The Great Escape Festival
17th - 19th May 2007 - Brighton

R*E*P*E*A*T's Roving Reporter : Alan Smith

Well after a day's work I picked up my free wristband and gormless photo ID and headed out for some random band action for the second annual Great Escape Festival, with 150 bands playing 20 venues over 3 nights. So clearly the problem was picking out the gems and then sprinting between locations to catch them. And then trying to still fit in enough time to get to the bar before each band came on. This was made much more pleasurable this year by the absence of rain.

The first band of the festival were the rather crazy but cool ZZZ, who managed to make a dance/rock crossover actually work. They had an enthusiastic singing drummer and the other more enthusiastic creator of the "funky beats" at the helm of his keyboards. Then after a gentle jog it was the unoriginal but catchy Look See Proof, with whom parallels can easily be made with their obvious influences, The Libertines. For a young band they are doing a good job, the originality can come later. I think I then saw the very early running We're Marching On, who failed to live up to the minor hype by being perfectly pleasant but somewhat forgettable and I found my mind wandering after a few songs to thoughts of who I should see next. It was the delightful Angus & Julia Stone in the unusual but intimate surroundings of a coffee shop. They are an Australian brother-and-sister duo making gentle folk-ish songs that make use of both their great voices. Then it was time for an early night, one downside of the festival being that it runs Thursday-Saturday, meaning the depression of having to go to work after the first nights gigging. With no such worries to follow, the festival starts properly tomorrow.

Day two kicked off with quality from locals My Device, winners of the NME new bands competition and a personal favourite of mine. They are a straightforward guitar band, but they do it SO well, and with such great songs that big things surely must beckon. Special Relationship followed them in this afternoon pub gig and proved to be just as talented as those before them, another small local band well worth watching out for. Some serious queuing was going on tonight but we finally made it into the Pavillion Theatre where I decided to remain for fear of not getting in anywhere in a decent amount of time, and also with the prospect of a pretty decent lineup to come. Patrick Watson, not simply one man as you might expect, has built his band and songs around his entrancing voice. The Besnard Lakes were reasonable, albeit slightly derivative when you don't know the songs, and their dark songs are not exactly immediate and therefore not really suited to being stumbled upon by accident. Then Willy Mason finished off with the best (shading it only slightly on Patrick), rather deep Cash-eske, singing of the night. He's seemingly been around for some time, but is finally starting to gain some momentum perhaps due to some very special recent songs that give him more than just his voice to sell himself with. Onwards then to Komedia for late night treats, where the surprise hits of the weekend were The Airborne Toxic Event, a sort of dark but poppy Arcade Fire / Bloc Party amalgamation. Very awesome.

The Airborne Toxic Event

Then Annuals didn't quite live up to the hype, but did produce a barrage of noise unlike anything else, with two drum kits helping to create such an assault.

The Annuals

"It's one in! One out"

That's been the phrase of today, which became increasingly frustrating as the night went on. It started off with the average one-man-and-his-guitar Jamie Woon, then the German mis-mash of Polarkreis 18, who were very strange, complicated, but novel. A festival highlight emerged from the technical-difficulties-disrupted singer-on-another-planet gloriousness of (We Are) Performance.

He was painful to watch, with lots of under breath muttering and arm scratching, but the music was spellbinding, first class uptempo electronic pop songs. But then rather than seeing the hotly tipped Reverand & The Makers or The Race, we thought we'd get to the Honeyclub early for The Maccabees. After queuing for nearly an hour, they closed the queue and said nobody else was coming in. By that time all the major venues were full, but we managed to see indiekids Mumm-Ra and their dedicated followers at Audio. The one headline act we were able to get into were British Sea Power, which is a pretty good place to be, who were playing in an upturned giant blue cow. Naturally. They played a set dominated by new material, all of which sounded fantastic and makes it probable that their forthcoming third album will be the best yet. They also threw in a few singles, keeping the random jams, for which their gigs are well known for, to a minimum. They did go freestyle at the end with the traditional invasion of the stage by random band friends. See if you can pick out the following from the blurred photo: Phil, trumpeter for BSP and local friends ESP, complete with flag-in-back, two men in radiation suits (one stealing and attempting to play a guitar), a man with a hard hat on banging a (new) large drum and three teenagers who seemed to not actually be with the band. Sadly no bear tonight though.

We then tried to get into Komedia, which had been no problem last night. But tonight it was full, and having just opened it seemed unlikely many people would be leaving. So with the prospect of Concorde and Ocean Rooms being much the same it was home and an end to a weekend of top new music.

Words and pix by Alan Smith