient and dance. Resembling the likes of Sampha and certainly James Blake, they sounded completely beautiful alongside the One Church’s excellent acoustic environment. So much so that I decided to stay there for Brighton quartet Breathe Panel. “Does anyone feel like you’re underwater with these acoustics?” frontman Nick Green asked halfway through their set. Connecting ingredients of shoegaze, garage-rock and easy-listening psychedelia, it was no surprise the sound kept swirling and gliding across their shimmering, jangly guitar melodies. Breathe Panel are certainly one of Brighton’s finest live bands, and with an album out in the summer, it’s only a matter of time before the whole country realises it.
Next up was two of Brighton’s next big things, Thyla and Fur, who both played before joining us at St Mary’s Church for Brightonsfinest Alternative Escape Showcase. Every time I see Thyla, who won the competition to open the Beach Club, they astound me. Whether it’s in a tiny room or a massive tent like Beach Club, their propulsive post-punk sounds are remarkably huge and Millie Duthie’s voice has all the attributes to soundtrack many indie kid’s formative years in the future. Likewise with Fur, who I was, surprisingly, seeing for the first ever time. Their throwback rock, recalling the Merseybeat of the 60s, is fabulously refreshing. There just isn’t an artist around right now that makes music like they do and it’s especially impressive that they’ve found such a huge following for it. If the Saturday of Great Escape taught us anything, it’s that Brighton’s music scene could fit seamlessly onto any festival bill and stand out.
One of the surprises of the entire festival was Leicester’s Easy Life at The Haunt. They’ve picked up a similar following to the likes of Gus Dapperton so I was expecting more of the same indie-pop shimmer, but they had a much more refined and sophisticated sound. The five-piece swapped instruments with ease, as they played a quasi indie-jazz that sounds unique and exciting. Plus, final song and biggest single ‘Pockets’ is an almighty earworm that stayed with me far longer than it had any right to do. An incredibly impressive set, and certainly one to watch.
Over at Horatio’s Bar, things were getting solemn and supremely beautiful. Just as the sun was setting on the final day of the festival, the jazz-inflected pop of London six-piece cwas the incredible soundtrack to a moody late evening. Lucinda John-Duarte distinctive vocals are beautiful, and certainly the most impressive aspect of the band. However, the new single ‘Meateater’ saw the exquisitely exciting newcomers galloping forward musically. The jazz-inflected rock was so impressive that I decided to end my festival on some more. Brighton’s Scuffle, who impressed us with their set at The Quadrant back in March, performed a very confident set at Latest Music Bar. First single ‘Ded Hed’ is a sinuous, cultured jazz jam that sees all four members of the band combine for an impressive combination of riffs and melodies.
Three days of new music started in fine fashion at the new and very sunny Beach Stage, with what looked like hundreds of people sprawled the pebble beach to see Boy Azooga on the small outside Dr. Martens stage. Having had queues around the block for his set at Latest Music Bar that opened up the festival an hour or so before, the hype and excitement was understandable for Heavenly Records’ latest promise. Their heavy riffs and rock swagger made for a brilliant set that got everyone perfectly in the festival mood. After a relatively short walk over to the Paganini Ballroom for our interview with Whyte Horses, I got to see a glorious soundcheck from the multinational band. With 11 onstage and the added transcendent visuals from Innerstrings, the band’s brighter and more colourful Velvet Underground sound was sure to impress later on at the BBC 6 Music stage. I head to The Richmond pub where Memorials Of Distinction Records and Fat Dog Party where hosting an Alternative Escape stage. I walk in to hear The Garrys tearing up the stage with their doo-wop surf music, followed by a superb solo set from Soph Nathan showcasing Our Girl’s songwriting prowess in all its glory to a room full of onlooking bands.
