10 things we loved about The Great Escape
(1) Well, it was in Brighton for a start. Last year’s Great Escape reminded us that we still have a bit of a soft spot for this boho-town-by-the-sea and this year’s trip reinforced that. You need a decent city to …
(1) Well, it was in Brighton for a start. Last year’s Great Escape reminded us that we still have a bit of a soft spot for this boho-town-by-the-sea and this year’s trip reinforced that. You need a decent city to host one of these many-bands-in-many-venues soirees and Brighton, located within a short train journey of London but far enough away to make a difference, fits the bill. Like Groningen, which hosts Eurosonic, or Rennes, home to Trans Musicales, Brighton and the Great Escape are a perfect match.
(2) Despite other attractions (like some great restaurants – we’d eat every week in the Chilli Pickle and Bill’s Depot if we could) we’re here for the bands. Around 300 acts from the UK, US, Europe and elsewhere played official showcases, fringe gigs and, as is becoming customary at events of this nature, daytime shows of the official, semi-official and unofficial ilk. While there were a couple of established indie names like The Temper Trap, Mystery Jets and Maximo Park to draw in the punters, the focus is on new or new-ish acts. There’s a damn good booking policy in place which means you get a smattering of acts who made a splash at the recent SXSW – such as Haim, Alabama Shakes and Grimes, this year – in addition to the newer names in the frame.
(3) Best new act of the weekend for me were AlunaGeorge. Pop music with beautiful, bespoke, soulful depth, “Just A Touch” and “You Know You Like It” sounded quite majestic live, while frontwoman Aluna Francis exudes a kind of star power you can imagine being in vogue for a long, long time to come. Hit!
(4) Perhaps all future Perfume Genius shows will be performed in churches. I’ve yet to be as enamoured with new album “Put Your Back N 2 It” as I was by “Learning”, but I’m definitely going back to it after the emotional, ethereal spell cast by this show. Mike Hadreas and band played a show which coaxed you closer to the altar, with much elegant, melancholic splendour amongst the subtle, bruised slow-motion fare. The best bluest mood in town.
(5) Pond take the award for best gig played by an Australian band, whose “Beard, Wives, Denim” album sleeve features a couple of lads playing hurling while looking at cows, in a hole-in-the-wall venue. It turns out that the hurling is down to a Tipperary connection – no, not the returning Lar Corbett, but rather Nenagh-born Joe Ryan on guitar – but even without that stroke of geographical good luck for all concerned, the Tame Impala-associated act’s high-velocity vintage Zepsych rock’n'roll would always be a big ol’ winner in these settings.
(6) There’s also a very strong convention side to the Great Escape, with a big emphasis this year on DIY culture. I’ll be digging into some of the threads and thoughts which were discussed in the coming days (including an interesting panel on music reviewing in the digital age which I was part of) so stay tuned for that.
(7) What’s always interesting to note at events like this is who is here to buy and spend money on acts and talent. We know that acts, agents and managers are in town to sell their wares, but it’s telling to see various festival and venue bookers, publishers and – strangest sight of all – record label A&R dudes on the prowl. Yes, there are still record label A&R dudes out there with chequebooks and many of them seemed to be queueing to get into see Haim, one of our SXSW picks, on Friday night.
(8) Other acts to impress in Brighton included Milagres (beautifully sculped indiepop – their “Glowing Mouth” album is well worth checking out), Gross Magic (slacker surf-rock with plenty of ramshackle tunes like “Sweetest Thing” to fall for), Toy (Krautcraftrock to the max), Eagulls (“Possessed” alone is reason to cheer their ragged punk rock) and Swim Deep (elegant, emotional dream-pop with shades of Talk Talk delivered by kids in grunge t-shirts).
(9) The list continues with Devin (superb, infectious powerpopalula throwbacks from Devin Therriault and his cohorts), Gang Colours (wibbly-wobbly beats and crafted soundscapes from Will Ozanne), Black Belles (brilliant witch-rock from Jack White-approved femme fatales), French Films (indie pop anthems with a Strokes-like swagger from the Finnish band), Milk Music (bright, messy, scuzzy, fuzzy rock from a freak scene which manages to be both retro and forward-thinking at the same time) and BIGkids (blockrocking, bouncy pop tunes like “Drum In Your Chest” from the band fronted by a daughter of The Goodies. NB: only band seen all weekend sporting crowns).
(10) One-man or woman acts who were worth the effort to cycle up and down Brighton’s selection of hills to see included Oliver Tank (Australian dude playing sleepy small hours folky pop with a nod to Bon Iver and James Blake), Nils Frahm (the German composer’s piano sketches had a packed St Mary’s Church in quiet raptures) and Halls (spellbinding, fragile electronic beeps from Sam Howard). We’ll also stick Lulu James in here, though her gorgeous slo-mo Sadestep was aided and abetted by a few musicians onstage.