With over four hundred bands performing throughout thirty five venues in three days, The Great Escape festival is one of the biggest musical events in Europe. At this year’s event the festival celebrated its tenth year of showcasing emerging bands and artists from all over the world across the beautiful city of Brighton, on the southern coast of the UK. During its ten year history, The Great Escape proudly claims to have helped launch the careers of several mainstream artists including Adele, Mumford & Sons, Royal Blood and Haim by focusing its attention on bringing lesser-known artists to the public’s attention. With this and its coverage across a full spectrum of musical genres, it’s little wonder that a contingent of twenty thousand flocked to the coast to be a part of the festival’s landmark celebration. Among the spectators were music industry advisors, record label scouts, artist representatives and some sixteen thousand music fans, all hoping to uncover the next big thing.
As its host, the city of Brighton is the perfect place for a festival of this kind. With its quaint market streets, beautiful coastal vistas and a plethora of adaptable venues willing to be turned into concert halls, the city has everything it needs to be a cultural hotspot. No matter where you walk the air is littered with conversations about instruments and musical recommendations, creating an electric atmosphere as you navigate the street sellers, music shops and art galleries on your quest between venues. Brighton’s personality is felt even more in the evenings, as street performers provide an ambience to the soundtrack of the many buskers, all beneath an illuminated image of The Great Escape logo, projected onto the buildings in the nucleus of the festival’s headquarters. The vibrancy and atmosphere of the city provide a tantalising backdrop to the performance aspect of the event and add to the sense that the festival is more than just a series of concerts; it’s a thoroughly immersive experience.
One of the festival’s unique attractions is the attention given to international music, which helps to add intrigue and variation in the music on offer, as well as deepening the cultural ambience of the event. The Great Escape invites representatives from international record labels and artist management groups to showcase their artists and one of these, the Iceland Airwaves showcase, was one of my highlights of the festival. Taking place in Patterns, a brand new venue on the sea-front, set within the walls of an art deco hotel, the showcase pitched four Icelandic acts over a three hour slot, introducing festival goers to the works of Junius Meyvant, Vok, Low Roar and the fantasic fairy-tale folk sounds of Soley. The spectacle of seeing one half the room filled with eagerly anticipating music fans, mingling with another half of Icelandic natives eagerly hoping for the acceptance of their artists, gave the showcase a family feel with a warm, supportive atmosphere. Having attended festivals in the past where live music fans have become hostile at hearing unfamiliar music that they don’t appreciate, the atmosphere in Patterns was a rewarding experience.
This sentiment was not limited to this venue alone, but became a central theme for the festival. Having the chance to experience emerging artists in small, intimate venues gave you the sense that you were witnessing the birth of something special. Given that over the past ten years The Great Escape has introduced the likes of Adele and Royal Blood, at least one of the acts on show is statistically likely to become a musical powerhouse somewhere in the not too distant future. This prospect hovers like a halo over the whole occasion, making it feel like a true journey of discovery, where you could be witness to, and help in the making of, an artist’s career. With over four hundred prospects to choose from, it was a tantalising proposition and one that made skipping across Brighton to the next of its many venues, a mouth-watering prospect.
For all its musical pedigree, a spectacle such as this could never be possible without the hard work of its staff and organisers. The sound engineers responsible for the live music throughout the thirty five venues did a stunning job of controlling each performance. Despite having only fifteen minutes between each act to acclimatise, every artist and band that stepped onto the stage sounded pristine and clear, no matter which venue you happened to be in. When it was time to head to a new location, it was no chore thanks to the clearly printed map and location guide that accompanied the well-considered itinerary plan given to each attendee. In addition to the music on offer, the organisers had arranged a music industry conference, film screenings, a pop-up restaurant and a series of secret gigs, just in case arranging and co-ordinating four hundred bands become too easy. With the addition of a free mobile app and daily email digests, the organisers of the event did everything they could to ensure a smooth experience and they delivered spectacularly.
While this was my first time attending the festival, The Great Escape will now enter its second decade. Rather than just being just a music festival, this was a much deeper experience that felt truly significant for music lovers. The feeling that you might discover the next big thing makes the experience rewarding and exciting. It is a truly unique festival experience and will be returning in 2016 between the 19th and 21st of May. I’d highly recommend attending.