The Great Escape 2014 – Live Review

MO at The Great Escape 2014

Brighton’s Great Escape has long since been one of Europe’s leading festivals for showcasing hot new music. This year’s event offered over 400 of the world’s most exciting up and coming acts performing in venues all around the city. For music lovers and industry folk alike, the three-day event in Sussex is a must.

Day one started badly though. Not because of the artists on offer, but because of the weather. Rain lashed down as thousands of revellers rolled into town and, while the stages were indoors (imagine if SXSW wasn’t such a shitfight and you’ve got The Great Escape), it still meant that everyone was walking around in wet clothes all day as they dashed between venues. Not a nice feeling.

Still, there were some great acts to take our mind off our wet socks. First up was Sonia Stein, who purveyed subtle, intelligent pop music in The Brighthelm Centre. She could have done with playing in a more intimate venue but, still, the large and not especially full room certainly didn’t swallow her up.

Onwards through the rain to the Komedia for The Australian Sound Gallery, where The John Steel Singers‘ epic sound featured long periods of – sometimes boneshaking, sometimes groovy – instrumentation. After which, Tigertown delivered infectious pop and Kate Miller-Heidke cursed magnificently as she segued between gentle balladry and sonic quirkiness (you can grab a free Kate Miller-Heidke download here).

P1090712After The Trouble With Templeton battled through serious technical dramas to deliver a powerful set, Courtney Barnett (pictured, left) told stories that walked the line perfectly between being observationally sharp and stirringly emotive. Her well-phrased lyrics weaved around unobtrusive guitar-playing, provoking nods of appreciation as her words hit brains and hearts. Definitely the day’s highlight (read a full review of the Australian Sound Gallery here). 

As evening approached, queues grew, causing the perennial and kinda unavoidable Great Escape problem of venues filling up and leaving people aimlessly wandering the streets trying to find one with no queue. There was certainly a line to see the outstanding Gambles, who stalked the floor of the Unitarian Church, walking the aisle with his acoustic guitar like the modern day troubadour that he is.

Talking of performing from within the crowd, that’s exactly what Kaiser Chiefs‘ Ricky Wilson did at the band’s secret show at The Concorde II on the seafront on Friday morning. It was a typically raucous and fun performance from the Leeds band, although the old stuff did reign supreme over their new material (read our extensive review here).

Up the road, East India Youth, known to his parents as William Doyle, was creating an electronic soundscape that varied from beautiful and cinematic to industrial. The room was so packed that it was hard to even see the performer, so it was impossible to know exactly what equipment he was making his noise with, but some serious neck-craning confirmed that he was rocking the bass guitar at various interludes.

Meanwhile, Ezra Vine played round the corner in the ornate and pretty Spiegeltent, which was located within the brand new Festival Hub, where punters mingled, had a beer or two and rested their weary legs. The grassy hub was also where The Spiegelpub was located and where some lesser-known talent was showcased. Talent like the dazzling Annie Eve. Her songs – performed with her band – were dark and interesting. Think Daughter with more of an edge, or Laura Marling wearing a beanie and you’ll land somewhere near the young Brit. She is an artist that will explode into your consciousness over the next couple of years, Make no mistake, we’ll be hearing a lot more from her.

A band that has blown up in such a way over the last 12 months is Fat White Family, and their display of funky, bluesy country at The Coalition showed why. Also, their lead singer looks, from a distance and after a couple of beers, remarkably like Gary Neville, which is kinda awesome in a slightly off-putting way. Across the city at The Prince Albert, and looking nothing like Gary Neville, the brilliant Londoner Hero Fisher delivered a powerful, raw collection of songs.

The Dumplings at The Great Escape 2014The Don’t Panic! We’re From Poland showcase on Saturday threw up a great act. The Dumplings are a brilliantly-named duo, comprised of youngsters Justyna Święs and Kubi Karaś, who make intelligent, layered electronica with soaring female vocals. They were followed by Rebeka, who had a similar boy/girl dynamic with an injection of serious energy. No doubt though, the more subtle Dumplings (pictured,right) were the stars of this showcase and one of the standout performances of the festival.

At the strangely-monikered Sticky Mike’s Frog Bar, Belfast-born, Liverpool-based brother and sister band Southern belted out vibrant rock’n’roll pop-noir, before Albert Albert took to the stage, resembling something of a supergroup. Why? Well the eagle-eyed in the audience will have noticed that the tall handsome chap was Nick Hodgson, the ex-Kaiser Chiefs songwriting genius, and the guitarist was Juanita Stein – frontwoman of Howling Bells. Imagine a more melodic version of The Raveonettes and you’re not a million miles away from the five-piece’s sound.

Over in The Corn Exchange, English singer/songwriter Charli XCX was all pout and pomp. Sunglasses indoors, demanding the crowd made more noise, blah blah. All of which didn’t hide the fact that her set lacked songs of any note. A serious disappointment, played out to a venue that was less than a third full.

In contrast, Karen Marie Ørsted, better known as  (pictured, top), filled the room over at The Warren. Not just with people but with sound and incredible energy. Long of leg, she bounced across the stage, whipping her trademark high-plaited ponytail from side-to-side, all the while holding the audience in the palm of her hand with a perfect mixture of popstar glamour and indie credibility. Her set blended a patchwork of DIY beats, electro-R&B and pop sensibilities with a punk edge. She punched her chest defiantly, raised her arms to the sky and delivered a powerful vocal howl that left no-one in any doubt that they were watching a truly special artist. The highlight of The Great Escape 2014? You bet. Oh, and if you were wondering, her name is kinda pronounced “Moo”, we know because she told us so herself.

As the festival drew to a close, the lucky few people with top-up tickets headed to see Kelis do her thang, while the rest of us filtered into the other venues in the city. Lower-key than Kelis’ show was Leeds-based artist Joseph Lyons, aka Eaves, who dressed like he should be in a grunge band, all long of hair and scruffy of jean, but actually delivered beautiful acoustic songs. Infinitely lower-key than Kelis’ show was that of Eliza Haddad, who played a pretty and entirely unamplified acoustic set to a handful of punters in a corner of Brighton Museum. It was a gentle way to ease out of The Great Escape for another year, and nicely illustrated the fantastic variety of shows that are on offer at any particular time. Kelis belting out the album of the year thus far at The Dome, while at the same time a relative unknown strums away in a museum round the corner. The magic of The Great Escape in a nutshell.

Here’s a quick little video we made of The Great Escape 2014.

Words, photos and video by Bobby Townsend