LIVE: The Great Escape 2017 @ Brighton

By Mark Johnson

The Great Escape is one of Europe’s largest festivals, showcasing over 450 bands across 30-plus venues in three days.¬†Despite its titanic scale, it somehow retains an intimate, close-knit atmosphere that focuses on promoting up-and-coming and international artists, making¬†the festival a perfect opportunity to discover your next favourite band. In addition to the¬†weekend’s many punters, a strong contingent of music industry representatives also wander the streets of Brighton and over the years the likes of Adele, Mumford & Sons, Jake Bugg and Ed Sheeran have all performed small, intimate shows here¬†before moving on to much larger¬†crowds.

The prospect of sharing the same journey as industry insiders on the hunt for the next big thing makes The Great Escape a tantalising and exciting occasion and with artists spanning a multitude of genres from folk, electronica, pop, grime, alt-rock and everything in between, if you can’t find an act to enjoy during The Great Escape, you simply aren’t doing your research properly.


Thursday

While the heavy onset of rain makes for a depressing picture outside, inside the Komedia Studio things are certainly bright, as Australian musician¬†Dean Lewis treats us to a wonderful set of piano-driven songs. His soulful vocals bring¬†an unmistakable folk vibe but each one carries a strong hook that sticks in the memory;¬†none less so than¬†the¬†anthemic ‘Waves’.

There’s something surreal about buying beer in church, but while holding a pint seems unnatural in the surroundings, Gabrielle Aplin fits right in thanks to her angelic voice and beautiful melodies. Aplin’s acoustic chords match her vocals perfectly, delivering a set filled with well-constructed, uplifting acoustic pop songs.

Though the rain continues to be a nuisance, Carys Selvey keeps spirits alive with a lighthearted, uplifting set of catchy pop songs, particularly the wonderfully constructed ‘Shallow’, which showcases Selvey’s warming tone and ear for melody. Her personable stage presence provides a friendly atmosphere that not only keeps the crowd engaged but also gets them participating, and as we collectively follow singing and clapping instructions, the conditions outside become a distant memory.

County Donegal two-piece Little Hours gave one of the stand-out performances of the festival in 2016 with a piano and acoustic set that highlighted their perfect harmonies and this year they amp it up even more, quite literally. With the inclusion of drums, electric guitar and bass, the set is more driving and up-tempo yet somehow amidst the higher volumes, the harmonies and emotion behind the music is just as intense as their previous performance. Little Hours are a special act and a great way to round off a highly enjoyable first day.


Friday

Day two opens with a secret appearance from the sun and with it Brighton blooms into life. Street performers, detracted by the inclement weather the day before, are out in full force and as market stalls sprout up down quaint streets, the bustling atmosphere of The Great Escape returns in full force.

It seems a shame to head down into the dark basement of the Latest Music Bar, but as Gallops burst into their electronic-tinged post-rock,¬†there’s no better place to be. It’s no wonder Gallops had technical issues at StrangeForms festival a month ago, which prevented us from seeing their set, the stage looking more like a music shop than a performance area, with so many effects pedals, synths and samplers to go at.¬†Once the set begins, you’re no longer left wondering whether the band really needs so much equipment, as every piece of it contributes to the progressively atmopsheric expanse of sound that’s every bit as dynamic as it is intense thanks to some particularly superb drum¬†work.

Consisting of a drummer-vocalist, a pair of saxophones and a bass, Robocobra Quartet one of the most unique acts across the whole weekend and one of the most spectacular as well. Weaving complex rhythms together with quirky instrumentals and howling spoken-word vocals, the band’s jazz-infused math-rock concoction grips the crowd in stunned silence, no one knowing what’s coming next, but loving every note that’s produced.

Back in church, there’s not only another pint waiting but another fantastic pop act as well. Canadian group Busty and the Bass not only fill the stage with instruments – their line-up including a pair of trumpets, a trombone, a saxophone, a synth and a piano in addition to the standard guitar, drums and bass – but with charisma as well, their set getting everyone in the crowd moving with a procession of infectious pop songs. Throw in some rapping as well as the wonderfully melodic singing and you have an act that’s every bit as diverse as it is impressive.

Continuing the theme of diverse instrumentation, Forest of Fools utilise a sousaphone, accordion, African percussion and keyboards to generate their unique folk style. Their inventive and up-beat songs don’t fail to put a smile on everyone’s faces and those idly passing by the outdoor Fender Paramount stage can’t help but get drawn in to see what happens next.

There are very few festivals across the world where you can enjoy a day of electronic post-rock, jazz infused math-rock, brass band pop and folk music before rounding off your day with Scandinavian pop, but that’s the beauty of The Great Escape. Norwegian pop artist Dagny produces one of the stand-out performances of the weekend, somehow turning simple pop songs into hugely anthemic hits thanks to an intense full-band experience. Dagny has a fantastic ear for catchy melodies and her voice is just as impressive, making this set a perfect end to another richly rewarding day.


Saturday

Each year at The Great Escape, the Green Door Store plays host to the¬†Canadian Blast on a Saturday afternoon, introducing¬†upcoming acts from Canada. This year’s celebration gets off to a high-spirited start thanks to Altameda’s blues-tinged country rock, which gets the crowd feeling every bit as sunny as the much-improved weather.

Brighton’s music scene is so vibrant that during the course of The Great Escape, many other shows are arranged in tandem with the festival, the majority of which allow free entry to anyone across the city. Known as the Alternative Escape, these are shows arranged by local promoters and adds another 300 potential artists to see in additional to the already staggering¬†450+ bands that form the core line-up.

Rory Indiana and In Dynamics are two highlights of the Alternative Escape and help bring the weekend to a memorable end. Rory Indiana’s set of highly enjoyable alt-pop songs mixes the swagger and catchiness of Don Broco with the riffs and intrigue of Press to Meco and shows a massive amount of potential in this young upcoming act.

In Dynamics treat us to a masterclass of tight instrumentals and vocal supremacy, their set sounding every bit as polished and note-perfect as anything they’ve committed to record. Playing a mix of old tracks from their early EPs as well as choice, upbeat cuts from their recent full-length ‘Everything I See’, it’s a performance that’s so captivating it’s over in a flash.

The Great Escape is an entirely unique festival experience. The opportunity to witness music from a range of countries, ethnicities and genres in one place is an experience unlike any other. For a festival of this size and diversity, the level of organisation each year is unrivalled and adds a professional sheen over an already exciting experience.

The number of show-ready venues across Brighton is staggering and makes the city a perfect host to a festival of this nature, even without its quaint market streets, beautiful coastal vistas and thriving music scene that help to create a perfect setting. The Great Escape is a must for any music fan that thrives on seeking out their next musical fix and because if you have the curiosity, this festival will provide the goods.

WORDS: MARK JOHNSON
IMAGES: JAMIE MACMILLAN