Another year, and another huge comedown after the exhilaration of three days of heady music, heavy bodily abuse, and heaving bodies.
It’s kind of the same as a festival in a field, minus the camping, and the mud. There are more than 450 performances on over 30 stages, played out to an overall audience of 20,000. Like a traditional festival, there is plenty of schlepping from one stage to the next, re-fuelling at various points, staying up too late and getting up too early. Crucially though, almost everyone is here to actually watch and listen to music, and everyone has a real bed to head to, and a solid roof over their heads. It is knackering, but in the best kind of way.
The Great Escape is indeed the biggest and best event of its kind in Europe, and continues to retain its original spirit of being a place to catch new and exciting music from around the globe in relatively intimate venues, and at relatively affordable prices. Star names are very few and far between, and the stars that do turn up are usually announced just days before the event (e.g. The Charlatans) or indeed on the day itself (e.g. John Grant)
Another of the many great things about the festival is that acts generally play short sets of 30 minutes, with 45 allowed in rare cases. This means that there is a constant flow of people in and out of venues, criss-crossing the city in search of the Next Thing. 30 minute slots means that bands have to make it work. It focuses their minds and brings out the best in them. Punters are there to see them, and not just hang out, talk their way through a set and/or act like buffoons. There are also huge numbers of industry folk (promoters, publishers, agents, labels, press, etc) in attendance. They may not actually see what they always want (the queueing system applies to them also), but TGE is one big great talking shop: You saw what? How good was that!? It was crazy mental in there! It all feeds back into one giant interconnecting spiral of networking, recommendations, and appraisal.
So, with app in hand (generally most of us dispense with the cumbersome paper programme these days), and in Big Brother style, we headed to the start of the veritable marathon line.
I’m off to a slow start. Firstly I have some ‘important’ work to deal with (Aldous Harding album review… more of her later), plus a ‘real’ job to take care of, and then a pre-record for Brightonsfinest on Juice 107.2. It proves to be an agonising process, although on my way there I do catch a bit of Brighton’s Lakuta who are on the outdoor Fender Paramount Stage on New Road, unfortunately having to deal with the constant downpour. Nevertheless, there’s a hardy crowd of umbrella’d folk getting down to their afro-funk fusion. All I want to do is get out there amongst the throngs, rain or otherwise, and hear some music. However, the recording of the radio show is enlivened by the physical presence of Our Girl, who have just come back from a show at the Castle Street Gymnasium (yes, you read that right), as part of The Alternative Escape (TAE). Not only does the band feature Soph from The Big Moon, they sound terrific, and tell me that they have two more gigs lined up on the Saturday. I make a mental note.
Finally, I’m off the leash and head straight to my home base, Latest Music Bar (disclosure alert – I am the venue’s part-time booker, but it is also where I can get fed, watered and just hang out in times of need) where I see Victoria. Too much of a mainstream pop-rock proposition for my ears, despite their catchy anthemic qualities, I head around the corner to Patterns to catch the end of Ider. I’m glad I did so because here is a female duo who are quickly catapulting themselves into to the hearts and minds of music lovers thanks to their intoxicating alt-synth-pop sound, with vocals, synths and guitars to the fore. They look and sound great, and display their special chemistry on stage by finishing off with an a cappela only performance of ‘GMLAA’. Definitely one to keep an eye on.
Then it is off to the Sallis Benney, a criminally under-used venue as part of the University of Brighton, to catch Sampa The Great. Here, I meet up with my radio colleague Tony Marks and together we groove to the Australian-naturalised, Zambian-born singer, who first came to notice via a mixtape. Her afro-inspired hip-hop is aided by percussion and bass, Sampa getting the crowd properly involved in her social conscience and deepely philosophical lyricism. Sampa comes from where we are all heroes.
Then it’s on to the Paganini Ballroom, a lovely room that is part of the Old Ship Hotel, to see the profoundly disconcerting Aldous Harding, and who has her new album, Party, about to be released the following day on the 4AD label. She was here last year, many punters bewildered by her creepy stage persona and songs. Slightly better known now, the place is rammed for a late night gothic-folk session, Harding sitting astride a chair, seemingly possessed by the spirit of her songs that are, ironically, mostly about love this time around. You wouldn’t necessarily know it by her intense look, but she seems to be in a good place, and the largely revelry-seeking crowd are bewitched and entranced by this one-of-a-kind artist.
Literally over the road on the seafront is her fellow Kiwi, Fazerdaze (aka Amelia Murray). Similarly young and dark-haired, their comparison ends as Fazerdaze delivers a woozy set of lo-fi indie-grunge-pop songs, highlighted by the wonderfully languid fuzz-pop of ‘Little Uneasy’.
This is the biggest day of three big days. When TGE reaches capacity, and the city centre is totally buzzing with the amalgamation of TGE, Brighton Festival and Brighton Fringe. The streets are indeed alive with the sound of music, as I head straight to Green Door Store, host to three days of Canadian music action. I catch a bit of light pop-rock-orientated singer songwriter Mo Kenny, before I head to the new Irish showcase at the Prince Albert to see rising alt-folk star Ailbhe Reddy perform a somewhat downbeat set of ethereal, if a little uninspired, songs that fail to fully engage me. Not that she isn’t any good, but what I really need is something to blow the cobwebs out of my system. I find it with the stunning Gallops at Latest Music Bar. A Welsh instrumental trio who have been around for a while, I wonder if they have have ever played so early in the day before (1.15pm). In any case they deliver a magnificently melodic, electronic-guitar-percussion maelstrom that is big and loud and yet as clear as a bell. They give it their all, their dystopian experimental post-rock the perfect pick-me-up. I am further enlivened by Welsh all-girl outfit Baby Queens, who despite suffering a little in the vocal department, are having a ball. The two sisters, two cousins, and their adopted sister own the stage this afternoon, their upbeat mix of hip-hop, soul, urban and pop, on top of their harmonies, enticing a smile or two amongst the audience.
I then head into town, wandering around a little, taking it all in including a short glimpse of the soulful indie-pop singer Callum Beattie in Jubilee Square before heading along to Beyond Retro, a large vintage clothes retailer in the North Laine who once again are host to a stage. Set up in the cavernous brick factory building where you can both shop and watch some bands as part of the Alternative Great Escape, it’s here that I catch youthful and energetic punk-grunge rockers False Heads, purveyors of big beats and big riffs. It’s a little surreal but is a perfect marker of what TGE/AGE is all about. Lots of new music of a generally high standard being performed in standard venues, as well as unusual outlets such as this.
One of the highlights of the AGE year-on-year is the Republic of Music event in Shipwrights Yards, set in a courtyard just off Middle Street. With a number of music industry businesses based here, they are always able to cobble together high quality lineups, despite the fact that bands are situated in what looks like a concrete garage. Today’s headliners are a secret, but it soon emerges that it is English alt-rockers Deaf Havana, whose recent All These Countless Nights was a top five album. ‘That was a right laugh’ says the singer after they deliver a propulsive, no-nonsense set to just a couple of hundred people. It may not be to everyone’s taste but here in the broad daylight, up close and personal, you can see clearly as to why they are such a popular band. They are good and, by all accounts, thoroughly nice people to boot.
