Each year The Great Escape has continued to establish itself as the new music showcase par excellence, as the music industry descends en masse upon Brighton for close to a week. During that time it’s a typhoon of new artists, conferences, various showcases and industry bigwigging on an epic scale, the seaside town bustling with activity.
2018 was no different, with the positivity for the future one of the most endearing takeaways we pulled away from the festival. Whilst the obvious delight of savvy gig goers gorging on music never fails to swell you with enthusiasm, the championing of particular national scenes did much to our take. Nations such as Chile, Scotland, France and Holland, The Great Escape's main international focus this year, all had interesting showcases and networking events designed to empower and promote the nations.
The Scottish ones were particularly impressive, the music industry feverishly gathering to debate the future of the UK’s most Northern enclave over haggis and deep fried Mars bars. Artist wise Scotland continues to be in rude health when looking at the diversity represented across the festival. No better was this emphasised than by the contrast between Happy Meals' glacial and haunting electro pop performance in the New Church, and then Colonel Mustard and the Dijon 5’s rowdy genre traversing madness, both in the same venue and also in Jubilee Square. Big shout out to the Jeremy Corbyn lookalike in the latter getting well involved with the madness.
The event also perfectly captured that frantic inner city festival spirit, scampering at pace from venue to venue in a flurry of pedometer smashing strides where snaking queues greet you at the myriad of venues on offer. Although their app brilliantly helps you plan for the pitfalls of the clashes, it’s literally impossible to get to everything, such is the huge breadth of music on offer.
Our highlights on the Thursday included a performance from Soccer Mommy at the Beach House, 47 Soul’s middle eastern fusion grooves and a furiously busy Goat Girl show at The Arch, the lucky people who made it through the one in one out policy greeted with a thrillingly erratic performance which more than backed up the hype bestowed upon them.
Friday was equally as fun, as alongside the aforementioned Colonel Mustard, Bearcubs' moody vocal driven electronica, Anchorsong’s crunching off kilter grooves and Amalou’s swinging R&B throwback jams for the Notion party at Stoosh all came out on top.
The final day was much the same, with less sauntering around ‘doing business’ and more pure musical indulgence. Amyl & the Sniffer’s high octane garage punk proved to be an absolute rocket of a start to the day during their barely past midday offering, their gnarly wit surely destined for bigger things. This Feeling darlings Trampolene, dutch doyens Charlie and the Lesbians and ADOY’s dreamy summer sounds all hit us in the feels, the latter particularly soothing after the battering Amyl inflicted. Spare a thought for all the music we missed too.
The two defining moments though came from two very different but equally beguiling women, with Stella Donnelly at Komedia on Thursday and a Friday Beach House performance from Nao winning us over completely.
Donnelly’s performance is majestic, her beautifully wrought folk adding further gravitas to the well worn one human and a guitar concept in gorgeously funny and acerbic fashion. A particularly poignant point is ‘Boys will be Boys’, her gloriously smart cutting diatribe on victim shaming with sexual assault cases, beautifully sung. The rest of her performance beautifully epitomises her sharp, funny and emotionally wrought style effortlessly, her gorgeous voice somehow snarling and soothing with equal ease.
Nao is much more about the greatness of one woman and a band perfectly in harmony with her stride, the sound hugely impressive considering the intimate surroundings. Starting her performance to an almost air-strike sounding din, she cavorts through the lush boogie, vintage R&B and space age synth influences that defined debut LP For All We Know, a mesmerising 40 minutes with everyone in the packed 400 cap arena dancing within the palm of her hand.
It’s hard to pick between the strut of ‘Girlfriend’ or the shimmering greatness of ‘Firefly’, her collaboration with Mura Masa, as the greatest bit, but all along her breathtaking voice and simmering, sprite-like stage presence is hugely entrancing.
The brilliance of the crowd’s role does seem to epitomise why The Great Escape is so essential. It may in part be because the show is at a peak time on the Friday, when the business is winding down and the real fun starts, but everyone is here for the right reasons. They’re not networking, or showing up to look good, but here simply because she really is very fucking good; all of us absorbing one of the most carnal of human pleasures in music. In a few days of being very close to the nucleus of the music industry’s heart, it’s thrillingly reassuring to remember exactly why we’re all in this in the first place.