Festival Review: The Great Escape

Who made the grade at Brighton's version of SXSW?, our intrepid contributor gives her verdict on the bands to watch for 2010.

Written by Laura Nineham


Sleighbell Illustration by June Chanpoomidole

I love the idea of city festivals. To me the idea of being confined to a field, stranded miles from the nearest off license and unable to charge my mobile is not fun. A city festival combines the best of both worlds; killer music and civilisation.

That’s partly why I love The Great Escape, but the festival isn’t without its flaws. The downside to city festivals is that you face massive queues to get into venues that are much smaller than they’d ever play normally. If you get in, you can worm your way to the front and feel pretty smug about it, but if you don’t it really is a bit shit.

That’s the only thing I can fault The Great Escape on, but something you can avoid with a delegate’s pass.

It’s more than a queue jump pass; delegates get access to parties and can sit in on talks as part of the convention. You can basically go to the industry events during the day and then run around town checking out gigs at night. Sounds great in theory, but hangovers and late nights get in the way somewhat.

For the first day I was a little bleary eyed, having made the most of the free drinks at the launch part on Wednesday night. The main band was Pope Joan, who I am not a fan of. They put so much energy and passion into their set but no one was really feeling it, except for a few girls at the front. I don’t understand why they’ve got a seemingly big Brighton following.

Thursday was the day I eased myself into The Great Escape madness. I went to a talk about digital marketing, which was clearly aimed at people who had zero knowledge of the internet and completely missed the audience of people who probably tweeted their way through the talk. After checking out a few venues and not stumbling across anything inspiring, I ended up at the Corn Exchange where I watched Surfer Blood play a set that was, at best, uninspiring. It felt like their set went on for twice as long as it should have.

Then The Cribs came onstage, to play a mammoth set in front of a rammed crowd. There’s not much you can say about the Cribs that hasn’t already been said. They played well and they played good songs, but they didn’t steal the weekend for me. The venue felt too big; I prefer the band playing smaller, more raucous gigs and it just felt a bit distant at the Corn Exchange.


Silver Columns illustration by Donna McKenzie

When they finished, we stumbled across to Digital to try and catch one of about a hundred gigs that Fenech-Soler played, but we couldn’t get in. Instead we went to Jam, where we caught the last half of Ou Est Le Swimming Pool’s set. The tiny venue was filled with people who only seemed to properly come alive when they played ‘Dance the Way I Feel’. It was the perfect way to end the first night, but a shame the venue was closing so early.

Friday began with an even bigger hangover, and plans made early to ensure we would get into the biggest gig of the night. Organisation is the secret weapon to tackling The Great Escape.
I went off for a talk about the future of music radio, which was endlessly interesting. Putting the geeky stuff aside, I met some friends and we went to the French Music Party. There was a band on stage who were pretty good, but I didn’t catch their name. The singer was dressed like someone out of a western. It was strange. There was also plenty of free Ricard, which was very tasty, and plenty of CDs on offer. I swiped the Revolver album and I adore it. I’m pretty sad I missed them play the festival.

We didn’t get in to see Warpaint that evening, and my friend was pretty pissed at me, so I promised to endure at least half of HURTS playing at Coalition. I don’t understand why people like that band. When I first heard their album I thought a PR company was having a joke, but kudos to Theo for being a lovely guy, and easily the most accessible musician over the weekend. Him and Mr. Dawin Deez were examples of how to be crazy popular and also friendly to fans.

Thanks to my inability to endure a whole Hurts set, we left early and headed to the Pavillion Theatre for the gig of the night; Wild Beasts. I’m a massive fan, and made sure we got there in plenty of time. It meant we had secured some floor space for the headliners, but had to endure a full set from Fiery Furnaces and that was not pleasant. After nodding my way through a breathtaking performance by Wild Beasts we shot back to Coalition and ended our night with the very talented Silver Columns.


Wild Beasts illustration on Abi Daker

The next morning started with trying to kill the hangover sat, looking at the Pier with some Canadians, at Terraces on the seafront. We checked out part of the Canadian Blast event, but the bands weren’t much to get excited about. In a desperate bid to find something interesting happening, we checked out a Japanese music party, but left after the opening riffs because my head was about to explode.

Saturday was my favourite day for music. We caught the mega-hyped Frankie and the Heartstrings who were even better than I expected. Frankie is the perfect front man. They were followed by Summer Camp – a band I like listening to, but whose vocals didn’t really hold up live.

Angus and Julia Stone were playing across the road, and we managed to get in, but the layout of Terraces meant that anyone at the back half of the room couldn’t see anything and chatted through the whole set. It was frustrating, because they’re an incredible acoustic band, so we went to watch a tiresome Chateau Marmont. They aren’t a bad band, but I just felt the music wasn’t that interesting; it simply wasn’t my thing. Sleighbells however ended the festival on a complete high. I’d never heard them before, but I completely fell in love with their unique mix of heavy rock riffs and Crystal Castles-esque vocals and danced my heart out.

There really is no other festival like The Great Escape, and I’ve certainly spent the past few days pining now that it’s over. I’ve found one way to cure the post-TGE blues though; drinking Red Stripe with my pass around my neck and dancing to music at home. It’s not quite the real thing, but if you try hard enough, you can almost hear the seagulls in the distance ….

I’ll see you at the Queens Hotel for next year’s festival.

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2 Responses to “Festival Review: The Great Escape”

  1. jonny Darcy says:

    Hi Laura,
    nice article but it sounds to me like you didn’t see enough of the smaller/unknown bands. And what about all the afternoon sessions? The very last thing I want to do at a festival aimed at new music is watch the bloody Cribs at the Corn Exchange. Marr or no Marr that is just rubbish.

    I saw 30 bands over the 3 days and most of them were full sets. If you do a bit of research beforehand (I reviewed every band, for my sins..) you get to see a brilliant band, close up, with no queues and enough space to swing your cat.

    My tips are Krupa, Naive New Beaters, Moss, Flash Lightnin’, Teenagersintokyo, Seabear, Avi Buffalo and in particular Kid Bombardos.

    In fact the only bands that left me especially cold were Reverend Soundsystem and the Mujeres. But 2 out of 30 isn’t bad is it!!

    Next year come round with me and my gang, we’ll show you where it’s all at Laura.

  2. [...] illustration accompanied a review of the Great Escape festival and shows the Wild Beasts who played at Brighton Pavillion Theatre during the [...]

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