Since 2006 The Great Escape has established itself as Europe's leading showcase festival and music industry convention, featuring over 350 artists from around the globe over three days. About 35 venues are used including unusual locations such as museums, the beach shop fronts and hidden spaces. In all there are 650 live performances, attracting 13000 music fans and 3000 music industry delegates. The City is alive with the Sound of Music!
Running alongside The Great Escape is The Alternative Escape, which features even more bands and artists representing labels, agencies, promoters and management companies from Brighton and around the UK. Some of the acts play more than once, on both the main Great Escape and the Alternative Escape bills over three days.
Since 2006 the likes of Adele, Mumford & Sons, Haim, Jake Bugg, Tini Tempah, The Maccabees, Foals, Friendly Fires, Laura Marling, Bon Iver, Vampire Weekend, Kasabian, White Denim, The xx, Chase & Status, Warpaint, Ed Sheeran, [Alt-J] and Disclosure have performed at the festival. This year expect to see the likes of Kaiser Chiefs (playing a secret show), Kelis, Wild Beasts, Little Dragon, Dry The River, Future Islands, Clean Bandit and Jon Hopkins performing, spanning almost all genres of music known to man. Just as importantly the Great Escape presents a fantastic amount of new and up and coming acts, all of whom are considered 'ready' to take a further step up.
As well as the live shows, the Great Escape features a conference over the three days which attracts 3000 delegates from around the world, from all areas of the industry; including managers, agents, label heads, promoters, marketeers, distributors, lawyers, producers and journalists. As well as attending the talks, workshops and seminars on offer many of them spend their time networking and checking out new talent day and night. The Great Escape is where new alliances are formed, and deals are struck…
It's a truly an international music festival that has found its home in the incredibly vibrant and creative city of Brighton.
As well as providing an opportunity for acts from around the globe to showcase their music in front of music fans and music industry professionals, The Great Escape is also a fantastic platform for Brighton based bands to show what they are made of. Below we talked to five of those who have been chosen by The Great Escape to perform this year, as well as a few words from Festival Director Kat Morris.
Formed in Aberdeen, the band re-located to Brighton seven years ago. This hard-working three-piece make 'distorted pop', with their last two studio albums released on Xtra Mile, home to Frank Turner. I caught up with singer, songwriter and guitarist Murray Macleod.
What's been happening?
We've been in the countryside of Essex making this new record, we've just come back after a year off. We'd been on tour for five years straight, and we thought it was time to give everyone a break, including ourselves! I think if we had carried on without a break I would have lost my mind, even though I think it's going already… But people seem genuinely excited that we are back; the three shows we have played so far have been mind-blowing.
How do you write and make music?
I form the blueprint of the song, take it to the guys, and they tell me honestly what they think, which can be awful… It does nothing for my confidence. But we usually know, we're pretty in tune with each other. If it's not working I'll have a quick sulk, a diva strop, and then after five minutes it's 'let's do the next thing!' It would be worse if we were lying to ourselves. Mike (Lord) and Jag (Jago), who work at Brighton Electric, do our demos. They are awesome, really good at what they do.
When is the next album coming out?
Scatterbrain was the last album on Xtra Mile and we are currently unsigned. So, we've jumped in at the deep end – blindfolded – but we feel very strongly about our new album; we're speaking to bunch of labels now, getting wined and dined…
Julian Deane is your manager, the ex-Toploader guitarist?
Yeah, he knows everyone. You see him at his best at The Great Escape! He's knows what not to do, how not to be stupid – some of the Toploader stories are hilarious, like buying a bar of gold…
Why did you move to Brighton?
We moved down as a band. We'd released independently in Scotland, like a school band, making our own CDs. There was a label in Aberdeen called Fat Hippy Records which released our second EP. The next thing we released ourselves and that was the CD I gave to Julian. We were based in Brighton by then.
Our original drummer was living in London, and myself and the bassist (Jordan Smith) didn't want to move to London, we were quite fearful of going to such a big city. Our friend at school was at BIMM and he said it was cool here, that we should move here, and that's what we did.
Aberdeen not good enough?
