If the excitement of 15,000 people heading to the seaside for a weekend of new music, sunshine and seagull dodging wasn’t overwhelming enough, then combine that with the sinking feeling that you're about to face 300 incredible bands over 30 venues crammed into a tightly packed long weekend and there's only one of you. With the harsh reality of teleportation being impossible, I packed up my rusty orienteering skills and took on the ambitious time management of a champion chess player to ensure nothing slipped past the radar.
As a showcase of international talent, it was rather fitting that Great Escape ran over the Eurovision song contest. Kicking off the festival on Thursday above Audio was Estonia’s Iiris, who couldn’t have been further from her 2008 Eurovision performance.
She’s moved on from that near career killer, in search of strange soundscapes and alt-rock with delicately bold vocals, and it works.
Suuns, meanwhile, took to the stage at Audio downstairs and packed out the venue, creating a lovely little sweatbox for their intense heavy builds of glitch electronica / impulsive rock, in particular for ‘Armed For Piece’. We were placed tightly next to a group who definitely hadn’t seen our blog of things not to do at a gig, searching for each other’s tonsils throughout the set and insisting on photographing constantly - not the band but themselves.
We moved on swiftly for a quick pit stop at The Queens Hotel to see Florrie, the ex Xenomania in-house drummer turned songstress. ‘Give Me Your Love’ showed it’s not simply her beauty that’s grabbed our attention, it’s addictive upbeat pop, perfect for picking you up during that slight booze-filled, mid evening lull.
With their Californian air of cool, a festival by the seaside couldn’t be better suited for Grouplove. At the end of a sunny day, they took us into the night with their embrace of nautical joy and indie-pop romance. Their enthusiasm and fun-loving vibe is infectious and their set at the Haunt proved them worthy of their spot on the Emerge NME Radar Tour.
We made an important final stop for Nottingham’s Dog Is Dead, who closed the night with an intimate performance at the Jam. Their fusion of indie, pop, folk and moments of jazz played host to their youthful harmonies and playful melodies. ‘Young’ left me as giddy as a teen in love, feeding off their exuberant energy.
After I seriously misjudged the popularity of some bands and missed Friendly Fires, it was Cincinati’s Walk The Moon at The Loft that were able to quickly lift my spirits. Frontman Nicholas Petricca adds to their buzzing choruses and roughs up their immaculate recorded sound with his multi-instrumental madness, as he moves between his keyboard and rapid floor tom grooves on ‘Quesadilla’. They sent revelers off into the night with their giddy pop version of David Bowie’s ‘Let’s Dance’.
The Alternative Great Escape run shows alongside the main event for local promoters and labels. It may be ‘alternative’ but not even the bouncers could have predicted the carnage that loud pop-rock trio The Xcerts brought to the Pav Tav. Chandeliers ripped from ceilings, bodies freely crowd surfing and exhausting energy from front man Murray Macleod. Their sound was so massive it’s as though they had extra members hiding in the amps. The crowd was joined in chorus for ‘Distant Memory’, and I’m sure the excitement from that gig will outlast the numerous bruises scattered over limbs.
Is it bad to see a band three times over a weekend? Not when it’s Dry The River.
Their progressive energy flow took them blissfully from acoustic openers into heavier gospel-rock. Thursday’s Audio show was an introduction to their textured sound and left me desperate to see them again. Their set got unintentionally stripped back at The Hub on Saturday as they blew the PA during the pop-up show, but they were unfazed, and equipped with Pete Liddle’s Mumford-style vocals, so we sat in the courtyard in awe of their medley of naked harmonies on ‘Weights And Measures’.
The Great Escape may be absent of rain-drenched tents, mud and wellies, but its logistical challenge is not for the faint hearted. Recovery is well under way and a list of records to buy growing by the second. What were your highlights of The Great Escape 2011?