A late addition to the festival line-up, Eera played a gorgeous set at The Arch. Harrowing vocals and emotive alternative melodies combined to make the Norwegian-born artist’s debut LP one of my favourites of last year, but her live set is spectacular. Staying in the dark room on the seafront, Goat Girl played their gloomy punk-rock for the first time in the city since they had to cancel their Brighton date. The room was full and hypnotised by the stunning bleak and grungy sound of the South London band. One of my favourite acts on the festival bill, and favourite acts just in general, are the Melbourne quintet Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever who played the headline set at the Paganini Ballroom. The driving beat to their songs could be likened to The War On Drugs but with more off-kilter guitars (two electric and an acoustic guitars to be precise), which had the jam-packed room in raptures. I finished the night back in The Richmond pub where Porridge Radio were giving their typically rough but emotive set and showed to everyone why they are still one of Brighton’s favourite bands. Staying put and fighting through drunkenness and tedium, dj. flugvél og geimskip (DJ Airplane and Spaceship) put on a trip-inducing set of cosmic horror and electronic adventure, spearheaded by the dreamy vocals of the Icelandic songstress.
Music starts early on the second day of The Great Escape Festival and by the time I arrived at the Richmond Pub for Strange Cages’ Deadbeat Disco Alt Escape All-Dayer, two acts had already performed. Underwater Boys where not long out of bed, having hosted the Cannibal Hymns’ Karaoke the night before at Patterns, and took to the stage donning their pyjamas. A good look that suited the dreamy laid-back nature of their sound. Us early risers where treated to a frankly brilliant set by the five-piece, showing us that the Brighton band have far more than just the three great singles they already have online. An act on the festival bill that excited a lot of people was the young talents of Nilüfer Yanya, who played a captivating set at The Beach Club. Featuring on the BBC Sound Of 2018 shortlist, the West London musician has carved out a unique sound for herself, using strains of soul, r&b, rock, and psychedelia to create a delicious guitar-driven concoction. Sports Team are an act that we have been playing a lot of on the Brightonsfinest Radio Show and their show at Horatio’s was proof as to why they are becoming one of the best live bands around. The theatrical rock act stands six on stage and mix the personas of the Happy Mondays and The Rolling Stones for an enthralling performance full of great tunes.
One of my favourite performances at this year’s festival was New York’s Sam Evian and his glorious mix of alternative Americana. Taking over Sticky Mike’s Frog Bar for what felt like a quick 30-minute set, that the whole audience wanted to be at least triple the amount of time, Sam’s music certainly left its mark on a gleeful crowd. Sam’s luscious vocals and the band’s superb musicianship will make Sam Evian a name that will have people calling to come back Brighton. Yellow Days has recently sold out two shows in Brighton in the past year, one at The Joker and the other at The Haunt, but a set at the East Wing seemed to be one too many as I was surprised by a half empty room. However, this didn’t affect the quality of the young lad from Haslemere’s music, as his slow groove still rang true and had the venue moving as one. The night ended in emphatic fashion at Bau Wow with Russian act Sado Opera. As the resident band at one of Berlin’s most notorious nightclubs, they knew exactly how to bring the party – even after a delay of more than 35-minutes to get on stage, they had the room bouncing to their provocative disco-pop songs.
The final day of the festival starts at the big Beach Club stage for a special guest set from Brighton’s hottest band of the moment Thyla. Lead signer Millie Duthie’s stunning voice as well as the rest of the band’s impressive talent seem to be the full package, and every time I see them on stage I feel like it’s only a matter of time till the four-piece take over the UK. After a brief break in the outside part of The Beach to get some rays, I step back inside the Beach Club at capacity for Fur. Playing to one of their biggest audiences to date, the five-piece commanded the stage with swagger and ease – lead singer Murray jumping into the crowd. With still only three songs to their name online, the future looks bright for the local act when portions of the crowd were singing their tunes. Her’s have been stealing hearts for a couple of years now and their show at the St Mary’s Church for the Brightonsfinest Alternative Escape Showcase endeared them even more. Forget the high grooves of the venue, the duo’s charming characters and alluring love songs filled the place, with the highlight coming from the grace of Stephen Fitzpatrick’s incredible vocal range ringing around the church. As were Confidence Man last year, Haiku Hands was the Australian buzz band on everyone’s lips this festival. I was told to expect dance routines and to be singing each song’s chorus by the second verse – all was spot on. The high energy of the female three-piece in Horatio’s was palpable and, despite my aching legs from all the walking and standing throughout the three days, you couldn’t help but feel compelled to bust a move to their addictive groove. Though drained and knackered, my final stop at this year’s Great Escape was the Psychedelia Alt Escape at The Richmond pub, a venue that had served me very well over the festival. Phobophobes took control of the final slot, forcing the brimming venue into a chaotic, raucous and sweaty mess with dark riffs and sleaze which made sure to sap any final bits of energy in the most perfect way.