I still go to Aberdeen all the time, to see family and friends. But we decided to move because despite Aberdeen having a thriving music scene (The Lemon Tree being its most iconic venue), not many bands will drive past Glasgow. Wherever we go we like to fly the flag for Aberdeen, the underdog. It also has a very strong work ethic, it's a city of hard grafters. Whereas Brighton… the pace of life is good here though! On a Tuesday afternoon if the sun is out… And, I like the open-mindedness here. Aberdeen can sometimes feel a little narrow-minded.
What's the Great Escape plan?
We're doing two shows, at the East Wing, and above the Hare & Hounds – a bit more raucous that one. We've only ever done the Alternative Escape. Two years ago we played a show at the Pav Tav, I had never experienced anything like that in our band. It felt like a DC punk show, people ripping off the chandeliers. I got taken out the back and screamed at by the bar staff… I think the Great Escape had just caught on to us, and they turned the show into an official show just a few days beforehand…
A relative newcomer to Brighton (raised in Leicester, and lived in Leeds for five years before moving here just a few months ago), and from nowhere it seems, this 24 year-old has just released his debut album, Beautiful Desolation, on the major label Atlantic Records, at the beginning of April. It’s a hugely impressive work; widescreen, epic and poetic.
Hi Paul, great album! How did it come about and who did what?
Thanks so much, Max (Prior) and I produced the album and I played everything I could, but my old friend Ali Thynne played the drums and Kate, who sings with me live, did some backing vocals. We also got Craig Silvey (The Horrors, Arcade Fire) to mix the album. We recorded it all in Max's bedroom so it was good to have a fresh pair of ears to tie it all together during that final process. Mixing is an art form in itself, one which we're not too well versed in yet.
What is your musical background, and when and how did you start making your own music?
My background I guess is what you'd call 'classical’. When I was still in single digits I sung a lot of choral music, then I played the piano and clarinet through school, settling with the guitar when I was 16 because – let’s face it – it's just much easier. I listened to my dad’s records growing up, lots of Buddy Holly, Rolling Stones and The Shadows. I think that was a good place to start because they're all about good songs. All that early pop music turned into things like The Cure and The Cocteau Twins, which to me is all about colours and layers. It's three-dimensional music which is what I’m still interested in making now.
I see you were a member of a school choir. Have you always loved singing?
I went to a choir school when I was nine, which was basically a musical boot camp for four years. It was a very religious place, with a pretty tough routine of rehearsals, services and concerts. There was no such thing as a weekend. It taught me some good values about hard work, but it was a place where I felt uncomfortable. The way I look at it now is that I never took to anything else as organically as I did to singing. It was never a case of loving it or not, it was just the only thing I was any good at.
They tell me your influences include artists such as Vangelis. That's unusual! What is it about him and another name checked artist Jean-Claude Vannier? And also Joe Meek?
They've informed you well. I'm pretty much obsessed with Vangelis, his approach is really inspiring. He came out of an era where synthesizers were the easy way out and he gave them integrity as an instrument. I feel like he's on a quest to bring a little more beauty to the world, to counter the omnipresent chaos I've heard him talk about. It’s the approach of Joe Meek that fascinates me too; he built his own hardware, his effects units and equipment. For me the fun part of music is in the experimentation while recording, and the most important thing is sounding unique. Joe Meek is basically the godfather of those two exploits. He's a visionary. Jean-Claude Vannier can just orchestrate like a renegade, I've never heard anything like it.
Beautiful Desolation comes from a phrase Buzz Aldrin used when stepping upon the moon. What is it about those words that capture your imagination?
I see a number of dimensions to his phrase "Beautiful…Beautiful… Magnificent Desolation". Aesthetically, it worked for the album. We spent a lot of time sourcing sounds for the music from images from the NASA archives, it was a really good way of creating sounds we hadn't heard before. I also feel like the barren but majestic landscape of the moon really relates to the songs; I wanted to create colourful soundscapes to sad stories. The album's not just about misery, it's also about a wealth of human emotions and the beauty in that. The connotations of the quote also appealed to me. I wanted the record to feel otherworldly, I wanted the sounds to be slightly unfamiliar and draw you out of reality. That quote just underpinned everything we were working towards.
Can you talk about some of the songs, what they are about? For instance, Santa Muerte's Lightning & Flare is about a relationship, but with the metaphor of the Mexican saint to instill a sense of mortality?
