The Great Escape is a three-day festival spread across thirty of Brighton’s finest small and medium sized venues attracting hundreds of acts from across the world. It’s now become the opening event of the UK festival season and attracts visitors from all over the country and further afield. David Brown from Louder Than War trawled the streets armed with a map and a timetable and an iPhone for last minute schedule changes and Twitter recommendations and this is who he saw.
Opening the day at The Haunt as part of the South Australia event are the fantastic Echo And The Empress. We’re already breaking the rule of not seeing a band twice as we go and see them later in the evening at Digital, but they’re worth breaking the rules for. The main focus of the band is the interaction between sisters Skye on guitar and Beth on keyboards who alternate vocal duties during their set, which comprises of tracks from their self-titled debut album as well as their new single One More Tear. They write tales of love, both good and bad, and they’re delivered with a sweet saccharine edge and beautiful harmonies. They look like they’re having fun and the crowd at both shows love them.
Next up in the Haunt are Sydney four-piece Made In Japan. I didn’t know anything about them before they started playing and it’s always a surprise to see a band where the drummer is the singer. They play songs from their 2012 debut album Sights And Sounds and the highlight of the set, no disrespect to James’ singing, is a long drawn-out psychedelic instrumental in the middle of their set. They wear their influences on their sleeve, which isn’t a bad thing, as their twin-guitar and bass approach creates a sound that’s familiar enough to draw people in, but with enough individuality for them to have their own identity. They promise to mix their set up for their later set elsewhere and that in itself is good enough for me.
Managing to exit The Haunt and its bizarre light-free layout, we blink at the sunshine and head across town to the Dome Studio to catch Laura St Jude as part of the Showcasing Scotland event. Whilst Laura looks a little lonely up on the big wide stage of the Studio, she fills the room with just her guitar and her piercing, eloquent voice. We get songs from her recent debut EP Fatal and from the forthcoming follow-up. She has a uniqueness in her voice that stands her out from the vast pool of female singer-songwriters that are appearing and you can see this set-up working equally well with a band backing her. She’s definitely one to watch in the future.
Deciding to avoid risking injury to limb by navigating The Haunt’s barriers and because the fascinatingly titled Hungry Kids Of Hungary had pulled out, we take to Twitter to find a recommendation and Whales In Cubicles pop up at The Prince Albert. It’s an excellent suggestion as they’ve already developed their sound to the extent that you can imagine them headlining one of the bigger stages this time next year. It’s a full on two guitars, bass and drums assault on the ears, but there’s some strong songwriting sensitivities underpinning their whole sound. Given it’s still 2.30 in the afternoon, it’s not the fullest crowd, but everyone shuts up talking and listens and that’s no mean achievement at this festival in itself.
Still needing to find a band to fit in our schedule, we decide, based on our genius idea of watching bands because we like their name if we don’t know anyone, to head back to the Dome Studio for Glasgow’s Holy Esque. It’s a wise choice as they demonstrate their knack of writing earnest serious guitar music without it sounding contrived or formulaic. The lighting man continues his obsession with red lights that we witnessed earlier, but it helps provide a dramatic backdrop to the sound they’re creating. The Studio is pretty much close to capacity and they get a fantastic reception. They’re definitely a band to watch out for.
Again, blinking as we come out into the beautiful Brighton sunshine, we head for the Metro Hub, where wristbands are dished out. We catch the last song of We Are Evergreen, but we’re here for Big Wave Riders, one of the great Finnish bands that Nic Triani over at Soliti in Helsinki is managing through that gem of an independent label. They are hands down the uncoolest looking band we see all day, they’re not really dressed for a late afternoon sunny day on an outside stage, but their music belies that and is perfect for a crowd that probably doesn’t know them at all. They fuse a wide range of influences from sixties guitar pop through a darker-edged more electronic sound and they showcase songs from their recent Life Less Ordinary album, including new single Life Is Art, You Wonder.
We catch Echo And The Empress again at Digital and, wary of the potential queues later, head up to The Prince Albert and its fine selection of draught lagers for the Canadian Music Week event, which starts with the Danish band The Rumour Said Fire. Like Big Wave Riders before, they demonstrate with tracks mainly pulled from their recent album Dead Ends that there’s a thriving independent scene in Scandanavia. Tight harmonies and simple yet evocative songwriting win over the crowd. We do assume there are some Canadian bands later on in the bill as the next act comes from Manchester.
Findlay needs to be good. We’ve come here instead of watching Milo Greene in a church because we’ve been captivated by her two singles to date Your Sister and Off And On, the latter which forms a triumphant close to her set, and we’re intrigued to see whether she can deliver live. She does more than that. Of course she’s sexy and sassy and knows how to charm an audience, but the girl has an incredible voice and stage persona and she can also play that guitar she picks up for parts of the set. Her band sound great too, but she’s the undoubted star of the show and when you transfer this from a pub with the last light of the evening streaming through to a full on show in a hot, steamy venue, she’s going to be some live proposition. If you’re in Brighton, try and catch her at Smack this afternoon.
We hot foot it back down to The Haunt for Feathers, who are due to release their fantastic debut album If All Now Here in a couple of weeks. A four-piece all-girl group based in Austin, Texas, with a male touring drummer, led by the enigmatic Anastasia, they produce electronic-tinged songs that have you instantly nodding and tapping your feet to because they sound familiar, yet they stamp their own almost exotic mark on to them too. There’s an air of mystery about them, aided by the conservative lighting policy of The Haunt that draws you in wanting to hear and learn more.
We jump in a cab up to The Green Door Store for Beach Fossils and Mac DeMarco. We get in, but we’re stuck in the back room and can only see Beach Fossils through a doorway so we leave, consult our guide and try and decide who to see instead. Blessed with a name that compares with James and The Smiths for unsuitability for internet searches, we plump for Boats at the Komedia Studio. We’ve never heard of them, but that’s the fun of this festival. And we strike lucky. They’re utterly insane. They’re from Canada, their singer resembles John Grant’s hairier, more deranged brother, which is a wonderful thing. They have trumpet, they have all types of things that look like xylophones, they swap instruments around randomly, often during songs, they tell us about forty times that they’re from Winnipeg and their Facebook page description says ‘the best we could do given the circumstances”. And despite all that, they sound absolutely incredible and utterly indescribable. They sell us three albums, including their latest A Fairway Full Of Miners, and a tape and we go our separate ways.
For the final band of the day, we walk down to Coalition on the beach for On And On, stopping on the way to get annoyed by a chip shop that doesn’t sell chip barmcakes. The place is rammed as many of the other venues have now finished. They play tracks from their recent album Give In, a fusion of guitar and electronic music that has people dancing and flailing their arms around. Recent single The Hunter gets the best reception of the evening, but the whole thing sound fresh and exciting, if a little dampened by the muddy sound of the venue. And with that it’s off to bed. Twelve sets from eleven bands in seven different venues on Day One and lots to look forward to today and tomorrow.