Festival Review: The Great Escape Festival 2019
Well, it’s that time again! One of the most loved events has come and gone – and in its wake, has left a plethora of people with sore heads, great memories and slightly strained bank accounts. The Great Escape festival brings hordes of people down to Brighton every year, and most of these people are looking for the next best thing in the chaotic and intoxicating world of music. Whilst the festival didn’t officially start until Thursday afternoon, those who had arrived a day early were treated to some music and free beers at the The Dive Bar which opened up for the first time at the beach, last year. One thing that you always hope for when you’re at a festival, is good weather and Brighton definitely didn’t disappoint – for a few moments at least! With the sun shining and the drinks flowing all that was left to do was to satiate the desire for aural pleasure.
The Dive Bar’s line-up for the evening was a showcase of some of the hottest musicians that are currently based in Brighton. Kicking things off was the fierce female energy of Arxx. Their light-hearted banter with the crowd was especially entrancing, though with their Deap Vally meshed with Royal Blood sound; it was impossible not to fall in love with them. LibraLibra’s performance was theatrical and intense, which certainly woke up those who were starting to lag after a few too many beers – ourselves included – and as the sun went down, Brighton-via-Newcastle grungers, Sick Joy upped the ante with a heavy dose of gritty rock and roll. It was their first time playing at The Great Escape and they made sure to make it count by playing four sets over the festival; two of which were for The Alternative Escape. The atmosphere was electric by the time Thyla had reached the stage and it truly felt like things were in full swing. Suffice to say, that’s how you do an opening party!
Thursday started off slightly slower than intended, due to too much enjoyment the prior evening, but as that saying from the Bible goes: ‘there’s no rest for the wicked’ and so we persevered! Off we went, straight back to The Dive Bar for an afternoon dose of alt-pop and funky bass lines courtesy of Sun Silva. There’s such a wealth of artists to choose from, that at times you can struggle to narrow it down. The key is in variation! After a quick stop at The Mucky Duck to hide from a torrential downpour, we rushed over to Jubilee Square and caught Saint Agnes, whose psychedelic-tinged music draws influence from the blues origins of rock music. One half of the vocalist duo, Kitty commanded the stage with a shuddering presence that felt like we were witnessing demonic possession, whilst Jon Tufnell’s boldness felt as though he was the right-hand man letting the chaos unfold and keeping everything in check.
When they say that most of the venues are walking distance from each other, they really mean it! Unitarian Church, which was conveniently a stone’s throw from the Jubilee Square venue was host to Laura Misch’s mesmerising set filled with a sound bath of synths and saxophone. Due to the venue being filled before her set was due to start, she treated the crowd to two extra songs, as a thank you. Bouncing around the stage like a child who is discovering the art of splashing in puddles for the first time, she radiated happiness and it was a beautiful experience paired with the acoustics of the church hall. With adrenaline running through our veins we rushed over to The Old Market to catch Marika Hackman and Shame, who were the secret headliner announced only a few hours earlier. Marika was as perfectly crisp as you can imagine with a fantastic juxtaposition of lad banter between herself the crowd, and a sassiness within the confidence of her performance.
With the afternoon being a good dose of indie/pop bar a slight detour with Saint Agnes; the rest of the evening was filled with cacophony and frenzied moshing. Shame headlined the Fender stage as if it was their last performance. Never have I seen a bassist with such energy, doing countless pop-punk jumps per song and never missing a beat when it came to vocals. With such high-octane performances and a lead singer with the stage presence of Johnny Rotten, it’s unsurprising that they have such an intense following. After straying slightly too far away from the city centre in order to make it to The Old Market, we hopped into an Uber – which was absurdly cheap compared to London prices – so that we could catch Petrol Girls at The Prince Albert. If for some absurd reason you haven’t already checked out the 4-piece post-hardcore band, then put it on your to-do list. Lead singer Ren Aldridge is openly feminist and took a few moments to tell empowering stories about creating safer spaces for women and people who are trans/non-binary. In a perfectly timed instance of ‘practice what you preach’ someone was removed from the venue after harassing bassist Liepa Kuraitè during the opening moments of their set.