Then it’s off to see the hotly-tipped King Nun at The Haunt. Somehow I manage to get in to witness what all the fuss is about. Exciting and racuous, this four-piece have found a new way of delivering an artful punk racket, as epitomised by the recent debut single ‘Tulip’, the pounding grunge of ‘Speakerface’, and the vaguely ghoulish riffage of ‘Hung Around’. It’s a grimy, loose kind of sound that is packed full of interesting arrangements and, crucially, melodies. They could go far.
And the vast eclecticism of TGE is further demonstared by a visit to the Fender Paramount Stage to hear the slick electronic Hot Chipesque sound of Sailor & I, the moniker of Sweden’s Alexander Sjodin. Looking for all the world like a model out of an autumnal M&S catalogue, he nevertheless makes engaging Balearic-meets-richly-orchestrated melancholic house music, all emanating from a single laptop on stage.
Fleet of foot I head up to the Brighthelm Centre, another venue that just occasionally opens its doors to live music, to catch the quirky indie-rock Mauno, from the east coast of Canada. They are classic indie-outsider fare, but have a bagful of sophisticated, progressive and indeed propulsive tunes, and are fronted by the engagingly dry frontman Nick Everett, not unlike David Byrne in look, musical substance, and quirky humour. “This is what we do. We write songs,” informs Everett. “So, here’s another one.”
And then it’s back down the hill to see Ninja Tune signing Sarathy Korwar. This band of jazz-inspired musicians are perfect for the Unitarian Church, delivering a spell-binding set of instrumental fusion music interspersed with the odd snippet of voice samples from the Sidi community in India. That, and their East African, Sufi and Indian influences combine with jazz and electronics to make for a rivetting ride through global music.
After a totally necessary pitstop (before I ran out of fuel and bits of me started falling off) I headed up to St. Mary’s Church to catch This Is The Kit, a band who always sound sumptuously fluid and groovy on record, their folk leanings tempered by the twin aspects of Kate Stables dexterous picked guitar (banjo, electric, acoustic) and the gentle grooves of much of their material. They haven’t gigged for a while and they are certainly a bit rusty as they wheel out some new material. In the vast and cavernous surrounds of the church, the nuances and delicacies can get a little lost. But, despite all that, they still pull it off, aided by a small brass section that imbue the new material with extra warmth and layers, as well as a guest spot for Marcus Hamblett of the Wilkommen Collective.
Back at Latest Music Bar there are a couple of post-midnight bonuses. First there’s the one-man band TVAM (aka Joe Oxley), all swept hair, and skinny jeans, playing just a guitar, but aided by some electronic backing, and a stage set that consists largely of old school TVs, and defunct gadgetry. There’s a certain nostalgia here, with the ghost of Suicide being a reference point. But it’s also a kind of post-rock, if deconstructed rock’n’roll, with discernible old school analogue-style synths amidst the big rolling beats and white noise guitar. This is followed by Switzerland’s Me + Marie ostensibly a blues-rock duo, with Marie on drums, front of stage, and Me on guitar, but whose musical palette is rich, ranging from the mellow to the boisterous, and full of memorable melodies, such as their signature song ‘You Don’t Know’. It’s late, almost 2am, but you can see quite clearly that they are having a fine old time and so are we.
OK. The weather has improved, and we’re now on to the final third of the festival. The home straight as it were. Stamina and endurance are key. So, it’s straight to the Green Door Store to nab a free burger and a coffee. Those Canadians are always such welcoming hosts! I stick around to watch a bit of John K Samson, who’s better known for his band The Weakerthans. Here, he’s on his own. Practically unknown here in the UK, the place is heaving already and it’s barely past midday. Extraordinary. His laidback, nasally David Kitt vibes is enhanced by a series of literary character studies, liberally embellished with humour.
The previous afternoon I met up with the CEO of the Unsigned Music Awards, who mentioned the fact they were hosting a stage at the Prince Alberrt the follwoign afternoon. So, I ambled along form the Green Door Store to the Prince Albert and caught the Brighton-based LOM. It wasn’t until I consulted the programme that I was watching a band that includes Millie and Ellie Watts, daughter of John Watts, art rocker extraordinaire, and best known as the frontman and songwriter for Fischer-Z. The singing sisters have joined guitarist Owen Davey, and together they make gentle folk-pop.
Komedia is the spot for Be Charlotte, a pink-haired 19-year-old singer from Scotland, who wears a tie-dyed t-shirt and massive Su Pollard-style glasses. After finding her feet on the open mic circuit of Dundee, she has developed into a pop artist of serious promise, helped along by the percussive heavy beats of her band, and her singing voice, one that also raps and beatboxes too. Generally upbeat and bouncy numbers – a more mainstream Grimes or tUnE-yArDs infiltrate her set to rapturous applause.
Stil early afternoon, I squint as I leave the dark Komedia Studio bar to head towards the Latest Music Bar, to find once again a Korean invasion in full force, as they did last year. Uber organised and super friendly I find out that they are ahead of schedule! A lesson to be learnt there, perhaps. Anyway, K Pop is becoming big business in the Far East and slowly but surely the rest of the world are finding out about the deep wealth of talent that exists in that heavily populated country. For sure, they often lean heavily on western styles of rock’n’roll but they usually sing in their native tongue, and give life to what we may consider tired old formats. Such as the much talked about Sultan of the Disco, a ridiculous, silk-gown and shades wearing, choreographed funk-disco band inspired by the golden age of Chic et al, and who are one of the highlights of TGE. This lot are F.U.N. Not only do they write their own, and excellent, material, but they transmit a viral like infection to almost everyone, bar the most po-faced, chin-stroking of music fans. Also on the Korean bill are the equally ridiculous-yet-brilliant hip-hopper MC Sniper and crew. He’s been around for nigh on 20 years apparently, and (I can only guess here) deals in social conscience commentary. Whatever the case, he rocks the house.
Over at St Mary’s Church, and perfectly suited to the huge space, are Brighton’s Penelope Isles. I’d caught them at last year’s Together The People festival, but already they have raised their game considerably. You would be very hard pushed to find a better example of youthful songwriting acumen, a mature grasp of space and dynamics, and a winning smile. Jack and Lily Wolter obviously have dreamy indie-rock in their blood, a blend of Radiohead and Silversun Pickups, but they know how to rock out too, finishing with an elongated and monstrously huge swirling noise and feedback.
Fiddler’s Elbow have consistently upped the ante in terms of providing free outdoor entertainment (as well as in the pub itself) as part of the AGE. Last year The Ordinary Boys made an appearance, rocking out next to the diners of the Coal Shed Restaurant. This year there is another fine lineup with a few special and secret guests dotted throughout the three days, including The Island Club who lighten up the tiny narrow street with their glowing funk-tropicana indie rhythms. Brighton’s Demob Happy also made an unannounced appearance later that night in the pub. It’s what The Great Escape is all about, these little free treats here and there.
