Monday 8 May 2023

8 For The Great Escape 2023 (Recommendations)


When I first started attending Britain’s biggest new music festival Great Escape in Brighton in 2007, (I missed the first one in 2006) it was pretty easy to catch someone who was going to be the ‘next big thing’ in the UK, by sheer virtue of the fact that there wasn’t a huge number of artists to choose from. At the that time around 150 artists played in 15 venues over 3 days for your £35 ticket, so about 50 artists per day.

The festival was also predominantly a showcase for white male UK based indie guitar bands (some of the names listed as headliners that year were The Rakes, Art Brut and The Pigeon Detectives). You had to scroll down the small print to spot the likes of Adele playing a small coffee shop, which thankfully I did. It remains to this day one of my best brags when the conversation turns to big artists that you saw in small venues.

These days Great Escape is very different. It’s truly international in flavour, with artists from Australia, USA, Colombia, New Zealand and many European countries appearing (sadly this year there are no artists from South Korea). Also, many different genres are represented, from folk to hip-hop to pop to soul. There's even some experimental ambient stuff in a church. In total the festival showcases over 500 emerging artists in over 30 venues plus there’s a pop-up mini festival site on the beach. Add to that the unofficial ‘alt-escape’ shows and there are probably over 800 artists playing in Brighton next Wednesday to Saturday. 

Therefore the chances of seeing ‘the next big thing’ are slim, especially when you add in the fact that it’s now so hard as an emerging artist to gain enough traction and audience to make music a long term career. However, for new music fans Great Escape remains the equivalent of what Glastonbury is to summer camping festivals. It’s the biggest and often the best.

Every year a number of people ask me for tips on who to see. This on its own is an impossible task. Yes, whilst I have listened to every single artist on the bill in recorded form, it doesn’t necessarily mean they can cut it live, especially at an early stage in their career where they may still be developing.

However, if you’re going and don’t know where to start with so many names on the bill, here are a few pointers of either acts I’ve already seen live and rate, or that have caught my ear when doing my research for the festival. It’s probably not that surprising to learn that most of these artists have already appeared on Breaking More Waves over the last couple of years.

Here are 8 for Great Escape.

The Last Dinner Party

Whilst The Last Dinner Party (previously just The Dinner Party) had already attracted a fair amount of attention (I tipped them as Ones to Watch last year in a blog post that you can read by clicking here) it’s since the release of their debut single Nothing Matters that the band has really been grabbing listeners ears everywhere.

With a whole host of very old-fashioned reference points (David Bowie, Sparks, Queen, Fleetwood Mac) The Last Dinner Party could appeal to those who were around when those reference points were in their prime, but also a younger, cooler indie crowd who are perhaps getting a little bored with yet another post-punk band with a shouty male vocalist. Having seen them live a couple of times I can confirm that they’re a talented gang with a charismatic, confident front woman. Don’t expect a bunch of tunes all as instantly accessible as ‘Nothing Matters’. This is a band who sound like they could make a great album rather than just a collection of pop singles.

Mae Stephens

After Mae Stephens went Tik-Tok viral earlier this year with her break out tune If We Ever Broke Up is she destined for 1 hit wonder land or a big-time pop career? There haven’t been any further releases (why bother when you’re still collecting streams like they are going out of fashion? 95 million and counting for If We Ever Broke Up) and so maybe Great Escape will be our first opportunity to see if Mae Stephens is going to be here for the longer period or not. Worth checking out just to find some answers.

Prima Queen

Louise Macphail and Kristin McFadden make up Prima Queen. They hail from Bristol and Chicago respectively and make beautiful music that sits somewhere on the Venn Diagram between indie, rock, country, pop and singer songwriter. They are one of the bands I’ve seen the most in the last 12 months and every time their music sweeps me up. I’m not sure if it’s the gorgeous melodies or their very real storytelling that veers from sad songs that will possibly make you cry (Butter Knife) to tunes about dating someone whilst not really being over a previous partner (Eclipse) but whatever it is they are a band to fall in love with.

Unfortunately, Prima Queen clash with The Last Dinner Party on the timetable, so there’s a difficult choice to be made here. All I can suggest is whoever you don’t see, you get tickets to see their own show in the future.

McKinley Dixon

Unlike some of these recommendations, McKinley Dixon already has plenty of work online, including a number of albums. A new long-player follows this summer and his visit to Great Escape festival will give new audiences a first chance to hear what he’s about. Inspired by everything from Mary J Blige to OutKast to My Chemical Romance, his current EP Beloved! Paradise! Jazz? gives a good example of his music; a glorious summer kissed flow of jazz, hip-hop, pop and soul. He’s playing a number of shows so there’s no excuse not to catch him at the festival.


If you haven’t seen Vlure live yet you are missing a trick. Imagine the characters from Trainspotting in a nightclub dancing to Faithless and intense rock and roll. That is the sound of Vlure – a band that give it 110% at every live show they play. Like Prima Queen Vlure was a recent runner up at the Glastonbury Emerging Talent competition. Vlure are one of those bands that really only make sense when you’ve seen them live.

Caity Baser

Another artist that appeared on the Breaking More Waves Ones to Watch 2023 list last year, Caity Baser is a UK artist who might have found some initial fame on Tik-Tok, but unlike many of her contemporaries she’s no one hit wonder. Her sassy, lyrically witty pop has already won her a legion of young fans and its starting to translate into chart positions. Last year’s ‘X&Y’ narrowly missed the top 75 in the UK at number 77 and this year’s ‘Pretty Boys’ went top 30 at number 26.

After selling out London’s Forum, next up for Caity are a number of summer festivals, perhaps showcasing her music to a different type of fan than those who are currently obsessing over her as she hits the likes of Great Escape, Latitude and Barn On The Farm. Live some of the smoothness of her records gets taken out, but you go home feeling like she's your new BFF. Look out for my favourite Friendly Sex. 


A few years ago one of my highlights of Great Escape was an Irish showcase at the tiny Prince Albert pub where I caught a beautifully intense set from The Murder Capital. This year that same showcase is in the same venue and the potential highlight is another band bringing further force. That band is Gurriers. If you like your guitar bands raw and rage fuelled then on the basis of the music they’ve so far delivered, Gurriers will be for you. If you can’t make the Prince Albert show on Thursday afternoon, they are also playing  Alphabet on Friday evening and an Alt-Escape show (which non-ticket holders can attend) at Folklore Rooms on Thursday night.

Mickey Callisto

What’s not to love about a man who does big gay pop songs, clearly models his stage presence on Freddie Mercury and on the 19th May will release an absolute banger about a nightclub called Homospace? Mickey Callisto is the fun you’ve yet to experience but really should. He’s the ultimate groovy space-cadet.

8 not enough for you?

Here are a further 8 recommendations: Heartworms, Debby Friday, Bellah Mae, Venbee, Rianne Downey, Nell Mescall, Another Sky, Ttrruuces

Bonus Tip !

And here's a final bonus tip. If you're at the festival for the 3 full days (4 if you include the limited offerings on Wednesday night) don't just stick to the genres you like and things you know. One of the beauties of Great Escape is that there are plenty of artists playing who rarely visit this country, or may never do so again. For at least half an hour in one of the three days, choose something at random that is totally different from what you'd usually see. Maybe try some hybrid Colombian folk with London jazz and hip-hop (Mestizo Collective) or some Australian sex pop (Big Wett). You may hate it, you may love it, but it will expand your musical mind either way. 


No comments: