The Great Escape @ Brighton, May 2012

Armed with a Blackberry, disposable coffee cup and stupid press pass thing, Tiffany Daniels took to Brighton's roads for this year's Great Escape festival. And here's what she has to say about it.

Thursday 10th May

This is my first trip into the bucket strewn, brown paper bag madness most people refer to as Brighton during the festival season. As soon as my feet hit the ground, local promoters vie for my attention from all directions. Brighton Fringe! Brighton Food Fest! Brighton Arts Festival! Brighton Festival Week! Brighton Record Store Day Castoffs! Brighton by the Sea!

On top of that, independent promoters wander the streets and the vast fields of social networking sites to invite punters to see their clients at the Great Escape. Of all the many flyers that hit my face on my speedy departure out of the central train station, these are the kind to slow my spritely feet. Fortunately a relatively simple trek takes me to a delegate bag with a well organised gig-schedule, map and a disposable coffee cup. The usability of these items is put to the test over the next four days.

Silently ordained the Mecca of new music in Britain and the coming together of media types from all four corners of the UK, this year the Great Escape organisers have gone and invited Catalan to the party to make things even more complicated. There are more venues than seagulls. Nothing here is easy to find. Someone with a basic understanding of Brighton’s landscape might find comfort in the delegate map, but as my main sense of direction relies on the smell of sea salt, frankly it does twat all good for me. I’m quickly reduced to standing on street corners to look at my smartphone like a particularly high tech hooker.

At this point my notes read: “After an hour long stroll I finally find Green Door Store (I think)”. Not only is the venue totally not in the place the Great Escape map puts it, its front of shop is completely devoid of name. The crucial and only indication is literally a green door. If I were colourblind, I’d be screwed.

Things drastically improve as soon as Among Brothers start their set. Closely echoing the band's recorded high calibre, rousing alt-pop, amazingly this is the first time they’ve ventured to Brighton, let alone the Great Escape. After that performance - and despite a new violinist - you can bet they'll be back for more.

I’ve already noted the location of my next venue, and as Komedia rolls into eye line I eagerly anticipate the night ahead. Boasting the Drowned in Sound stage alongside a showcase dedicated to Denmark’s music scene, the venue occupies the next three hours.

Of the performances I see, I Am Oak make the second best impression. The European duo’s dry sense of humour accompanies a set of acoustic joy, carving out a fantastic atmosphere for fans and newly initiated alike. Later on upstairs Gemma Hayes pounces on the highest title, playing an utterly captivating set. Running through classics with the skill of the professional she so blatantly is, my only complaint is that her time on stage is too short, sorely missing tens of songs I would have loved to see her play.

At this point my itinerary falsely proclaims it’s time to see Boy Friend in all of their Texan psych-fairy glory. Thanks to Twitter I realise their set happened two hours ago, and – stuck for something to do and eager not to allow Bastille a similar fate – I head back towards that fated Green Door.

Ducking into The Prince Albert on the way, I catch the end of Duologue, who shamelessly steal the loop from The Cooper Temple Clause’s “Did You Miss Me?” without anyone noticing. Their electronic doom-prog nevertheless impresses an engaged audience, and before long Jonquil take to the stage. They’re predictably sublime. Attracting a large crowd for an extraordinarily small space, their stellar performance beggars the question: if Great Escape is about new music, why aren’t Jonquil headlining? Because tonight that slot rather perplexingly goes to Maximo Park, who demand additional dollar for entrance to their competing bill.

Thankfully I’ve decided to skip that extravagance, because had I tried to squish Newcastle’s finest in, I would have missed Bastille. The London sky-pop band draws a gigantic crowd. More so than ever before, their mainstream dance meets Twin Peaks synth demands a larger venue, with audience members climbing walls and curtains to get a glimpse of front man Dan Smith. Admittedly – and probably because of increased consumption of alcohol - a lot of those stood at the back don't appear to know what they're doing, but all in all the performance is a huge and well deserved success. It’s also the perfect bow-out to the first night here.

Friday 11th May

The sun’s strong enough to burn a hole in your favourite pair of sunglasses, but Friday morning doesn’t sparkle as bright as the night before. Having sensibly downed a litre of water before bed I’ve eradicated any sign of a hangover, but I didn’t consider the city can suffer from liver damage too. For the large part of the day many are so hung over it rubs off on those who haven’t been affected, reflecting a sleepy seaside town rather than a bustling music metropolis.

Venue changes do not help the situation. Brighton’s relatively small circumference once again poses a problem, as Australian band Husky are moved from Horatio’s to The Warren, which is God knows where. The aforementioned useless map indicates a Family Services Clinic. Sat Nav and Google don’t register. Queue anger, and not the pretty “Zooey Deschanel being cute” kind. True rage. Eventually I chance across a washed-out sign indicating The Warren’s entrance is back and beyond from the main road. Worse still, when I eventually locate the room, the air is so stifling it’s impossible to enjoy the drowsy performance onstage.

Peeved, I retreat to what I know best: drinking.

Thanks to missed opportunities and resignation of things to come, Friday is a mess. The Great Escape would benefit from some signage, or better still a map that’s accurate. By the time I’ve composed myself and am ready to try again, it’s 5pm and there’s an infuriating lack of performances across all of the venues.

Perhaps this is what the endearingly titled Alternative Escape was designed for: schedule filler. Or perhaps, as its presence in the Great Escape’s guide would suggest, it’s just an excuse to put on more bands that wouldn’t fit elsewhere. Whatever, this evening it provides sets by Rozi Plain and Mammal Club¸ whose brand of loopy pop is extremely misplaced in the frankly weird setting of Queen’s Hotel’s basement. Upstairs resembles a cock’n’coffee style networking session; downstairs it feels more like an abandoned convention centre taken over by a trio of indie-disco rejects.