But, I’m getting tired now. One more pitstop (thanks Ruth for the lovely slow-cooked chicken and rice concoction!) and once again I headed out into the throng to see Port Cities. Made up of Carleton Stone, Breagh MacKinnon, and Dylan Guthro – three songwriters who came together to form the band in 2015 – their pop-orienated blend of country and rock is easy-on-the-ear, whilst their vocal harmonies are rich and enticing.
It’s just the perfect appetiser to see the big man in action, Rag ‘n’ Bone Man. One of three Great Escape Spotlight shows (the others being Slaves and Kano), this one holds special resonance as Brighton is his home (well, nearly, it’s Uckfield) and it was where he stepped out onto the stage to begin the long process of learning his craft and getting known. It’s all paid off handsomely for Rory Graham. From the tiny Freebutt to the Dome, on the back of a number one album and the smash hit single ‘Human’. Unsurprisingly, he smashed it again here without breaking into much of a sweat, his voice is so big and so commanding. With a soulful and driving six-piece band in tow, he delivered the likes of ‘Ego’, ‘Grace’, ‘Skin’ and ‘Human’ as well ‘Your Way’, a song he co-wrote with Jamie Lidell. The fact that he is so modest, humble, and so damn human was exemplified earlier in the day when he made an unannounced appearance on the New Road stage, alongside young Audioactive students, letting them take the spotlight, as it were.
And, no, I didn’t make it to Our Girl. Well, that’s a bit of a lie. I went there, saw the huge queue, and went somewhere else. That’s The Great Escape for you!
This year I popped my Great Escape cherry and in the most fitting manner, I took full advantage of cramming a constant stream of the freshest acts from across the globe into a blur of three days which I shall certainly not be forgetting anytime soon.
Kicking off the entirety of the festival for me was Orla Gartland, an acoustic singer / songwriter full of bubbly personality who shared a smile with the entire room. Orla combines pop and poetry in a beautiful manner which made for a lovely opening to the festival’s diverse spirit. Heading over towards BLEACH I saw my first major new discovery, Jagara. What a band! There is nothing more exciting than discovering artists who massively exceed expectations, and Jagara are definitely one such band. Powerhouse vocals alongside some seriously seductive dream rock filled the tightly packed room and conjured a distinctly retro nod to 80s electronica that got the crowd moving. The band dedicated a track to the iconic Tina Turner, quite the statement, but they were more than able to fulfil their promise. Jagara are definitely not a band to brush over and I genuinely cannot wait for their next return to the city.
As the afternoon sets in, we continue with the highly-anticipated Anteros, possibly one of the single hottest upcoming bands in the country right now and for good reason! Vocalist Laura Hayden is an incredible performer and the entire band provide the upbeat kick of energy that the day needed to fully get flowing. Anteros’ sound is simply unmistakable and a definite crowd pleaser as the entire room is more than eager to jump along to the harsh indie sounds of ‘Breakfast’. The vocals themselves are equally impeccable and Laura’s tones hold a distinct level of badass that really gives an uncontested edge to each track making Anteros one of the most exciting bands to be following.
With the sun beginning to set and the heavens opening, Darlia are next on the list, easily bringing the heaviest sound of the day. The band’s use of heavy riff and distorted vocals are exquisite, holding a distinctive quirk that could not be mistaken for any other band. Ending numbers ‘Napalm’ and ‘Queen of Hearts’ are all that is needed to demonstrate the level of this band’s talents, both tracks utilise some incredible instrumental work whilst holding the ferocity they have become known for, a fantastic set. Yonaka follow, and simply knock it out of the park. Never before have I seen a set feature this much blood, sweat and nudity all whilst simultaneously holding some of the most exciting new music to be heard over the entire weekend. As guitarist George Edwards takes a guitar headstock to the face, he splits his eye open and, despite the gashing blood trail down the right side of his face, does not miss a single note and proceeds to give it his all. This, combined with the exotic dancers and incredibly passionate performance from singer Theresa Jarvis, makes for a performance that is memorable if nothing else. Yonaka are a fantastically talented bunch who we at Brightonsfinest absolutely love, big things can be expected from this homegrown band over the coming years.
I could think of no better way to end an already sublime day than from the stylings of other Brighton heroes, Fickle Friends. Also becoming one of the biggest names on the indie scene today, Fickle Friends’ beautiful concoction of indie dance music is uplifting, refreshing and encapsulates everything that is exciting within new music. The band have become masters of the tropical sound, the pulsing basslines over Natti Shiner’s incredibly soothing tones make for a set which you can’t find yourself not dancing along to. The crowd are more than eager to scream and dance along with one another to every track and when showcasing a few unheard numbers, generates a definite hype towards their upcoming releases. The infectious ‘Say No More’ and ‘Swim’ finish the set and could not be a better way to mark the end of the first day of The Great Escape.
Friday’s music begins, which saw me heading over to Komedia to witness two immensely talented bands from the Netherlands. CUT_ are a trippy electronic duo who provide an interesting take on such an oversaturated genre. Their pulse-driven beats and seductive vocals are phenomenal and make for a brilliant start to the day. The band are followed by the equally talented Dakota. This band’s sound is truly something exciting and is something you can really sink yourself into. Wispy guitars and angelic harmonies are all utilised in a manner which makes for a stunning watch, the room is completely filled by the time their set is going and their track ‘Icon’ can see many, myself included, singing along. One of my favourite aspects about The Great Escape is the level of diversity of acts not only from Brighton or the UK but by allowing the discovery of some fantastic music from entirely different countries.
With Friday well underway, the power of the music has finally been able to influence the weather and before long the sun finally finds itself shining across The Great Escape, just in time for fresh newcomer Jamie Isaac’s set. Jamie’s usage of delicate vocals accompanied by melodic, almost electronic, style of jazz is beautiful and whilst the room’s sound perhaps does not do his set justice, there is no doubt that many here have had a great time and Jamie should be incredibly happy with his performance. LYRA was perhaps my most enticing discovery of the Friday, a lovely sweet Irish girl with one hell of a voice. LYRA’s tracks are simply a privilege to see live and seriously stress how much talent this girl has, her vocals are arguably the single strongest that I heard over the entire festival and hold an incredible amount of diversity and passion. Her hilariously relatable personality and eagerness to perform makes her set one that I will definitely not be forgetting anytime soon and is a name which I cannot recommend enough listening to as I can see her headlining stages across the country in a few years.
The fantastic stylings of nine piece Busty and The Bass fill an absolutely rammed One Church as the evening sets in. This band are definitely a demonstration of musical creativity at its finest and feature a level of coordination that is amazing to say the least. The band clearly know each other’s skills inside and out and are able to thrive off of one another effortlessly with no single member stealing the spotlight. ‘Up Top’ uses its immense funk to get the entire room dancing along and the vast array of brass instruments used make for one of the most unique sounding sets of the three days. The band hold an immense level of diversity that cannot be done justice in words, definitely see this band at any opportunity you can and I assure you that you will not regret it! Finally, the simply stunning vocal performance from Isaac Gracie ended the day and supplied a brilliant rendition of a number of his songs, justifying just why his name has become so well known within the underground scenes. Isaac is the very definition of solo strength, his vocals are delicate yet hold an immense amount of power that really pulls at the heart and could not have been a stronger closure to the Friday.
