I am just back from a magical 3 days in Brighton, having attended The Great Escape. My legs are sore, my body tired but my face is smiling and so are my ears. The Great Escape, often referred to England’s SXSW, is not only three days of exposing +300 of the best new up-and-coming artists from Europe but also a coinciding 3 day of music industry convention. It’s hard work to wake up for 10h30 start of non-stop keynote speakers, panels, interviews, networking and hot industry launches all ending at 5pm and then off to the gigs you go – dozens of options scattered over more than 30 venues around Brighton (thank goodness Brighton is rather small).
It’s very different to any other festival I have ever been to, as it’s more about exposing the bands than it is about putting on a show – 30 minutes – high pressure – tight changing times – no encore. But it’s a wonderful atmosphere and everyone attending is fully into the music. And the talent is very very high although still young and fresh. There are however three big headline shows at The Dome: BASTILLE, BILLY BRAGG and EVERYTHING EVERYTHING.
The convention is a once off opportunity to hear key players in the music industry talk about where the music industry is going, have interesting panel discussions, give tips on how to break a new band and analyse the future of music. There are also plenty of chances to network and everyone’s barriers seem to be down and people are open and available to everyone they meet.
If you are working or wanting to work in the music industry this is an absolute must event and worth every penny and then some more you put in it.
A lot happened in 3 days so I’ll try give you some highlights and break it up into three posts so its digestible.
Convention was beautifully opened my Chris Cooke, Editor of CMU (highly recommended free daily read) who is also in charge of all convention, with the ten big stories that have happened over the last year (Streaming services, digital, crowd sourcing, first year of ‘growth’ to name a few). Each day at a focus on one topic and today was about Data and Discovery. It was amazing to see how many tech platforms (Songdrop, Last.FM, Shazam, This Is My Jam, Pledge Music, Music Glue) offer in depth information about fans and listeners and all types of cool info. I also liked that all the music techies weren’t too deep in the data obsession, and all advised that the worst thing to do is to get addicted to data watching with no action behind it.
The day ended with Everything Everything interviewed by Xfm’s John Kennedy. The interview started slow but as the band relaxed and the questions got more real we witnessed a very down to earth band. Joking about excitement over buying a new couch from Ikea and using a new vacuum cleaner to jokes about the worst band names they had ever been in and how Alex was only accepted in the band after he put up with Johanthan’s spontaneous toilet paper rolls attacks. They also explained their music: how they wanted to be a band that could like both Radiohead and Destiny’s Child. Jonathan Higgs, the singer of the band, discussed his need to create complex song construction and very rapid and detailed lyrics (which he impressively sings mostly in falsetto – let’s see how long his vocal chords last). He talks about the need to get all those words out and that he normally finds these lyrics while being surrounded by nature back home in a tiny village of Gisland. And that was a nice light way to end the convention for the day.
Then to the gigs, first catch of the day: Wolf Alice at Coalition who I featured early this week. The acoustics were so bad on the first song I nearly walked out, but thank goodness that I stayed – because the songs to come blew me away. The boys love to rock it out while Ellie Roswell looks both strangely innocent and dangerous at the same time, but definitely starving. She has a piercing voice and knows how to use the beauty of light and shade.
Then I stuck around for Childhood, and I am sorry to say I wasn’t really impressed. There is a lot of hype about them being THE new indie rock band to rule England, and they did land the supporting act for the Palma Violets (who are also being hyped up to do the same). And to be fair – the sound it’s all there. Everything I would normally need to like a band. But something special is missing and a band that fails to make me move is a band that fails full stop. The lead singer even has an afro, but that could not make up for the fact that they are missing some magic. So I’m sorry to say I walked out of this one but feel free to give it a good listen yourself.
Then off I went to see Everything Everything, which was a strange atmosphere really. Don’t get me wrong Jonathan has a voice of an angel and deserve that ridiculously over used cliché and the boys are good. But I guess I’m getting more and more jaded by pop music as I entrench myself in the indieness and I saw the gaps and simplicity of the music – which can be a good thing but this time I’m not sure I liked it all that much. Funny thing is I did enjoy it, but I’m just not sure if I really appreciated it.
Then I ran to see How To Dress Well, in some hidden venue which was very difficult to find which I then had to queue outside of all of which lead to me in bad mood. I managed to catch just the last song but what an experience that was. Tom Krell explained how this song was about his brother, and that he had once been told off by a fan who said that he couldn’t sing such bad things. He proclaimed he didn’t care and he knew lots of people could relate. And so he stepped away from the mike, asks us not to film it as he hasn’t had enough time to warm up his voice, and silent hits. He starts to sing acapella right from the heart, and everyone is hit, frozen, we can’t move but stare at him. His voice fills with pain and his eyes are closed with what must be flash backs. And he sings I dream of killing him so we can be friends and people start to get teary eye. The song is called Blue and said to be on a soon to be third album. There is a bad video here from another time he did it so you can get an idea of the amazingness we all experienced.
Then Blue Hawaii comes on – a girl/guy duo from Quebec. It’s made up of Raphaelle Standell-Preston who blows you away with her vocals while Alex “Agor” Cowan plays with all his knobs, bits and buttons to create accompaniment as they loop and loop again. Once the sound erupts you understand why the name is the right pick, it’s warm and happy like Hawaii but blue for all the electronic mechanics in it. Very enjoyable find.
Then the last run of the day – back to Coalition by the beach – to see On an On. And what a finish. This three piece band is Nate Eiesland, Alissa Ricci and Ryne Estwing, who had been performing together for the last few years with the indie group Scattered Trees and sometime last year decided to break away and do their own thing and bring us this beautiful electric dream pop. And thank goodness for this. I can’t find much about them right now as their site is down. But I love them. I bought their LP Give In and I am playing it now on repeat.
And that is day 1 done.