Friday morning arrived and with the sun shining and an intense schedule ahead of us, there was a kick in our steps as we made our way to the beachfront, which was where we’d be spending most of our day. Unfortunately, we had missed out on the sultry neo-soul tones of Rosie Lowe whose set was perfectly timed for her album’s release date but we managed to turn up just in time for HalfNoise’s groovy numbers. Frontman Zac Farro (yes, of Paramore) was filled with gratitude to those who turned up to see the band, thanking the crowd more times than one could count! Next on our agenda was the band on everyone’s lips at the moment: Squid. To our dismay, our legs couldn’t carry us to the other side of the beach fast enough, as by the time we made it to Hideout the queue was already stretching outside two other venues alongside it. Disappointment lasted long enough for us to grab another beer before meeting King Nun for a set of polaroid’s ahead of their set at Three Wise Cats where there was a ton of confetti and a smashed guitar. It’s all about the theatrics; all in the name of rock and roll, kids!
Another detour was to be made, as we caught wind of Yonaka having an album launch party at The Tempest. Whilst the crowd buzzed around with excitement, the synth-drenched alt-pop blasted through the speakers - it’s full of the moody intensity that Yonaka do best. After the album playback, they took to the stage for an acoustic set which had an especially emotional performance of ‘Lose Our Heads’. Back we rushed to the other side of the beach, in hunt of Patterns, to track down the amusingly named Psychedelic Porn Crumpets who gave us major hair envy as well as achy ears from the sheer wall of noise. Nottingham’s Haggard Cat suffered from a broken snare and a set that ran the risk of running over, but that didn’t stop them powering on through, despite the crowd seeming a little thin. The same cannot be said for The Murder Capital, who played at Green Door Store. They drew one of the biggest crowds we’d seen for the weekend, to a point where we could barely fit into the venue. Instead, we were crammed in the doorway and listened to the brooding intensity whilst peering at the backs of the heads of all of the absurdly tall men who came to watch them. Despite only having officially released two singles, The Murder Capital were the hot band of the weekend and all that managed to get into the set, were very lucky. Riding the high of what seemed like a special moment, we called it a night and settled in for some tinnies on the beach!
PSYHCADELIC PORN CRUMPETS
Now I think it’s safe to say that because of all the excitement of Friday, we weren’t the only ones who were feeling a bit fragile on Saturday morning. Somehow, that didn’t stop everyone heading down to see Gaffa Tape Sandy at The Prince Albert, first thing in the afternoon for the Alcopop! Records x Big Scary Monsters takeover. When we arrived at midday, there was a one-in-one-out policy, which meant that we had to take our chances catching them at The Alternative Escape’s stage at Beyond Retro later in the evening. To pass the time, we headed to the beach where there was a party to celebrate ten years of Sounds Australia. We caught a little bit of These New South Wales and Pagan, whose mental disco metal was a real shock for those who were queueing up to see Confidence Man. After popping into Beyond Retro for Gaffa Tape Sandy and Sick Joy, we headed down to The Old Market to catch what was an unexpectedly genius performance by Anna Calvi. The way she has completely mastered the guitar and goes from strumming standard chords to shredding on her knees in tumultuous pleasure, whilst writhing around the stage in subtle intensity is something that can only truly be understood when witnessed. Add in the devilishly delightful red lights that dowsed the stage, and you can only imagine the evocative energy.
GAFFA TAPE SANDY
We’ve started to wonder how The Great Escape seems to get better every year? Surely there’s a magician in the loop casting charms on the wayward Brighton revellers each year? Either that, or the music industry is well and truly still alive with fresh talent cropping up day by day. It has been a ride, and whilst we’re still recovering from 5 days of madness, we already cannot wait for next year to do it all again.
Words by Tyler Damara Kelly and Photography by Ant Adams