After three years away, last weekend (May 12 – 14), The Great Escape returned to Brighton for a bumper celebration of live music and sun-scorched antics from some of the most exciting emerging acts the planet has to offer. For many artists and bands who worked tirelessly to launch their careers throughout lockdown, the multi-venue festival provided a brilliant opportunity for them to play to thousands of new music fans and industry figures alike.
NME spent three days running across the seafront, catching plenty of exciting and intimate sets – and we’ve rounded up the best acts we saw below. See you down the front again next year?
Delivered with real feeling and vitality, the Brighton-born rapper’s triumphant homecoming show left hearts and ears pounding: his rapid-fire, carefree set was an antidote to TikTok’s ubiquitous commercial branding at the video-sharing app’s Saturday night showcase. In a hyperactive energy rush of a performance, Top 10 hits such as ‘Flowers (Say My Name)’ and ‘Come & Go’ were remixed and reloaded, as ArrDee paced around the stage without compromise to the gloriously unsanitised fury and charisma of his music. He high-fived and posed for selfies with front-row fans in the midst of a sweltering rave, capturing the moment as this special festival closed for another year. (Sophie Williams)
At this year’s event, The Great Escape’s spirit of intimacy and unpredictable adventure remained lustrous, perfectly encapsulated in Cassyette’s set. She clearly arrived with subversion in mind, and battered her heavy rock sound into feral thrashes while challenging a rapt audience to keep up with her bursts of jumping and head-banging. “Show me your big pit energy!”, she enthused before the snarling guitar lines of debut single ‘Dear Goth’ burst into explosive life, providing sweat and spectacle in equal measure. (SW)
As the six members of South Wales’ CVC lined the stage in a mishmash of tasselled leather jackets, printed shirts and cowboy hats, looking like a vintage jumble sale’s musical outing, you’d be forgiven for thinking that they had all arrived from different bands. The harmony can instead be found in the music: vintage, slick, low-key psych rock stuffed with chirpy guitars and rumbling drum patterns. With only one single to their name – the brilliantly shaggy ‘Docking The Pay’ – the band used their debut appearance at The Great Escape to test plenty of unreleased material, and what we heard sounded groovy AF. (SW)
Speaking to NME over the weekend, US artist Dora Jar said that her recent support slot with Billie Eilish at New York’s Madison Square Garden shows that no matter how big the venues are, “you can feel their [the crowds] energy.” Her midnight show on Friday at the Brighthelm Center showed a glimpse of those lessons: she’s engaged and energetic, throwing out threads of her songs to an (admittedly smaller) audience, hoping that they reach for one and hold on tight. During ‘Scab Song’, she spurns the head-banging rock breakdown and instead makes it a delicate acoustic number, showing the full-side of her artistry; the threads have been tied into a most magnificent bow. (Thomas Smith)
Invoking her endlessly charismatic online persona – the west London artist’s larger-than-life dance routines have won her over 1.4 million TikTok fans – Dréya Mac’s performance at the seafront’s Concorde 2 featured bold choreography and brilliantly dramatised facial expressions. Joined on stage by her close pal and collaborator Felixthe1st, she wheeled out viral drill smasher ‘Own Brand Freestyle’ to scenes of thumping chaos, with overzealous gun fingers aplenty. In doing so, Mac reinforced her position as an unstoppable entity on the brink of another new, exciting chapter. (SW)
Performing to a packed Komedia Basement at midday on Thursday, the Melbourne trio’s emotive, distorted live vocals transported a crowd of eager new music fans, industry heads and day drinkers to the rich narrative worlds they craft in their music videos. They’re masters of both the minimal and the maximal: the band’s gently synthesised, New Order-esque tunes were elevated by heavy club lighting, as they aired both new material and the majority of their stellar ‘Forever At Last’ EP. NME even spotted HighSchool’s fellow Aussie indie upstarts The Lazy Eyes singing along to rousing closer ‘Sirens’, which made for a moment of mega-wholesome vibes. (SW)
Joe and The Shitboys
The Faroe Islands punks’ opening two sets of The Great Escape were a total roadblock where a one-in, one-out system wasn’t even working, because why on earth would you leave and miss out? Their Green Door Store set on Friday was equally chaotic: diatribes about veganism (‘If You Believe In Eating Meat Start With Your Dog’), machismo (‘Macho Man Randy Savage’) and a Rage Against The Machine cover delivered from the shoulders of a punter. (TS)
It takes some serious guts to cover Donna Summer’s ‘I Feel Love’, let alone in front of an audience of your peers and industry folk, and yet, for Rose Gray it felt inevitable. Since her debut EP, 2019’s ‘Blue, Lately’, the London-based artist has moved from baggy blissed-out psych-pop into a full on disco diva; her latest songs ‘Synchronicity’ and ‘Last Song’ are darker, and more club-ready than anything before. That Donna Summer cover starts to make more and more sense… (TS)
Piri and Tommy Villiers
TikTok had its fingerprints all over this weekend’s acts, and few more so than the dance duo Piri and Tommy Villiers – their breakout song ‘Soft Spot’ went viral on the app, and confirmed their place in Gen Z’s mash-loving cohort. Their set at the TikTok showcase was spritely, showcasing the banging bedroom drum’n’bass beats that made their name, but hints at a future that takes in house music, techno and more. You sense that a massive leap is just a moment away… (TS)
Another artist whose success has largely come in the isolated COVID times is Tamil-Swiss artist Priya Ragu – but that didn’t show. During the performance at the festival’s beach-straddling stage, Ragu had the confidence of a performer who has been honing her craft live on stage for years. She may sing about the lockdowns (on, er, ‘Lockdown’), but does so with a tenacity and festival-ready beats, you wonder if she had this precise moment of a packed-out crowd of hundreds of fans in mind when doing so. (TS)