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The 9 best bands I saw at The Great Escape 2023

The 9 best bands I saw at The Great Escape 2023

It has been five years since I last visited The Great Escape Festival, and stating the obvious, a lot has changed since, a pandemic that is still having a knock-on effect on artists’ career development, Brexit making things difficult for UK activity for international touring bands and UK bands travelling out of the country, and a cost of living crisis that has jacked up touring and living costs across the board.

So credit to the 500 plus bands who made it to the seaside town of Brighton this year with considerable effort and financial cost to play to thousands of industry and music fans across three days in the town for the annual new music showcase event.

Brighton is stuffed to the gills with a swathe of venues for live music to be played, whether it’s a grassroots venue, a beach stage, cafe, a bar on the pier, a church or nightclub. Dublin would be envious.

Obviously, it goes without saying that the volume of acts playing means that I missed an awful lot of artists I would have liked to see, and there was buzz in the air for the likes of Blondshell, Kai Bosch, Heartworms, Coach Party, HotWax, Fizz (a supergroup featuring Orla Gartland and Dodie among others), Saiming and The Last Dinner Party.

I also heard good things about the more established Dream Wife, Benefits (who I saw two weeks ago in Dublin and can vouch for) and on the Irish front there was a big crowd in for Belfast band Chalk, while a 19 year-old Wexford singer-songwriter not even listed under the Irish acts – Will Troy, was described to me as a Lewis Capaldi-type singer in waiting, and had a few industry heads buzzin’.

Elsewhere, there was enjoyable sets from Khakikid (with Chameleon on-stage), and Gena Rose Bruce and Maeve.

I was also in town with Skinner, in a management capacity, and as a champion of his music too, his two sets of no-wave post-punk disco bongo /sax rock music were very well-received at both the Music From Ireland showcase on Thursday and the Late Music Bar on the Friday.

But, I won’t include Skinner here for the close connection reasons, so here are some other acts I did love this past weekend in Brighton.


1.

Personal Trainer

Photo: TGE.

The Dutch band Personal Trainer were one of two bands that I queued up outside a venue to seemingly obvious futility, with the tiny Waterbear cavern under the pier easily at full capacity from the off.

But we get in for the end, and the Amsterdam band lead by the tumultuous performance of singer Willem Smit, leave a sustaining impression with ‘The Lazer’, a rousing ending to a set, which leaves the impression of punk band covering LCD Soundsystem, with a bit of flute, sax and sass added in. They also reminded me a bit of New Yorkers Bodega. Ace.


2.

Bricknasty

Photo: TGE.


It’s been easy thus far to be unsure about what exactly Bricknasty are, if you’re only familiar with the recorded material from the Ballymun band thus far.

Live though, it’s clear that this is a band rooted in jazz playing, able to bring R&B, hip-hop and neo-soul into the fold with ease, with a musicianship that few can match.

At Jubilee Square early in the afternoon, the band – singer/guitarist Fatboy, producer Cillian McCauley, Dara Abdurahman (bass), Korey Thomas (drums) and Louis Younge (sax/keys) – bring a refreshing Dublin punk spirit to their jazz-rooted playing.

Khakikid joins for the earworm of ‘Fashion’, and there’s musical twists and turns galore keeping the audience on their toes. When something goes wrong with the sound, Fatboy’s ease with keeping things moving on the mic, doesn’t go unnoticed.

Fatboy’s background growing up in Ballymun adds a social weight to Bricknasty’s music, and there’s a sense that the masked singer is on his way to laying bare to more life stories as the band progress with their craft.

Having recently signed to FAMM (Maverick Sabre, Enny, Jorja Smith) It feels like Bricknasty are truly only getting started. Their debut EP is out on June 7th and you can catch them soon at:

Tues, 25 May | Dublin | The Workman’s Club
Fri, 16 June | Wicklow | Beyond The Pale Festival 
Fri, 7 July | Slane | Otherside Festival 
 


3.

English Teacher


Leeds four-piece English Teacher are one of those newly emerged bands from England who have a lyric-lead exploratory sensibility to their music (a la Black Country, New Road and Sorry).

They started out as a post-punk band and there’s still some of that DNA in their set at Horatio’s on Brighton Pier on Friday night at The Great Escape, as well as a softer more narrative form of song, and an experimental flair that makes these spindly songs the mark of a band I want to hear more from this year.


4.

Gurriers

Photo: TGE.

Another band who have emerged from the post-pandemic in Ireland and who I’d yet to see live until I got to Brighton. Punky noisy-rock with shouty anthemic lyrics is something Irish acts have done really well of late, and you can add Gurriers to the list.

Along with Chalk and Bricknasty, they were the Irish acts I heard the most buzz about, and their calling card is the set closer ‘Approachable’ which had the room at Alphabet heaving and singing “I’m approachable” in unison.

Gurriers are playing Electric Picnic this August.


5.

Big Wett

Photo: TGE.

Down on the beach on the Saturday afternoon, the Australian artists were taking over all three stages, but no-one straddled the stage, literally and figuratively quite like Big Wett.

This is fun clubby electro music with filthy fun lyrics and double dildos and neon whips as show collateral.


6.

Saint Harison

Photo: TGE.

I’m not normally fall for the traditional falsetto soul voice in modern pop music too often but Southampton up-and-comer Saint Harison, has sprinkling of that vocal magic that made his show at the TGE Beach stage soar.


7.

Anna B Savage

Photo: TGE.

Anna B Savage has featured extensively on this site over the last eight years, and the English artist has continued to develop into a singular intense songwriter, writing about her personal life and intimacy with a directness that is rare.

This year’s in|Flux album brought more sonic accoutrements to the fore, making the sonic valley deepen, and live, Anna and three bandmates can clearly quieten a room by drawing people in, as they did in Patterns at the City Slang party on Saturday.


8.

Yunè pinku

The London-born Malaysian-Irish heritage producer and songwriter Asha Catherine Nandy brought some dance textures to The Arch on Friday night, drawing on UK garage, post-dubstep, and electronic pop with vocals by Nandy.

The set was a live / vocal hybrid that settled nicely into a groove. Interesting to note that Yunè pinku alongside Bklava is another artist with Irish heritage doing the club vocal hybrid thing well.


9.

Freak Slug

It’s early days in the live arena perhaps for Manchester artist Xenya Genovese but the songs I heard down at the Beach MVT stage in Brighton were filled with jangly indie pop charm.

Freak Slug just released a new EP Viva La Vulva last month featuring single ’27 Club’, and I enjoyed the artist’s shimmery indie lo-fi pop style, inspired by Alex G, early Grimes, Hope Sandoval and ’90s music.