Friday, 9 May 2014

The Great Escape Festival 2014 - Review (Part 1)

Whereas other festival promoters claim that their events are not just about the music, Brighton’s Great Escape USP is that it’s all about that and nothing else - and its lifeblood is the new and upcoming. There’s no literature or cinema tent here. There are no lifestyle workshops. There are certainly no fire breathers, circus acts, jugglers or comedians. There’s just musicians, a hell of lot of them, so many in fact that the choices can become almost overwhelming, unless you’ve done your homework.

This is how Great Escape has changed over the 9 years of its existence. In the past the festival may have been about discovery, taking a punt on a couple of bands you’ve heard name checked and rocking up to watch them. Now with the availability of streaming, multiple playlists, You Tube, well designed advance timetables and the festival’s own app, it’s possible to arrive in Brighton fully clued up; the only discovery being can the artists you’ve planned to see cut it live compared to the recordings you’ve listened to at home, discovering that they’ve cancelled last minute due to illness and discovering if you have the stamina to endure 3 days of non-stop live music (and possibly a beer or two).

So with a military like plan and spreadsheet in hand Breaking More Waves was leading the charge to see as many bands as humanly possible. Over the next three days we’ll be filing our report on what we learnt at this year’s event, starting right now. 

10 Things We Learnt At The Great Escape Festival, Brighton 2014 (Part 1 – Wednesday /Thursday)

1. It’s not just about the evening shows.

When we first started attending Great Escape in its second year there were hardly any daytime shows available and what there were consisted of relatively low quality gigs that were given very little attention or promotion. In 2014, even on the comparatively quiet first day, there was a total of 19 participating venues (including the Alt Escape shows, an official series of showcases that take place alongside the core festival programme) giving a choice of over 80 acts to go and see and the quality was high. By mid-afternoon we’d witnessed near Beyoncé like booty shaking and indie power pop from Ballet School, the slick synth-pop of Claire, and the soothing melancholy rock-pop with a hint of Fleetwood Mac from The Night VI – all highly agreeable.

2. Scandinavia is winning.

Of course we already knew this, but Great Escape just confirmed it. 

Swedish singer Tove Lo provided one of the euphoric highlights of the day with pop that was a little bit sharp and bad girl but still highly accessible – falling somewhere in between Mo / Charli XCX sharpness and the more mainstream of the likes of Katy Perry. It was pop done as pop should be done. Add to that Norway’s Emilie Nicolas, who played her first UK show; a pop star in the shadows that was so tiny that her song Grown Up took on all sorts of new connotations once you’ve seen her live. And finally another Swede, Alice Boman, a singer who created audience silencing, spine-tingling, fragile emotional songs of beauty at the Dome Studio stage. They’ll probably go and be victorious at Eurovision again this weekend just to confirm their prowess at all things music.

3. Some musicians could do with being paid a bit more so that they can buy some new clothes (1).

Wide-eyed and breezy synth pop and flute playing lass Pawws played in what look like a second hand Yes tour t-shirt. 

4. Some musicians could do with being paid a bit more so that they can buy some new clothes (2)

Tove Lo performed in badly ripped tights and very ‘worn in’ looking DM boots.

5. Some musicians could do with being paid a bit more so that they can buy some new clothes (3)

The lead singer of Ballet School wore a grey sweatshirt, yes a grey sweatshirt. We can’t imagine Lady Gaga doing that. But then maybe that’s the point. It's a music festival not a fashion shoot. But still, music lovers, please give these people your money and let them get some nice new shiny clobber. 

Mind you, all credit to Rosie Lowe for appearing in what looked like a white PVC skirt and Laurel for serenading the audience with her dramatic Lana Del Rey like cello backed pop in what we can only describe as a black goth tennis dress.

6. When going to Great Escape take a handkerchief.

We forgot and on two occasions were moved close to (or indeed actually moved to) tears. Our first moment was by the way of Eva Stone who despite suffering from tonsillitis sang songs that sounded so poignant, so powerfully bare, with a versatility that was breath-taking that she left us feeling on the edge of something infinitely sad but beautiful at the same time. Then Alice Boman finished us off later, and we left her show with a feeling of stillness and calm as if every ounce of emotion had been drained from us. It showed how bloody powerful music can be at its best.

7. The early bird gets the Cornish pasty.

Although the Great Escape doesn’t start properly until Thursday a number of low key shows are arranged for Wednesday evening to get early arrivals and locals warmed up. Our first port of call was to the SEXSW gig, which is nothing to do with sex, nor is to do with Austin’s SXSW festival (although apparently SXSW festival lawyers had been in touch with the promoters) but all to do with bands from Brighton (South East) and Cornwall (South West). There we caught the vocal harmonising rock-pop five piece Garden Heart, but more importantly, the first fifty people through the door got a free Cornish Pasty, showing that there really are a multitude of advantages (OK, at least 1) for turning up early at a gig.

8. Tove Lo’s drummer was on fire.

He really was. We saw smoke coming out of his head. We were concerned for his health and safety – was he going to spontaneously combust with the hot pop brilliance? Or maybe it was just a smoke machine playing tricks on us.

9. Being a festival that is ‘just about the music’ means a very low level of twats in the audience.

The way festivals are now sold to the public means that unfortunately, particularly at the larger events, there tends to be a reasonably high percentage of audience members whose main objectives are to have an ‘experience’ and get off their faces, appearing to not give a shit about the music or the people around them – it’s just a soundtrack to getting fucked. Thankfully the audiences we experienced at Great Escape really seemed to care and appreciate it. For example Alice Bowman’s show was a late night one, there had almost inevitably been a lot of alcohol consumed, yet the audience gave Alice the attention the music deserved, standing in silence to listen. 

10. If you drop a cigarette butt in Leeds, expect a £50 fine.

OK, we know the Great Escape is in Brighton, but we learnt this fact during Rosie Lowe’s smooth, chilled, late night soulful performance. Not from her songs but her in between banter. Possibly the most important fact we learnt during the day?

Bands seen on Wednesday / Thursday: Garden Heart, Jeremy Neal, Ballet School, Vimes, Claire, The Night VI, Sam Fender, Eva Stone, Laurel, Emilie Nicolas, Tove Lo, Pawws, Rosie Lowe, Alice Boman

Number Of Artists Full Performances Seen In Total: 14

Number Of Hours Sleep: 5 hours

Fatigue Factor: Still wide awake

Other music bloggers bumped into at random: 4

Hugs from bands / artists: 2

We’ll be back tomorrow with 10 more things we learnt from Friday’s Great Escape. Here’s one of our highlights of yesterday.

Alice Boman - Over

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