The Great Escape (Brighton, UK) celebrated its 10th anniversary this year. And what a 10 years it’s been! It’s now the predominant important showcase festival not just in the UK but also across Europe. I like to describe is as the SXSW of the UK but smaller, less sunny, better quality of acts and more manageable. I went the first year in 2006 and I hated it, couldn’t get in anywhere, ended up sleeping under a bench in the train station. It was awful. I didn’t attend again until 2012, just before I left to move to Toronto. And now I can’t get enough of it, every mid-May Europe’s music industry makes their way to Brighton whether it’s to actually discover acts or just a massive piss up is determined on an individual basis. I went for both reasons and these were my 5 favourite acts.
Dream Wife (Reykjavik / Brighton / London)
Dream Wife formed as an art project between three friends (Rakel, Alice, Bella) attending art school in Brighton. In a very coincidental chain of events, Dream Wife played their first “real” show in Toronto back in June 2014. I booked that gig. They had played two previous shows at their art school in Brighton. But they weren’t really a “band” more of an art concept. And what’s more arty then forming a fake band and booking a tour of Canada? I had forgotten about their existence until just a few months ago when I noticed they had been the Guardian’s band of the week and I thought “hang on, those three art school students from Brighton with a backing track?” Then I heard their latest single “Hey Heartbreaker” and realized why. Dream Wife went from bizarre art school project to coolest kids on the block with their dancey, pogo-ing, hyper energy show of shouty lipgloss punk with brash guitar riffs and a shit ton of attitude, not to mention a live drummer. They even covered Peaches’ Fuck the Pain Away and signed a record deal on Brighton beach over the weekend with champagne and all. Watch out for Dream Wife to tear through your town.
These guys just released their second album Brilliant Sanity on Moshi Moshi and I can’t get enough of Dusseldorf, what a song! It’s angular, it’s harmonious, it’s classic intelligent slightly off kilter British guitar pop. Teleman were my highlight of the festival line-up, the band I most wanted to see. Headlining the Saturday Moshi Moshi night, Teleman played the Paganini Ballroom, a very fancy room adorned with chandeliers that is most likely used for wedding receptions rather than indie bands. It was very sweaty, but beautiful and they didn’t disappoint, lead singer Tommy Sanders’ voice is pitch perfect and sounds just like the record, they played all my favourite songs from the latest album and we got a glimpse of their past songs too. I only recently realized that three of the members of Teleman had previously been in Pete & the Pirates so I have a lot of listening to catch up on.
The Magic Gang (Brighton)
The Magic Gang are my favourite four boys in Brighton. I was lucky enough to put on their first ever North America gig (Mar On Music showcase at CMW May 2016) just last month and fell in love with their Beach Boys-esque sugar coated guitar pop. They are local heroes in Brighton and have a following wherever they go. The Magic Gang also live in a massive house with another Brighton band, Abattoir Blues, which according to legend is the biggest party house in Brighton. Every time I see the Magic Gang no matter how tired, how drunk, how sweaty, how whatever they are, they never disappoint. Perfect harmonies, but what I love the most about them is the big smiles. They smile on stage and always look like they are having a lovely time. No pretention here. On the Friday they managed to play three shows at 3 different venues, put on a show of their own and have a massive house party. Oh to be 21 again and have that much energy!
Amber Arcades (Holland)
Amber Arcades is the alter-ego of Utrecht resident, Annelotte de Graaf. Not only does de Graaf write the most well crafted head bopping, toe tapping indie guitar pop I’ve heard in a while, she currently works in human rights law with people leaving Syria, and lives in a shared squat. She also knows what she wants and her dream was to record her first album in NYC. So she spent her life savings on a flight to New York and Fading Lines (out June 3 on Heavenly Records) is the result of that. Like Teleman, Amber Arcades was on my list to see, and I managed to squeeze in seeing both her/their (she is backed by a full band) Great Escape shows. Both shows were packed to the rafters and I had to wait to get in.
Kate Jackson (Sheffield)
In 2005 one of my favourite bands was Sheffield’s indie rockers, The Long Blondes, their Giddy Stratospheres was one of the songs of my summer (along with Crazy Frog, remember that ringtone?). Unfortunately healthcarewell pharmacy due to health issues the band folded after two albums in 2008. Flash-forward eight years and lead singer Kate Jackson is back with her debut solo album, appropriately titled British Road Movies and co-written with Bernard Butler of Suede fame.
Her gig headlining the Prince Albert on the Thursday of TGE was her come back and it was a sweaty mess of nostalgia. Though all the songs are new and the record came out this year, Kate Jackson’s solo stuff still has the lingers of the Long Blondes loveliness and I was swept back to my early 20s living in London and discovering new British bands.
Special mentions Pixx, Anna Mereditch, NZCA Lines, Frigs, Wesley Gonzalez were all amazing as well. Til next year Brighton.