We all know how most UK festivals work- you show up, you camp somewhere, usually muddy and wet, you sneak a few bottles under your shirt/short/hat/combination and you head to the arena for some musical action. Don’t get me wrong, I’m a massive festival fan, but the Great Escape is a different kind of festival altogether. It’s almost completely focused on ‘new music’, and with that tagline comes a whole new era of ‘festival’ in general. Although it is a brilliant collection of new music, with everything from up-and-coming indie bands to an underground grime scene, whether it’s festival status is truly deserved, is debatable. You don’t have the same camaraderie as camping in a field and getting wasted with your friends, it’s a completely urban environment and I can imagine for a non-brighton dweller can be quite hard to navigate.
For those of you who are unaware of what the Great Escape is, it’s a four day extravaganza in which various venues around Brighton host gigs and events under the same umbrella.
I grew up in Brighton, and seeing the Great Escape flourish every year has been a real beauty to behold. It puts the city in a good mood, there are loads of artists wandering around, I get to go to venues I’ve never been to before or wouldn’t go to without reason. It’s nice to promote new talent and isn’t massively overpriced for what it is. There’s a lot of nice little treats that come with your wristband, like a couple of free drinks at certain places or discounts on food and fringe events. It makes the city way more lively and you look at Brighton through rose tinted glasses, it brings a bucket load of atmosphere to my friendly city.
The long weekend itself was hectic, Some of the acts were unrefined, some were okay and some to be quite frank, some were pretty dreadful – with new music comes it’s fair share of risk – but when you get the one show that gives you the ‘I’m going to be able to brag about seeing these guys before they were famous’ feeling, it gives you goose bumps and an air of cockiness that lasts all evening, and that’s what GE is all about.
The festival is well known for its urban music vibes, with patterns showcasing Lady LeShurr in a packed out, madly energetic gig, however even with Stormzy playing a ‘spotlight show’ and music from Craig David’s new DJ act TS5, there was a very melancholic, Scandi-Pop, indie vibe to the majority of the festival, but that might be tailored to maybe the shows I happened to catch. A few favourites to call out were HER and SISKA, both French and both very different. The first was oozing sex all over the hope and ruin and had powerful vocals with highly sensual lyrics. The latter was a soulful, almost folky, bass filled vibe with some of the best vocals I heard all weekend.
Alongside all the lesser known artists, there were still some heavyweights pulling crowds to bigger venues, with Jake Bugg bringing the energy to Wagner Hall, which in itself is a masterpiece, even if a little hard to find. An amazing tucked away venue behind Saint Peters church- outdoors, fairy lights, and a cute little bar with a stage surrounded by foliage. It’s the type of place you had to stay at all day to see the one act you were actually interested in at 21:30. Mystery Jets also played a lively set, with a more prog-influenced feel than anything we’ve seen from them before at the Corn Exchange, a venue more central, capable of holding bigger crowds, and one of the best organised throughout the festival. The newly rejuvenated ‘Old Market’ also saw its fair share of action, with The Temper Trap playing a beautiful Amazon Live: Front Row gig, bringing a fresh lease of life to the venue.
Alongside the full blown Great Escape, is its rebellious little sibling that crops up all over the shop, The Alternative Escape. Although technically still a branch from the same tree, the Alternative Escape boasts something a little different, showcasing newer acts from specific labels and the Black Lion pub even hosting a few more learned events and East Street Tap remaining a hot spot for music and some definite refreshment throughout the evening.
It’s been over ten years since its humble beginnings in 2006, and although it’s continuing to bloom into a must-see of the summer, I do feel it needs to be slightly refined. They’ve got some great ideas and concepts, but the venues need to be stronger, maybe a few more outdoors stages, a few more quirky events, and just that little bit extra on top of the music. The music is great, but when you hit a three hour lull in the middle of a saturday afternoon, I can imagine those of us not from Brighton would feel quite irritable, which is the last thing you want in a crowd. But I say this from the perspective of a mum wanting to see it’s baby do well. The focus is on the music and the bands, and that’s something that gives it an edge, which can be lacking from the larger, more mainstream festivals these days. Things are only going to get better, and I for one can’t wait till next year.