Sunday, 15 May 2011

The Great Escape 2011 - Review

For yet another weekend in May the streets and seafront of Brighton were adulterated not only with the usual mix of hedonistic clubbers, party people and intoxicated hen parties, but with several thousand wristband wearing gig goers coming together in an orgy of multi-venue musical mayhem. Breaking More Waves was of course in the thick of it. Here is our school report of all the essential ingredients of what makes a festival succeed or not.


Tickets for The Great Escape ranged from a 3 day pass at £49.50 (+ booking fee) to a variety of day and 2 day combinations. Those on the smart money book months in advance though, with the early bird catching the worm at only £35 for a three day pass – the same as what a Saturday only ticket was on the door. Tickets allow access to all venues and gigs, except for shows by Friendly Fires, DJ Shadow and Sufjan Stevens at the Dome, for which extra payment was required. Alongside the main festival a variety of ‘Alternative Escape’ shows run, which non-wristband holders can also attend for free or a small charge.


No camping in messy, muddy fields thank you very much. The Great Escape is an urban festival, so if you don’t live there or travel in each day there’s a plethora of hotels, apartments and B&B’s. We stayed in the sexily swish Feng Shui ambience of My Hotel, right in the throbbing heart of Brighton which provided an ideal base for the event being only a short stagger home each night after the partying had finished. For those on a more restricted budget, a variety of campsites exist just outside Brighton, but if considering using those beware the potential risk of high public transport costs if travelling back late at night when only taxis are available.

The Site

It’s a city, by the sea. Without a portaloo anywhere. The venues that hosted this year’s festival ranged from pubs, clubs, and concert halls to a hotel lobby, a seafront pier, outdoor street gigs and even a vintage clothes store, of which you can see footage of Treetop Flyers playing in below.

The Punters

A mix of indie kids and older music veterans, with everyone being there for the same reason – to enjoy the music. During the weekend we saw several acoustic / folk sets and were impressed with how quietly appreciative the crowds were, but likewise when it was time to rock / dance, everyone seemed prepared to up the tempo and party.

The Toilets

A good festival has good toilets, so being indoors you’d probably expect the Great Escape to have remarkably clean loos compared with outdoor portaloos or compost toilets. Yet unfortunately it seems that the users of the facilities and the owners of clubs and pubs in Brighton pay little attention to keeping the things spotless whilst in use. Here’s an example (click here) of one such offender from one of Brighton’s leading clubs. Could do much better.

The Queues

Queues for the toilets and queues for food are two common complaints of outdoor summer festivals. No problem here in Brighton of course. The bane of every muti-venue urban festival is venue capacity. Arrive too late to see a popular act and you risk finding yourself standing outside on the street wondering whether spending £ 49.50 to loiter on the pavement like a loser was such a good idea. The Great Escape is no exception and we heard reports all weekend (particularly on the Friday and Saturday) of over-subscribed shows. However, with careful advance planning it’s possible (as we did) to never see a queue at all and maximise your time watching bands. (Read more about our tips on this here) In our time at Great Escape 2011 we saw everything we wanted to see – that’s 36 full performances.

The Organisation

Generally Great Escape is very well organised with high levels of stewarding and venues running reasonably on time, although inevitably from time to time some schedules slip a little. With festival organisers providing regular updates on what venues are full and what have space via a text message service punters are kept reasonably well informed. We did however hear a number of complaints this year about artists and bands pulling out of shows and no information being given at the venue or via the text service.

The Food

Everything from a cheap sandwich courtesy of a supermarket to some fine restauranteering is available. It’s a city isn’t it? Enough said.

The Weather

If you’ve ever attended an outdoor festival you’ll have probably checked the weather forecast for several days in advance. Forget what people say about muddy festivals bringing out the British fighting spirit and giving people a sense of community. That may be true, but wet festivals are still rubbish. However with the Great Escape there really is no need to worry about the weather. With 99% of gigs being indoors the wettest you’ll get is through a short dash along the seafront as you run between venues. We brought an umbrella and a mac. Wellies were never considered when you’ve got hard landscaping and a permanent drainage system. The umbrella wasn’t required anyway, with it being dry and mainly bright, with just a little cloud.

The Vibe

Just like outdoor summer festivals the vibe of Great Escape goes from one of chilled relaxation during the day to chaotic partying at night. What it lacks in terms of a shared inclusive community spirit that the best outdoor festivals have it makes up for in terms of convenience.

The Music

And before we forget, there’s the music. Great Escape 2011 was arguably the festival's best line up ever in terms of new music and therefore there were always going to be a huge number of line up clashes. So whilst it seemed that the world and his wife (and 95% of all new music bloggers at the festival) were herding themselves into see the likes of Braids, EMA and Gang Gang Dance we took a different route and were rewarded in particular with an incredible performance by Lanterns On The Lake whose bejewelled atmospherics were so gut-wrenchingly beautiful that grown men in the audience were shedding tears. Other highlights over the three days included James Vincent McMorrow who showed the power of simplicity with just an acoustic guitar and the voice of an angel in the Unitarian Church. Providing one of the defining moments of the festival he played If I Had A Boat off-mic to an enraptured and hushed audience, his falsetto-soul creating goose bumps everywhere. On a lighter pop note Rizzle Kicks blend of rap, ska and youthful cheekiness was stripped down acoustically in Beyond Retro vintage clothes store, delighting and putting smiles on faces during their short set. Singer songwriter Rachel Sermanni showed that she could be the next new voice of folk music with mature songcraft and a personable charm that could win her many more fans wherever she plays and Fixers came up trumps with their blend of kaleidoscopic Beach Boys / Animal Collective inspired wig out pop in the faded and tacky seaside glamour of Horatio’s bar on the pier.


Great Escape 2011 was quite simply the best yet. With a few minor tweaks in terms of information about cancellations it could be pretty much perfect. We’ll certainly be there again next year. Here are a few tracks from some of our music highlights.

Lungs Quicken by Lanterns on the Lake

James Vincent Mcmorrow - This Old Dark Machine

Another Lost Apache by Fixers.


Dave said...

I am impressed.

We saw 15 bands all weekend and spent a lot of time in queues. Still a good crack though.

Tony J said...

I love the fact you've reviewed the festival per se, with a nod to the music; a refreshing review from the standard Guardian / NME fare.
I only managed the Saturday, but I will most definitely be there for the whole event next year, and using this review as my festival guide!

Tony J said...

I love the fact you've reviewed the festival per se, with a nod to the music; a refreshing CHANGE from the standard Guardian / NME fare.

I only managed the Saturday, but I will most definitely be there for the whole event next year, and using this review as my festival guide!

P.S. Can't believe you missed Royal Republic...
P.P.S. I'm not ashamed to say I was one of the grown men that cried during the Lanterns on the Lake set