The Great Escape has long become a red letter weekend in the UK music industry's calendar - and not just because it's an excuse for a few fizzy pops by the seaside. It's also one of the premiere places to catch the hottest new talent.
Carefully curated and then splattered over a vast quantity of Brighton venues, there's room for some established names and a few surprises too. We sent our crack team of scribblers and snappers down to the south coast to report back on what they found.
Marika Hackman’s ‘i’m not where you are’ is a big, gnashing comeback from an artist who lives for those big strides forward. Tonight, it’s the only new song played but its wild sense of freedom charges through her back catalogue. ‘Blahblahblah’ is large and violent, making promises them sticking to them while ‘Deep Green’ flirts with menace. ‘Time’s Been Reckless’ explodes with a wild grin, leaning into the pop snarl before ‘Boyfriend’ shines in moments of quiet and loud. Once upon a time Marika his within her music but tonight, she’s front, centre and leading the charge. Maybe she’s always been a rockstar. There are wailing guitar solos, thunderous confidence and, dare we say it, a touch of swagger to how she takes to the stage. Well, if you were as good as Marika, you’d probably have a spring in your step as well. - Ali Shutler
Playing what is essentially a pub’s outside smoking area, Surfbort come tumbling into The Great Escape with all the wit, wisdom and wild sense of fun that’s followed their every move. Anything can happen in the next half hour. Championing friendship and love, their show is an explosion of warmth. From the grinning opener of ‘Pretty Little Fucker’ through the beating heart of ‘Les Be In Love’, the band balance chaos and control. Dani dances through the crowd, making introductions, mates and a ruckus, before the visceral close of ‘Slushie’ and the snap crackle of ‘Burn’ bring things to an all-to-soon close. - Ali Shutler
A shot of flamboyant stage-presence and thriving post-punk glam isn’t the sort of thing you’d usually expect knocking around a church ten minutes from the seafront, but it’s what makes Walt Disco’s slot a prime example of what makes The Great Escape tick so well. Trading in new romantic devotion and an unmistakable knack for swooping sharp cuts, it’s frontman James Potter who grabs the eye - standing in front of a pulpit and stained glass windows purring ‘you make me feel so strange’. From then on in there’s no question who’s in charge, as they race through a set that manages to feel both gritty and dazzling in equal measure. Smashing away on cymbals and ending the set in an escalating blaze of glory, just like that they’re off. There are plenty more stages to conquer, and Walt Disco aren’t waiting about anymore. - Jamie Muir
Every year at The Great Escape, there’s a band who rises above the rest and truly claims the festival as their own. That moment where things well and truly take off - and without question, the talk of Brighton-town is The Murder Capital. Queues pour out of the Prince Albert, fans being told while previous bands are playing that there’s no way in as the upstairs of the pub rocks with anticipation. With one song out, it’s live where they’ve become giants - a tense and gripping blend of punk ferocity and vulnerability that comes together as the sharp-suited toughest band in town, going into the crowd and wrapping you in. Ripping with swagger, their 30-minute set is nothing short of jaw-dropping, emotionally powerful when unleashed in full force and when stripped back to delicate pauses. At 4pm in the middle of day one, they already have The Great Escape in the palm of their hand. The world is destined to follow soon. - Jamie Muir
It’s crazy to think that tonight is Lewis Capaldi’s first live show in the UK since, y’know, he became a blooming superstar. Let’s just put it down to the schedule being pretty mad, but with dates lined up till early next year and sold out arenas already prime and on the horizon - tonight is a special one under The Dome’s intimate walls. While his portfolio rings with earnest and raw tales to serenade low moments, Lewis strolls out to ‘Here Comes The Money’ as confetti bursts right away. That sense of joy and laughter melds effortlessly with a set full of confidence and charm, tracks like ‘Hold Me While You Wait’ and ‘Hollywood’ already bursting at the seams for bigger stages. With a deafening reaction following every song, bras thrown on stage (“I can’t wait to wear it later,” he cracks) and a singalong to ‘Someone You Loved’ that can definitely be heard along the entire seafront - Lewis Capaldi at The Great Escape is a set that stops the dashing about between tiny venues and stages and captures a phenomenon live and in the flesh. - Jamie Muir
It’s hard to think of a band more suited to a set on the beach at Great Escape than HalfNoise. Zac Farro’s outfit treat a busy Dive Bar tent to surf-rocking, maraca-shaking good-time jams, getting the crowd moving to the groovy ‘Sudden Feeling’. Stepping out from behind the kit Farro is a natural frontman, shimmying about the stage letting his bandmates do the musical heavy lifting. The psychedelia of ‘Flowerrs’ gives the guitars a chance to shine, and Farro even finds time to accommodate a request from the front row to the delight of a fan. Freed of their day-job pressure, HalfNoise are here for a good time, appropriately boogying out to their live favourite ‘Scooby’s In the Back’. - Dillon Eastoe
Dork’s stage down on the seafront has queues rolling around the block, and it’s not because we’re giving out free ice cream (couldn’t get it ordered in time, soz guys). James Bay has sold a boatload of records, and him rocking up to open Coalition has that sense of a ‘moment’ at the festival. Strolling on with him and a guitar, it’s an intimate and raw collective gathering that finds James chatting about his time living in Brighton, playing every venue that would give him a microphone and a stage and even busking on the streets of the city too. A proper pop star, tonight sees James cover the full bases - from the likes of ‘Let It Go’ and ‘Pink Lemonade’ to tracks from latest EP ‘Oh My Messy Mind’ out that very day and a rousing closing call of ‘Hold Back The River’. Gazing at his hand where his setlist is scribbled down, it’s a warm and charming look at an artist who refuses to forget his roots. - Jamie Muir
Surely one of the busier sets on Dork’s Coalition stage on Friday are Londoners Wooze. Taking the stage in dramatic fashion, kitted out in their trademark yellow aesthetic (Theo's hair, however, is currently scarlet red). Having grabbed everyone's attention, they launch into thirty minutes of shape-shifting indie-rock. Theo's guitar squalls and screams through pitch bending riffs, with songs turning on a sixpence around Jamie She’s tempo shifting beats and inventive sticksmanship. Recent single ‘Ladies Who Lunch with Me’ lurches from rock to dance in a heartbeat, and the duo take the chance to show off songs from their new EP. They put on a show too, Theo playfully hoisting his guitar up behind his head one moment, then shredding it with his teeth the next. Instantly recognisable in their aesthetic and restlessly inventive in their sound, Wooze are a band on the up. - Dillon Eastoe
Down from Glasgow to remind us all how it’s done, LUCIA haven’t come to mess around. Mixing fuzzy slacker pop with insistent melodies, smashing out tunes from the dark bowels of Coalition, singer Lucia Fairfull is in her element. The band conjure a wonderful racket, and amongst the curious newcomers there are a few diehards down the front matching the four-piece for mayhem on staple ‘Melted Ice Cream’. New single ‘Blueheart’ sees Fairfull marry grunge guitars and earworm vocals in a perfect storm. A final foray into the crowd (sans guitar) demonstrates the intent that makes her such a compelling frontwoman; watch this space. - Dillon Eastoe
Continuing to grow and shine at every turn, Pip Blom have emerged as true gems - as a live force that take feverish joy and kick it to the max. It’s why Coalition is absolutely rammed before they take the stage, and once they kick into action, there’s no stopping them. Jumping and rolling with every note, there’s a familiarity that comes with everything they do, as if their songs are already your bonafide favourite even though it may be the first time you’ve ever heard it. Without question, a band who can pull anyone in with their sheer insatiable knack for swaying fun, Pip Blom are here to let the good times roll. - Jamie Muir
When Self Esteem takes the stage just after 9pm on Friday night, it feels like a primetime slot at the perfect time for Rebecca Lucy Taylor. Her debut album ‘Compliments Please’ is an unstoppable statement that on the live stage, fully embraces that sense of fun and joy which has The Great Escape bouncing and moving in a matter of moments. With choreographed dance moves to boot, it’s sophisticated pop done right with a wink of cracking mischief that has you at ease from the very first note. To see the transformation and ease Rebecca has on stage makes it undeniably clear that this right here has been her calling all along, and as things get pulled away with just her voice and finger clicks, there’s only one word to sum up Self Esteem at The Great Escape: wow. - Jamie Muir
Want something unlike anything else that Brighton has packed in over The Great Escape’s many venues and homes? Try Tropical Fuck Storm, the sort of psychedelic expression that takes over your mind and spirit as soon as they step on the stage. Not too shabby for a Friday night, full of mind-altering spirals and deep grooves that pours with self-assured intensity. People are backed onto walls and letting their bodies ride with every note, as their hypnotic wall of sound just gets bigger and bigger as the night goes on. When a band can make you feel in that way, you know they're onto something special - and Tropical Fuck Storm hits the shores with a sludge-ripping power that nobody packed into Coalition will ever forget. - Jamie Muir
Over from sunny L.A., Mini Mansions ooze California cool as they take the stage at Coalition’s Fiction Records party. Decked out in complementary pastel suits, tourmates Royal Blood are among those packed into a sweaty Coalition for half an hour of fuzzed up, strutting rock jams. As you’d expect from a supergroup comprised of QOTSA and Last Shadow Puppets luminaries, the band benefit from a swagger in their step, guitarist Michael Shuman leading ‘Freakout!’ with a cheeky falsetto. Over a weekend of new faces and taking chances, this is a safe bet of seasoned musicians with ample riffs up their tailored sleeves. - Dillon Eastoe
The harsh rain spitting down on Brighton would usually do any act right in, but Blossom Calderone is a breath of fresh air bringing sunny skies of her own. With a voice that harks right back to Lily Allen, Blossom’s set is doo-wop bliss personified with tales of modern life, romance and tongue-in-cheek laughs that win you over right away.
Top track: Life Again
For the sea of punk and guitar bands emerging right now, it’s the ones doing things differently that really shine. Do Nothing are one of those bands, channelling 00s indie and those punk sensibilities into a mix that roars and spits while also throwing shapes that erupt into something undeniably special.
Top track: Gangs
Strolling into pubs and being caught by something magic is basically what TGE is all about. Lacuna Common and their fizzing blend of roaring styles at The Black Lion is one such example. Tight and kicking in every direction with unstoppable energy, there’s a sound there that should be turning heads and grabbing eyes in a matter of no time.
Top track: Not The Same
Throbbing Screamadelica vibes and the sort of genre-blending style that leaves the door open for absolutely anything, Just Mustard are revelling in doing things differently. With a debut album already out, expect what comes next to be as bold and instant as their set down in Brighton was unforgettable.
Top track: Frank
It seems like Feet have been gearing up to take over ever since we first caught them supporting Declan McKenna, but now we’re in a new game. Sounding bolder and with an absolute crackerjack collection of tracks in the kitty, they fill one of TGE’s biggest stages with ease. Bringing back the ludicrously fun times, one step at a time.
Top track: Adblue
Alfie may be young, but already he feels like a master of what he’s doing. Live, it’s rich and warm - transforming a packed Patterns into a whole world of vibes. With shows like this, Alfie’s going to be massive.
Top track: Like An Animal