The Skinny goes to The Great Escape 2019

Three days, 15 bands, Day-Glo underwear and a whole fleet of Slush Puppies, The Skinny reports back from this year’s Great Escape Festival in Brighton

Feature by Cheri Amour | 17 May 2019

There are three elements that grant you official Brightonian status according to Sweary Poppins, an act dreamt up by party girl-cum-part-time-comic Erin who we meet waiting for her friend at a cash point near The Pavillion. "Your birth place, where you attended primary and secondary school and your chosen sex act on the beach", she explains, counting the options out on her right hand. It’s something the English seaside town clearly holds dear and they don’t take lightly to imposters. "Do you know where The Wombats are actually from?" she continues. "Worthing." Yet despite its strict credentials, Brighton once again opens its doors for indie-stry types everywhere to descend for the annual Great Escape Festival.

Bitch Falcon, Petrol Girls and Any Other 

Like some sort of South by South West on the Sussex coast, the festival has made a name for itself as the new music mecca. This year though, it’s not only fresh names they’re pushing but fresh outlooks on tired old rock tropes. Dublin’s full-throttle three Bitch Falcon and feminist punk unit Petrol Girls provide a righteous alternative to the traditional testerone of the post-hardcore scene. As Ren Aldridge from Petrol Girls puts it: "This song goes out to any women who get shit for being loud or having an opinion," as they thrust head first into Harpy from 2016’s Talk of Violence.

Conversely, latest single Big Mouth (set for release later this month on sophomore record Cut & Stitch) goes out to marginalised voices in support of the group Solidarity Not Silence; a group of women fighting a claim of defamation made against us by a well known musician. Bowing out on a high, new album closer Naive finds the band hungry for humility: "If someone’s trying to make the world a better place, don’t try and shoot them down because of your own fucking ego." It’s a vitriolic – and necessary – set that throws a well aimed punch in the gut at misogyny for all minorities.

Strolling up the seafront, past the aquarium and through a buzzing bunch of French school kids all sipping on Slush Puppies, we make it to a similarly outspoken artist. Milanese multi-instrumentalist Any Other (the musical moniker of Adele Nigro) channels that relatable coming-of-age chorus that’s become so familiar with American acts like Lindsey Jordan’s Snail Mail and and Nashville wunderkind Soccer Mommy. But there’s more weight to some of Nigro’s compositions which bristles with such a vivid intimacy, it’s frankly disarming. Two, Geography’s lead single Walkthrough finds Nigro working through numbness to find feeling while her solo efforts on acoustic guitar are filled with clawing fingertips on the fretboard towards lingering memories of warmth between a lover’s sheets.

Self Esteem, FATA BOOM and Confidence Man

Equally intimate, but with the backbone of a chart-topping pop production behind her, Rebecca Taylor’s Self Esteem is a lesson in self-acceptance and – much like Nigro – carefully crafts mindful microcosms of raw and real feelings. Unsurprisingly, the set is a roundtrip of her recent debut Compliments Please. Girl Crush is doused in layered vocals and R'n'B shoulder shrugs while Taylor delivers a blissful a capella rendition of She Reigns with added finger snaps. By the end, the crowd has almost been lulled into a slow jam haze apart from one lad at the bar who couldn’t muster the same sort of minimalism (he gets a curt "Fucking lad" hurled his way by Taylor mid-chorus).

Bejewelled Dutch dance party troupe FATA BOOM have a fairly appropriate mantra for those kind of "lads", as the dual-pronged vocalists reason in Houdini: 'If there aren’t any chicks here, it must be only dicks here'. Thankfully, this crowd is far from obnoxious, seemingly wooed by the band’s Euro-pop brew of Katy Perry camp rap spats (Fäsjøn) and big ups to the bartender (Double Rum Cola). Sporting a G-string (him) and sequined face mask (her), it’s a pride-coloured party shining bright down in the darkness of Komedia.