The weather was kind, and the sun was shining for another three-day dose of high quality music from around the globe. According to my taxi driver, as we sped away for the last time, the Saturday is the third biggest day in Brighton every year, just behind Pride and New Year’s Eve. Yes. it was one hell of a party, sorry heads and sorry limbs prevailing big time on the Sunday for many.
My odyssey began on the Thursday with River Matthews, the English singer/songwriter who supported Rag’n’Bone Man on a short UK tour in 2016. A very now, but old-timey soul-blues sensibility permeates his being, in sight and sound, where Nathaniel Rateliff & The Night Sweats meets the aforementioned Rag’n’Bone Man, albeit in a solo setting; his big, and growling voice fills the space with ease, such as on ‘Sunshine’ and a laid-back, if slightly menacing, cover of that perennial favourite ‘House of the Rising Sun’.
Just managing to catch a couple of songs from four-piece, electronic beats and harmony rich r’n’b and soul act Girlhood at The Haunt, I headed to Komedia to catch rising star Stella Donnelly, a highlight of the festival. A superlative performer, singer and songwriter, she pre-warns the audience with the statement, “I’m gonna swear a lot now”. Songs about family Christmases, and sexual assault are delivered with a great deal of wit and passion, just her and electric guitar. And ‘Talking’ is but another example of her intimate-yet-straight-talking storytelling style, containing such gems as: “Whining about the weather, in a playground we’re not supposed to roam”. Definitely one to watch.
As always with The Great Escape, getting in to see shows you initially circle is not always easy. So, after queuing for buzz band Dream Wife, I bailed out and headed out to Bau Wau to check out Northern Ireland’s Jealous Of The Birds, aka Naomi Hamilton, on recommendation, with a full band in tow. Beset by some technical problems, a thin crowd nevertheless enjoyed her lightly driven and melodic indie-rock songs.
Another big recommendation was Lily Moore, whom Brightonsfinest had the pleasure of interviewing before the festival. Just 19, and Brighton-based, a packed Prince Albert witnessed a stunning artist-on-the-cusp, with a big bag of hugely accessible and intimate songs at her disposal, delivered with the subtle expression of an Amy Winehouse and Lianne La Havas, and accompanied by a guitarist/keyboardist. Songs such as ‘Not That Special’, ’17’ and ‘Now I Know’ were sung and performed with a maturity beyond her years. Expect big things from this precocious talent. Certainly my fellow DJ and reviewer Guy Lloyd was hugely impressed and named her as the best thing he saw all weekend!
Over at Latest Music Bar, there was a predictably high energy show for rising vintage soul-funkateers Durand Jones & The Indications. Big brass, Leslie keys, guitar, bass and drums were super tight and funky, with all eyes on the inspirational, sweat-drenched Jones, a performer of the old school, not unlike a 21st century James Brown. Following that there was some more old school grooves in the form of Chris & Charlie, based around mother and daughter Christiane and Charlotte Adighery, sharing their love for Jamaican soul and rocksteady. An almost unknown band, they delivered a masterclass in gently skanking groove and harmony.
