the opening day at Great Escape offers a glimpse of what's to come

The Great Escape 2016 review

published: Thu 26th May 2016

around the festival site

Thursday 19th to Saturday 21st May 2016
various venues, Brighton, East Sussex, BN2 9NA, England MAP
early bird £59.50 for the weekend (+booking fee)
daily capacity: 15000
last updated: Wed 20th Apr 2016

The Great Escape is billed as "the festival for new music", and rarely has a music festival lived so vociferously up to its tagline.

Hundreds upon hundreds of emerging talents descend upon Brighton each year to perform at the tastemaker's utopia, with audiences made up of industry professionals, members of the press and - occasionally - a regular music fan or two. It's the UK's answer to SXSW in the States, and a rite of passage for any band on the brink of musical stardom.

The 2016 event featured the usual mix of promising UK and international acts, with a scattering of established names. Great Escape is somewhat unique in that there's a lack of hierarchy to the bill, creating a level playing field for new bands. The closest to a main stage was three spotlight shows - one on each evening - which all required a special ticket to attend and sold out well in advance of the festival.

Great Escape is the biggest and best of the metropolitan music festivals that dominate the calendar in springtime, and comes with the usual challenges for any festival-goer at this type of event. Rather than taking place in one space, it sprawls across Brighton, with venues varying from the city's large music venues to pubs, clubs and shops. Attendees should expect to walk a lot, and any pre-planned itinerary will go out of the window thanks to queues, delays and fatigue.

It's not the easiest festival to get around, and any new attendee should expect to spend the first day finding their bearings. Google Maps isn't always the most helpful at getting to venues - the directions for the Green Door Store, for example, take you to platform four at Brighton train station - and so it's a good idea to ask the locals for directions.

Brighton is also, by virtue of its seafront location, not the cheapest place to stay. Even a budget hotel - if you can find a room - will set you back considerably. This means it can be a good idea to look out of town, especially if you'd like to get a good night's sleep each day. You'll miss the late night sets by doing this, however, and as Great Escape runs until deep into the early hours that's a big chunk of the schedule.

Staying out of town was particularly problematic at Great Escape 2016 due to strike action that, while taking place on the day before the festival, had an after-effect resulting in train delays and cancellations throughout the event. This was an unfortunate coincidence, but nonetheless made it tough for those opting to book accommodation outside of Brighton.

While the most exciting part of Great Escape is undoubtedly the wealth of new music, it also doubles up as a convention, with panels and networking events for those in possession of a delegate pass. The delegate passes granted holders access to special events ranging from a Scandinavian breakfast to talks on mental health in the music industry, as well as access to a priority access queue at each of the venues, although even these queues were often considerable.

Beyond the music and the convention, there wasn't quite as much planned as there might be at a camping festival. A pedestrianised road through the centre of Brighton featured stalls, a Brewdog van and a Dr Martens photo booth, plus busker-style performances on the street. Another popular hub was the Spiegeltent.

However, by taking place in such a vibrant city, there was always something to do as a break from the music - including a visit to the beach, or a trip to one of a plethora of restaurants. Also, as Brighton Fringe coincided with the festival, there was always a street performance or two to catch.

The first day of Great Escape started under the sun, with early highlights including Fronteers, and Her at Queens Hotel. A number of acoustic sets in the outdoor area at Wagner Hall also proved popular in the opening hours, and from the very beginning many of the venues were vibrant and filled to capacity.

Anna Of The North: The Great Escape 2016

Norwegian pop vocalist  Anna Of The North was one of the stand-out early performers, taking to the stage in front of a sizeable audience at Horatio's. It was the first of multiple performances across the three days, and each one attracted close to capacity crowds. In a live setting she's expressive, motioning constantly with her arms, and the fresh, earworm songs that she and her producer curate were deservedly appreciated by the afternoon audience despite the tricky - and windy - location of the venue at the end of the pier.

The afternoon sets were over in a flash on day one, as Great Escape died down at tea-time - as it would on each day - for an interlude of sorts. The day's most exciting names were instead saved for the evening, starting with Transviolet, whose alternative pop stormed the basement bar of Patterns. They're not the most exciting live band - almost a little bit bland - but their popularity is sure to grow.

Isaac Gracie was another spoken of in glowing tones ahead of his set at the Unitarian Church, while White Miles - perhaps best-known for supporting at the Eagles of Death Metal show at the Bataclan last year - roared at The Hub. So many such shows were tricky to get in to, in dark venues packed to the brim ahead of time, meaning you had to be content to pack into a crowd to see them.

Concorde 2 was an especially difficult venue to get to across the three days, located a long walk up the seafront that made it a destination of sorts, in that you'd only travel there to stay there. The opening evening's bill was a strong one, with the electro-pop of Starling followed by Girl Friend, although they both played to a scattering of festival-goers relative to the full houses at more central venues.

Day one's spotlight show featured Oh Wonder as the headliner, with Shura as lead support. Shura is well-hyped of late, although she is far from the stand-out act in a packed genre, and it sometimes feels a little forced. Oh Wonder, on the other hand, deserve all of the praise they get - and All Saints Church was a beautiful venue for their purest of pop offerings.

Otherkin: The Great Escape 2016

For those without a ticket to the spotlight show - which was most - there was still plenty to see elsewhere. 4AD's  Pixx played in a theatre, while the brilliantly-named Have You Ever Seen The Jane Fonda Aerobic VHS? filled the Latest Music Bar to the point that many weren't able to get in to see them. They were followed by raucous Irish rock band Otherkin,, who put on a rowdy show in the basement.

The place to be on the first evening, though, was Komedia. Its two, staggered stages meant there was no need to run around the city after a long day, and the line-up had a lot to offer. The cancellation of Royce Wood Junior, gave Leif Erikson the surprise opportunity to perform for the second time - they'd played early in the afternoon elsewhere - and the crowd took to them well despite their unbilled appearance.

More exciting, though, was a UK appearance for Chappo. Their look has major shades of glam rock, but their quirky sounds have plenty of substance to go with it, both in early single Come Home and January's album Future Former Self.

Another Komedia stand-out was Pumarosa, the London band that possess perhaps more talent that any new band around today. Priestess was one of the best singles of 2015, and although they've only released one more since, there's clearly plenty of great material ready for their inevitable album. They're exactly the sort of band that Great Escape exists to promote, and are sure to be a huge hit at festivals such as Latitude later in the summer too.

Pumarosa's set coincided with that of the punk-pop of Bleached at Horatio's, Blossoms, and Chastity Belt. Yet despite this, Great Escape didn't feel like a festival of clashes - and it wasn't often that attendees bemoaned the difficulty of choosing between two favourites.

Late into the night - until half-past two, no less - the sets continued on day one, with Highasakite, and Youth Club amongst the highlights. The main destination, though, was Wagner Hall for Craig David's TS5. Taking place on the stage sponsored by Vevo throughout the event, it was impossible to get in without arriving very early, as the reinvented star seemed more popular than he's been for years.

Day one at Great Escape was a glimpse of what was to come. It proved to be the festival's least hectic day, but one filled with great new bands all the same. Pumarosa stood out as the stars of the day, yet ask any festival-goer, and they'd give you a different answer; That, perhaps, is the great thing about Great Escape.

review by: Katy Blackwood

Thursday 19th to Saturday 21st May 2016
various venues, Brighton, East Sussex, BN2 9NA, England MAP
early bird £59.50 for the weekend (+booking fee)
daily capacity: 15000
last updated: Wed 20th Apr 2016

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