The Great Escape lets music fans see the best bands first

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 third and final day of Great Escape 2016 was by far the busiest, with more bands to see and additional large venues getting in on the act for the week's most hyped shows. There was also, for the first time, the inevitable gloom of wet weather - and downpours marred the beginning of the day.

Unlike on Friday, there was no massive set to catch in the morning, although some significant names still appeared very early in the day. The biggest of these was The Hunna, potentially tomorrow's major rock band, who rocked the vast space of the Brighthelm Centre for an hour in the middle of the afternoon. The Rubens did similar with a slightly shorter performance at Concorde 2.

Komedia featured an interesting line-up of new bands too, including north-east bands Lisbon and Boy Jumps Ship. While Lisbon seem to be perpetually stuck below the glass ceiling, Boy Jumps Ship have enough about their braying pop-punk to break it, and rowdily won over new fans with their performance.

The rain meant that many festival-goers fled indoors, although it had dried out by the time of Jones' acoustic set at Wagner Hall late in the afternoon. She's released a lot of her music in acoustic form, so the setup was natural to her, and although she's a new name she's swiftly developing a following.

But it seemed like a quiet afternoon, with most eyes focused on the highlights of the final evening. While Great Escape is a new music festival, a number of well-established names were on the Saturday bill, mainly to promote their new albums. This meant that emerging talents shared the floor with the likes of The Joy Formidable, and Mystery Jets,; For the first time, the new names seemed like a supporting cast.

The Brighton Dome and adjoining Corn Exchange added to the list of destinations for the final evening. The Dome would host the most spectacular spotlight show of all, as Stormzy headed the bill. It had been a near instant sell-out, and almost seemed like a separate gig happening to take place at the same time as Great Escape.

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The Corn Exchange was less exclusive, open to all wristband holders so long as they could beat the queue, but offered a spectacular bill in its own right. Five bands appeared in total, starting with Vitamin, the zeitgeisty indie pop boys who are so easily compared to The 1975 in sound and style. Their live performances always vary in quality, but this was one of their better shows.

For those not attending the Dome or the Exchange, local alternative rock band Yonaka were a must-see at Patterns. Although still in their infancy, their early singles suggest that alt mega-stardom awaits, with dynamic frontwoman Theresa Jarvis and a lively live show. Expect to see them gracing bigger stages in the future.

Back at the Exchange, femme rockers The Big Moon took to the stage, and had a legion of fans to call upon in the room. They've recently emerged as perhaps the leaders of a new wave of women with guitars, although they're actually the least exciting of the batch, and often a touch too pedestrian.

Mystery Jets followed closely, equipped with material from new album Curve of the Earth, plus classics like Young Love and Two Doors Down. Their set felt like a headline show with, for some, may not be the spirit of Great Escape - but for the typical festival-goers in the crowd was a massively appreciated star turn.

Elsewhere, Oh Pep! performed at Komedia, playing a set marred by a group of drunk attendees in fancy dress, who proceeded to sing other songs and generally hinder the experience. They handled the disorder well, but outside a security guard debated with an attendee about whether they should be asked to leave. It was the only real example of loutish behaviour, and Great Escape is a good-spirited festival.

The Hope and Ruin played host to one of the stand-out small venue sets of the weekend, as fans noisily embraced the discordant sounds of FEWSThe Joy Formidable also played at Concorde 2 as part of their UK tour, while The Sherlocks - another band to watch - rocked the Prince Albert. Anna Meredith offered something slightly more eclectic - but in front of a wild crowd - at the Paganini Ballroom.

It was an evening of almost too much choice, not helped at times by some stages running well outside of their schedule. Paganini was the worst offender, as NZCA/Lines - performing as a duo rather than the usual trio - took to the stage thirty minutes late and were subjected to a particularly savage heckle for their troubles. Their electronic pop is well-primed for a party, though, and once they got going the crowd got back into the spirit and all was well.

NZCA/Lines' performance coincided with that of Stormzy, who may arguably be considered the festival's outright headliner. The rapper, MC and grime hero's set was, by all reports, an exceptional and star-making show - and he's sure to be a mainstream hit-maker for years to come.

Back at the Corn Exchange, Australian rock band DMA's performed, initially to one of the most noticeably sparse crowds of the weekend. It swelled eventually, but their sound is still as derivative of Oasis as ever, to the point of almost being a tribute. Still, they make for a decent live band on their day.

By late evening Great Escape felt like it was winding down slightly, although plenty of music was still on offer, including sets from Jagwar Ma and Kyko. But the late night highlight was Loyle Carner, with his old-school hip-hop taking fans at Wagner Hall into the early hours. It was another set to make a star, and the be-freckled performer will make his impact in time.

The Great Escape is the festival for new music, and the 2016 edition brought so many new bands - both well-hyped and under-appreciated - to the attention of full house audiences across three days. With conventions, showcases and networking opportunities to boot, it's a music aficionado's paradise - and the place to be if you're anyone in the UK music industry.

As a festival-goer, it can be a heavy weekend, and as with all metropolitan music festivals you can expect to walk a great deal. The price of accommodation in Brighton can make attending prohibitive relatively to camping festivals, which may cost more for a ticket but have less additional costs to throw in. And, if you're not good on your feet, it may be a tough festival to enjoy.

There's lots to do beyond the music due to the vibrant community of Brighton, and Brighton Fringe added colour to the festival throughout a series of street performances. A pedestrianised hub offered a centralised area of sorts to hang out, while there was a band to see at almost every turn.

Stormzy was the mainstream star of Great Escape 2016, but to pick out one or two names almost defeats the point of a festival where everyone will go away with a new favourite and a new pick from the stars of tomorrow. Pumarosa, Rukhsana Merrise, and Samm Henshaw stand out from our coverage, but no one list will be the same.

It's hard to keep on top of your schedule at The Great Escape, and if one criticism can be levied, it's that stages ran behind with no real way to know until you got to the venue. This inevitably leads to missing bands, and waiting in queues instead of checking out music. Perhaps some sort of notification on the app, or updated stage times, could alleviate that problem - it would certainly improve the Great Escape experience.

That said, The Great Escape is absolutely a recommended festival for anybody that considers themselves a tipper, or an aficionado, or simply a fan of seeing the best bands first. It's the best metropolitan festival in the UK, and justifiably a staple that will bring the cream of the new crop together again in 2017.

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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