I guess it’s about a woman who was once beautiful; she's probably had a lot of sadness in her life, maybe loss too, which is why I used Santa Muerte, the folklore saint of death, to describe her eyes. Everyone has met those people who just carry their life story in their face and mannerisms. It's about her coming to terms with her life, getting older and the world just carrying on. She's not glamorous anymore, she feels like she has nothing more to contribute, she might have even dreamed of greatness once. It's a story we'll all live through one day. ‘Lightning and Flare’ is taken from Charles Bukowski; in his book ‘Factotum’ he describes a woman who he's fascinated by as being "all flare and lightning". I feel like that's what the character in the song was like in her springtime.
And with A Lunar Veteran's Guide To Re-Entry (perhaps Aldrin again?)
I read that book Moon Dust and what I got from it was that because of how great a feat and achievement it was for those astronauts to step on the moon, the long term effects were pretty negative. They just didn't know what to do with themselves. They'd lived the first line of their obituary and they were barely 40. That's where the title came from, but the song is about regret. It's about accumulating demons as you get older.
In High Heels… features an extraordinary cinematic video. The song is about a troubled woman?
The songs aren't really meant to be from a gender specific point of view, but I think I must find it easier to write about the opposite sex? I don't know why. It's something I've never thought about until now. That song is just about liberating yourself from your past, it's a breakup song essentially. It's a Sainsbury's Basics 'girls just want to have fun' song.
What brought you to Brighton. Any aspects of life down here you particularly like? And how does it compare to Leeds?
I always moved around a lot when I was growing up so I never felt like I had a hometown until now. It's a really relaxing place to live… once you've got your parking permit. It's incomparable to Leeds really. Leeds is a fantastic place to go to university and an even better place for starting up a band, but my friends and I were just moving further and further out of the city for peace and quiet in order to record music so that eventually we were on the ring road and away from civilisation, which was once a dream of mine but in reality is just a bit of a lonely existence. There was definitely an element of cabin fever. I love being surrounded by people here, really diverse people. Just being able to step outside and hear people conversing (as creepy as that sounds) makes a huge difference to my mental health.
Elli was actually born and raised here in Brighton, and now 20 years old, she’s already been nominated for a MOBO Best Newcomer Award, has signed to Island Records and has released two EPs, Sober and The Doghouse. With some very natural vocal chops that reveal hints of Adele and Amy Winehouse, overlaid by some startlingly inventive production work courtesy of Felix Joseph and Aston Rudi, Ingram has all the ingredients to become a home grown r'n'b starlet.
What are you up to?
I'm at home, eating an Easter egg… it's Friday after all!
So, you're actually a real Brightonian!?
Yes, Brighton based, born and bred! I still live in the same house I was born in, and I still love it here. People are always saying to me: 'When are you moving to London'? I love it even more now that I have been traveling to London so much. When I step off that train the air down here is so fresh, and to be by the sea…. In the summer there is such a lovely atmosphere, people make more eye contact and seem more happy and relaxed.
How and when did you become a singer?
I didn't really do a lot of singing when I was growing up, although my parents were into music and I was always surrounded by good music. I guess it was always in me. But I didn't explore it until I went to Varndean College. I did a BTEC at Varndean for a year, formed a girl band, which was really cool, and did some live gigs, and wrote my first song. I just loved it so much, I'd discovered this thing I had inside of me. I then went to City College to do a higher BTEC; it was a lot more practical, which was good, and it was very different. There was one other girl – the rest were guys – and I had to form a band. And me being a vocalist, and all the guys into heavy rock, they were looking at me and thinking: 'Is this girl going to sing thrash metal or something…'?
I like writing. When I was in college I started getting into the piano a bit. I've got one at home but it sounded shit and I gave up on it. I've tried getting back into it, but I can only play enough to write a little melody, nothing too serious. When I was younger my mum put me into keyboard lessons and guitar lessons, but I was just one of those kids who wanted to be out with their mates. Which is a shame looking back on it now…
You work very closely with your producers Felix Joseph and Aston Rudi…
I write a line on my own, or a melody on the phone, or sometimes I go into a studio with a blank piece of paper and Felix and Aston will come up with something that will spark my imagination… It is a team, we would have little meetings discussing future plans and they would always be with me, along with my manager, Rob, who is also my best friend. It's always us four who have the first say. I am very lucky to have that.