And if we’re talking about party vibes then it would be impossible not to mention bonkers Aussie electro bunch Confidence Man who, despite their strict 30-minute showcase set time, insist on a midpoint costume change. But it’s hard to be riled by a band when they prance back to the mics and start doing the funky chicken. Fronted by kooky characters, Janet Planet and Sugar Bones, C.O.O.L. Party enters the set much like if we were actually there by the beer kegs and bowls of cheese puffs; Bones popping the cork of a bottle of Dom Pérignon to spray the front few rows like a Formula One winner. By the end of the set, the band have the tent’s heaving crowd kneeling before the chorus lurch and all before teatime. Sometimes you just need to get down to get high.

The Van T's, LUCIA, Little Simz and Kobi Onyame

We find ourselves in the same crouched position for Scottish rock behemoths The Van T’s. Only this time, it’s in and amongst the wood panelled bar and jacquard print carpets of the Queens Hotel. With their heavy wall of guitars and drum rolls straight off a high speed Hives record, it’s probably not surprising to learn the band have just bagged a slot as part of Glasgow’s Summer Sessions with rock heavyweights Foo Fighters. But despite their proud Scots roots, The Van T’s channel a 70s sound not too dissimilar to Brooklyn bunch Sunflower Bean and a guitarist the spit of The Runaways Cherie Currie. Final French-themed number asks Suis-Je Cool? and it’s a resounding "YES" from us.

From 70s shag pile to Teddy boy quiffs and pastel suits, LUCIA bring their colourful rock antics to the vaulted ceilings of the One Church. And if The Van T’s had the drum rolls down from Howlin’ Pelle and his Hives crew, then LUCIA have the signature freeze-frame section nailed with the whole crowd silent and only the sound of frontwoman Lucia Fairfull’s heavy breath on the mic. Understandable given the band crash through former singles Summertime and aptly entitled Melted Ice Cream with the rock chops of South Cali-rockers The Muffs. Drummer Ali Scott brings back some of those rollicking Von Bondies beats we’ve missed only rather than Pawn Shoppe Hearts, LUCIA’s is blue as Fairfull sings in recent single: 'Blue hearted baby, does is really matter?'

Little Simz seems to think so and wants you to stop fucking with hers as the megaphone mantra of Boss screeches through the loudspeakers in The Deep End. Offence, unsurprisingly, gets a welcome blast with that slapping snare, the Wonderland references and ends with Simz casually picking up a white Fender to wig out some solo lines. But alongside the caustic spats and enormous bass drops, there’s an intimacy to the rapper’s set and some thoughtful nods to unexpected characters who have helped her ascent: "God bless Mary, my neighbour, for letting me do my thing very loudly at 2am every night. This song’s for her."

Of course, she’s not the only hip-hop artist who knows the slog and hustle of making it as an independent artist. Glasgow-based musician Kobi Onyame has been making a name for himself on the Scottish circuit for a few years now but it was his Scottish Album of the Year Award nominated debut Gold that switched the floodlights onto his talent. It’s apparent even in his whistle-stop set as he charms the crowd to swell and sway their hips, eventually singing back his chorus lines. "What noise does a train make?" he asks? "Some shows have said ‘chew chew’ but that’s not what I’m looking for…" Instead, we’re all turning the phrase "chugga chugga" in our mouths, a sound that ushers in the title track of his record and the acknowledgment that sometimes we just need to keep going like the steady chug of an engine train.

Alex Lahey, Body Type and CHAI

From the golden haze of Kobi Onyame to the almighty downpour that greets rising Australian rocker, Alex Lahey. Her name has been whispered on the wind for much of the festival with fears that some of the tinier sets would be hard to crack so here we are instead, huddled under umbrellas at The Ditto Stage. She dedicates much of the alfresco slot to trial her new record, tracks which, she assures us in her Aussie drawl, "You won’t have heard of unless you’ve already torrented the album." Some of the set drifts over us like the rain clouds but there’s proper grit in a few scrappier tracks – notably recent single, and Mighty Ducks championing, Don’t Be So Hard On Yourself.

