Festival Preview: The Great Escape 2008

01 May 2008

It’s that time of year when the music industry decamps to Brighton for The Great Escape.

This year, the festival’s third, not only are there more venues and artists than ever but, in addition to a bevy of secret gigs and showcases, there’s a proper fringe too.

Whether you’re after better known acts like Santogold, Vampire Weekend, Yeasayer or Sam Sparro, or new acts showcased by their national government delegations, the three days and nights of musical discovery has something for everyone.
As with other city-based, multi-venue events (Austin’s SXSW, London’s Camden Crawl, this week’s Stag & Dagger and Cardiff’s swn), sets are short, it’s impossible to see everything and at least half of the fun is pitching up at a venue you’ve never been to, seeing a band you’ve never heard of and being blown away.

The Great Escape’s time of year, at the start of the festival season, gives it prime opportunity to set the agenda for bands to see for the rest of the year, while acts can also roadtest new material to a switched-on audience too. Governments from many countries send delegations of artists, allowing Great Escape goers to catch acts who’d otherwise struggle to muster the funds for a UK appearance. In several cases acts will make their UK debuts here.

Alongside plenty of chances to catch up on acts you may not have seen, you can also catch one of the acts likely to play in your back garden given half a chance (say, The Fratellis, for instance), but you might find you’re missing something more interesting.

Helpfully, many of the bands showcased play more than one set, sometimes on the same day, and the trick is planning something like a schedule to make the best use of your time. There can be long walks between some of the more outlying venues – Concorde 2 is surprisingly far to the east, and Pressure Point takes a fair old walk north, for instance – but plentiful cabs should help in the event of rain (apparently very likely), sore feet (ditto) or inebriation (inevitable).

There are daytime secret events happening while the music industry people lock themselves into seminars and lectures in the event’s convention strand, and after-show parties in a variety of the venues which are usually guestlist only, and always packed. Rumours about who’s playing where at these circulate through Brighton throughout the event – an ear to the ground will help.

By Sunday you’ll have worn out your shoes, trebled your alcohol intake, almost certainly been rained on and seen a range of artists unparalleled at any other UK music event in 2008. We’ll be live blogging throughout the festival this year too. If you spot us, do say hello.

Six Of The Best:
1. Bishi – She doesn’t play often, but when she does people leave her gigs talking about them for days, whether for her special guests (notably Patrick Wolf) or her visuals, Bishi brings something special to her sitar-based, folk-tinged take on contemporary life.
Pressure Point, Frid 16th May

2. Bitchee Bitchee Ya Ya Ya – Kitsun-signed and France-raised duo with a penchant for 8-bit distortion, singing about fuck buddies and being rather colourful. And then they have that name that has us thinking about Happy Mondays. They’ll either be great or terrible.
Komedia, Fri 16th May

3. Esser – One of our highlights at the recent Camden Crawl, Essex boy Ben Esser and his band mates nod and wink in Blur‘s ridiculously catchy with melody and grab ingredients from music hall, dance hall and whatever other genre happens to come to hand. With songs as strong as Satisfied and recent debut single I Love You, they’re near-impossible not to love.
Hectors House, Sat 17 May

4. Yeasayer – Steering a course between soundtracking a futuristic Arabic rebellion and blissed-out narcosis, the Brooklyn-based four-piece have a magnetic stage presence and originality to burn. Go see if you think MGMT are too poppy.
Barfly, Thu 15 May

5. Wildbirds & Peacedrums – Swedish exports Mariam Wallentin and Andreas Werliin ensure Bishi is not the only Great Escape artist brandishing a sitar, but their pop-soul-blues somehow works in glocks and drums too.
Barfly, Sat 17 May

6. Saul Williams – For something definitely out of the indie-rock ordinary, take a punt on this Wichita-signed hip-hop poet from Los Angeles. Saul Williams appeared on Nine Inch Nails‘ Year Zero and has performed with everyone from Erykah Badu to De La Soul.
The Volks, Fri 16 May

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