I saw you play at Bermuda Triangle recently with a full live band…
It was one of the first with the band, I loved that show. To be up there with the full band, it makes it a million times better. They are all good friends of mine.
But you can also perform stripped back…
It was a good way to showcase what we were doing, just me and a guitarist or pianist, which we'll do now and then; just jam, before we go to the studio. It helps to capture a deeper emotion that way. When I supported Angie Stone we did it as a little acoustic thing; guitar, double bass and sax. But don't get me wrong, I love being up there with everybody and things get really loud…
You’ve now signed to Island Records!
Signing to Island, a dream label, such an amazing roster. Having Amy (Winehouse) on that label was a big deal for me. I feel very fortunate, I have to keep pinching myself.
The Doghouse is your first release for Island…
We wrote the whole Doghouse mini-album at a studio called The Doghouse. We went through a lot there, it’s a very personal album, but also a step forward, a taster of what is to come, and hopefully it'll open a few doors.
Both the videos for Made Love and When It Gets Dark are great. You seem to enjoy the acting side…
They were both shot by Emil Nava, an amazing director. A strong image will come with the song, and that is how I will see the video. And then Emil comes in with an idea and then I say what my ideas are and we'll go back and forth until it’s perfect. But he really gets it, more than anyone. When he hears it he gets inside my head and knows what is going on.
It's (acting) nerve wracking, but I think it's definitely something I will enjoy more and more. I never really thought I would. When you do it there's all these cameras and loads of people around you, but once you get into it's quite a buzz.
Have you experienced the Great Escape before?
I went last year, I was getting into opening the doors of industry people and that sort of thing. When I went last year I couldn't believe I had never actually been! Kelis (Dome, 10 May) is crazy; when I was a lot younger I was really into her. It'll be nuts.
What’s the plan for the rest of the year?
Doing a lot of festivals, getting back into the studio, and creating an album. Not much!
In a little over a year, Brighton/Worthing duo Royal Blood have gone from practically nowhere to performing on Later… with Jools Holland and playing with their mates the Arctic Monkeys later this month in Finsbury Park. Following in the footsteps of trailblazers The White Stripes, the ferocious bass and drums blues-rock attack of Royal Blood have been creating a buzz beyond their wildest dreams, on the back of just a couple of singles.
So, where are you Mike (Kerr, bassist and singer)?
Under the sea! In the Eurotunnel! I'm amazed we have a signal… Just heading home for a few days for a few days off, before it goes crazy for us again; going around the world in a month and then a few festivals…
Exciting times, I'm guessing?
We're excited about it!
Who lives where?
Ben (Thatcher, drums) lives in Brighton, and I just live down the down the road in Worthing, although we've been away so much recently we're hardly ever here. And even when I am at home I come to Brighton all the time…
I discovered that you played on an unsigned bill at Latest Music Bar, just last February?
Yes, I remember it well! We did one of our first proper gigs there. Was it only last year? Wow, pretty mad!
How did Royal Blood coagulate, as it were?
I tried to do it with other bands and it never really worked. I went to Australia and re-thought the whole thing and then with Ben we decided this was the way to do it. We were a three piece before…
What music informs what you do?
Mixture of everything. I guess the people for me that made me feel like I could be a singer were the ones like Jack White (White Stripes) and Josh Homme (Queens of the Stone Age) and Kurt Kobain (Nirvana), those kind of singer songwriters. I wanted to have my own signature sound.
Are you a bassist or guitarist?
I see myself as neither a guitarist or bassist, I see myself as a songwriter who can also play piano (rather well, I hear). Singing and playing bass felt the most comfortable way of doing what we do… I could be more myself with that set up.
How do you write songs?
Sometimes the songs start on the bass, then I jump on the piano and write melodies. They are always works in progress. Over time, if I have an idea, I pick up an instrument and when we get together – when me and Ben are together – it's bass and drums, how it's going to be. I like switching around when writing. It's hard to write a vocal with just a bass line, so I get a guitar or piano and you've got some chords to work with and it helps me get some perspective to see where I am with the song, if that makes sense…
It does! So, how do you get that sound? A pitchshifter? Two amps?
It's all a secret, a secret recipe. Just like the Colonel's!
Have you been to the Great Escape before?