After some nourishing free food and drink courtesy of the Austrians (regulars here at TGE) at The Prince Albert early on Friday, I headed to the Green Door Store for my annual pilgrimage to Canadian Blast, home to Canadian acts from east to west, catching a bit of the youthful Boniface, the moniker of multi-talented Winnipeg native Micah Visser, along with a band in tow. Towering and anthemic indie-pop was the order of the day here, epitomised by ‘I Will Not Return As A Tourist’ and ‘Phantom Limbs’, just two examples of an artist whose intelligent lyrics are allied to a mature songcraft that could easily swell the roof of an arena near you.
Back at Latest Music Bar the Welsh were in full swing once again, courtesy of BBC Wales Horizons (or Gorwelion for all you Welsh speakers), and a couple of rocking bands in particular. Himalayas are a full-on, riff-driven four-piece from Cardiff. Boisterous and very youthful, the band include singer and guitarist Joseph Williams, who very cooly decided to walk into the one-in, one-out audience, guitar in hand, and climb up on any available podiums, whilst blasting away to such sure-fire rockers as ‘Thank God I’m Not You’. Very nice for 1.30 in the afternoon. They were followed by the quite outrageous Swansea three-piece Trampolene, led by the suitably Welsh named Jack Jones. Combining garage rock, kitchen-sink poetry and acoustic heartbreakers, there’s a touch of the Pete Doherty about him, but with humour and humility. This band are a much needed dose of cartoonish swank within a sea of po-faced indie landfill.
Shipwrights Yard, off Middle Street, is home to a plethora of Brighton-based music businesses, and it’s also where they get their heads together every year to put together a daytime bill within the unlikely setting of a concrete garage. Somehow it works, and as always they produce the goods. Including Australian Amaya Laucirica, here for the very first time, although only on stage for a meagre 20 minutes. Still, her ‘More Than This’ is a very powerful slice of anthemic synth and guitar-driven dream-pop, and one of my favourite performances of TGE. Then Our Girl, led by The Big Moon’s Soph Nathan, bring along a big crowd to hear some new tracks, many of which will no doubt appear on their forthcoming debut long player, including the new single ‘I Really Like It’, the best example yet of their penchant for dream-pop mixed in with raucous guitar-driven music.
Over at The Eagle pub, and as part of an Alternative Escape showcase put together by Mr Bongo, there was the sensational and rather unique Penya, a percussion, electronic quartet led by Magnus PI. Their pan-African-Latin rhythms are complimented by an array of percussive instruments, trombone and guitars, creating a brilliantly meditative fusion of dance music for the head and the dance floor.
Wild Front are a much-touted band from Southampton: formed around 80s indie-pop and alternative rock topped by strong melodies, that veer from the floating and jangly to the visceral, the band not afraid to let rip when appropriate. Space and dynamics are the fore, from the gentle ethereal indie-grooves of ‘Southside’ to new single, the upbeat bass-heavy beat of ‘Simmer Down’. Then, to cap off a typically diverse day of new music, it’s the brilliantly fun all-girl Yassassin at The Walrus, an almighty bunfight ensuing to try and catch a glimpse of them on the small makeshift stage. Bubbles, balloons, and a gloriously upbeat take on The Breeders, new wave and post-punk infuse their energetic, unpredictable, bop-your-socks-off songs. Check out new single ‘Citizen’, and check out this exciting band!
Day three, and it is feeling a little Big Brother out there. The world goes on, and there’s apparently a Royal Wedding happening. However, despite the odd bit of Union Jack bunting, I’m in my new music bubble, and nothing else really matters. The town is awash with music; not only TGE shows, pop-up performances, buskers, Morris dancers, and sounds emanating from every street corner permeate the city. Irish act Joshua Burnside admits to me that they stayed up rather too late last night in enjoying all the delights of the festival. Nevertheless he and his band deliver a spirited early afternoon performance, big on rustic sophistication that fuses folk, trumpet, roots, indie and pop into a wholesome musical meal. Like a more energetic Villagers, Joshua Burnside is also a literate wordsmith, wrapped up in poetic beauty.
