The Great Escape 2012 review

'The odds of finding a star is worth the ticket price alone'

The Great Escape 2012 review

Photographer:John Bownas

John Bownas, Chris Swindells - 13 May 2012

Since taking the title of 'Liberal Capital of the UK' from Bradford in '07, Brighton has gone from strength to strength. No longer backwards and Victorian in it's moral make-up, the pleasure seekers have found the pleasure. Half-naked cowboys, randy navy seals and ladyboys are all out in the streets and for the city hosting Great Escape number seven the weekend venue-crawl has become something of an annual institution, bringing about an exodus of industry suits and music fans to the seaside city. This year the sun has, once again, shone upon the fair city and given reminder to all visiting how easy going and exotic a place it can be, for all it's impostors there's only one place like Brighton.

Dalliances with jammed full venues and waiting in queues is, sadly, nothing new for The Great Escape. With the one three day wristband for 'venue entry' you can easily spend a period of an hour or two being dejected and rejected from venues operating one in, one out policies, offering you little hope of hearing a single note, unless you count the muffled thud of the music inside from the pavement lining the street below. Alt-J, Django Django, Grimes and Alabama Shakes all suffer the same sorry fate, the latter triggering a queue from 8pm which meant for some playing 'Hold On' for two hours in hope they could get in before the band came on at 10pm.

Queueing certainly isn't getting into the theme of the festival, but instead trying those neat, niche and nuanced performance from unknown breakthrough acts, some playing the UK for their first time, and perhaps the success of TGE should be measured in the number of new bands that go on make it onto other UK festival stages in subsequent years. Trippple Nippples (9/10) will surely be a fine example of this with a live set which goes beyond music. Tight painted body-wraps, electrical taped nipples, McDonalds burgers shoved ironically into mouths, minesweeping the audience for drinks during songs. All of this adds up to a genuine 'one to watch' as much as it's also great to listen to.

The following night Novika and the Lovefinders (9/10) bring a sophisticated and stylish account of the Polish electronic house scene. Think Moloko for Eastern Europe. Backed with an accomplished live band and playing her first live UK show, her sensually personal lyrics with their insanely rewarding hooks and grooves draw in new followers with every song. For acts like Novika the travel and effort in playing for such intimate crowds as the Psychosocial is in the measured quality of the crowd - the effort to play to an audience of just a few hundred is worth it with the sincere hope that amongst that small crowd there will a handful of bookers, journalists and agents who could propel them to the next level.

For the headliners at the Brighton Dome no such propulsion is necessary, all established festival draws, each one is out to promote something new, even if the journey here has been for each rather unique to themselves. Geordie boys Maximo Park (8/10) have been quiet for a few years now, so Paul Smith is out to remind Brighton how the band can turn any festival audience onside, ahead of their forthcoming full-length, 'The National Health'. The Temper Trap (8/10) on Friday night are only out to prove one thing, that the one thing about them isn't just 'Sweet Disposition'. Of course it's not but their anthemic indie-pop is about as cool as U2 at a wedding but will surely be playing the comeback round in 2012. Final Saturday night headliners, Africa Express Soundsystem (9/10), have less history but more to lose with the cult figure of Damon Albarn at the helm, their engorged African rhythm proves to be the party wrapping things up. Expect the unexpected!

Next door the Corn Exchange doesn't require a £6 financial 'top-up' for entry like the Dome does each night, but it could do with a few more feet on the ground as sets from Booka Shade (6/10) and Spector (8/10) are sparsely populated. The German tech-house of the former offers another great example of the classic on-stage couple, like Morceambe & Wise, Laurel & Hardy, and Little & Large before them there's elements of the camp and the comical to their hour long set. One half of another musical duo, Dan Le Sac (9/10) is looking distinctly lonely at the Concorde 2 about the same time. It's not even a third full and at 2am it's hard to not feel a little heartbroken when 'Thou Shalt Always Kill' makes a cameo appearance.

With 150 or so gigs a day (not even counting the alternative escape shows, which almost double that number - especially on Friday and Saturday) the question will always remain which shows do you try and get to? Do you listen to the charts, the tastemakers, the waves, or just go with the tried and tested 'close your eyes and point at a name' method.

If you went for the bigger and buzzier names, you've heard bandied around, and you got there early enough you'll maybe have found that 'big band in a small space' vibe that we all so crave. Yet the more adventurous gambler will have picked a few random shows - bands that had little or no track-record, but ones with that little glimmer of potential on paper. With more than 300 acts to see the odds of finding a star-in-the-making is at least worth the £49.50 punt on a weekend ticket, specially when the city and all of the varied venues are such enjoyable places to traverse.

Click here for our full Great Escape 2012 coverage.

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