The final day of the festival held the biggest surprise of The Great Escape in the strangest of packages. A delegate performance from local charity Audio Active, a fantastic cause which helps promote the talents of young, upcoming artists. The group was comprised of 14-18 year-olds who are able to effortlessly bounce off one another through improvised rapping, each member is just as talented as the last and holds unique style definitely setting them apart from one another. However a special guest appearance from the one and only Rag ’N’ Bone Man definitely made the performance one that these kids and the audience will be remembering for some time to come. Rag ‘N’ Bones’ powerful vocals are just as strong as their recorded counterparts and his ability to jump in on the improvised rapping is equally enjoyable for all. The entire crowd and artists have smiles on their faces and to start a day in this manner was a definite unqualified success.
Heading over to Brightonsfinest’s very own stage at St Mary’s Church to see fresh Brighton band Penelope Isles was next. The church’s vast nature would be easily capable of dwarfing a band, however Penelope Isles’ dreamy sound is easily song enough to fill the room beautifully and the vast room only magnified their beautiful songs. The entire band’s talents are utilised and harmonies between sibling duo Lily and Jack Wolter in particular are simply mesmerising. Penelope Isles truly are a demonstration of Brighton talent at its finest and are certainly a band we have full support for. A set from SKIES makes for a personal highlight to the entire afternoon, a band who have been on my list to see for well over two years, their upbeat electronic rock sound goes beyond expectations, tracks such as the newly released ‘Afterwards’ and ‘Leave Me’ sound fantastic and the duo’s chemistry is brilliant. The improvised stage on Beyond Retro’s balcony only adds to their aesthetic and equally impressive sound, SKIES are certainly a band who you should be listening to.
As the evening begins to set in, I head over to the Vevo discover stage to catch the rising talent of Dodie. Already a star in her own, Dodie’s songwriting is beautiful, her delicately eloquent voice and accompanying band are fantastic and she is able to transform her humble ukulele into an instrument of simple serenity. There is no surprise why so many are interested in Dodie’s name as this girl is certainly set to blast into the mainstream over the next year or so, it felt a privilege to witness her songs in such an intimate gig. Following Dodie’s sweet sound were the massively contrasting Our Girl, who provide the heavy grunge aspects that the day was somewhat lacking. After failing to make their Thursday set due to it reaching capacity, this set was equally rammed out. The band’s grungy yet soft, velvety vocals pack an immense level of punch and the crowd respond incredibly well to each of the band’s tracks. Their track ‘Being Around’ is a superb example of the band’s heavy sound yet utilisation of pristine high vocals, Our Girl are certainly a rising name which you cannot afford to be missing out on.
The final act of the entire festival for me came from GIRLI and her hype partner DJ Kitty; the duo are definitely an upbeat act who provide a distinct amount of anger and angst against the establishment. Their rapping is not only highly motivating but provides an immense level of punch and meaning that too many younger artists typically fall short on. By ending the set bounding into the crowd, GIRLI acted as a fantastic end for the festival to go out on a bang. Overall, The Great Escape has gone beyond my expectations and is the very embodiment as to why upcoming music is so exciting. Almost all of the artists seen over the three days have an immense level of potential to be the country’s next big thing and it is an honour to see such talent in its earliest forms. I am already hungrily awaiting next year’s lineup and cannot wait to get back in the action.
The Great Escape Festival is always an anxious three days for music fans, with meticulous planning and solid footwear needed to get through the 72 hours of new music. My Thursday got off to a late start at Bleach with Californian shoegazers Froth. Taking to the stage at 9.30, the lively, dripping wet weekday crowd were in a jovial mood as they took in a set punctuated by sound problems.
Made up solely of the four-piece’s most recent third album Outside (Briefly), the driving krautrock beats and striking soundscapes gave a glimpse into the band’s melodical inclinations as seen on the record, it was just a shame the levels in the venue didn’t give their musicianship the stage it deserved.
Highlights included opener ‘Contact’ with its synthetic intro, as well as the motorik core of ‘Passing Thing’, which lifted the crowd with its elongated ending and layers of feverish guitar. Meanwhile, the relative calm of ‘Petals’ drew proceedings to a close as it slowly penetrated the imagination before transporting you into an Innerspeaker-like ambient soundscape.
Stood next to Heavenly Records chief Jeff Barrett, his face was beaming as he watched his latest signing Confidence Man take to Sticky Mike’s Frog Bar stage for the second of their four gigs in as many days. The keyboardist and drummer initiated proceedings whilst wearing nothing but a black veil and speedos (which obviously got the crowd on their side straight away), before they began to bang out neo-house beats that sounded like the love child of James Murphy and Fatboy Slim if it were brought up in The Hacienda.
The Australian band’s two singers then entered the fray in glorious camp clothing as they went through a repertoire of intoxicating pop tracks complete with groovy dance routines, sassy vocals and baggy groves. Come the end of the set, they had the packed audience in the palm of their hand, which manifested into every person in the room on their knees for a cathartic jump in the air for the final drop.
I then made my way down to The Arch, a venue normally reserved for dance music, which led to my initial reservations at first. These doubts were quickly proven wrong as soon as Little Cub took to the stage, however, with frontman Dominic Gore’s smooth vocal delivery gliding over warm, ambient landscapes crafted by his bandmates. The songs did sound quite monotonous as the gig went on though, but this didn’t take away what was the obvious keen eye for production and narrative the four-piece cater for in each of their compositions.
The Latest Music Bar was the final destination for a rowdy finish to the night in the form of German indie-punks Fuck Art, Let’s Dance. “FUCK ART, LET’S DANCE! are ready to fuck things up. Fuck you, fuck them, fuck your artsy attitude – they are irritated with pretty much everyone except their mums.” Read their bio in the festival guide. How could I resist checking these out? Mirroring early Foal’s math rock guitar work with groove-orientated rhythm, the band are not as full throttle as they would make you believe, with some of the songs even verging on synth-pop. Nevertheless, the multitude of tight guitar lines, smooth key riffs and throbbing drum loops kept the crowd jumping and led to the frontman performing the final song from atop the bar.
Friday got off to a chilled start on the pier in the form of Hazel English on the Marathon Artists stage at Horatio’s. “We only just made it here as our ferry was cancelled”, laughed the Californian-based Aussie, who then crooned softly over cloudy guitars and synths from her debut album Just Give In/Never Going Home. Her relaxed, melancholic style was the perfect companion to the flowing waves and beaming sun outside.
Label mates Childhood were next on and appear to have reinvented themselves for sophomore effort Universal High. It’s been over three years since their indie-rock 90s throwback debut LP and the London band has ditched the giddy melodies for something a lot more soul-infused.
Playing a set of tracks from the July 2017 release, it seems they’ve shed their shoegaze skin and veered into a psych-pop direction with hints of Motown and northern soul sprinkled in there. The addition of a trumpet and saxophone player and the exclusion of any first album tracks hint that this is more of a reinvention rather than evolution, and it sounds great.
