By Bruce Rave
For years, the UK has had smaller versions of Austin’s SXSW. Several continue to thrive, and none more so than The Great Escape. It takes place in Brighton every May. 300 bands play in this charming party town, which is located on the English Channel. The event is more of a regional European festival with attendees and bands arriving from far and wide: Australians came to play even US bands like The Orwells, Phosphorescent and Parquet Courts, not only showed up, but blew people away in the process. A few established Brits such as Billy Bragg and Everything Everything played for those willing to shell out extra pounds to see them. For me, it was all about the up and coming peeps… just as it is at SXSW.
I saw about two dozen bands over the course of three days. If I were to give you one group that hit the biggest home run for me, it was The Strypes. These Irish mid-teens hammer out an intense R&B/garage blend of early Stones and Yardbirds. If you like this kind of music as much as I do, their live show is a “10” and it will be impossible not to have a smile on your face. They have amazing poise for their age, on and offstage. I interviewed them during the weekend, and that chat will soon be posted on B3SCI – stay tuned. Strypes hope to hit America next March for SXSW 2014. Another band that I interviewed was Tribes, who are also great live. Look for that post in the near future. This London band borrows more from the 70’s glam period and just released a new album in the UK. It follows up their top ten debut. They had the misfortune of following The 1975, who flashing-back had dazzled us at the B3SCI SXSW party in March. With two serious UK hits now under their belts, The 1975 drew such a huge throng that many Tribes fans gave up waiting in line. Temples matched the keen expectations I had for them, of which were mostly based on their first single “Shelter Song”. Their set contained several more songs with hit potential, and Temples absolutely deliver live. All four guys in the band ooze stardom, and front man James Bagshaw sports a perfect Tommy Bolan hairdo (bonus points). Temples played two unannounced shows, one being a few hours in advance of the also secret 2am set from Palma Violets. I didn’t see PV that night, but I recall they killed at SXSW.
Some other highlights among a slew of strong artists: Catfish and the Bottlemen came highly recommended to me by BBC honchos, and I loved their melodic, guitar-driven energy. Echotape are up and comers with huge potential that remind me a bit of The Horrors and even Temples. The Family Rain are three brothers, including two twins, who play like Wolfmother’s second album should have sounded. Owen McGarry is a promising Irish singer-songwriter with a crystal clear voice and lots of potential. Merchandise hail from Tampa and have become NME darlings with their dark and dirty post-punk power. An added bonus for me was at one point winding up in a private courtyard where Little Green Cars were taping a beautiful cover of Neil Young’s “Philadelphia” for VEVO. A major buzz artist was London Grammar. Her sweet voice attracted a huge outside line. I got in and can see why people are excited, even if her softer, slower style isn’t quite my glass of white wine.
While TGE is smaller than SXSW, it’s still impossible to cover everything due to schedule conflicts. One US band I hated to miss was electropop band Feathers from Austin. They definitely cut through the clutter and were on lots of lips. For SXSW, 6th Street in Austin has become such a shitshow that attendees avoid the street at all costs at night. Not the case in Brighton. Sidewalks, bars, and cafes were filled with college types and other mellow locals who seemed unfazed by the festival, so walking between venues was a real pleasure. We really lucked out with the weather. Brighton had endured ten consecutive stormy days, but not a drop of rain fell during the festival. One downside shared by both TGE and SXSW: As both events grow, there are more and more lines that make it impossible to gain admittance to certain showcases. Both festivals now have the task of trying to grow without being too big for their own good. I hope TGE can retain the casual intimacy that it still has at this point. I highly recommend it to anyone who can attend, but I’d do it within the next couple of years.
The Great Escape (Official)
Reviewed by b3