Brighton is renowned for being a melting pot of quality musicians, enticing rising artists far and wide with its sparkling DIY music scene. The Great Escape Festival amplifies this seaside musical microcosm, showcasing rising musicians from both the UK and worldwide in intimate venues. Just like every year, this year’s line-up was bursting with brilliant bands and artists who are destined for major breakthrough success, cementing The Great Escape’s unwavering reputation for being ‘Europe’s leading festival for new music.’
One of the first sets of this year came from Orla Gartland, bringing her faultless lo-fi song-writing and wonderfully witty personality to One Church. The Dublin-born artist filled the intimate venue, completely enchanting the crowd with her flawless vocals and introspective lyrics, as she buzzed with unimpeded vigour and charm. Closing with an immaculate mashup of Kate Bush’s ‘Running Up That Hill’ and Cyndi Lauper’s ‘Time After Time’, Gartland brought her set to an unwanted end, leaving many infatuated and wanting more.
After a dash across town in the pouring rain, it was time for the blistering indie-pop of Anteros at Bleach. As soon as the dynamic London four-piece bounced into opening song ‘Cherry Drop’, frontwoman Laura Hayden is in a world of her own. Dancing unashamedly to the sonic sugar rush of Anteros’ sound, Hayden captivated the rain-drenched crowd with an effortless allure.
This radiating charm pulsated throughout the entire day, with enticing sets from the infectious Will Joseph Cook to the raw soul of Manchester artist Rahh. This continued with the gritty yet beautiful vocals of Denai Moore and the delectable hooks of The Japanese House. Yet, as the sun set over Brighton pier, the place to be was at The Paganini Ballroom, where the breezy yet anarchic grace of Marika Hackman unfurled. With the grand space packed with soggy punters and supportive band-member friends alike, Marika’s light-hearted and shamelessly honest tracks brought the evening to the perfect close.
With the aftermath of Slaves’ spotlight show still ringing in people’s ears and hangovers in full swing, Friday’s line-up provided the perfect soundtrack to bite the hair of the dog. Recent Dirty Hit signees King Nun delivered blood-curdling garage noise at The Haunt, breaking strings and jumping about the stage with unrestrained velocity. London delinquents Dead Pretties followed suit, slurring sweet incomprehensible nothings as the intense strobe lights injected a dizzying surrealty.
Meanwhile, RAYE provided delectable bangers at Coalition on the seafront. The third of her Great Escape 2017 performances, the Croydon teenager proves herself to be a massive pop artist in the making with her sultry and immersive verses, which are laced with maturity and empowerment yet still bounce with care-free attitude. “I’m having a great time,” she giggled, “I spent 20 quid on an all-you-can ride pass on the pier.” Clearly, she’s living the dream.
Elsewhere, grime trailblazer KANO was hosting an unmissable Spotlight Showcase show at The Old Market, starring a sizzling bunch of friends including Little Simz, Ghetts, Kojo Funds, DJ Maximum and DJ’s Elijah and Skilliam. Bursting onto the stage with boundless energy and unreal lyrical agility, Little Simz radiated furious flare and breakneck ambition. Kendrick Lamar said on Radio 1 that Simz “might be the illest doing it now” and, after witnessing her scorching set at Great Escape, that is undeniable. She later joined KANO for a song during his impeccable headline set, throughout which the care-free crowd pulsated in waves as they idolised KANO’s every move. ‘New Banger’ was a stand-out track, obliterating synapses and unleashing inescapable euphoria across the room.
This bliss also washed over the Superfood crowd at The East Wing, where the Brummie boys got all the bodies jiving. Most recent sun-kissed single ‘I Can’t See’ possessed even the most self-conscious of crowd members to get their hips moving along to the breezy reggae samples and anthemic vocal hooks. Superfood exude a creamy laid-back attitude that is charmingly ‘just mates playing music’; They’re definitely the band you want at your summer house party.
Across the road, a line snaked down the street in anticipation for Dream Wife at Wagner Hall. The tiny garden venue was unsurprisingly at capacity, and Dream Wife’s honeyed battle-cry still spilt into the street to delight dedicated and hopeful fans who bounced about and sang along in the queue.
It wasn’t time to go home just yet. HMLTD were naturally causing carnage at their second show of the weekend. So packed that many had to climb over the bar just to get a look-in, the tiny venue struggled to contain the swarm of a crowd as floorboards creaked and glasses smashed. Just three songs in and the London pack were politely asked to tone it down, to which they unapologetically ignored. The crowd seemed to be on a mission to tear the pub down, to the point where the stage-manger had to return, a bit more forcefully this time. “This is our last song, stop jumping and dancing or the floor might collapse or something” slurred frontman Spychalsk before inciting an ever-more psychotic storm with ‘Where’s Joanna?’. It was time for bed.
As Saturday dawned and the sun finally made an appearance, there was no better soundtrack than the timeless yet revitalising jazz and tranquilising spirituality of Poppy Adjudha on the vevo dscvr stage. ‘David’s Soul’ was a particularly stand-out song, with Adjudah transfixing the audience with her heartwarming yet heartbreaking vocals. Later, on the same stage, dodie brought more calming melodies, blanketing the young crowd with sweet harmonies and truly beautiful string accompaniments.
The evening belonged to the Cannibal Hymns crew at Sticky Mike’s Frog Bar, where Our Girl, Dream Wife, Abattoir Blues and The Magic Gang magnetised what felt like half of the Brighton population. Our Girl oozed endless virtuosity and passion, as Soph Nathan’s purring vocals and beautifully dirty riffs raged with graceful temper. Later, The Magic Gang dealt infectious guitar hooks and nostalgic escapism, helping the crowd forget the world’s problems for a while and instead get blissfully sweaty with strangers.
It was the perfect end to the perfect weekend.
Words and Images by Meg Firth