Midlands band Spilt Milk Society were next on the agenda at the Paganini Ballroom and bare all of the visual and aesthetic hallmarks of the B-Town scene of which they spawned. Despite their short lifespan they already possess an arsenal of songs which range from standard indie-pop to genuinely infectious funky rock. With the likes of Swim Deep, Peace and Superfood having already made waves, expect these to be next on the conveyor belt.
As the night drew in, Artificial Pleasure turned the festival into a big 80s-infused ball of fun up at The Hope & Ruin. Part Bowie/Part Byrne/Part-Gang of Four, the irresistible funk-punk of the London band had hips shaking from the offset, as the queues outside grew ever longer. The sleazy grooves were the perfect antidote for the start of a weekend, as was the witty on-stage banter of frontman/Damien Lewis doppelgänger Phil McDonnell. Highlights included the sumptuous supercharged pop of ‘I’ll Make It Worth Your While’ and the hypnotic art-rock of ‘Like Never Before’.
However, my undoubted highlight of the three days came in the form of Philadelphia’s finest The Districts. Headlining The East Wing, the alternative rockers possess the ability to make anything sound epic, as they turned the venue into one large hotbed of euphoria. If coming-of-age album A Flourish and a Spoil hinted at the band’s forward thinking signatures, then the new tracks featured here are the culmination of that. “Too blessed to be depressed!,” they cried in new single ‘If Before I Wake’ as the eager crowd lifted their arms and chanted as if it were some biblical appreciation. ‘Ordinary Day’ was another recent release which got a live showing with its piercing guitar wails and poignant chorus. As with all Districts gigs though, the 12 minute long ‘Young Blood’ was the highpoint, even if it wasn’t in its familiar position at the end of the set list.
Brighton favourites The Magic Gang got Saturday off to a merry start with their now infamous collection of catchy indie-pop anthems. Playing at the recently re-opened Richmond, the locals are a terrific live act with the intrinsic ability to write songs in which you know the words to the chorus two minutes after first hearing it.
Jack Kaye is a natural frontman as he postures behind the mic and gazes into the eyes of all those stood before him, with his other three band mates bursting out the likes of ‘Alright’, ‘How Can I Compete’ and old favourite ‘She Won’t Ghost’. Spectators peered through the windows hoping to catch a glimpse of the band that have recently signed to Universal and will no doubt be massive in the coming years.
Up at The Joker, Girl Ray then made a surprise appearance with their brand of woozy lo-fi pop, sprinkled with all the ingredients of gifted and thought-provoking songwriting. The groovy basslines and slinky melodies sounded brilliant under the backdrop of heart-wrenching songs about romance.
Kraut-shoegazers Ulrika Spacek soon followed complete with their mind-altering visuals draped across the wall playing in sync with the music. The five-piece took the audience on a sonic transportation of melodically inclined psychedelic infused-grunge, with the vast length of each of their elongated compositions allowing the hypnotic loops to gently penetrate imaginations.
Now armed with two albums worth of material, the group are a terrific live act. Whether it be the severe fuzz in ‘Beta Male’, the infectious motorik of ‘Porcelain’, or ‘I Don’t Know’s’ rich spiderweb of lo-fi shoegaze; the back catalogue of tense, unregulated rhythms and blissful layers of trippy soundscapes make for a thrilling gig experience.
Come rain or shine, Brighton always puts on a show when The Great Escape comes into town and this year was no exception. We certainly had the former on Thursday as the heavens opened all day long, but it didn’t spoil a sensational weekend of live music that boasted a lineup packed with some of the most exciting up-and-coming bands. While many of the main summer festivals are headlined and dominated by very familiar groups of white men playing various forms of rock music, TGE had variety and vitality coursing through its veins.
Thursday had the strongest line-up for me, and my day began at Wagner Hall where two potential superstars of the future Raye and Will Joseph Cook, both delivered strong stripped-back acoustic sets. Despite the biblical levels of rain, both brought a real summer vibe to the day and look like they are set to have glowing futures. South London’s Raye was flawless vocally, and delivered an early highlight with ‘I, U, Us’ a track co-written with Charli XCX. Shortly after, Cook definitely brought the wow factor and showed why his reputation has been growing so quickly and why he has been gracing front covers of music magazines recently. His album Sweet Dreamer is a fantastic example of hook-driven indie-pop, and he didn’t disappoint today with a fun set after apologising for making a healthy-sized crowd stand in the torrential rain.
There was a phenomenal run of acts in the evening, and it kicked off with an exciting session from Liverpool’s The Sundowners, who delivered a psychedelic treat to a heaving crowd at The Hope & Ruin. With twin harmonies from Fiona Skelly and Niamh Rowe twisting and wrapping around, backed by a delicious Coral-esque guitar sound, this was a stunning performance. Moving on to the Paganini Ballroom, Marika Hackman delivered a spiky and much heavier performance than I expected. Watched by members of The Big Moon, Hackman and her new live band showed why she is at the forefront of a growing number of female singers and guitarists who are turning the stale world of indie rock upside down in an incredibly assured display. Also delivering on much-heralded promise were Reading band The Amazons who delivered a phenomenal set, and showed why they have been on many magazine’s ‘must see’ lists for 2017. Frontman Matt Thomson kept the East Wing crowd in the palm of his hand throughout with his energy and humour, and I am positive that they are about to follow the same path to headline shows as the likes of Blossoms.
The Slaves’ party on the pier, playing behind a cage inside the Haunted House, has already passed into infamy. They were simply ferocious, and the crowd (those that could get in) responded in kind. Such was the passion and energy of the audience, it was a great shame (but no real surprise) when the show was cut short due to a danger of ‘structural damage’. The very floor of the pier seemed to be shifting and bouncing beneath us, but tempers were not helped by genuine ticket holders being held back from the stage due to over-crowding, in what can unfortunately only be described as organisational chaos. However, this remained a thrilling and primal show that will definitely pass into Great Escape folklore as the show that you had to be at. Finally, Brighton’s very own Fickle Friends blazed their way through a simply stunning set, that felt very much like a coronation into the big league. Their electro-pop sound has progressed and developed tremendously over the last year, and the entire show became a glorious party hosted by Natti Shiner, who did not stop moving or bouncing at any point. Shiner looks and feels like a star, and I am sure we are about to see this band move onto UK headline tours of their own, following support roles with The Kooks.
On Friday morning, I was blown away by Glaswegian rock duo Saint PHNX who were exceptional at The Brighthelm Centre. Frontman Stevie Jukes had a great style and presence about him, moving between guitar and a second set of drums and they definitely stood out as ones to watch. Aldous Harding gave the best individual performance in my opinion, described by one person on Twitter as a “game-changer”. Her singing style is quirky, without ever grating, and it captivated and bewitched the audience: on ‘Party’ in particular, which was simply jaw-dropping in its beauty and stark emotion. Friday was a great day to explore different genres, seeing the likes of Ellie Ford showcasing some of her new work, before catching some ferocious grime from Nottingham rapper Coco.
