The Great Escape Festival (19-21 May '16, Brighton) // Words: Saam Das
I owe a fair amount to Brighton's excellent new music festival, The Great Escape. I've been doing this music blogging lark for ten years now, and it's partly because I went to the very first edition of The Great Escape that I began writing in the first place. Since then, it's become my favourite festival, and I've had the fortune of being a "tastemaker" on the BBC Sound of 2011 and working with Glastonbury Festival, among other nice things that I've very grateful for. The Great Escape 2016 was again a pleasure, and here's a rundown of my first day at the fest.
Armed with my wristband, provisional list of bands, map, and the welcome addition of a new and improved festival app, I stormed over to the basement of The Queens Hotel to catch mysterious French outfit Her. Plenty of others had arrived to see what the fuss was about, and were suitably receptive to the group's funk jams, interspersed with heavier instrumental phases. An excellent start.
I was somewhat surprised to find that I'd have to join the (admittedly short) queue to catch Dreller in Komedia Studio Bar - a venue where I had seen Bastille perform admirably to roughly a dozen people not many years back. After a brief wait, I had the opportunity to be engaged by the Australian's scuzzy exuberance. Bonus points for the best quip of the day: "My name is Thomas but I go by Dreller because...the music business. Also, Thomas is taken."
Shortly after came fellow Australian Owen Rabbit, engulfed by overzealous use of smoke machine. Fortunately, it did not detract from his wonderful set, which saw Owen even successfully and amusingly manage to incorporate the opening of a can of lager into a track, as well as lending the audience a sense of belonging when we were called upon to also contribute to a track. A compelling presence.
I had mixed feelings when I discovered that my next scheduled stop, Al Bairre, were far too popular for me to even consider queuing for - they truly deserve a wider audience, and I've heard good things about their set. While one door closed, another very much opened as I was wowed by the incredible doom-pop opening of 'Nautilus' by Anna Meredith in Brighthelm. A monster on record, but something altogether more imposing live. Arguably the track of the weekend.
Due to a scheduling blip, Spaniards The Parrots found themselves in a largely empty timeslot, which encouraged me to investigate. Their nostalgic slacker odes, by way of The Vaccines, were pleasant enough and as ever the somewhat garish Horatio's Bar on Brighton Pier provided one of the more unusual settings of TGE.
Another unusual setting was the outdoor VEVO stage which played host to future popstar Mabel, who proved her vocal chops in a stripped down set. A particular highlight was her cover of Destiny Child's 'Say My Name'. And was seeing a barking dog on the seafront carousel on my way to Mabel.
The next stop was the contemplative but unspectacular folk of EERA, in the basement of Patterns - which confusingly had a significant queue outside, but the queue was actually for the upstairs venue to open. (No such luck with a similarly large queue on Day Two, which was indeed for Seramic performing downstairs.) LA outfit Transviolet followed and it's easy to see them making it big, with their polished look and impressive Scandi-pop-esque efforts.
One of the reasons I mention that I went to the very first TGE is that I have literally never made it Concorde 2 in any of the multiple editions of this festivals that I've attended. But 2016 and Starling broke my duck, and not just because of the distance travelled, it truly feels I've finally completed a pilgrimage. Perhaps fortunately, Harriet Starling and her band were well worth the trek. An infectiously sassy personality, with tunes to match.
If I thought Concorde 2 was in a different time zone relative to most of Brighton then St Georges Church felt like it was on a different planet. After getting hideously lost, I welcomed the opportunity for a pleasant sitdown in a venue particularly apppropriate for the atmospheric beat-laden folk of Mt. Wolf. Live, they also add Teia Fregona as well unexpectedly bordering on the post-rock at times. An intriguing iteration of a continually rising band, and a suitable end to my first day at TGE16.
Find more info on The Great Escape at greatescapefestival.com.