The Great Escape: 2011 Festival Review

on Friday, May 20, 2011
Words: Saam Das

Last week, I descended upon Brighton for The Great Escape, "Europe's leading festival for new music" and sort of the UK version of SXSW. For once, this review is not late out of laziness but designed to tie in with my scheduled appearance on Now Playing, a new BBC 6Music show, where I'll be chatting about three of my favourite bands of the festival tonight. Or you can read about those three and more below.

The festival was something of a mixed bag - there was plenty to see and do but the organisation and information was somewhat lacking. That had more to do with individual venue promoters and bands than The Great Escape itself - stage times went awry and bands pulled out unexpectedly but the venues often failed to announce these changes. Bands likewise failed to tell their fans about changes to their gigs - Dry The River and You Animals, I'm looking at you.

Having said all that, many of the festival staff/volunteers were very helpful. Even the bouncers were generally decent. And I got to see a lot of bands, which was the whole point of the festival. In what I'd call a MySpace throwback, here are my Top 8 performances of the weekend. In alphabetical order.


STREAM: Stop & Stare by Fenech-Soler (BASTILLE remix)

Probably my favourite act of 2011 but until last Friday, I hadn't seen Dan Smith live yet. Despite playing an early, sweaty slot, Dan and his live band delivered one of the performances of the weekend - showing off some of the magnificent pop hits he's not yet unleashed on the wider world.

Christian AIDS

STREAM: Christian AIDS - Stay Positive [a-side]

I hadn't really planned on seeing Christian Aids but I was glad that I did manage to catch them. The only issue really was that it was a bit too early for people to get their rave on. Some flabbergasting visuals in a pitch black environment gave their set a certain sense of melodrama that suggests that bigger things are to come on the live front.

Lanterns On The Lake

STREAM: Lungs Quicken by Lanterns on the Lake

I had recommended that you pop down to the Generator showcase on Saturday and judging from the bands that I saw, I really hope you took that advice. Opening with a jaw-dropping rendition of 'Lungs Quicken', Lanterns On The Lake were particularly magical. Probably my favourite performance of the festival.

Let's Buy Happiness

STREAM: Let's Buy Happiness - Clean Mistake

I mentioned how endearing Let's Buy Happiness were in my Camden Crawl review and yet again they charmed their audience - not just with their wit but their majestic soundscapes. Seem to be getting better live every time I see them.

Oh Land

STREAM: Oh Land - Burn

Danish popstar Oh Land was one of my recommendations for The Great Escape but I was a little tentative about seeing her live. My insolence was punished in the best way when I went to see her and she had hundreds of people bouncing along to her bombastic anthems. Forget Gaga, this is where it's at in terms of female pop.

Pope Joan

DOWNLOAD: Pope Joan - Mattias by popejoan

Unfortunately, Pope Joan were playing one of the Alternative Escape gigs miles away from any of the main festival venues - practically in a different timezone. The trek was worth it though, with their blistering post-punk meets art-pop. Look out for ace new single 'The Celebration', scheduled to come out on June 27th.

Team Me

STREAM: Team Me - Weathervanes And Chemicals

I'm not sure I've ever seen a musician as jittery and jumpy onstage as the female member of Team Me - all the more bizarre as they also had perhaps the grumpiest looking drummer I've ever seen. A ragtag bunch of Norwegians producing some beautiful orchestral indie, with the occasional burst of electronica.

The Sound Of Arrows

DOWNLOAD: The Sound of Arrows - Danger! by Labrador Records

Much like Christian Aids above, it was probably a bit too early for this Swedish euphoric dance act to be on. But they gave it their all, including bringing on little kids as backing singers (sure, they were miming but it's the concept that counts) which was a nice touch. A must-see on the festival circuit.

Matt at Sounds Good To Me Too has collected some of the reviews from the festival. Particular nods to Breaking More Waves, Just Music That I Like and The Recommender - each of whom I also had the pleasure of meeting.

Hopefully I'll be back next year to meet more bloggers/journos/music fans as well as actually go to some of the convention talks, which I missed due to travelling time. And being too lazy to get up early. I'm also confident that the festival will be better next year - for me, all they really need to do is to tell venues to publicise any line up changes, and encourage bands to do the same.

For more info on The Great Escape, head to their official website.

msn spaces tracker