The Great Escape Festival
★★★★ (out of five)
SOME early moody-looking skies more suited to Glastonbury couldn’t dampen spirits at the ninth annual Great Escape Festival in Brighton.
And neither could long, snaking queues which led to a couple of missed gigs.
On reflection, it’s probably the sheer breadth of new musical talent on show at the festival which means only a bore would let such things spoil the three-day get together, which makes use of over 35 live venues dotted around the seaside city along with more than 400 performances.
A personal highlight on the first day wasn’t strictly musical. It was when electro synth poppers Little Dragon – who would later go on to play a storming set at a rammed Coalition – casually ambled into a local Finnish bar ahead of their evening’s performance.
With Great Escape there tends to be so much going on, it’s unlikely two people’s overall experience of the festival will be shared. And with at least 10 Irish acts this year, it wouldn’t be a stretch to say they were out in force.
One of the first we caught were debutants I.AM.L., who played their first ever gig at the Courtyard early on Friday as the sun (mercifully) began to shine. I.AM.L. are fronted by a Cork girl who moved to Brighton three years ago and are already signed to Republic of Music management.
The band sounded promising as they thrashed through four songs: the lead singer’s epic vocals not a million miles from a young Kate Bush.
Like the swirling waves from the sea around us, both Dublin’s September Girls and Girl Band were strong – if a little choppy and disjointed in parts.
Meanwhile Liverpool-based brother and sister duo Southern – under a low ceiling and pitch-dark Stick Mike’s Frog Bar – had a packed audience throbbing to their bluesy beat. Their 20-minute set was criminally short and their new single matched the best of their older stuff.
Our posse couldn’t even get near headliners like Kelis, though acts such as the outrageous Fat White Family; a secret show from Klaxons; and a daytime slot from Jaakko Eino Kalevi (it was only right we caught at least one host nation act: this year was Finland) more than made up for it.
A note on the queuing situation. The Great Escape is essentially Brighton’s answer to SXSW; it’s a music convention for industry types, with an alt-music festival tagged on.
So the two-tier queue system they employ (usually a shorter one for delegates, a longer one for regular fans) is perhaps understandable. However, it is undeniably very frustrating for ordinary punters.
Even after a particularly long queue, we missed a secret show from Peace on Saturday as one pal only had a regular ticket, and we could understand the frustration of many festival goers.
Not to be disheartened, on the final evening our crew returned to the seafront (earlier, this time) for Future Islands at Digital, followed by a no-frills-yet-pure-class DJ set from Jon Hopkins which ensured the festival would be remembered as a hit once again.