However, the best came with HMLTD who delivered what is quite frankly the most exciting live show I have seen in this, already vintage, year of Brighton gigs. Dressed in a variety of outlandish outfits, with brightly coloured make-up and hair, and playing a style of music that was impossible to categorise – (New Romantic? Glam rock? Psychedelic?), this was jaw-dropping stuff. With clever lighting building anticipation, it took several songs before the six-piece band were clearly revealed for more than a fraction of a second, and even then the artistry continued. Frontman Henry Spychalski has similarities to a young Nick Cave, and was constantly bouncing into the crowd or scaling speaker stacks. At one point, it looked as if he was considering leaping straight from those into the balcony at The Haunt. HMLTD need to be seen to be believed, and I would recommend you take any opportunity to catch them.
Following on, anticipation built for one of TGE’s special shows as The Charlatans performed an intimate show in The Haunt. As with The Kooks’ recent show at the Prince Albert, it is a real treat to see a band like this in such a setting and the cheers were deafening as Tim Burgess sauntered onto the stage at close to 1am. ‘North Country Boy’ and ‘One To Another’ were welcomed like old friends, and the set-list was packed with crowd-pleasers new and old, highlighting that this band have continued to challenge themselves in producing new music of as high a quality as anything in their back catalogue.
The final day of The Great Escape dawned, and hangovers were warmed in glorious sunshine. Not being lucky enough to get close to Rag ‘n’ Bone Man‘s impromptu Jubilee Square show, I caught an intriguing performance from Bryde, who had distinct shades of Angel Olsen, with a spiky set at Komedia before moving on to catch FUR, who have been generating some buzz recently. It’s easy to see why, as they have a great sound with clear influences from early 90s indie music. The closing evening was absolutely stacked with options, and some last minute surprises. Starting my night off with Julie Byrne at Paganini, who played a simple yet stunning set with tracks from her current album Not Even Happiness. Her voice is absolutely beautiful, and delicately washed over the audience in a show of total bliss. From one extreme to another, afterwards I caught the brash pop of Shit Girlfriend, a project between Blood Red Shoes’ Laura-Mary Carter and Natalie Bang Bang. It’s either brilliantly awful or awfully brilliant, I can’t quite decide. What I do decide though is that it’s great fun, in the same way that Shampoo were back in the day.
In a show that had been shaking the Twitter rumour mill for a while, John Grant had flown into Brighton for the day in celebration of Bella Union’s 20th anniversary. Beforehand, and with queues snaking around the block, we were treated to an absolute riot of a party thrown by Baloji. Playing in traditional Congolese style, the packed theatre was soon dancing without a care in the world. Suitably warmed up for the main event, they were taken to another level by Grant, who eschewed his normal electronic work by playing a simple show on a grand piano. Thanking the onlooking Bella Union founder and boss, Simon Raymonde, for taking a chance on him 19 years ago, this show was a true pleasure. Grant’s humour has always come through on record, especially on tracks such as ‘Queen of Denmark’ with its opening lines of “I wanted to change the world, but I could not even change my underwear“, and he was in celebratory mood throughout. From there I sprinted to Horatio’s on the Pier, as The Big Moon rounded off my own Great Escape with another exceptional show. Having seen and reviewed their Haunt show for Brightonsfinest recently, I knew what to expect but was again blown away by the sheer quality of their music, and their ability to work any crowd into a frenzy. This was a further triumph in an already stunning 2017 for the band, and another stepping stone to taking over the British music scene. It was the perfect end to a fantastic Great Escape, after a weekend that showed that there are a number of superb bands and artists ready and waiting in the wings to take over.
What a weekend. Aching feet, no sleep, an obliterated bank balance – but a treasure trove of emerging acts heard and discovered. Each year it seems The Great Escape aims higher and hits harder, and this year was no exception. The city was overtaken by a wealth of acts, and the appetites of music heads will be sated for a long time to come.
The first act to take in was Pierre Kwenders in one of the opening gigs of the whole festival. From the Congo by way of Montreal, he blends the sounds of central Africa with contemporary Canadian dance music, mixing rumba with rap, bringing his swaggering performance style to the Green Door Store. It was a strong start to the festivities.
A couple of damp queues later, with both Fil Bo Riva and Douglas Dare proving un-enterable, the outdoor New Road Stage called. Local Tru Thoughts band Lakuta were onstage, defying the persistent rain to brighten faces and shake umbrellas with their infectious afro-jazz. While their crowd suffered because of the weather, their horns section proved irresistible to a surprising number of punters, who happily stamped and splashed in the puddles.
Next, to the elegant and little-used Paganini Ballroom, where Ibibio Sound Machine’s set was to be broadcast on BBC Radio 6. It was a stunning setting for a performer who was nothing short of magnetic – Eno Williams had such a command of the stage, and was such a free mover, you couldn’t take your eyes off her. The band’s music also came off far more organically live than it does on record, so it was easy to see why only those who turned up very early were able to get in.
Although an Alternative Escape show, Blue Lab Beats’ gig at The Mesmerist was a sweatbox. One of three gigs they played over the weekend, the venue was packed to the point of concern for the security. Their revisionist hip-hop production and soulful jazz influences made the crowd seethe – their upcoming show at Love Supreme just made it onto the must-see list.
XamVolo came across as one of the most intriguing acts from the festival lineup. A refreshingly natural take on neo-soul, using a full band who visited hard rock and p-funk, his performance, despite being beset with technical problems, did not disappoint – nor would it have if he had appeared alone onstage. Since then, his song’s been on repeat.
Acting on a tip, Oscar Jerome’s show at the Marine Rooms was the next stop – and what a pleasant surprise. Standing on the rocky edge of jazz, Jerome’s guitar playing brings together influences from George Benson to Jimi Hendrix, while his percussive vocals draw on styles as diverse as hip-hop and West African hi-life.
Heading to the Sallis Benney Theatre, it was immediately clear why French band Papooz’s performance had been so highly anticipated: the group of stylish and charismatic Frenchmen, playing tight and infectious pop-rock – with the occasional hint of the French concert-hall ballad – were having the time of their lives on stage. Faced with energy like that, it was impossible not to get on board.
Difficult decisions followed – to see Little Simz or Sarathy Korwar? In the end the latter won out, and thank God. The drummer’s performance with his band, where he brought Indian and Arabic music together through the lens of western jazz, may have been the musical highlight of the whole weekend. There was certainly no-one else offering this experience.
The final stop of the evening was Tamir Grinberg, a Canadian pianist and singer whose gravelly evocations of Al Green had been enough to pique the interest. While a powerful singer and talented player, he seemed not yet to have come into his own – time will tell, but he’s one to watch for now.
Poppy Ajudha, another London-based act destined for this year’s Love Supreme, was a must-see of the weekend, and played a stripped-back but compelling set at the sun-dappled Vevo stage. Stylistically touching on the traditions of jazz in the era of Etta James, she used her considerable stage presence to engage the audience in questions of gender and identity. While a real shame she wasn’t joined by her band, the atmosphere and content of her show made it an uplifting experience.