Up the East Coast and past Canberra and you’ll land at Sydney rockers Body Type who are revelling in their debut UK shows, busting out the loaded gun guitars and flying across Komedia’s stage on their knees. EP2’s Free To Air is bathed in a Beach House dreamy shoegaze and continues in blues sliding Insomnia. But there’s added depth in their triple vocal approach and that nasal delivery from guitarist Annabel Blackman reminiscent of some sort of 70s punk; Delta 5? Kleenex maybe? Either way, we’re in.

If Body Type’s formative roots are hard to pin down, there’s no such problem with kawaii Japanese troupe CHAI. The two key things you need to know about the band are fairly evident from their back catalogue so far; 2018’s PINK and 2019’s PUNK. The rose-garbed gang bust onto stage with their own cardboard signs held aloft like a football game spelling out their team’s mantra. But for all their bravado, the band actually came from quite humble beginnings with none of them having played an instrument ahead of CHAI. Now, they’re rocking a packed tent full of eager musos and what isn’t punk about that?

Charly Bliss, Girl In Red and Pip Blom

The neo-cute clan weren’t the only band rocking the pink party. Charly Bliss’ frontwoman Eva Hendricks is pretty much the living embodiment of a punk unicorn when she steps out onto the Dive Bar stage, decked out in a shell pink fringed jacket and Day-Glo underwear beneath her white frock. The band’s latest record is fresh, having landed while many of us were pier side for day one of the festival. Set (and album) opener Blown To Bits sets the pace for power-pop heavyweight Hard To Believe with a chorus straight from the band at a party scene of a 90s teen movie. Capacity is accompanied by majorette floor tom twirls from Hendricks, her sticks decorated with the kind of pastel streamers you had on your first bike. It’s a fitting reflection for a band whose growth has been chartered through its two releases to date and latest, Young Enough, which finds the band graduating from pop-punk naivety to something more self-assured, but no less radiant.

If there’s a gap in the market now for a strain of tender indie rock that’s going to unite a legion of young fans, Girl In Red (the moniker of Marie Ulven) fills the space and some. The band that flank her on stage tonight is quite a step up from the Norwegian bedroom artist’s early demos on Bandcamp, which also doesn’t give away the artist’s quick wit, permanent bounce and flailing golden hair across the fretboard. For Ulven though, this is old-hat having already played a sold-out show at Heaven last week: "Everyone was moshing and going crazy," she gushes on stage. The moshers, it turns out, were an army of young fans whose parents had deposited them at the show dutifully hanging about at the back of the building until the show was done. It’s proper fan girl faith and, despite the stiff crowd in Brighton, she gets the front rows bopping, hands stretched high into the air in gay abandon. By the time set closer I Wanna Be Your Girlfriend kicks in, she’s down in the crowd with the best of ‘em.

Continuing to transcend that youthful glow, 22-year-old Pip Blom is a return face to the festival having already racked up a few annual slots at the Brighton weekender. Not bad for someone who’s still doing the dishes in a restaurant when she’s not touring the globe. Lo-fi School isn’t exactly the best educational anthem but it's a lesson in raggedy garage rock majesty that should be blasted out from the bedroom stereo whilst your parents bang on the ceiling below to turn the racket down. The set itself is fairly chaotic. There’s a very palpable sense of times running over as Blom gesticulates numbers with her fingers between songs to the rest of the band and by the end is slicing her hand across her neck as she lets out a hurried: "I think this is our last song." I Think I’m In Love’s wonky wind down leaves us feeling the opposite of the venue manager though, buzzing and free.

Because while we might not all be Brightonians by birth, schooling or teenage fumbles, we’re united for that weekend each year by the beach. The rest of the world outside this 80 square kilometres might be self-imploding but, for today at least, we’re safe in the knowledge that the future is as bright as Eva Hendricks' Day-Glo underwear.

The Great Escape 2019 took place in Brighton, 9-11 May; The Great Escape returns to Brighton in 2020 from 14-16 May