It being a glorious, sunshine-filled Saturday, new festival venue The Beach, is basking in the mid-May rays, and it’s a good time to catch Aussie guitar and drums duo Hockey Dad (The Simpsons inspired their name) playing on the outdoor Dr Martens Stage. Zach Stephenson and beach blonde Billy Fleming take it down to basics in their punkish, surfing rock approach and when they hit the mark it feels good, and uplifting, such as on recent single ‘I Wanna Be Everybody’.
Download marked their first appearance at The Great Escape at the suitably grungey Volks (is there a Brighton venue that has lasted as long as this one, with the same name?), and it’s here that I catch Californian hardcore-punk three-piece PVMNTS for their first UK show. A classically outsider-ish US band, they stoke their instruments in bringing out battering riffs, hard beats and fiery rhythms, but gelling it together thanks to an ear for melody and song, themes of mental health and youthful angst permeating their uplifting noise.
At the Queens Hotel, London three-piece Crooked Teeth are a delight, analogue synths and guitars combine in alt-pop fashion, akin to the 80s sounds of New Order and Depeche Mode, but with a contemporaneous edge, and capped off by the ebullient stage presence of their keys man. Processed beats, strong melodies, a social-political bent, and a dance-floor sensibility, as heard on current single ‘The American Dream’, make for another uplifting experience.
Over at Horatio’s, Bully are the special guests for an end-of-pier show, attended by a full house, in anticipation of what will no doubt be another give-everything performance by the show-stopping frontwoman Alicia Bognanno. Mixing up grunge, The Pixies, punk, post-hardcore and alt-rock, Bully are a ferociously rocking four-piece. Songs are harnessed from last year’s Losing album, plus an extraordinary cover of McLusky’s ‘Lightsabre Cocksucking Blues’, Bognanno at this point having stripped off her top, and writhing around on the floor whilst bellowing into the mic.
Finally, and feeling the pain of having stomped the streets for three long days, I ventured down to The Beach venue to catch one of Brighton’s favourites, Demob Happy. In celebratory mood, the three-piece blaze their way through a short but sweet set of highlights from their recent second album Holy Doom, plus a new ‘re-edit’ of their extraordinarily warped-grunge classic ‘Succubus’. It’s almost enough to shake me out of impending torpor, but in the end I barely have the energy to hail a taxi and head home, satisfied with another humdinger of The Great Escape.
Life as a music photographer can be many things – exciting, dramatic, tense, all within the same gig. However, life as a photographer at a festival like The Great Escape is something else. Relentlessly trying to cover as much as you can, it’s a rarity to be able to actually watch an entire set. This year was no different. In three days, my step count reached close to 70,000 – a total of 33 miles walked! It was so worth it, though. This year may have seen less in the way of big names, surprises or secret guests – but it was packed with enough exciting new bands to last all year and beyond.
Starting Thursday down on the brand new Beach venue, my early reaction was that it felt more like a mainstream festival than The Great Escape has perhaps in the past. Fairly pricey food vendors, a bit more in the way of an obvious branding presence in the form of the Dr Martens Stage, three venues in a close proximity around what was basically a beer garden on the beach. None of which are a bad thing of course, but all a little different to the norm. As the venue filled up, the atmosphere formed a mini-festival spirit all of its own – it would have been more than possible to spend the entire three days down there and feel like you’ve experienced a great time. Perhaps something to be conscious of in years to come, especially with its distance from the main buzz of Brighton.
