Kicking off from 15-18 May is the UK’s biggest and best indie up-and-coming festival: The Great Escape. Self-described as ‘the festival for new music’, it features 500+ artists across over 30 intimate, walkable Brighton venues, providing the perfect opportunity for music lovers to discover as much as possible. 

This year’s killer lineup headlines Kingston singer Faye Webster with Cut Worms for a ‘spotlight’ show with dedicated standalone tickets – the unmissable event of the week. Other big hitters include Kenya Grace, Vaultboy, Alfie Templeman, and Lauren Mayberry (of CHVRCHES), and notable names such as Noahfinnce and Soft Launch, setting the scene for three days of incredible performances.

To close out a day of indie/alternative browsing you can head to the official afters, titled ‘The Late Escape’. Venues such as The Arch, Patterns, and Alphabet host dance and electronic showcase sets across Friday the 17th and Saturday the 18th, so there’s something for everyone. Entry is free for TGE wristband holders, with individual tickets available.

There is more to The Great Escape than the big names and even the music itself. The uniqueness of the festival is its focus on and importance for smaller artists – the website citing a “particular reputation for breaking new talent” – so be sure to check them out. With the sheer number of shows, it’s a great opportunity to try out something you haven’t listened to before. 

The festival is also attended by industry professionals looking for ‘The Next Big Thing’ – so this is your chance to earn bragging rights to say you saw a band play live “before they got big”. Usually, this takes place at targeted events known as ‘showcases’, where a packed programme of artists plays a venue, aiming to get new talent in front of the eyes and ears of organisations such as record labels, distributors, and media outlets. 

Alongside the central focus on emerging artists, the festival parallels Texas’ South By Southwest festival model, running a concurrent conference with events and keynote discussions for the 4000 music industry professional attendees. For an insider view on the business aspect, The Badger spoke to James Bruce, who works in live music venue programming and as an Artist Manager for Post Electric Artists. The Great Escape stands out as a networking opportunity; having attended since 2007, he finds it a “one-stop shop” for all things “relevant to contemporary artists”, and “building a foundation of connections that can help support a career”. On the importance of the Great Escape, he described a “land of opportunity for artists”, with the exposure to both new audiences and industry figures being “a rite of passage and a stamp of approval that can build teams, seal deals and accelerate awareness for artists and their teams”. 

The festival’s international presence further enriches its offerings. Various countries’ trade organisation showcases bring UK visibility to some of the 33 nationalities of artists who perform, and promoters come to book artists for festivals worldwide. A testament to its grassroots feel, The Great Escape even has its own fringe events and showcases, dubbed The Alternative Escape. These are usually free, prioritising exposure and taking advantage of the passing audience – all while supporting small, independent venues. 

Some controversy has been attached to the festival with a boycott by some in the music industry, protesting financial ties to Barclays Bank. The campaign’s statement asks TGE to cut ties with the bank due to shareholdings in- and loans to- companies that sell military equipment and arms to Israel. Though aspirational, this objective is more complex than it first seems; TGE’s use of Barclaycard as a payment provider is dictated by its festival promoter, Live Nation. Live Nation is the largest event promoter in the world, and encompasses Ticketmaster among other ticketing vendors. It is used by a mass of live acts, from major artists to the indie scene, theatre, and sports. All major UK banks, other than The Co-operative, have financial ties to these same companies, so as it stands, there is no alternative available. Criticisms of the initiative suggest a misconception of TGE’s agency in this respect, raising questions that as a grassroots-centred festival, TGE may not be best placed to take on this challenge. The Festival lists its lineup by country, including Palestine. To support Palestininan artists, you can catch Palestinian-American Lana Lubany’s Arabic-Western fusion set at Komedia Basement on Friday. 

If you’re not sure where to start, most tickets offer access to all gigs so the lineup’s your oyster. Use the gig planner on the website to see who’s playing where and when, and create a personal schedule with the festival’s app. Check out the Spotify playlist by @thegreatescapefestival linked on TGE’s website for top tracks from artists performing in the 2024 edition. Alternatively, going into a gig blind with no expectations offers the chance to break out of mainstream trends and explore music off the beaten track.

The festival offers tickets with access to all festival events in single, two, or three-day tickets, and standalone tickets for Faye Webster’s Friday Spotlight show at the Brighton Dome. All tickets are available from The Great Escape website. 

Image: The Great Escape
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