SXSW has become gargantuan. The music industry event and festival, held annually in Austin, Texas, attracted everyone from latest sensations Tapes’n'Tapes to that old timer Morrissey in 2006. But what if you don’t live in Texas?
From 18th to 20th May, the UK is to get its very own, more focused, solution – for the first time.
The new convention-cum-festival goes by the name The Great Escape and, for three days and nights in Brighton, those of us this side of the pond can have our fun too.
And what fun. Billing itself as the place for “export ready artists from across the globe,” over 150 bands and artists will be taking part in 15 venues that fickle weather can’t spoil. Delegations of new music purveyors from Australia, Finland, Canada and elsewhere will mix it up with bigger names ranging from Martha Wainwright and Richard Hawley to those Tapes’n'Tapes people, while delegates thrill to words of wisdom from the industry’s great and good, from Tony Wadsworth, boss of EMI, and Glastonbury founder Michael Eavis to sometime The Smiths member Andy Joyce and New Order‘s Peter Hook.
It being based in a city, there’s no chance of mud leaving a lasting impression, but the event’s value for money might. As a gig-going punter, a wristband for the whole event sets you back just 35. Delegates, meanwhile, have a steeper price to pay – but while they’re indulging in their three days of talks and networking, that’s three days to check out instore acts at Fopp or, if the weather plays ball, enjoying the delights of the WiFi-enabled Brighton beach.
Organiser Martin Elbourne is understandably effervescent about the whole shindig. “You have got the best of the Brighton bands playing, the best new acts from the UK, but even better – the best new acts from around the world,” he tells us.
All of which is superb. Just one problem – how exactly do you see so many acts in just three days? “Most acts are doing 30 minute sets,” Martin explains, “so the point of this exercise is to see as many new acts as possible.” And if prioritising is just too difficult, Martin advises punters to check out bands making their UK debut performances, even if the names are as yet unfamiliar. “People in Brighton may not have heard of them, but they are all really good and all very successful in their own countries,” he enthuses.
The organisers reckon it’s possible to see eight different gigs per day/night, but of course some of the more hotly tipped acts could have full houses. Festival goers are urged to get to such gigs early or risk missing out on entry, wristbands or no.
Amongst the imported names, Martha Wainwright stands out. From the Wainwright-McGarrigle clan that also produced her virtuoso brother Rufus, Martha released her eponymous debut album in 2005 and has headlined London’s Shepherd’s Bush Empire. And with song titles like Bloody Mother Fucking Asshole, fiesty is surely a word coined just to describe her. She’s not the only hotly-tipped Canadian act though – Toronto’s Metric, fronted by the charismatic Emily Haines, have been tipped by just about everybody for great things this year.
1. Tapes ‘n Tapes
2. Martha Wainwright
4. Richard Hawley
Tapes’n'Tapes, whose debut UK performances are in the week of the Great Escape, sent a buzz round SXSW so inescapable that, despite appearing in the fourth edition of musicOMH’s unsigned guide, by the sixth edition they’d been snapped up by uber-hip XL Recordings. Their debut album, originally released in their native USA on their own imprint, will soon be available in the UK. They promise to be one of the festival’s highlights.
Other American talent comes in the form of Brooklyn-based Shy Child. One of the high points of the recent Adventures In The Beetroot Field all-nighter at London’s Fabric, the beats-driven duo are likely to play their frenetic set to a packed house. Also picking up plaudits are Wilmington’s The Spinto Band, for whom kazoos are melodious devices of great beauty.
The UK, one of the world’s biggest exporters of music talent, is represented by artists yet to release their debuts and by artists for whom such adventures are taken entirely in their stride. Richard Hawley‘s fourth album Coles Corner has cemented his reputation as one of the wittiest and most romantic singer-songwriters performing today, and his latest UK tour kicks off at the festival. At the other end of the spectrum, Glasgow’s Shitdisco hold up the Fierce Panda banner – and an assortment of glo-sticks, doubtless – for what’s certain to be one of the most energetic sets of the festival.
Trendy Transgressive Records are in on the act. Their rostered artists Jeremy Warmsley, The Young Knives and Ladyfuzz will please lovers of guitars, from heartfelt acoustica through to screamrock. London four-piece Klaxons will also likely prove popular for indie guitar band fans.
If you like your indie music that little bit more glossy and polished, Kubb could be just your thing. Their debut album Mother has produced TV adverts and a succession of top 40 singles for Harry Collier’s band. And if all that errs a little too much towards commerce for you, London’s fabulous Guillemots will doubtless make you smile, laugh, tap your feet, sing and cry in quick succession.
1. Adventures Close To Home @ The Beach: Fri 19th (featuring Metric and Shy Child)
2. Club NME @ Pressure Point: Sat 20th (featuring Klaxons)
3. Ny2Lon @ Pressure Point: Thu 18th (featuring The Crimea)
4. Moshi Moshi Records @ The Pav Tav: Sat 20th (featuring Hot Club de Paris)
5. Bright’n'Early: Great Escape Official Pre-Party: Wed 17th @ Horatio’s (unsigned showcase)
The city of Brighton’s own considerable well of talent represented at The Great Escape is headed by recent album chart top 10 scorers The Kooks, British Sea Power, The Pipettes and Electric Soft Parade. BSP and ESP were both given valuable studio time to begin their careers with fellow Brighton dwellers Levellers. The Levs’ company, Metway Sessions, presents several of the Brighton acts, including Rough Trade signings and musicOMH favourites Brakes.
Electric Soft Parade’s Thomas White is delighted to be an integral part of the event: “We’re honoured to be a part of Brighton’s first Great Escape Festival – it should be a blast. We’re playing the most beautiful sweat-box in town, The Freebutt, which held our first proper gig, back in 1997,” he reminisces. “I was 13…”
Truthfully, this festival has something for all ages. At a city nicknamed London-by-sea that’s just over an hour from the capital, with parties after the main gigs – most of which are open to wristband wearers – The Great Escape is three days of music, socialising and (surely) debauched mayhem that’s well-nigh unmissable.