For music industry professionals, the annual trip to Brighton for three days of drinking, schmoozing and live music feels a lot like Christmas. With no Glastonbury this year and a sunny forecast, it seems everyone was ‘OOO’ for The Great Escape Festival.
Stepping off the train, Brighton’s sea breeze instantly lifts your spirits. The colourful city comes to life in the sunshine as crowds of delegates and media flock towards Jubilee Square. After breezing through accreditation and dropping our bags at a quirky Airbnb, we head straight to the end of the pier where Scottish punk band LUCIA are serving up a frantic set, with a punchy attitude.
New for 2018, The Great Escape festival introduces The Beach – a 2,000 capacity venue where waves of upcoming talent land on the shore for performances across the weekend at Beach House and Beach Club, plus the Dr Martens outdoor stage.
One would assume Moss Kena is a seasoned performer; but despite counting millions of streams on Spotify, Moss Kena is new to performing live. He takes to the stage like a natural, charming the crowd with his sweet take on soulful R&B – it’s no surprise Kena has already found a fan in Kendrick Lamar.
Next it’s over to Wagner Hall for the VEVO takeover. There’s a queue around the block for Pale Waves, who inside fill the space with echoing guitar riffs and floating vocals. Newest single ‘Kiss’ feels majestic and fun. Husky Loops, Dermot Kennedy and Izzie Gibbs also take the VEVO stage, before Finnish popstar ALMA ensures we end the night chasing highs.
Time seems to pass quickly at The Great Escape. Late nights turn into early mornings spent surrounded by people who love what they do. The festival takes some real stamina; a pint for breakfast seems like totally normal behaviour. Opting for a Bloody Mary, we soak up the late morning sun in Jubilee Square as Jealous of the Birds soundtrack the start of Friday afternoon.
Venturing toward the beach we pass Patterns, where future headliner Sam Fender performs to a full room. People are getting turned away at the door. Unable to fight our way in, we make our way to the Dr Martens stage where Queen of the slow-jam Poppy Ajudha fills the warm sea air with her delicate take on R&B.
Making us fall in love with him once again, Irish singer and songwriter Dermot Kennedy showcases a full production for the YouTube Presents Stage down on Brighton’s pebbled beach. Dermot’s impressive vocal delivery pulls you in from the first note; his set taking you on a raw, nostalgic and heart-wrenching journey from start to finish. Dermot Kennedy is the truth. The story he tells with his lyrics is unlike anyone in the industry at the moment.
‘We were swimming out so far this time, The sun and your eyes were the only fire, Pretty intimate so far so I, Lit a holy fire. Take me back to places I feel loved in.’
As the sun begins to dip, we head to The Arch where Ibiza-born and Antigua-raised singer-songwriter Au/Ra performs her dark pop material. Despite The Arch not being a favourite venue, the room is full and Au/Ra delivers a magical set for anyone who can relate to feeling like an outsider.
For newcomers Sophie and The Giants it’s only a matter of time before they join the next generation of festival headliners. Bringing a somewhat elegant performance, the band beam with charisma and charm. Debut single ‘Monsters’ is only a small hint at what’s to come from this new band with massive potential.
Everything about Joel Baker and his art is authentic. During his set on the Box Presents stage, Joel melts hearts with his infectious smile, catchy melodies and loveable lyrics. After his show, Joel takes out his guitar for an impromptu, intimate performance for a couple of fans who missed his set. The Great Escape is full of these magical moments.
There are no words for seeing Nao live. The superstar delivers a set filled with futuristic R&B hits, including fan favourites ‘Bad Blood’ and ‘Fool To Love’. With the day almost over, there’s only one place to be until the sun comes up. The Late Escape welcomes emotionally charged house producer, Ross From Friends, whose comprehensive live set includes everything from early experimental, to hip-hop sampling and 80s Eurobeat keeping us dancing until the early hours.
The third weekend of May 2018 might be remembered as the time when the nation got into the party spirit for the Royal Wedding, but for 20,000 music lovers, festival goers and industry professionals – May 2018 will be known as The Greatest Escape.