The Great Escape Review. By Steve Holloway

Brighton and Hove’s hugely successful Great Escape Music Festival returned for its fourteenth year last week, attracting more than 20,000 music fans to 780 shows, performed by 580 artists from 41 countries.

Nice Biscuit. Photo by Steve Holloway
Nice Biscuit. Photo by Steve Holloway

An influx of music industry professional, performers and grubby gig-goers, milled around the festival’s hub in Jubilee Square and created an exponential increase in the number of people wearing skinny black jeans within the city.

The three-day event (this year it ran from May 9-11) is now firmly established as one of the world’s biggest showcases of new music, and spreads it’s not inconsiderable tentacles to 40, pubs, clubs and music venues.

The international line up was borne out on the selection of acts that I chose to see, including Italy, Scotland, Australia, Switzerland, Canada, Russia, and Belguim.

Gwenifer Raymond. Photo by Steve Holloway

Nice Biscuit from New South Wales were early contenders for best-dressed band of the festival (boys in white jumpsuits with inverted orange chevron, girls in burnt orange cowgirl shirts and white neckscarves), and produced a juicy noise at the Komedia which didn’t fit any pre-existing musical templates.

Also rocking some dashing neckscarves (and some scary black leather face masks) were D-Boy from Wellend, Southern Ontario, a high-octane, stand and deliver rapid rock and roll three-piece, who were so fast and furious I hurt my back just watching them.

Another Canadian, Micah Erenberg, had the charm and the tunes to ease any sore heads at the Green Door Store, early in Saturday’s proceedings, and Miesha and the Spanks a garage duo from Calgary provided some unreconstructed fun at the same venue.

Swiss singer songwriter Emilie Zoé’s intense and personal songs, accompanied by just a drummer and her own cool-looking battered electric guitars, were perfect for the intimate, and very dark, Komedia Studio.

Chkbn. Photo by Steve Holloway

Russian shoegazers Chkbns seemed to possess more pedals than the Tour de France, and provided some ethereal sound but not quite enough fuzz, and certainly not enough guitars.

The same couldn’t be said of Belgium punk band Cocaine P***, whose abrasive guitar-heavy, high-pitched shouty style and offensive moniker won’t be everyone’s pint of over-priced festival beer, but lead singer Aurélie Poppins channels Iggy and Peaches and performed with ferocious energy at a heaving Haunt.

Closer to home was multi-instrumentalist Gwenifer Raymond whose raw rolling guitar soundscapes and dark melodies filled the Latest Bar, and she told a rapt audience: “I live in Brighton and I’m on my lunch-break, I’m not joking!”

Another Brighton performer, by way of Los Angeles and Essex, was soul singer Celeste who belted out a few songs to a rapturous crowd, at the suitably swanky Paganini Ballroom at The Ship Hotel on the BBC 1Xtra stage. She has a monster of a voice, and echoes of Amy Winehouse, which are undoubtedly getting the record company people decidedly hot under the collar

D-Boy. Photo by Steve Holloway

The two highlight sets of the festival came from predictable sources, the bonkers beats of Snapped Ankles and the majestic, reborn, Fat White Family. Certainly Snapped Ankles got the nod for hardest working band, taking their huge druid-esque horns and head-dresses to secret shows at the East Street Tap and The Hope and Ruin, before beefing up their sound for a triumphant set at the Deep End, a whopping Great Escape-only venue beach venue

A day later, in the same spot, The Fat White Family delivered a magnificent, brooding coup de grâce to my festival, and a few thousand others, with an all-conquering festival-closing headline show. Lead singer Lias presence is immense and their previously ramshackle live sound has a new-found discipline and is all the more powerful for it.

The organisers of this massive event deserve praise for putting on such a well-run and successful festival.

Packed houses, and venues at full capacity seemed to be the norm this year, and there could be an argument for perhaps a few more venues for the Great Escape 2020.

Emilie Zoé. Image by Joanna Brown Photography
Snapped Ankles. Image by Joanna Brown Photography SUS-190513-160616001
Miesha and the Spanks. Image by Joanna Brown Photography
Celeste at the Paganini Ballroom. Photo courtesy of The Great Escape
Fat White Family, Photo by Luis Kramer