Now impatiently waiting for the real music to start again, I’m really grabbing at straws. On a hunch, I head back down towards the beach to catch FOE’s set at Life. From what I've read of the Hampshire natives, I was expecting some cutting edge noise chaos - not my choice genre but still sonically interesting. Thanks to the whispers of a fake American accent and an extremely overhyped presence, the band better resemble a washed up 90s faux-Grrrl tribute band. It’s disappointing and stale. I don’t understand why publications are falling for an act that essentially sounds like Pete Waterman’s failed attempt to crack the feisty indie scene.

Leaving early, I decide to bite the bullet and run to catch Saviour Adore’s set - miles and miles and miles away from everything else. As I throw caution to the wind, Hot Feet save my equivalent limbs by song through an open window. Fishbowl isn’t even on the map, but the quaint little bar is perfect for laid back strumming and talk of railroads. The band’s charmingly awkward stage banter translates to music, in a captivating lull of rural birdsong. It’s the perfect kiss goodbye to a lazy sunny day; I only wish I’d found the venue earlier.

That evening things kick off with another band billed under the Alternative Escape. Us Baby Bear Bones are local, which explains the crowd size at Riki Tiks. Confusingly core members of the band are missing, and as very little is said between songs, I can’t provide an explanation. Neither can I explain why the vocals were so dismally low in the mix, rendering the set more of a background opening to a club night than a gig worthy of review.

On through the masses, and much of Saturday’s entertainment is the same: it’s indie, it’s filling the floor, you can shout along to it, there are expensive drinks to be had. My New Favourite Tribe and latterly Hymns rear testosterone levels at the whiff of a spilt beer. By 9pm it’s impossible to get into any of the venues playing worthwhile bands. Even with this daft press pass thing which doesn’t seem to do anything. Consultation with others confirms it is indeed useless, and I take it off.

Like many, I end the night clutching too many shot glasses while waiting for DJs to alight their podium. By the time that eventually happens I have no idea who I’m watching. I always knew Friday was going to be “the busy night”, but I couldn’t let myself believe I would be sidelined. Had I paid money for this treatment, I would be annoyed.

Saturday 12th May

Following a disappointing night, Juveniles provide some much needed synth-pop to get feet and shoulders shuffling on Saturday morning. Sitting somewhere between Frog Eyes and Fixers, they're a welcome wakeup call and seem genuinely overwhelmed by the turnout at Komedia – even though their music demands it.

They’re so good, I don’t even mind when I walk all the way down the pier (again) only to find Horatio’s have moved their performances to the Warren (again). This time I’ve got experience on my side, and I don’t bother to march over to that terrible town hall for Admiral Fallow.

Instead the beach and later Hyde and Beast call. Huddled into the aptly named Haunt, at times the four-piece closely and unsurprisingly resemble the barbershop harmonies of The Futureheads. On record this isn't so blatantly obvious, but faced with an audience these moments become alarmingly apparent. By the end of the gig the songs have blended into one drowsy plonk of Northern blues. It’s not the right time or place for this. Plus the free beer they promised me is non-alcoholic.

Too soon we’ve reached that gap in the schedule that should mean tea but to anyone sane indicates a time for shop bought vodka and a change of shoes. The Great Escape pathways are looking empty now; centrally filled up with tourists but definitely lacking in festival goers. You get the feeling those that remain are local and have somewhere to go. All I have is someone telling me, despite appearances, Heroes and Villains is full.

Deflated, I wait it out until Jodie Marie begins her set at Coalition. She would have fared far better in a more intimate surround – Fishbowl, for example. I don’t think her audience would have minded the drastic reduction in numbers either, as most people are apparently here for the shade and extensive banter. Her impressive vocals filter through, but the beautiful composition of her songs is annoyingly lost to background noise.

While Marie suffers from obnoxious so and so’s, Micachu & the Shapes have problems with their sound engineer, who’s fallen asleep. The trio play a nearly silent set that avoids any of the stage antics the band is notorious for. Shamefully, I find myself getting bored and considering whether I too should have abandoned ship halfway through the day.

In retrospect I wouldn’t have missed much, though that’s down to the state of my poor swollen feet and not Beth Jeans Houghton and EMA, who round off my Great Escape experience. I’m so determined to see both play Pavilion tonight, I ignore cuts, scrapes and an ankle that looks like it’s gained a stone in weight. And that ladies and gentlemen, is my downfall. Should have worn my trainers.

Loosing much of her punk potential to a more faithful rendition of her debut album, Beth’s performance is as faultless as Erika’s set is dominated by sonic blips and layered goodness. Random props alight the stage: a bell, a miniature disco ball, plenty of hairspray. Ultimately Beth’s set is more entertaining, though potentially because it finishes before midnight.

They’re both extraordinary women and they play extraordinary sets, but running around a city I don’t know like a headless chicken has done me in. At 1am I declare myself out and, shoes in hand, head home.

There are so many bands to see play at the Great Escape, your only hope is to sensibly and methodically plan your schedule before you go, and even then you’ll need to factor in distance between venues, queues to bigger shows and getting hopelessly lost in the interim. You almost have to dislike music to have a good time; because if you care too much about too many bands, you’ll only hinder your experience. Ultimately, the whole thing is just too God damn big. Next year we'll bring a detailed city map with us.

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One Response to “The Great Escape @ Brighton, May 2012”

  1. Tori Clarkson 29/06/2012 at 9:47 pm #

    Hi, can I please get credit for the first photograph please? (Gemma Hayes) Photo Credit – Tori Clarkson (ToriClarkson.com)

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