The Great Escape Festival: Day 1 Round-Up Review

This weekend was my first time at The Great Escape Festival. Dubbed as Europe’s answer to SXSW, I had very high expectations. Having enjoyed affiliated free street performances and gigs in the past, I was thrilled to experience the festival as a wristband holder. With access to over 30 venues across the city and a line-up of 350 artists, TGE didn’t disappoint – despite its unpredictable nature.

Day One (Thursday), for me, begun with a street gig. I spied a band pitched up outside a restaurant spontaneously entertaining an al fresco crowd. Their music was fresh, vibrant and joyful which complimented the surprising appearance of summer weather perfectly. The six piece playing were Undiscovered Soul, a six-piece from Switzerland who had travelled to the UK to play various free gigs across the weekend. When their performance ended with a rapturous applause, I realised that this is what The Great Escape is all about.

However, there’s more to TGE than just hailing new talent. It often provides a platform for existing artists to reinvent themselves. This year, British singer V V Brown attempted to use TGE’s sister event The Alternative Escape to get back in the spotlight. Best known for her 2008-2009 pop singles ‘Crying Blood’ and ‘Shark In The Water’, Brown was determined to separate herself from her past and played only new material during her short set at The Mesmerist. Sadly, her new sound isn’t likely to see her return to the charts. The experimental electronica she performed was further doomed due to sound distortion and technical issues. With some more practice, there may be some potential but it didn’t sound promising. Of course, imperfections are what The Great Escape is all about too.

Continuing to embrace the fringe gigs, I trotted along to the outdoor Festival Hub to see We Were Evergreen and Big Wave Riders. The former would later support Everything Everything at a top-up gig at the Brighton Dome so it was a coup to see them for free, although neither proved particularly memorable with their main role being providing pleasant muzac for cider drinkers and late lunchers. However, the creation of an authentic festival vibe on a concrete inner-city plaza is also what The Great Escape is all about.

Returning to The Mesmerist, I caught the closing moments of Plant Plants’ set who, presumably, put on an astounding show judging from the short amount I witnessed and the comments I overheard. The experimental electronica of Kasket who followedwas less well attended but still provided ambience for the remaining audience. After his performance, I attempted to gain entry to The Warren – the festival’s ‘secret venue’. Despite posters dotted around Brighton, most punters get lost en route (myself included). When I’d finally found the hidden den, there were only 30 minutes before BRIT Award winner Tom Odell begun his set and there was an exceptionally long queue desperate to see the hotly hyped star. Unsurprising, I was turned away and my wait in the cold was in vain. Apparently, queuing is also what The Great Escape is all about.

Following the disappointment, I traipsed across town to see The Skints at the Komedia. The venue, which is usually a comedy club, had been transformed by hosts Urban Outfitters who added their own quirky charm to the event. Even the toilet doors had been decorated with typically off-beat yet still on-trend patterns and hand dryers and mirrors had all been adorned with kitsch stickers. The music was consistently good throughout the evening too. Dutch musician Blaudzun impressed with his second set of the day which was swiftly followed by London duo Thumpers who pumped the venue with feel good vibes minus the cringe factor. Thumpers were a tough act to follow and Is Tropical’s electronic rock (call it ‘indietronica’ if you will, Wikipedia does) struggled to compete, especially after several technical issues and a set which was forcefully cut short. However, the bill toppers The Skints truly made the night theirs. Amidst all the variants of indie, London’s leading reggae fusion band stole the show when everyone danced to the beat of their dub – even those who would never normally listen to a ska band covering Katy B. From the cheers of the crowd, it suddenly became clear that making discoveries is really what The Great Escape is all about, and Day Two brought plenty more.

(Top photo – @amyjosnaps, Instagram)

Were you at The Great Escape; what did you think of Day 1?