Yes, I have been to the Great Escape, it's really cool. I actually applied to play last year, and they turned us down! It's quite funny to come back a year later and for them to give us such a great slot (Corn Exchange).
The Arctic Monkeys Finsbury Park gigs must be exciting?
It's going to be the biggest stage we have ever walked on!
That legendary t-shirt (The Arctic Monkeys drummer wore it on stage at Glastonbury last June), tell me about it?
We share the same manager, they came to us before anyone had really heard of us, and they had first dibs on Royal Blood demos. They became our first fans before anyone knew who we were. We didn't have any merch, we just made him (Matt Helders) a t-shirt for Glastonbury. So when he wore it was a big deal for us and our friends, but no one knew who Royal Blood were! It only became a story afterwards. It didn't kick anything off at the time… a bizarre moment.
Why the name Royal Blood?
I just made it up, I thought it was a good title for what the band sounded like; to sound grandiose, and English as well.
Can we expect an album soon?
We're working on that at the moment, it's very nearly finished, but we won't release anything until late summer, August time maybe.
Ruby Taylor, aka Yumi & The Weather, has been skirting on the fringes for a couple of years now, her rhythmically-led guitar-electronica is melodic, soulful and beguiling, some of it like the perfect soundtrack to those morning-after-the-night-before affairs. Her first two singles were collated on her eponymous debut EP at the end of 2013, along with some tasty remixes.
You live in Worthing, right? (obviously a hotbed of talent these days!)
I moved there when I was 14 (from London) and then moved to Brighton for a bit, but I'm back now in Worthing. But I'm always here in Brighton, I see it as my home. Worthing is sweet and tranquil, but I don't go out much into town on a Friday or Saturday, it's not my scene really…
I love the charity shops, that's my favourite thing about Worthing. But most people there are working and not pursuing dreams. The energy here in Brighton means you have to be on it more. Sometimes the social scene in Brighton, it can just swallow you up, and you end up forgetting what you came here to do. So, Worthing is good for me at the moment, it keeps me inside and writing. It's tempting to go out all the time in Brighton.
How did things develop musically?
I did music production at Northbrook College for a year, but then I dropped out because I wanted to do more performance. But now I'm actually doing production. But because I'm not under pressure – I don't have to do any coursework – I've got the time now and can do it at my own pace. Northbrook though is a great starting point – they teach you all the software, the teachers are quite laid-back because they are all musicians themselves.
And before that?
My Dad had a 12-string guitar and I was very drawn to it and I would try and work out things like Bah Bah Black Sheep. I started having some lessons, but when I heard Led Zep, Pink Floyd, Jimi Hendrix, and my dad taught me Hey Joe, I've become obsessed. My dad bought me an air guitar compilation, and that was my bible for playing the guitar. I tried to learn everything by ear.
I used to read music in colour, but when I tried to learn normally I couldn't do it. Most of the time I don't even know what chord I am playing. I was never even into tabs, that would just make me angry!
And your own music?
My ex-boyfriend was a producer and he had Cubase on a computer, and then Logic, and I was in a band at the time, and every now and then I would write a song with it and show the band – I love working with people and jamming. I still write primarily on a computer, but I leave bits out for them, I want them to be a part of it.
Tell me about XVI Records.
They describe themselves as an electronic label with soul, but I was the first artist on there that wasn't their usual thing. The people there are really lovely. I was really nervous about meeting them in London, and we ended up going to a pub in London and getting drunk. They said they wanted me to design each of them (the 12" version of the EP is on vinyl), I do a bit of painting every now and then, spray can art. Each one is completely different, and I sign and number them. I love that.
What can we expect at The Great Escape?
In effect it will be an introduction to the live set up of Yumi & The Weather, the full live band with no backing tracks. There's two guitars, drums, keys, and vocals. We've done less than ten gigs as Yumi. It's still very early days… The Great Escape is my aim to get it properly sorted.
To be asked by The Great Escape was really cool. They actually wanted to put me on last year, but I wasn't ready and didn't want to rush it. I'm so happy they still wanted me for this year.
Can we expect an album?
We want to start recording the album, I've had the songs for nearly two years now. It's all about getting the funds. It'll be with a band but I need a studio set up for that. I want to get real instruments in there. I want to use the best there is – it's just fun sharing your experience.
