Festival (19/05/16 - 21/05/16)
The Great Escape is one of Europe’s largest festivals, boasting over 450 acts across 35 venues in three days. Despite the titanic scale of the operation, it retains an intimate, close-knit atmosphere that focuses on promoting up-and-coming and international artists, rather than simply filling the itinerary with star names. The Great Escape is a journey of discovery and with a line-up covering folk, electronica, pop, grime, alt-rock and everything in between, there’s truly something for everyone. Alumni such as Adele, Mumford & Sons, Royal Blood and Haim, prove that the ‘next big thing’ is there to be found and over the course of the festival’s three day itinerary the hunt for such acts is a tantalising prospect.
Host city Brighton, on the south coast of the UK, plays an instrumental part in the festival’s unique appeal. The city’s quaint market streets, beautiful coastal vistas and thriving music scene create a perfect setting, helped by the sheer number of adaptable venues that play host to hundreds of acts. Now in its second decade, the festival continues to grow and 2016 added even more attractions to the list. As well convention sessions, which offer festival goers the opportunity to hear from music industry insiders on hot topics affecting the industry, this year saw the launch of late night DJ sets, street performances and movie screenings in partnership with Raindance film festival.
The core attraction of the festival though is music and Jacko Hooper provided the ideal opening to a weekend of exhilarating live acts with a set full of emotionally charged acoustic tunes, set in a quaint pub near the sea-front. Hooper informed the crowd he was suffering from an illness, but his note-perfect voice and smokey tone were completely unaffected, adding depth to his series of well-written acoustic songs. Norwegian pop artist Anna of the North transformed a bar at the end of Brighton’s pier into a wonderful haven of electronic pop, her soothing, ambient vocals creating an intense atmosphere that left the crowd slack-jawed in admiration. Grumble Bee, the stage name of multi-instrumentalist Jack Bennett, brought day one to a close in emphatic style, adding a welcome a dose of heavy guitars and pounding drum beats to an otherwise laid-back day of music. Playing through the majority of his latest EP Disconnect, Bennett traversed a series of technical difficulties to justify why the alternative scene is starting to take notice and those fortunate enough to catch his set left day one knowing they’ll be seeing much more of Grumble Bee in the future.
Generator Northern Ireland kicked off day two with a fantastic showcase of rising Irish talent, Bry and Ciaran Lavery being particular highlights. Set inside Spiegeltent, one of the festival’s most unique venues with a theme that feels like a carousel inside a circus tent, both acts produced an inviting atmosphere that matched the ambience of their surroundings. Bry’s upbeat pop songs warmed the crowd with feel-good vibes and catchy choruses before Ciaran Lavery’s gentle folk songs, complete with piano and violin accompaniments, harmonised the room with a united sense of admiration. Little Hours completed a day dominated by excellent Irish acts, the County Donegal duo layering beautiful vocal harmonies over a foundation of piano and acoustic guitar. It’s always a joy to hear the merging of two such compatible and uplifting voices, particularly over impressively written songs.
Noisy Pots emerged as the first stand-out performance of the final day. The three-piece from Prague filled the stage with synths, samplers, a vibraphone and laptops, in addition to a percussion section made up of pots, buckets and cans. Their performance though is certainly not a gimmick, each makeshift instrument being used to create unusual but effective tones, all helped along by pulsating electronics. Colm Mac Con Iomaire’s performance was much less erratic, but equally astonishing. From within the comforts of the Unitarian Church, the Irish fiddler stunned onlookers with his breathtaking arrangements, making his set one of the most cherished memories of the whole weekend. South Korean pop-rock group Danpyunsun and the Sailors provided the perfect conclusion to a weekend of vast musical diversity, the eclectic mix of Western and Eastern musical styles embodying the spirit of The Great Escape perfectly.
Now in its eleventh year, The Great Escape continues to grow from strength to strength. The opportunity to witness music from a range of countries, ethnicities and genres in one place is an experience unlike any other. For a festival of this size and diversity, the organisation is unrivalled and adds a professional sheen over an exciting experience, making it a must for any music fans in search of their next musical fix. Roll on 2017!