Hopeful up’n’comers and established stars alike returned to Brighton as The Great Escape 2018 baked in balmy sunshine and resolutely ignored the Royal wedding.
More than five hundred acts ranging from the weird and wonderful to the weirdly wonderful crammed into the city’s pubs, clubs, hotels, bars, gardens, beachfronts and alleyways to perform.
The mood was giddy and, while sad girl guitar pop and raucous indie-rock bands were hot tickets, female-fronted acts took centre stage, and rap and grime artists turned in unmissable performances.
The Great Escape in Brighton ushers in the UK summer music festival season – a welcome relief after another long winter battling snow, rain, snow and more rain. In May 2018, our attention turns to the south coast of England and Brighton, the home of The Great Escape for over 10 years. Almost all corners of the city are set to festival mode with music pouring out of venues wherever you turn. Unlike Glastonbury and other outdoor music festivals which set up home in fields and countryside, The Great Escape is based in the city at existing venues – pop your head into any pub, club or performance space from 17 May to 19 May and the chances are you’ll hear live music. With over 400 acts performing, it’s impossible to see everything that the festival has to offer but, with enough energy and the essential festival app in your back pocket, it is possible to run between most of the venues and fit in a lot of gigs each day.
The Great Escape offers a fantastic opportunity to see a huge range of British performers, however there is also a “country focus” each year – in 2018 this is The Netherlands so expect a strong Dutch contingent in the festival lineup. For many acts, travelling to Brighton from far and wide, their Great Escape performance can be a springboard to wider fame and critical acclaim. Audiences are watching acts and hoping to make some new discoveries and get a look at the next big thing.
Alongside the music, there is also the TGE Convention – a series of talks and networking events for the 3,500 music industry visitors looking to connect with each other and keep on top of the latest trends and topics affecting the industry as a whole. It’s perhaps this combination of talks, gigs and city backdrop that means The Great Escape is sometimes referred to as the UK’s answer to South by Southwest in Texas, USA.
The British Council’s relationship with The Great Escape goes back several years. We regularly invite representatives of the music industry in a range of countries to come and see the festival for themselves, check out emerging British talent and connect with peers. Historically, this has led to a number of projects further down the line, such as Kero Kero Bonito’s trip to Indonesia who were spotted by our overseas guests in 2016. Also in 2016, as part of The Great Escape conference series, we presented the results of research that we had commissioned, looking into the opportunities available overseas for UK musicians and UK music industry.
Our Great Escape 2018 Playlist
With more music than you can shake a stick at, we’ve handpicked a few of the artists from The Great Escape lineup that we think you should keep an eye out for this year.
Here are five acts from this year’s festival destined for big things.
Effortless pop-soul from Londoners Tessa Cavanna and Christian Pinchbeck, who met when Cavanna walked by Pinchbeck’s canal boat singing and he mistook her voice for someone’s radio. She sings with a huskiness that doesn’t weigh her voice down – it soars over lolloping retro chart beats and fizzing tropical samples. Their summery show at The Haunt made 3pm on a Thursday in a dank cave-like venue feel like a sunset slot at the chillest festival of the summer. They are extremely likeable and by the end of the set, even the po-faced industry bods were dancing.
Stella Donnelly had a tough gig, competing with noise bleed from other stages in the Great Escape’s new Beach area as well as the sounds of actual Brighton beach on a sunny Saturday, but her daytime set soothed third-day hangovers admirably. Her chatty, indie-folk style belies the themes of songs that deal with the harsher side of growing up a woman, railing against cat-calling and sexual assault over gentle acoustic guitar. Like her countrymate Courtney Barnett, Donnelly’s voice is casual but intimate, dropping from sweet girlish sing-song into monotone to signal her eye-rolling frustrations.
The unassuming Poppy Ajudha’s blend of jazz and neo-soul was a rejuvenating balm on the tiring crowd mid-way through the festival. Her buttery voice comes with just a little bit of salt as it slaloms through wandering basslines and jazzclub beats. She credits Solange with her political awakening and amid songs about identity, gender and self-worth she gifted us a gorgeous, grooving rework of the already pretty gorgeous Cranes in the Sky. Her intimate style is perfectly suited to smaller venues but she won’t be playing them for long.
Absolutely flawless, heart-swelling synth pop from two Arkansas lads, neither of whom are named Joan. In the same Eighties-besotted style of The 1975 and Carly Rae Jepsen, hat-wearing drummer Steven Rutherford liberally scattered massive drum fills throughout the set while singer Alan Thomas sold the earnest, adolescent emotions of viral hits Love Somebody Like You. Crushes, obsessions, falling in love, spontaneous trips to Tokyo that will never happen – a crowd pretty far removed from their teenage years still lapped it all up. These two are a Spotify sensation with the chops to back up the hype.
Turning in three shows throughout the weekend, Flohio’s fiery sets were all anyone could talk about (with varying pronounciations of her name – it’s like the state, not the singing monkeys from The Wizard of Oz). The young south London MC is brimming over with confidence and clever, arresting lyrics – it’s a cliche to say that her performance was effortless but Flohio rapped without seeming to take a single breath even as her DJ cycled us through tracks that ran the full spectrum from party pop to deep grime. The half hour show breezed by despite an awkward bit of postcode-based audience participation, and closed with a mini stage invasion. It was a fittingly giddy end to the weekend.