For UK music fans Brighton’s Great Escape traditionally signifies the opening of the UK’s festival season. The event, now in its ninth year, is without doubt the UK’s biggest and most essential new music festival, one that is always a guaranteed bookmark in our diary every year. Great Escape has set the benchmark for the many imitation multi-venue single wristband access festivals that now exist, which probably explains it sells out every year.
Why is the Great Escape so good? Here are five reasons:
1. The Quality Of The Acts
Whereas some multi venue festivals fill out the bottom of the bill with mediocre fare, the Great Escape offers both quality and diversity. This year for example you could sample the slick electro soul of Jungle, the fragile and haunting folk of Bridie Jackson and the Arbour, the synth pop of Pawws or the dirty rock of Royal Blood and that's just 4 of over 300 bands playing the main event.
2. The Setting
It’s Brighton. You’re right by the sea. If the weather is good you can hang out at one of the bars on the beach. If it isn’t the rest of the city has an abundance of culture to explore – not that you’ll have time. You’ll probably be too busy checking out bands won’t you?
3. The Number Of Bands You Can See
There are two ways of approaching Great Escape. The more laid back way is to wander between venues, catching a few acts you know you want to see and taking a punt on some others. Or there’s the rigorous military like planning method, where you see as many bands as is humanly possible during the course of the event. We favour the second of these. New music fans can see A LOT of music at Great Escape. 30 full performances is our normal minimum target and we’re likely to get closer to 40. We’ll have a Plan A, a Plan B (in case a venue is full) and even a Plan C. Thankfully over the years we’ve never had to resort to Plan B, but we have it just in case.
4. The Next Big Thing Factor
Somewhere amongst the 100’s of bands playing the event between the 7th and 9th May in the pubs, clubs and concert halls of Brighton are likely to be tomorrow’s big festival headliners.
You want Adele playing third on the bill in a coffee shop to less than 100 people? Yes, we were there in 2007. You want Mumford & Sons, Laura Marling and the lead singer of The Vaccines in a relatively small University Theatre? We ticked that one off our list at Great Escape. Or how about 2012 when Haim, Foxes and Chet Faker all played a sweaty basement club and Este from Haim got half naked? We were there. Rizzle Kicks playing to about 30 people in a vintage clothes shop before they were famous? Yep that one as well. And last year there were the delights of London Grammar putting on a stunning performance in a beautiful church and Chvrches finishing us off with their digital pop in an arched nightclub on the sea. You might not care for 'next big things' but looking back these are great memories for us and show how the Great Escape can represent superb value.
These days music discovery has changed. After all you can listen to every band playing online before you go and plan your timetable accordingly. But that doesn’t mean that you won’t discover something at Great Escape. We’ve met people who we communicate with online for the first time in the flesh at the festival and discovered that they’re just as nice as we hoped they would be. We’ve turned up early to ensure we get in to a venue that we suspect may reach capacity later and watched a band that we didn’t really rate in recorded form and found them to be a revelation live, and vice versa we’ve discovered that the groovy r’n’b influenced laptop artist that all the blogs have been talking about can’t really do it live. So Great Escape is still about discovery, but for some it will be in a different form to what it was when it started.
Over the next few days inevitably many blogs and websites will be giving huge lists of acts they recommend you see if you go. This year we’re not going to overload you (we remember one year one particular blog recommended about 60 bands, many of whom were playing on different stages at the same time). Instead we’re simply naming one act on each day of the festival that we’re intending to watch and we’re avoiding the obvious ‘buzz’ acts like Jungle for which there will inevitably be large queues to get in and we will be avoiding (having already seen them this year). Maybe you’d like to consider these three in your itinerary? This year we're picking three solo female artists.
Emilie Nicolas – Komedia 19.45 (Line of Best Fit)
“Now, Norway, we love your Christmas tree that you send to Trafalgar Square in London every year, but please for 2014 can you send Emilie Nicolas over to us instead, and whilst you’re at it take Ylvis back. Thanks,” we wrote in January of this year when we first introduced this Scandinavian singer. Now our wish has come true.
Sophie Jamieson – Blind Tiger 21.15 (BBC Introducing)
Beautiful atmospheric music based in folk but with a deeper shadowy cinematic quality. We named Sophie as one of our Ones To Watch for 2014. The song streaming below is the flip side to her new single release, Stain.
And finally, if you're going, here's our final tips:
Breaking More Waves Top 5 Tips For Great Escape
1. Don't forget the Alt. Escape. It runs alongside the Great Escape and offers even more bands and more variety. Your Great Escape wristband gives you access to all the Alt. Escape events (some of which are also free to the general public or require a small charge to enter without a wristband).
2. Sign up to the Great Escape text service and twitter stream. You'll receive plenty of updates during the festival which usually include the likes of band cancellations and what venues are at capacity.
3. If you want to see the buzz bands like Jungle get there early. Queues for the relatively small venues are an inevitability. But if the queue looks too long - don't waste your time - move on to something else.
4. Pace yourself. Like any other festival if you go hard on the alcohol too early you'll inevitably pay the price later.
5. Check back here each day of the festival. All being well we'll be publishing our reviews within 12 hours of each days activities closing.