From Zambia and based in Sydney, poet and rapper Sampa The Great stormed the stage at Patterns, delivering an intense and politically-charged set. The queue to get in stretched around the block, and only the lucky few got a glimpse of one of the most hyped young performers on the scene right now.
Not to be outdone, Native Dancer dropped jaws with their fusion of jazz and soul. Mathematical breaks and acrobatic melodies were shored up and made relatable by the lead vocalist’s frank and engaging presence onstage. They manage to be unique and thrilling in a crowded scene – hopefully they’ll be back in Brighton very, very soon.
Reeling from a couple of intense shows, cellist Ayanna Witter-Johnson’s serene and beautiful performance at the Paganini Ballroom was just what the doctor ordered. Exploring the percussive possibilities of her instrument, one moment she was re-imagining the Police, the next Bob Marley. Excellent with her crowd, she encouraged them to sing along to a traditional Jamaican folk-song, tastefully mashed up with an Omar track, and finally led them through a rumba – all wonderful to hear on a cello.
Flagging now, only a couple of shows remained on the list – but they were enough to keep the energy flowing. First up was Baloji, a rapper of Congolese origin but now based in Belgium, whose music resolved French hip-hop and afro-American fusion. His music was vibrant and engaging, while his stage show, which saw him leap and kick across the stage in time with his band’s stabs, was simply enthralling.
The final band of the festival was South Korean disco-funk band Sultan of the Disco, and it couldn’t have been a better end. Young, vital, and full of enjoyment, they played a set that was by turns impressive and comedic, with some great musicality underpinned by pure hilarity. They danced light-heartedly in sync as they covered the Ghostbusters theme, playing for no other reason than to have fun. In terms of simple enjoyment, this was the high point of the whole Great Escape. Thinking it very unlikely that this show could be topped, this seemed a good point to call it a day.
What a way to start my first year of doing the proper Great Escape Festival, rain, a whole month’s worth on day one. In previous years I’ve mainly covered the Alternative Escape festival but this year I got a proper ticket and was ready to hit the places out of reach in previous years, along with catching some of the Alternative stuff that caught my eye.
The first band I saw was the Ephemerals playing in the poring rain on a very flimsy looking stage on New Road. Although it was raining hard there was a decent crowd mostly with umbrellas up. A good way to start the festival, with a bunch of dedicated music lovers who were not put off by the weather.
Next I headed up to check out The Sundowners at The Hope & Ruin to get out of the rain for a bit. A powerful performance and good crowd helped dry me. I was still recovering from a bout of flu so decided rather than running around town I’d head for The Black Dove pub and some local Alternative stuff. Starting with Adam Kidd in the downstairs room running through his solo music, which made the thoughts of flu and rain drift away. Then upstairs to catch Fruity Water a two-piece today and a totally unique sound but very enjoyable. After that I ran out of steam and decided to get a good night’s rest before attacking the festival the next day.
Friday started with a treat when notification of Cosima playing on the i360 popped up, if you got down to the Dr. Martens shop for tickets. So I headed there, got my tickets and after quite a bit of waiting around for it to start finally got on the pod as the sun came out. The band started performing as soon as it started moving and I have to say it’s one of those gigs I will never forget. The music sounded great in there and watching the Brighton background slowly moving behind them made it that bit more special. I started the evening session with MarthaGunn at Komedia who I’ve caught a few times at festivals and managed to catch their whole set that day which I really enjoyed.
After mulling over a few options and queue lengths, I ended up in Queens Hotel to see Molly, described as ‘Dream Pop / Shoegaze Duo from the Alps’. I loved their music, you could imagine it blasting out at the top of a mountain and reverberating around the valleys below. Unfortunately I had to cut their set short as I wanted to catch Sløtface for their final, of six, performances on the pier but I’ll certainly catch them again if they come back to town. I think Sløtface were feeling the strain a bit from playing so many shows but they were still an impressive force. I can see why they hit the festival hard as they are certainly a band doing all the right things.
After that I was intrigued with the idea of seeing Dog In The Snow at The Windmill pub and it was on the way home too. On the way I passed Marwoods where the unmistakable sounds of Demob Happy were blasting out, now that would have been a gig to see but no chance of getting in at this late stage. Dog In The Snow were a brilliant final act of the day and I’m now totally in love with her music.
For the final day I was to spend it at the Brightonsfinest gig in St. Mary’s Church. Not a bad thing in my book. The lovely church setting kicked off with the beautiful sounds of Pavo Pavo who nicely warmed up the place. Screaming the place down next was Sam Walker whose amazing vocal range seemed even more impressive in the massive nave. I think he left everyone speechless. Unfortunately I had to pop out while Penelope Isles were on stage but caught their first track and they sounded great as always.
Fukushima Dolphin were maybe a bit too rich a sound for the four second reverb in there but their great songs carried them through. Breathe Panel were perfect though and sounded great there. As soon as The Hundredth Anniversary hit the stage they caught everyone’s attention. A totally amazing band that are certainly one to keep an eye on.
Following them were Fragile Creatures who, like the Dolphins, suffered a bit from the reverb but they ran trough some of their new tracks which are starting to sound impressive. Once again I had to pop out while Laish were on stage and only caught the last half a song by them, must catch them again though as it sounded good.
Getting close to the end now and the sun was setting as Cristobal and The Sea took to the stage. It was not long before they encouraged everyone to come down the front and the aisles were full of dancing people for the rest of their show. To finish off an incredible day of music would take something special and The Fiction Aisle provided. With all the church lights turned off, projections on the back wall and minimal stage lights the show was a spiritual affair. They picked their slower numbers that worked perfectly in the church with both the music and the visual performance being spot on.
I ended my Great Escape for the year without seeing a single duff band, you can’t ask much more from a festival. Till next year.
Three days of fantastic new and up-and-coming live music was only dampened by the atrocious downpours that drowned Brighton over The Great Escape. That said, Girl Ray were the perfect cure for a soggy Thursday evening. The trio of girls from London spectacularly produced gorgeous vocal harmonies and soothing pop that warmed up the wet crowd huddled round the Fender Paramount Stage outside on New Street with no trouble. They may have had to deal with a few technical difficulties in their line check due to the rain, but the sea of music lovers armed with umbrellas and anoraks putting a brave face on were more than treated for their patience. Mark Benton, from the much missed Early Ghost, was also on keys and guitar for the band, affirming that there is a God and his talent is not being wasted.
The much touted and much admired Alex Cameron played the downstairs of Komedia to a full and expectant crowd. The Sydney musician fronted a band of four – guitarist, drums, saxophonist and himself on vocals. Contorting and shape making is something Alex has an expertise in, moulding to the smooth 80s sound he and his band made. Flourishes of a modern-day Bruce Springsteen enticed moments of wonderment from the audience, which only spurred him on more, and made for an early highlight. Up a level in the Komedia Studio, Pixx controlled a crammed room. The moniker of Hannah Rodgers seemed to be one of the early must-sees of the festival and it was easy to see why. Dominating the small stage, the 21-year-old found herself immersed in her songs, almost posturing towards the crowd and giving a performance that will live long the festival’s folklore. Onstage with a full band, Hannah’s music took a slightly new shape to those on her debut album (The Age Of Anxiety out 2 June on 4AD), with the emotive and personal songs leaning more towards the sounds of post-punk.
