Each May, the music scene from the UK and beyond converges on the south coast for The Great Escape, turning Brighton into the world’s new music mecca for a weekend. A look at past line-ups from the festival’s 15-year history proves that festival headliners and arena-dwellers from across the world have all played defining shows at The Great Escape on their way to the top: it’s a rite of passage for the next biggest acts on the planet.
After cancelling their 2020 event due to the coronavirus pandemic, and with the 2021 edition also unable to be held in person, The Great Escape is going online this year, with over 100 acts beaming in sets from around the world. There’ll be no queues, no beer-stained clothes, and – most importantly – the weekend will make you an encyclopaedia of buzzy new music just in time for gigs to return. What’s better is that it’s totally free, providing you sign yourself up here.
From Australian hip-hop to the best in new British punk and perfect pop from LA, here are NME’s top 10 picks for the weekend to get you started.
Who: A taste of ‘90s alt-rock crossed with pop-punk from Derry, Northern Ireland
When: May 13, 7:19 pm, Stage 3
Look out for: The trio only have a handful of songs to their name, which makes catching their set all the more necessary: you’ll be getting in on the ground floor and undoubtedly witnessing the birth of fresh new material. One to watch out for though is latest single ‘Kisses On My Cards’, a track packed to the brim with melodic hooks and alt-rock crunch, like a perfect pop song dressed up in a worn leather jacket. What’s even better is that their next single – which we’ve heard – is an absolute belter; perhaps you’ll get an early taster during this set.
Who: Leeds’ post-punks with a magnificent, magnetic frontwoman
When: May 14, 9:14pm, Stage 2
Look out for: “Despite appearances, I haven’t got the voice for R&B,” English Teacher vocalist Lily Fontaine says on new single ‘R&B’, but she does have the fierce and magnetic draw of a future punk great. As guitars whirl around her, she bellows out her manifesto on the new single and asks you to forget what you think you know. Go into this band – and this set – with your mind wide open.
Who: As enigmatically presented on their official Great Escape page: “Geese are a band from Brooklyn”. Cool!
When: May 13, 6:01pm, Stage 1
Look out for: There’s no music online just yet so tuning in will require a leap of faith from your end, but we can assure you it’ll be worth it. The teaser they’ve shared of their set – recorded at The Nest in Madison, NY – gives a brief snapshot into one of the Empire State’s buzziest new bands. Get in on this lot nice and early…
Who: Brilliantly exciting punk-hop from Australia with enthusiasm to burn
When: May 14, 6:01pm, Stage 5
Look out for: Though he’s been a cult figure for a few years now, it was with the 2021 debut album ‘Smiling With No Teeth’ that Genesis Owusu made his grand first statement, where he incorporates synth-pop, jazz, punk and more into a 360 aural experience. His brilliant cover of Talking Heads’ ‘Psycho Killer’ further proves he’s a livewire performer.
Who: LA-based songwriter with a deft touch and spine-tingling voice
When: May 13, 6:12pm, Stage 5
Look out for: You might know her as the newcomer who preemptively wrote the first song of Phoebe Bridgers’ unwritten third album, but McRae has a whole lot more in her locker. Recent single ‘Wolves’ proves that her knack for delicate, emotionally affecting songwriting isn’t confined to parody. Expect to see her rubbing shoulders with the likes of Bridgers very soon.
Who: This Irish five-piece’s brand of psych-rock is both dark and dreamy
When: May 13, 7:12pm, Stage 2
Look out for: Forming from the ashes of a number of bands in the continually bubbling Dublin scene, Melts bring many angles of attack to their brand of psych-rock. Frontman Eoin Kenny’s vocals roar underneath a rhythmic bass filled with the darkness of Interpol, while a psychedelic storm reminiscent of The Horrors is whipped up around them. It’s invigorating stuff.
Who: Northern Irish alt-rock with choruses built for arenas
When: May 13, 7:08pm, Stage 3
Look out for: New Pagans’ debut album ‘The Seed, The Vessel, The Roots and All’, released earlier this year, doesn’t ease them in slowly: taking cues from Sonic Youth and other ‘90s alt-rock giants, the album is jam-packed with choruses that ensure they won’t be confined to small venues for long. The single ‘Harbour’ is a particularly gigantic taster.
Who: NME 100 alumni from Thailand changing minds through hyper-modern pop
When: May 14, 7:17pm, Stage 4
Look out for: Pyra’s music treads the careful line of discussing vital issues – mental health, global warming, consumerism and beyond – but still having a bloody good time. Her hook-heavy tracks exist on the fringes of the hyperpop movement, but feel truly original. Putting the world to rights over the catchiest songs imaginable sounds like a pretty good combo to us – listen closely, but don’t forget to dance.
The Lazy Eyes
Who: The leaders of Australia’s latest psych-rock wave
When: May 14, 7:38pm, Stage 7
Look out for: ‘Where’s My Brain???’ feels a pretty apt title for this baggy quartet’s recent single. Their music’s all about getting blissed out under a hot sun and losing yourself for a second in a psych-rock whirlwind. Live, it’s just as mind-bending, and one to enjoy horizontal on the sofa with your eyes closed.
Who: Los Angeles-based polymath taking up the funk-pop crown
When: Jan 13, 8:45pm, ESNS 01
Look out for: The LA-based singer’s music takes a lot of cues from the past – funk is a clear influence here – but her infectious energy is one-of-a-kind. This year, she’s followed her intoxicating 2020 single ‘Photo ID’ with a remix album featuring Beck, Hot Chip, Nile Rodgers and more, and there’s a reason why she’s already rubbing shoulders with some of the greatest party-starters of all time.
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