Impressions at The Great Escape: Who made their mark at Brighton in 2016?

Heading to the UK last week, I had no proper idea of what to be expecting from The Great Escape. I had assumed it would be like SXSW but colder and by the beach, but aside from that, all I had to go on were stories from friends who’d showcased in Brighton in the past or from others who managed to make it out alive without suffering too much from a final night bender.

Once landed and in the seaside town, I was immediately struck by the prettiness of Brighton and its surrounds – what an excellent setting to have Europe’s largest festival for new music discovery. Armed with an iPhone full of artists I’d wanted to see, the following three days and nights would see me running from venue to venue in between interviews, catching what music I could.

Unlike SXSW, I had no real grasp on what sort of approach I should’ve taken when it came to manoeuvring my way around The Great Escape’s layout of venues, so I found I was making some of my own little music discoveries purely by stumbling upon rad artists when I’d get lost or ditch original plans and stop in at another interesting-looking venue en route to another.

The New Road Stage particularly had some excellent talent on show, offering the crowds walking from venue to venue entertainment to catch along the way through the duration of the festival. British singer Emmi was fantastic and brought some killer confidence to her set that did not go unnoticed, drawing hundreds in to stop in their tracks. With a stage line up that included the likes of Kim ChurchillVoodoo Love OrchestraSiska and Just Waves, this particular outdoor set up gave me some great insights into the variety of musicians who were prepared to quickly set up in this setting and belt out killer sets for an ever-moving crowd.

There were established artists who were at the Great Escape to give fans a little bit of a throwback set or to introduce them to material soon to be released, like Band of Skulls and Highasakite – both artists had much hype surrounding their Brighton shows. Band of Skulls, who took to the stage at Concorde 2 on the Friday night had fans packed into the beachside venue like sardines, sweating over each guitar riff and drum beat. For the Norwegians Highasakite, their Komedia show had fans waiting longer than scheduled, but with their new album Camp Echo – at that point – primed for release following day, the band soldiered on and provided an experience people left suitably satisfied with.

The Vevo At The Great Escape lounge took over Wagner Hall, hosting emerging artists on the outdoor stage during the day while at night, the indoor venue played host to some electrifying live sets. Toothless, the solo project of Bombay Bicycle Club‘s Ed Nash, performed their second ever show on Thursday – a shaky start would lead to a set of beautiful tunes stripped back, offering us an insight into what Nash has been writing for some time now on his own. The nights to follow would bring the likes of Craig David‘s TS5MabelJake Bugg and more to the venue and long, long queues to get in as well.

Previous Spotify playlists listened to in the lead up to The Great Escape led me to the likes of Beaty HeartFenne LilyLittle HoursBlossoms and Hardwicke Circus – from indie rock to some gorgeous pieces of acoustic folk arrangement, the British were coming through strong across all three days and nights of programming. The latter, Hardwicke Circus, had some strong Hold Steady vibes around their set and smashed out a great show ahead of The Joy Formidable on the festival’s Saturday night.

In terms of the Australians who’d flown out to the UK for the festival, there’s no denying that we had a brilliant contingent representing for our scene. Sounds Australia’s presence in Brighton was felt strongly throughout and in light of recent funding cuts, it did feel like everyone was going that extra bit harder.

Northeast Party House (pictured above), had Komedia sweating during a late afternoon set on Friday, while Julia JacklinMethyl EthelCity Calm Down and Dreller also had people talking at various meetings that would follow. BANFF stood out as a particular highlight for me – with a full band behind him sounding mint, his set at The Aussie BBQ on Saturday was one of my favourites of the festival.

Adelaide’s Grenadiers, who were wrapping up a tour of the UK at Brighton, nailed each set I was able to see, performing with a ferocity and tightness that held the crowd’s attention and held it well. Similarly but perhaps not surprisingly, Gang of Youths would have the same effect at The Aussie BBQ and then at the Radio X showcase at Concorde 2 later that evening; armed with new songs ready to be unleashed, the Sydney favourites had Brighton crowds in the palm of their hands easily.

For my first time at The Great Escape, the experience taught me just how vast the European touring and emerging music scene is and how much live music lay on an average UK music fan’s doorstep. Though, while you might feel like a small fish in a bigger pond, seeing how Australian music is being praised and hungrily absorbed by crowds out on the opposite globe – as TGE proved – made the wider music community we exist in feel that little smaller.


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