Early day one highlights for me were definitely The Orielles and Boy Azooga, the latter fresh from a prime TV spot on Jools Holland. Blazing sunshine to bask in and fresh indie-pop anthems, it was all a whole new world from last year’s torrential downpours. The Faim, on the other hand, packed a big punch down in the basement of Komedia – they certainly look the part of a big rock band, and I’m sure they will be on an accelerated path to stardom. As the evening progressed, there was the prospect of five or six bands that could have all potentially headlined the festival all playing within similar time slots at each end of the city. Decisions, decisions. Dream Wife, despite being nearly hidden by a thick swathe of dry ice for much of the early part of their set, nearly stole the entire weekend – a far cry from the more subtle and muted performance of Goat Girl who finally made it to Brighton after the injury to Rosie caused their show at The Haunt to be postponed. Running back down to the beach, Idles, of course, were responsible for one of the most highly anticipated and explosive shows of the weekend. With a huge queue of fans trying to get into the tent, they could have filled a much larger venue – and those who made it in were rewarded with another stellar performance, complete with a conga party and guitarist Lee Kiernan shredding deep in the crowd, halfway to the bar, at its climax.
Day two had the perfect wake-up call, with Paceshifters putting on the best pure rock show of the festival. It was followed by one of the great surprises that The Great Escape always holds, in the shape of Berlin-via-St Petersburg’s Sado Opera. Looking like a combination of mime characters and members of Kiss, this was a performance that had its tongue so far in its cheek that it will have to be surgically removed – think a funkier, disco-Scissor Sisters. The hugely talented composer and pianist Kirill Richter then brought a whole new feel to the day, with a stunningly beautiful set. Having deliberately chosen to catch artists that I had never seen before, the evening was a bit more hit and miss. Rina Sawayama had a superb production value (though probably not yet the content to back it up), while Kyary Pamyu Pamyu was like a one-woman Superorganism down on the seafront. Kojey Radical and Nao blazed their way through impressive sets, but I suffered the annual fate of not being able to get into my own hottest tips – the queues for Warmduscher and Bodega stretched far around the block, making their forthcoming shows even more exciting for me.
Day three was the most chilled for me, with a gentle start from Jerry Williams and Stella Donnelly – who battled and triumphed over sound issues down at the beach. Two Brighton favourites more than lived up to their billing, with Thyla totally owning the big stage and showing that they are dead certs to be next in line for the big time. At the end of the evening, The Magic Gang also nailed their slot, with a procession of anthems from their self-titled debut making the Beach club into one big party zone. Seeking out less familiar sounds, the electropop of Wet Red and post-rock of JoyCut hit the spot. The latter have been hand-picked by Robert Smith to join his Meltdown line-up at the Southbank, a sign of just how highly regarded they are. The underground aspect of The Arch only heightened the effect of their atmospheric sounds. It reached the time of the festival where every venue seemed to have huge queues waiting to get in, as if in realisation that time was running out. Nervus had been on the lips of many in the know, and their set in Sticky Mike’s was my favourite of the day. Delivering everything that I hoped for and more, they showed why they are regarded as one of the best live acts around and made for a perfect wrap-up to another top weekend. With a much clearer focus on ‘new music’ than last year, The Great Escape consolidated its position as being the place to come and find your new favourite obsession.
Well, that was intense. With a to-see list as long as your arm, The Great Escape looked daunting before it started. Sheer numbers of acts aside, the question I particularly wanted answering was, “Will the festival build on the representation of the fringe genres that so interested me last year?” Three days and 15 bands later, I’ve got enough new favourite artists to keep me busy for weeks, covering everything from London jazz to Korean psychedelia.
Despite my admittedly niche interests, it seemed fitting to kick things off with a true blue Great Escape act. Dream Wife were the perfect band to celebrate with: they’ve been on a roll recently (including a cover feature on our first print edition), so they – and the festival’s brand new space The Beach – were the first stop. A whirlwind of power, attitude, and sheer don’t-give-a-fuckery, these three women strutting and screaming their way across the stage were the perfect start to my TGE.
Taking things down a notch or two, Lily Moore was next on my list. Silhouetted on stage with just a guitar and a keyboard player, her pure and emotive songwriting was a far cry from Dream Wife – but no less affecting. At just 19 years old, she’s creating round-the-block queues and moving audience members to tears. Moving though her set she undoubtedly was doing so, however, it’s what’s to come for this young artist that most interests me. Something tells me we’ll be hearing a lot about her in years to come.