H. Hawkine is already a relatively established name amongst a barrage of new; playing the Unitarian Church, the Welsh singer-songwriter performed solo with only his voice and guitar. A rare treat might I add, as his knack for unconventional chords and smart, quirky lyrics made for a delightfully endearing set. Matched with his light hearted stage presence, I’m sure the majority of the room will be on the hunt for his new album I Romanticize, out 2 June on Heavenly Recordings. Only to be overtaken by a frantic H. Hawkline on my hurried walk to the Paganini Ballroom, my final stop on the first day was to see Aldous Harding. Joined onstage only with the former, Aldous tackled a room full of beer’d up festival goers with music that demands a quiet room. For those who aren’t familiar with her live performance, you will be hard done by to find another musician who lives every moment of their music onstage. Being a fan of Aldous’ music, I wasn’t sure what to make of her live show – eyes rolling back, face contorting as well as weird voices all contributed to an utterly intense and unique show – one I cannot wait to experience it again in a more suited setting.
With the lead international partner for the festival being Switzerland this year, there was no better place to begin the second day than by checking out one of the country’s most exciting talents in One Sentence. Supervisor. With a one-in-one-out policy on the door of Komedia Studio being enforced and a que of tens of people standing in the rain, the hype had obviously spread. Falling into psychedelic-rock, the four-piece championed their own kraut sound, making use of catchy pop melodies that made for an early but enthralling show. Returning to the scene of the Brightonsfinest 2016 Alternative Escape show, The One Church on Gloucester Road played host to exciting New Zealand indie-rock musician Kane Strang. Dealing with a set thrawght by difficulties – speakers too big for the room, a talkative mic as well as a guitar that was determined to sabotage – Kane and his band did fantastic to keep a full room, and to earn a big reaction too. His second album, Two Hearts And No Brain, arrives in at the end of June and we cannot wait.
Any heavy eyes were now long gone and the day’s music exploration was in full flow – this time taking me to the Brighthelm Centre to see Spinning Coin. The Glaswegian four-piece produced dreamy DIY songs that whipped you into their poppy anthems, with harmonies galore and some of the best guitar playing I saw all weekend. Down to the basement of The Globe for an Alternative Escape set by the much talked about Method Actress. Having sprouted from Brighton’s Morning Smoke, who are sadly no more, their interesting dark indie sounds were lost due to a spent PA system which was in tatters. Fear not, as the band have only just released their first material on the formidable Ra-Ra Rok Records and it sounds bloody great. Otzeki are a band we have been playing a lot of on the Brightonsfinest radio show in the lead up to the The Great Escape this year and, to say we were excited to catch a glimpse of this mysterious duo when they were in town playing The Arch, is a massive understatement. Bassy rumbles, intricate percussion and sublime vocals all done on an ultra-minimal scale, made for a sound that Jungle (remember that band?) would have been desperately searching for. One to watch for sure.
My longest trek across town was worth the sweat – Francobollo (postage stamp in Italian) gave what can only be described as “everything” for their set at Bleach. Glimpses of The Hives’ stage presence, done of course in the London-via-Sweden four-piece’s own way, made sure the room were all smiles. The band’s press release says, “quite simply Francobollo is everything you ever wanted for Christmas” – a perfect way to describe the excitable, mischievous rock these guys produce. My idea of seeing a jazz act to end the middle day of the festival was a great idea. Sarathy Korwar had all the typical stylings of the genre – soothing melodic instrumentation, skatty drumming and saxophone solos – but whereas on the surface it all seemed nice and relaxed, songs soon built into intense, brilliant moments where it felt like the music had nowhere to escape to. Fortunately, Sarathy Korwar and his band were the perfect musicians to tame what could have been an unruly beast. They only played perhaps three/four songs, still the audience in the Unitarian Church were almost begging for more.
An early start to embrace the final day of a festival, staring at the Fiddlers Elbow, I caught two of Brighton’s finest talents at the beginning of their musical journey. Charlie & The Villars’ infectious indie-pop was the most perfect soundtrack to the stereotypical festival sun which finally decided to join us. Then, folk act Horace played delicate songs of love, loss and hope which were spectacularly lush. Gold Class drew a mighty crowd to a stuffy and pitch black downstairs of Patterns. Having had their debut, It’s You, shortlisted for the Australian equivalent to the Mercury Music Prize, interest was high for the Melbourne band. An intense yet sophisticated set captivated the audience, and certainly left a lasting memory on the punters, full of glee for the band.
With a whole lineup of incredible acts to see on the Brightonsfinest Alternative Escape, the Brooklyn-based Pavo Pavo peaked my interest early on. Performing in the wonderous St. Mary’s Church, the experimental indie-pop five-piece stunned an excited crowd. Going from muted lows to the glorious highs, Pavo Pavo’s sound dazzled in the tall venue, with the band’s harmonies producing screams of elation from the crowd. The Daniel Wakeford Experience took over the Jubilee Square stage and brought a big audience with it. Frontman Daniel, who describes himself as a singer-songwriter with autism, was the epitome of rock’n’roll – doing air-kicks, The Who’s windmill and beckoning the audience to get involved in one of the most feel-good shows of the festival.
Having attempted and failed to get into a couple of shows because of the frustratingly large ques, I decided to think tactically and base myself in one venue for the remainder of the festival – the Price Albert being my stage of choice. Starting off the trio of shows was exciting young talent, Cosmo Pyke. Jazz, indie and blues all made an appearance in a sound that is as innovative as it is accessible. Cosmo, on guitar and vocals, played a loose yet energetic set that showcased why he has become one of the most anticipated musicians in the UK. Taking the penultimate set in my 2017 Great Escape Festival experience was Jade Bird – admittedly I feared the worst when she stepped onto the stage in front of a noisy, drunk capacity crowd with only her guitar. Taking stage, Jade immediately took control of the room with her half-cut swagger, being witty and even getting the crowd involved. Not taking herself seriously and in a room which at that moment certainly wasn’t taking anything seriously, made for one of the most enjoyable sets of the festival. Leaving the best until last – perhaps the most talked about band of the festival, HMLTD, headlined the Prince Albert. Having recently headlined a sold out 1,000+ capacity Sacala in what was one of the year’s most legendary show, the que around the venue was hefty to say the least. They are a band near impossible to describe – the all-male band dressed in makeup, leather train driver hats and with an overwhelming aura of cool surrounding them. Once the music starts it is all about the experience. Flashes of lose Rolling Stones rock’n’roll and Ziggy Stardust swagger come through, matched with moments of techno and even dubstep. With an on point lighting show intensifying the performance, it is safe to say the whole venue went utterly nuts – so much so the venue owner had to halt the performance a little early. Will I see a better live experience than that this year? I highly doubt it.