It is that time of year again, as the masses descend on Brighton for festivities, infrequently good weather and the full musical experience the city provides. The Great Escape has only been running since 2006, but has become the cornerstone of the city’s calendar since. It is a festival – modelled on Texas’s SXSW – that traverses all of Brighton’s music venues, basing its ethos around new music and, this year in particular, musical variety.
It is no wonder that tickets, and delegate passes especially, are so coveted a possession. Bands from all over the world make it their task to sell themselves to the opportune masses. Best described as synth pop played in a cave, with endlessly delayed guitar riffs and dream-pop vocals, Italian outfit Be Forest are one of the earliest options upstairs at Patterns. Though sounding exactly like the sort of band everyone thought would follow in the wake of The xx’s success, their songs have a definite allure.
With every member uniformed in neon pink, Japanese band Chai that follow at The Haunt are a wonderful antidote to the ‘blokes dressed in black’ archetype that perforates the festival. They have all the energy and sugar rush of a pop band, but with tightly-wound rock grooves and some almost nu-rave-sounding tracks that emulate the best parts of Klaxons’ (unfortunately short) era, while others capture Savages’ fit-to-burst overdriven energy.
After her last album subtly revitalised indie rock, Marika Hackman at The Old Market beefs it up with a grit that turns melodies in to serious riffs. A relaxed presence on stage, she’s happy to chat between songs and woo the crowd in return. This playfulness ends there though, as, upon breaking in to an unexpected but impressive solo, she means business here. It’s hard not to return to how effortless her vocal performance is. She is proof that gifted vocalists will never tire.
As the sun drops, Amsterdam’s The Mauskovic Dance Band bring the party. Impressively clad in a charity shop compilation of colourful shirts and outrageously cut suits, their music matches. Clearly influenced by elements of ska, afrobeat and Moroccan percussion, they excel in their rhythm section, where bass and drums are locked in from start to finish. Their vocal stabs of strange calls and chants are a little confusing, but bustling with percussive details and myriad sonic additions, they are a popular presence in Komedia’s downstairs studio.
Introduced by her DJ, up-and-coming rapper Flohio ran into the crowd head-to-toe in Nike, a brand that frequents her wardrobe. Heavy, dirty basslines shook through the tent rattling bones to match her energy. You could feel her authority during ‘Toxic’ – her presence was made to be felt. Her unforgettable performance led seamlessly into Little Simz.
A trip down to the beach site is where the festival jumps up a notch, where, meters away from the water and on the beach itself, the venues are bigger and meatier. It’s easy to forget you’re in a misty tent on Brighton seafront.
Simz has effortless stage presence, conducting the crowd excellently all the way through but never making it feel corny. She seems genuinely appreciative of every clap and cheer, a priceless trait. Reflecting on her first Great Escape with 40 people in the crowd compared to Thursday night’s packed out venue. She even took it as far back as to making tracks in her bedroom blasting music through the speakers with her next-door neighbour supporting her dreams. This was an ode to her roots as she introduced, ‘God Bless Mary’.
Her rhythmic and lexical control is impressive above raw beats, where opener ‘Boss’ is electrifying, with Simz rapping through a megaphone. The show as a whole is all the better for having a live drummer, giving even more impetus as she hurtles through each buzzing track.
Thankfully, though, none of this gets in the way of her storytelling – the true gem of her talent. “Take a walk in my shoes” she asks, and after she is done, it’s hard not to feel you have.
She brought sense of community built up with the crowd singing her lyrics back in ‘Offence’. This carried so much power as her songs carry experiences that face up to the reality of the music industry, growing up in London, being black and a woman – things that resonate with many.
Despite her band being all male, when performing tracks like ‘Venom’ and ‘Offence’ which talk about the overwhelming male presence in the industry. The connection and support between them was strong improving the experience and stage presence.
By the late hours of the night through to the early hours of the morning, jazz collective Steam Down turn patterns into a raucous dance party. Bringing sounds from West Africa to South London, here they make their debut in Brighton. Lyrically, their two rappers delve into topics like colonialism and black history with impact, centering their show on inclusivity, community, and very good music. With the rooted culture that they carry with them, they bring every pulsing part of jazz, afrobeat, disco and funk together to share a unique style and experience.
It is the kind of gig where you forget about everything else that exists outside it’s four walls. Tightly knit and excellently improvisational, jazz in all its forms has to be the most exciting genre of the moment here on the first day at The Great Escape.
Images: The Great Escape