And so concludes The Great Escape Festival, which always turns into the biggest weekend of our calendar year. It’s been four days since the event finished, yet our hangovers have barely receded. On one of the nights we finally reached our bed at 8am! A marathon indeed. Below is our review of a handful of experiences and exploits, but in truth it’s pretty impossible to extol the real experience in words. Sure we had an amazing time, with lots of live music and venue hopping, but as a Brighton resident every other week of the year, we noticed a tangible shift in the city’s atmosphere. Of course this festival is felt with the performances inside the venues, but it’s also in the streets, as you see people from the music industry huddled in conversations, or when you bump into some of the world’s best music bloggers, or leading radio presenters, or when you find yourself walking past Grimes at 1am in the back lanes, or simply hearing the sound of buskers plying their trade as you parade around the streets. There’s a buzz in Brighton all weekend, with a tangible sense of excitement, as you begin the weekend in conversations about who you’re looking forward to, only to end the weekend sharing your highlights. Well, below we run through just a snippet of our humbling experience, but please note that it’s barely 10% of what we really got up to. Thank you Great Escape, thank you Brighton.
So first we’re going to mention these buzz bands, the ones with all the attention-grabbing girls, including Pins, FOE, Savages and Novella, who were all rather excellent, although the latter seemed to be missing the charismatic, striking front-woman of the other three groups. Instead Novella chose to ignore the crowd by flopping their fringes footwards to reinforce their moody, fuzzy music. Each of them had their respective sounds nailed down, but none of them sounded like the future as we hit the middle of 2012, instead showing us lots of 80s shoegaze and generic Seattle-like reflections. We like them, but we’re not sure where we’re going with it all. Backwards perhaps? Who wants to go backwards? We’re happy to watch them shoot past, perhaps in the wrong direction, but we’re not sure we’re getting on board.
More contemporary signals could be found among those artists whose main instrument seemed to be their laptops, as the likes of Rangleklods, Pikachunes, Regal Safari and Anneka delivered intricate, future-music. All of them were able to deliver sublime electronic-ness without a string plucked, or a drum kit in sight, but where they had a selection of awesome tracks, they also suffered slightly from the strange feeling that we were watching someone do Karaoke rather than performing a gig. They lacked team-mates. However, it is perhaps testament to their fantastic songs that we left each of those performances still buzzing with excitement.
Lighter moods were more likely to be found with HAIM and Friends and although we missed the former we managed to get into the latter, although only just, so busy was the NME showcase, but thankfully we had booked ourselves onto the guest list. The Brooklyn band jammed as if they were trying to plant a New York disco upon Brighton pier. Frontwoman Samantha Urbani was one of the best performers of the festival, getting everyone pumped, even choosing to sing one song in the centre of the crowd, having climbed over the barrier. This crazy action could perhaps be explained by the multitude of cameras being stuck in her face whilst on stage, so perhaps dancing in the crowd kept her comfortably out of reach. Either way, it was a guest list spot with rich rewards and it sent us off into Friday night with a party on our minds.
The acts whose class truly shone through included the likes of Alt-J and Niki & The Dove. Two gigs that we had high expectations for and neither of them let us down. Quite the opposite, we were left feeling like we had witnessed something truly awesome, with Alt-J perhaps standing out as the performance of the weekend. Both bands performed to a packed house at their respective venues, with Alt-J having approximately 60 people queueing around not one corner but two. We couldn’t help but feel sorry for all those outside that had to witness this set through the steamed up windows of the bar.
Django Django, We Are Augustines and Heart Ships satisfied a need to see guitars, as they each blasted out their high-octane, gutsy sets, with an emphasis on energy and impossibly powerful riffs. The former two were so exciting, playing to two rammed venues, that they can rightly claim to have won The Great Escape, were it a competition. The latter were so good that we’re going to blog them on The Recommender as a consequence, which may not seem like much of an accolade in itself, but it’s perhaps the reason for the festival to exist at all. We all run around Brighton seeing exciting sets by those bands we adore, but if the festival is a showcase of music to the music industry, then earning a record deal or some column inches should also be a sign of success, and when we take a punt on a band we know very little about and they stun us enough to write them up, then that too should be as satisfying as catching a band you already know.
It’s impossible to see everything on your list of must-see-bands – our initial list had a massive 56 bands listed upon it – but on occasion you’re smarting from those artists that got away. Sometimes it was simply a case of schedule clashing, but at other times we were simply too far away geographically to get there in time. Alas we’d heard from Amazing Radio‘s Shell Zenner that Pond were mind-numbingly great, from Juice Radio‘s Andrea Fox who thanked us for recommending Clock Opera, who proved to be well worth the effort, with Neon Gold‘s Derek Davies we found him excitedly claiming that HAIM were indeed the best band he’s witnessed in years, and just one brief meeting with former NME hack, Iestyn George, and you’d be convinced Yacht are in fact the greatest band in the world.