From there, onto the Paganini Ballroom, to see Skinny Pelembe. His recordings, good as they are, have never quite swept me up – not so with his live show. With his band behind him, he brought his productions to life, singing with feeling and rhythm. A tremendous gig in a beautiful venue, which left me satisfied with day one.
In keeping with Friday’s great weather, Her’s set at the Beach in the early afternoon was bright, playful, and faintly ridiculous. Slacker surf-rock with bags of fun, the mischievous pair cured a few hangovers with their unselfconscious gambolling onstage. With songs to back it up, though, they’re much more than just a fun band.
Luke Marzec’s most recent release won him a place on my ‘intriguing’ list. The unique vocal delivery I’d heard on his downtempo electronic recordings came off extremely well with a live band. Compounded with his bold and particular stage presence, Marzec’s an intriguing act, indeed.
Next, to one of my highlights, Kojey Radical. From festivals last year I know him as a wild performer – sure enough, he stalked, leaped and roared through his set, delivering lyrics with fierce poeticism as he whipped up his crowd. He was joined by Mahalia for what was one of the best performances of the festival.
Soon after, I was pleasantly surprised by Gus Dapperton. While his dream-pop, 80s revisionist sound is very appealing, it wasn’t clear how well this would translate to a live show. However, his awkward charm and bizarre charisma (and mercifully good sound in the venue) made for a perfect rendition.
Needing a few deep breaths, I headed to the One Church for The Saxophones. From the States, this duo re-package Americana-folk with a crooning 1950s charm. The sensitive songwriting and downtempo performance were a much needed and very pleasant change of pace.
Now late in the evening, the queues were growing ever larger. Tirzah, whose rare gigging made her show a very exciting prospect, was performing at Bau Wau – however, a long wait in the queue was rewarded only by the work of a criminally poor sound engineer. A huge shame for Tirzah, it looked like a sad end to a great day – luckily Yassassin turned it around with a riotous late-night set that saw them thrash through the venue in a scream of distortion and carnival-esque outfits.
A big part of The Great Escape’s allure is that you don’t need a plan – walk into any venue and you’ll probably find something good. The final day saw me determined to take advantage of this, and the Korean showcase did not disappoint. It had never occurred to me that there might be a psychedelic-rock scene in Korea – so imagine my surprise to find it unapologetically loud in the form of Billy Carter, a compelling group who bring to mind Jefferson Airplane and Janis Joplin. My favourite discovery of the weekend, without a doubt.
Another international act, Mnnqns played a set of effortless rock with natural flair. Signed to local label FatCat Records and hailing from across the channel, they owned the stage as though born to be rock-stars. We’re sure to see more of them in time.
Someone at the festival had definitely saved the best till last – the EZH stage at Patterns had a mind-blowing line-up that showcased some of the best of jazz coming out of London at the moment. This would be my home for the whole evening. First up was Noya Rao, their smooth modern soul delivery was perfect.
Ashley Henry followed, pure jazz delivered by a band at the top of their game. Yussef Dayes, who has been on my must-see list for a long time, delivered and then some, playing his forward-thinking compositions with a caged-animal ferocity. Special mention to Mansur Brown. Closing the night were Sons Of Kemet, riding high after the release of their new album Your Queen Is A Reptile. Neither Shabaka Hutchings on sax or Theon Cross on tuba stopped for a breath – and neither, for that matter, did the crowd, for the duration of what was a phenomenal, visceral, yet joyful performance.
This was the culminating performance, for me, of a festival that brought together a wonderful breadth of music from all over the world. The Great Escape continues to broaden its horizons, this year by embracing British jazz. The fact that the Saturday night EZH stage was full to bursting all night is an encouraging sign that festival-goers are embracing this adventurous programming too. An exciting year for the festival.