Most Thursdays, you would do well finding a better place to be than Brighton. However this is not a normal Thursday. This day marks the launch of 2019’s edition of The Great Escape, the annual festival celebrating all things new music. The festival takes over most venues in Brighton, transforming the seaside from a joyous liberating city to a thriving musical get-together. If you want to know who to champion in the next few months and get all smug when they inevitably blow up, look no further than The Great Escape.
Day one brings with it the depth of range the festival has to offer. Easing in the afternoon over at the Latest Music Bar is Cardiff-born multi-instrumentalist Gwenifer Raymond. She performs tracks off her sublime 2018 album, ‘You Never Were Much of a Dancer’ with haunting accuracy. Dynamic and intense, Raymond deserves complete attention. That is until the venue downstairs begins sound-checking and the intricacy of the instrumental music is drowned out by sludgy riffs.
It highlights precisely what works and what does not about the festival. Two great acts (the other being Buzzard Buzzard Buzzard) within a staircase of one another, playing straight after one another, but neither one will be truly enjoyable due to the logistics of the venue. She takes it in her stride, however. “That was a traditional song. It was originally composed with a rock band soundtrack”, she winks.
Next to the train station, the Green Door Store plays host to a Music Export Canada showcase, representing the Great White North. Tallies opened the year with the release of their self-titled debut, and their jaunty pop doesn’t go underappreciated. Whether it is the singer’s wolf shirt or song titles like ‘Midnight’, there’s a general dark tone to all their dream-pop numbers. The four-piece, each with their own look, do just enough with their time to show range, but never truly flourish.
By the seafront, Lazy Day are an early highlight. With four very watchable stage presences, it is an all-singing, all-dancing show. The London group, fronted by Tilly Scantlebury, are smashing their way through their second of four shows at the festival when you notice just how much fun they are having. Scantlebury is incredibly charming, snarling like Snail Mail but having a blast. When their songs allow, it is evident how much talent is on display. With a couple bigger hooks, you can see them playing every festival under the sun.
With an abundance of venues to choose from, sometimes it is better to stick to the one. At Patterns, the nightclub is the place to be as CAAMP pull off one of the sets of the day. “We flew over from the States last night and we’re thrilled to be here”, Evan Westfall begins. Formed by Westfall and his childhood friend Taylor Meier, the now-three-piece perform folk with vintage class. It is a superb display, made all the better by an expecting crowd loudly cheering at every opportunity. Initially reserved, they loosen up after a heckle for Athens, Ohio, CAAMP’s origin. The venue’s ceiling may be low, but the expectation for this band’s success is ridiculously high.
Shortly after, Patterns becomes the nucleus for The Great Escape’s pop. Millie Turner provides a tidy, if very forgettable showcase. LA pop songs performed with British sincerity, she sounds pigeon-holed in her playlisting hopes. There is a hint of disconnect between Turner’s brand and the festival’s business-motivated ideals. She offers postcards to the crowd and attempts a Sade-like spoken word interlude. The whole thing tries – and fails – to display her talent but ends up feeling misguided.
Elsewhere on the other end of the spectrum, Emily Burns is an absolute delight. Dressed head to toe in a sequined Adidas tracksuit, her infectious pop bangers are remarkably confident. She gets the occasionally-tight crowd to loosen up and dance, even sing along at times. Constantly bopping and jumping across the stage, by the end you will be a converted Emily Burns fan.
Sandwiched between the past two names is another future pop heavyweight: Drax Project. The Wellington band blend jazz and pop with the groove of R&B to tremendous effect. Performing new, unreleased cuts as well as established hits (including the Hailee Steinfeld-featuring ‘Woke Up Late’), their sax-filled set is a rubbery, quick-hit of fun. This is only slightly more memorable than Canterbury duo APRE, signed to Polydor. It is a fine set, nothing special. Some songs like ‘Everybody Loves You’ will stick with you, but the band themselves might not.
To wrap up the evening, Komedia showcases a rowdy, chaotic set from Yves Tumor. The producer released the superb ‘Safe In The Hands Of Love’ last year and his set shows his long-lasting potential. The Florida musician leaves his band at home, opting to use only his mic. This allows him to enter the crowd and thrash around the room. ‘Noid’ is met with shouts from the raging audience. After his last song gets cut, Tumor shouts at the sound crew, demanding one more. He drops the mic, storms off. It is a thrilling end to the day.
But the highlight of the day turned up just before. Down at the beach, Little Simz, on the back of the incredible ‘GREY Area’, puts on a commanding display. The London rapper is a force to be reckoned with, her live band hypnotic and energetic. With 45 minutes, she goes all out. Most of the new record gets aired through Simz’s engaging performance. She is brilliant, poised while unflinching. The sort of performance that will stay with you. It is what makes The Great Escape great: capturing the exact moment a talent makes that leap from local icon to international stardom.