We can tip our blog hats to the likes of When Saints Go Machine, with their smart pop and unique vocals, or White Arrows, who win the award for performing more stoned out of their Californian minds than anyone else we witnessed, something they happily confirmed to us on Twitter; “Soooo high” said their hilarious comment. To be fair, it actually helped their after-hours psychedelic set, played to a packed and very drunk basement. Talking of drunken late night sets, we had to constantly run the staircase at one venue, as upstairs we had the party set from Man Like Me, who got the entire crowd to squat down in line with the band’s dance moves, whilst in the basement we had the South African-born, New York-based, St Lucia, who was surprisingly backed by a full band, which Neon Gold’s Derek informed us included the singer’s girlfriend. Following what was a blindingly good sweaty performance, we proclaimed that Neon Gold can surely now define a certain pop sound, based on all of those artists it backs – the genre of ‘Neon Gold pop’ – which St Lucia clearly bottle by the truck load.
The issue of queues cropped up once again for all the paying punters, although the likes of Great Escape organisers, Kat and Tasha, continue to do their best with the scheduling. Sometimes between the time when a band is booked and the festival actually happening a band’s profile can shoot upwards, but under these circumstances they try and get the band a second show, such as they did with Django Django. Elsewhere, the text service and Twitter feeds showed us a festival that fully engages with their audience to help alleviate these queueing issues. Having their venue reps reporting the status of their capacity on an hourly basis also allowed the organisers to send the punters virtually live updates directly to their phones. Ultimately the queues can sometimes force people to change their plans and try another venue, often leading to the kind of music discovery that is at the heart of the festival’s idea. Perhaps one year we will enter the foray with absolutely no plan of action and just see what happens!
Away from the main festival provisions we were of course busy bloggers. We had our own showcase on the opening afternoon, with Anneka, Us Baby Bear Bones, Rangleklods and Cave Painting, providing perhaps the most Brighton-esque line up of them all, with three out of the four artists coming from this city. We would like to thank all of them for their wonderful sets, kicking off the weekend in style, with a particularly special thanks to Rangleklods as he had flown over from Denmark specifically to play for us, and to hand-deliver his debut album, which is yet to get an official UK release. Most people in the room witnessed an exciting set from an artist they probably knew very little about, allowing everyone to state that they’d discovered at least one bright artist this weekend, and we’d not even finished the first afternoon.
We were also interviewed on several radio stations, with Juice FM getting us into the studio earlier in the week, to hear our tips for the weekend. Shell Zenner invited us onto her Amazing Radio show, which was being broadcast live from the lobby of the Queens Hotel all weekend. It was great to finally meet her and hand out a few more Recommender tips, including giving Philco Fiction a mention. Lastly we were interviewed sat upon the stones of Brighton beach by one of the newest radio stations in existence, the Shoreditch-based Strongrooms Alive, which only launched this February. Andy sat with us on the sun-drenched beach and enjoyed a posing us a few broader questions on the industry and the festival. All of these interviews can be heard on this post.
Elsewhere we also had BLOG UP, inviting all the music bloggers in town that weekend to the Life venue on the beach, which was perfectly bathed in warm sunshine on the Friday afternoon. We had the following blogs in attendance, which reads like a who’s who of the online music community: Abeano, There Goes The Fear, Neon Gold, Drunken Werewolf, Drowned In Sound, A New Band A Day, Breaking More Waves, Hype Machine, The 405, Music Robot, Killing Moon Limited, Seven Sevens, The Ruckus, Horrowshow Tunes, Brapscallions, Laissez Faire Club, Flying With Anna, Music Fans Mic, Crack In The Road, with of course The Recommender serving out the free booze (please forgive us if we missed any bloggers out of that list). Joe from Hype Machine/A New Band A Day, Amazing Radio’s Shell Zenner, Sean from Drowned In Sound and future pop star, Bluebell, all DJ’d throughout the day. It was all rather drunk and the perfect antidote to running around town catching bands, although upstairs we also had our Jeah! event organised in line with Killing Moon, Strongrooms Alive and Euphonios, which showcased bands all day and into the night. It’s so awesome to meet up every now and again with those bloggers that we natter with online every other day of the year, so we will definitely do it all again in 2013.
So looking ahead to next time we are already in discussions with new ideas. A showcase on the beautiful Brighton bandstand, a party in the underground car park of a large central hotel, another official Recommender showcase, plus another Blog Up, but with this time some serious sponsorship so we can share out even more free booze. This is a festival so perfectly tailored for a music blogger that we would travel the world to reach it, but alas it sits upon our doorstep. It’s absolutely flawless. We’re already psyched for 2013, and you never know, we might have even shaken off this hangover by then. (MB)