After another year we were back again for a trio of days in the (unreliable) sunshine as Brighton opened its shores to a global dish of music’s most exciting new artists; Welcome to The Great Escape 2023.
Arriving very early Thursday morning gave us time to scope out how we could easily run between venues, especially once everyone was inevitably a couple of pints deep. I spotted a few bands on my way around The Lanes, busking themselves silly in the days sun rays, one of which being the Galway City five-piece, Ol’Times who, with their shoes and shirts off, fully embraced the moment causing every passer-by to stop and stare.
Once we’d manned the area, we headed to the MVT stage on the infamous beachfront to catch the first of Deadletter’s three sets. The London sextet kicked off with their latest release ‘The Snitching Hour’, prompting the crowd to erupt into a foot-stomping dance routine as lead singer Zac Lawrence vibrated across the floor. An infectious nuance of grit and post-punk riffs grabbed the attention of everyone in the area and by the time the set was finished, a huge audience had gathered in front of this small metal box of a stage.
Shortly after, the same stage was graced by the Isle of Wight’s one-to-watch, Coach Party, as the quartet brought an alternative, experimental-pop energy to the shore. I was more than excited to hear the tune that’s been stuck in my head since its debut last year, ‘Weird Me Out’, and it didn’t disappoint. No one stood still, everyone sang along, and many people left that day with a new favourite band.
Other afternoon highlights included the Australian chart-toppers, Pacific Avenue in Komedia Basement, bringing a Led Zeppelin kind of contrast to the punk we’d seen so before. Minor Conflict’s ethereal vocals were showcased at Revenge, Chalk’s electronic melodies were welcomed at the Queens Hotel, (a great place to hang out at till the early hours of the morning by the way), and just before the evening set in, we managed to catch Moreish Idols implode chaos across The Great Escape Beach Stage (Courtesy of Speedy Wunderground).
Once the night drew in, we made our way over to the Paganini Ballroom to see Whitelands, who decorated the BBC Music Introducing stage with their shoegaze and dream pop rhythms. The four-piece brought together a great crowd as they sang their latest single ‘Setting Sun’, influencing several nods of approval from new listeners and a few “Who are these guys?!”
From there we ran to catch New York’s Cumgirl8 at Volks. We arrived just in time to join the back of a packed-out venue, ready to see the riled-up masses create a central pit. The toxic-punk riffs and vocals invited the place to join the band in tearing up the floor as the divine feminine energy became unmatched.
As we kick off day two, the much-anticipated British rain pours down on us, but gladly no one seems to be slowing down just yet. Friday starts with a trip to the Beach Stage to catch the Glaswegian four-piece, Spyres, in action – and I’m gassed to see a packed-out tent. The soaring riffs of their 2022 hit single ‘See Through You’ curse through the mellow cold air, and even with incredibly sore heads, we all buckle in for the ride.
Maintaining the streak of Scottish music, The Joy Hotel take centre stage at Brighthelm. With seven members involved, they scatter over the floor to showcase a wide range of instruments and individual vocal moments. I hadn’t seen them live before but after hearing songs like ‘Jeremiah’ and ‘Old Man’s Eyes’, it’s safe to say that they’re ones to follow across the rest of the festival season. If you’re a fan of vintage pop that has been seamlessly mixed with an alt-rock/country edge then it’s best you get on this fast!
Some other noteworthy mentions of the day included Leeds favourite, English Teacher as they packed out Fabrica, causing such a queue through the lanes, friendly staff at Pizza Pilgrims were prompted to gift out Margherita’s. Another Northern crew, Benefits, who appeared on The MVT Stage, challenged the sound desk to “Make it all really fucking loud”.
Powering through to the evening, fuelled solely by local fish and chips and an unworldly amount of beer, we were ready to open up the So Young stage on the Beach Stage. It’s always a pleasure to host a space with The Great Escape. First, we had Teeth Machine enter the building(?), warming up the freezing cold shore, as the groups’ fresh vocals pierced the turmoil outside. Crowds began to grow and before long, the amalgam of electric, synth tones were welcomed by all. I definitely spotted a few headbangers in the room as trouncing drum segments spun around.
After an epic start, Oscar Browne filtered in, calming the riot with his benevolent vocals, and string-tagging lyrics. Pulling on the hearts of observers far and wide. Tunes like ‘Never Quite Right’ were carried to the back of the room with ease and proposed a laugh towards the miserable weather outside.
Nottingham’s trailblazers, Divorce were up next, slotting much-awaited grunge back into play with their alt-country melodies and fuzzy discord. Before long, a certified dance of swaying shoulders and hips becomes harder to ignore and the whole room is dubbed into some kind of flash mob. Apologies to those outside who couldn’t squeeze in. It looked cold out there.
Humour followed, proving to be quite the fan favourite as we began to battle with the wind across the venue. Many had gathered to see the Glaswegian post-punk realness of the five-piece, satisfying the heavier needs of the hard-rockers in the place. Finally getting to hear ‘yeah ,mud!’ live felt like an honour, one of which I would love to share with you all as they embark on more live dates this summer.
Finally, ready to send us off for another evening of madness were Fat Dog, who before even beginning had to check several times whether they could be heard as loud as they required for this nail-biting set. Amongst the audience, a batch of plastic dog masks were spotted, foreshadowing a loud bark as to what was about to happen, and the rise in energy predicted a finale like no other. From screams, to echoes and grooves, to mosh pits, we saw it all, and eventually, we could relax knowing our job was done.
Getting up for this final day was a struggle, but by no means was I about to shy away from what Brighton had to offer on this last gloriously bright stretch. My first adventure took me to my last showcase at Komedia Studio as I was serenaded by the Cardiff’s Buzzard Buzzard Buzzard. The Beatles-esque motifs and whimsically charged vocals were enough to cure me from the previous night’s events and I left with a real energy boost. Also made sure to add many tracks to my summer playlist for safe measure.
Next, I stumbled upon the Liverpool’s Picture Parlour, arriving just in time to catch my favourite unreleased track ‘Moontonic’.I Can’t fault the choice of outfits either as they’re single-handedly the most stylish bunch of the whole week.
Other standouts featured London band Human Interest, who are great for anyone that’s a fan of The Jesus and Mary Chain, CIVIC, a five-piece Australian punk band that channel the hardcore scene of Melbourne into an undiluted cocktail, and University, who sadly were my last watch of the festival but a great kiss goodbye from an expert few days.
All photos by Kalisha Quinlan.
The new issue of So Young is out now. You can purchase in print here or read the digital edition below.