How do you write?
Sometimes I write with a guitar, or a bass, keys, even a drum beat. I sing over the drumbeat and work out a progression under it.
Tell me about the band's name.
It's a play on the weather, but there are a lot of reasons behind the name. When you're in a relationship it really does sometimes depend on what the weather is like on how well you get on with that person! We all go through the same emotional dysfunctions at every point in life… I feel like Yumi is what I am trying to represent in my songs, things we all have to go through. And then there's the weather! For the British, we always bring up the weather in conversation. It's always a nice starting point. At the moment I feel I'm on a boat at sea and the sea is not rough…
Please tell me your official job title, and what your roles and responsibilities are?
I am Festival Director of The Great Escape. It’s my responsibility to maintain the ethos of the festival – showcasing as much new music as possible – while developing the event. So, day-to-day, I work with different teams, keeping all the plates spinning. From booking to marketing to sponsors to production, there is so much to be arranged. Working with over 30 venues and with such a huge line-up, there’s a lot to keep track of, but I love it.
Can you give me a little background before you took on your current role
I am a life-long music fan and started out in the music industry by interning at Finger Lickin’ Records, where I assisted in the organisation of club nights and album launches. That was my first taste of what it was like to run events.
Why do you think Brighton was initially chosen to stage the Great Escape and what is it about Brighton that remains the place to be?
It really is a wonderfully creative city, with a fantastic live music scene and therefore the perfect infrastructure to run The Great Escape. It’s also only 50 minutes on the train from London, so easy for people to get to from all over the UK and the world. You can smell the sea air as soon as you step off the train, so it almost feels like you’re on holiday, too!
I see the Spiegeltent will be the hub this year – why was it chosen this year?
The Spieigeltent is one of three venues that will be at the brand new Great Escape Festival Hub. There will also be a pop-up Heineken venue and the first ever official festival bar – The Spieigelpub. It was important for the festival’s development to find a new central area and the Old Steine Gardens are beautiful, and right in the middle of all the venues. We’re really excited to relocate and extend the festival hub. We’ll be programming music right into the night and we hope it’ll provide an exciting new dynamic for The Great Escape festival-goers and Brighton residents alike.
Is it purely work work work for you or will you get the chance to see any of the bands this year?
I don’t get to watch much music as it's so busy but I’ll always try to get to one gig, so that’s usually my best moment. Last year it was watching Palma Violets secret gig and one year watching Groove Armada playing the closing gig at the Corn Exchange.
Even if you do not get that chance anything you can recommend?
Every year, The Great Escape has a lead international partner; this year, we have teamed up with Music Finland who are bringing some really brilliant artists over for a showcase on the Saturday (as well as other gigs during the festival) including the brilliant Jaakko Eino Kalevi. And this year the festival will be hosting the largest amount of secret and surprise gigs than ever before. I highly recommend everyone sign up to the text service we offer to stay abreast of the latest information and tips.
Can the GE expand in the future or do you think its found a perfect equilibrium/size?
Well all I can say is that next year is The Great Escape’s 10th anniversary festival, so we are keen to make it the very best festival we’ve ever done.
How important is the Made in Brighton strand and why is it relevant?
As much as The Great Escape is a global reaching festival, with 30+ countries represented in the form of artists and attending delegates, it is equally about the homespun heroes – and there are a lot. Made in Brighton is a really important element of the festival and offers the international and varied audience an integral look into Brighton’s vibrant, creative community.
Any advice for those who have never been to the GE before?
Don’t underestimate the size of the line-up (400+ is a record this year) and don’t be afraid to go off piste. You might just find your favourite new band!
Other current and former Brighton/Sussex bands and artists performing at this year’s festival include Fickle Friends, Dizraeli & The Small Gods, Phoria, Beautiful Boy, Traams, Lovepark, Marika Hackman and James Bay. The Alternative Escape also features a number of excellent local acts worthy of your attention including AK/DK, Tigercub, Time For T, Phantom Runners, Ellie Ford, Esben & The Witch, Almighty Planets and Lu’Aim.
Remember, you don’t have to have a Great Escape wristband to go to any Alternative Escape shows.
For the full line ups please visit: www.greatescapefestival.com
The Great Escape – Special Edition playlist click here