10 takeaways from The Great Escape
Reviews, views and asides from the weekend’s new music festival in Brighton
(1) Brighton is a great spot for a new music festival like the Great Escape. There’s no point putting on a show like this in a big city like London because there’s just too much competition for punters and attention in the big smoke. Hit the coast, park the festival in a couple of dozen venues, add some bracing sea-air, avoid the kamikaze attacks from the seagulls and you’re elected.
(2) We’ll come to the day-time talking heads’ bits and pieces presently, but the Great Escape’s biggest selling point is definely the number and quality of bands who take over the town. There are plenty of new music showcase events like TGE on the calendar, but there’s always room for one more. In the case of the TGE, its programmers have a happy knack of bringing the acts who caused a buzz at SXSW to Brighton a few weeks later just when everyone really wants to see them. Last year, it was Haim who stole the show in this regard. This year, it was The Orwells and Parquet Courts who were capitalising on the TX buzz from March and pulling big crowds.
(3) Act of the festival for me was Josef Salvat. We’ve been tracking the Australian singer’s progress on OTR for a couple of months – heck, we even tried to book him for Banter at Other Voices in London last month – but we were not expecting a live show as good as this. The smartest dressed performer at TGE in that baby-blue suit (shoes need some work, mind), Salvat moved like Bryan Ferry, sang a bunch of dramatic torch songs with louche aplomb and shimmied like a glitterball when it came to the tunes with more oomph. He’s only played about half-a-dozen shows to date so this story is merely beginning. Consider us smitten.
(4) Other newbies who made us go “wow” over the three days and nights included London Grammar (video for “Hey Now” below), Cousins, MT, Holy Esque, Echo & The Empress, Brolin, On An On, Susanne Sundfor, Neighbourhood Youth, Iyes, Blue Hawaii, Bipolar Sunshine, To Kill A King, Tourist, Dan Croll, Rainy Milo, Chloe Howl and Nick Mulvey. More on the above in the coming weeks
(5) The aim of the convention side of things is to provide food for thought via various panels and conversations. But, as we’ve found at various music conventions over the last year or two, the topics and themes are a little stale and homogenous and don’t really vary all too much from convention to convention, especially when it comes to the digital and tech issues which are now on the mix. It does seem to be time to rip up the convention tempate and start again. It was also quite striking that there were very few artists on panels over the first two days, especially as the topics directly impacted on their livelihood. Then again, there were very few artists in the audience either, so maybe they had other things to do with their days.
(6) As we’ve found at SXSW and Eurosonic, the best and fastest way to get from venue to venue for a binge-gigging set-to like this is definitely by bike. Pick up a Dutch high nelly (with brakes) from Amsterdammers under the railway station and pedal away. Yes, there are hills, pokey streets and freewheeling pedestrians in Brighton so take the long time around.
(7) There is a big bubble in the bands-who-sound-like-Mumford-and-Sons’ market. Thanks to some way-off-target tipsters (who will be hearing from me later today), I reckon the first six acts I saw at TGE were from this particular sector. It’s classic A&R-bait: when a band like the Mumfords hit the jackpot, you’ll always get dozens and dozens of bands trying to ape that success. As we saw with the next U2 market in Ireland decades ago, several acts will grab record deals but very few will have as long or lasting a career as the act they’re copying. By the way, going on TGE and the buzz acts in circulation, there is also a growing glut in the solo folky female singer-songwriter market.
(8) Another reason to be cheerful for the Great Escape’s Brighton locaton is the food. Man, you could get well fed for weeks in this place and never have to eat in the same place twice. Our two standout meals were the awesome new-school Indian taste sensation at the Chilli Pickle (samosas smothered in beetroot, mint and yogurt followed by some lip-smacking sea-bass) and the filthy, mouthwatering pulled pork at the BBQ Shack.
(9) The best band at TGE that we’d seen before: Young Fathers. Again, as with their SXSW appearances earlier in the year, they were so good that I went to see them twice. From Edinburgh, their electrifying hip-hop is shot through with post-hardcore intensity, huge bass throbs and a magnificent sense of Afrocentric poise and purpose. A superb, slamming powerhouse.
(10) Because our focus at TGE is on seeing as many new acts from elsewhere as humany (or bicycly) possible, we didn’t see any Irish acts over the weekend bar a few songs from the ever excellent Girls Names, but it was telling how many pundits were talking about Little Green Cars and Kodaline. On a weekend when another Irish music story was dominating the headlines (and a non-story took up a lot of promo oxegen), perhaps it might be time for the domestic media to do some pivoting in another direction when it comes to Ireland and music?