Unsurprisingly, The Great Escape is not happening this year. Traditionally, the Brighton festival is not just the first indicator of festival season – it’s a unique one at that. Based almost entirely around the discovery and promotion of new music, it’s a vital signpost of the rising stars set to for greatness in the coming years.
Thursday through Saturday night – props if you make it the whole slog – are some of the most exciting days of the year for fans and industry. Stumbling between bars and venues in the Laines, or making the trek down to Horatio’s on the pier and back up to Green Door Store – the element of chaos and enthusiasm heightens the expectations. To not have that opportunity is particularly devastating for new artists.
But if you’re truly committed to discovering and supporting new music – which is why you’re reading this article – then you’ll still be trawling through the lineup this weekend to check out the new shit-hot names you would have seen.
NME is no different – here are the 20 rising artists we were dead-excited to see, but you should check them out regardless.
Words: Rhys Buchanan, Luke Morgan Britton, Will Richards, Thomas Smith
1Chubby & The Gang
Who: Furious, righteous throwback punk-four piece from London
For fans of: Fucked Up, Motörhead
Why you should check them out: Any lingering lockdown anger will be pummelled out of you across the band’s breakneck 25-minute debut album ‘Speed Kills’. Riding through the dark underbelly of the capital, the record feels plucked from the late ‘70s, complete with chanting vocals and a relentless social consciousness.
Key track: ‘Chubby and the Gang Rule OK?’ (WR)
Who: Dirty Hit’s experimental-R&B star making essential Gen Z anthems
For fans of: Mahalia, Charli XCX
Why you should check them out: The West Londoners sound is slick but sharp, and constantly shifting between genre lines. AMA’s debut EP ‘Screenluv’ got its name for a reason: an intricate collection of very relatable R&B tunes depicting romance in the modern world and all that comes with “communicating with the person you love through your phone”. Follow-up ‘Pixelheart’ saw her move further into urgent, experimental-electro terrain.
Key track: ‘Slip’ (LMB)
Who: Space-disco jams from French troupe
For fans of: Parcels, Earth Wind and Fire
Why you should check them out: There’s always a ludicrously fun breakout show at The Great Escape (Haiku Hands in 2018, Mauskovic Dance Band in 2019), this year’s would have been L’Imperatice. Their vibrancy lives just as well on record, and recent single ‘Fou’ builds on the slick grooves of 2018 album ‘Matahari’.
Key track: ‘Fou’ (TS)
Who: Enigmatic American bringing a wild-west disco
For fans of: Squid, Pottery
Why you should check them out: “Fire up the chevy I’m coming home”, declared Lazarus Kane announcing his vibrant western tinged latest single ‘Night Walking’. Often behind cheap sunglasses, nobody can quite pin-point where he came from and why, but this fascinating artist straddles a very fine line between hilarity and genius. The grooves in his output so far demand your attention and when festival season eventually returns he’s gonna be a go-to name on bills all over the place.
Key track: ‘Night Walking’ (RB)
5Katy J Pearson
Who: Soft-focus vintage-pop for heartbroken cowboys
For fans of: Mattiel, The Orielles
Why you should check them out: Katy J Pearson has a knack for capturing the wistful ache of a drawn-out summer’s day (stuck indoors or otherwise). The recent Heavenly signee packs all the magical traits the label usually champion – dreamy guitars, sweetened vocals and imaginative lyricism. There’s an innocent and natural charm to everything Pearson has dropped so far.
Key track: ‘Hey You’ (RB)
6The Lazy Eyes
Who: Psych-rock jams from Sydney gang
For fans of: Tame Impala, MGMT
Why you should check them out: Because they might be the next Tame Impala? Look, we’re aware that lazy trope is wheeled out for every new Aussie band, but their upcoming EP has the same frenetic energy as Parker’s very early material, and the whip-smart pop songwriting might make it an even more tantalising prospect.
Key track: ‘Tangerine’ (TS)
Who: Beguiling performer serving up warped experimental jams that defy expectations
For fans of: Kanye West, Serpentwithfeet
Why you should check them out: Velvet Negroni has toured with Tame Impala, worked with Bon Iver and is respected by Kanye West – who can argue with such credentials like that? On his 2019 album ‘NEON BROWN’, you could hear hallmarks of all these artists – the quiet soulfulness of Justin Vernon, the evocativeness of Parker, the eccentricity and intricate attention-to-detail of Kanye – but his sound is very much his own.
Key track: ‘Kurt Kobain’ (LMB)
Who: Another product of the top-notch Speedy Wunderground factory
For fans of: Talking Heads, LCD Soundsystem
Why you should check them out: The London trio slap a chunky synth beat on top of the grubby, sardonic punk that’s ruling the UK’s underground right now with ‘Divine Intervention’. They’re proving that darkness can also make you dance.
Key track: ‘Divine Intervention’ (WR)
Who: Genre-bending youngster repurposing mid-‘00s indie with a limitless Gen Z outlook
For fans of: Bloc Party, (Sandy) Alex G
Why you should check him out: The rising star’s upcoming debut EP ‘how will i rest in peace if i’m buried by a highway?’ will see you vicariously re-living your teens and getting deep in your feelings, introducing his brand of “new wave nostalgia”. If the music of many millenials’ youth is going to come back around, we’re glad it’s with as much energy and sincerity.
Key track: ‘how will i rest in peace if i’m buried by a highway?’ (WR)
Who: Latinx-American singer with scuzzed-up songs exploring identity
For fans of: Wolf Alice, Yeah Yeah Yeahs
Why you should check them out: Famous fans don’t really come much bigger than Barack Obama, do they? That’s a claim that Mexican-Salvadoran-American singer-songwriter Angelica Garcia can legitimately make after the 44th POTUS listed her defiant Latinx anthem ‘Jícama’ as one of his songs of 2019. While Garcia’s debut was a bluesy, country-tinged affair inspired by living in Virginia, this year’s ‘Cha Cha Palace’ explored and melded her dual cultures and loves, combining Latin influences with fiery alt-rock.
Key track: ‘It Don’t Hinder Me’ (LMB)
Who: Grantham hero already supporting Lewis Capaldi
For fans of: Lorde, Phoebe Bridgers
Why you should check them out: Those aforementioned artists loom large over Humberstone’s material thus far – staggering vocals, smart songwriting – and ‘Deep End’ is a devastating breakout moment. Upcoming new releases are sure to get that bottom lip quivering in moments.
Key track: ‘Deep End’ (TS)
Who: Tequila loving Londoners utilising Latin-styled instrumentals
For fans of: Khruangbin, Woods
Why you should check them out: Los Bitchos know all about the good times and exercise that through immersive, sprawling instrumentals. Their groovy jams play out like a vibrant holiday soundtrack with added keytars and cumbia beats. They even delivered a handy ‘How to make margaritas’ guide in the music video for ‘The Link Is About To Die’. If you’re missing any such party vibes at the moment – this band will throw you back into that world with ease. Tequila not optional.
Key track: ‘Pista (Great Start)’ (RB)
Who: Dead-eyed Notts band as confused as they are fuming
For fans of: The Fall, Protomartyr
Why you should check them out: Do Nothing tightened their grasp on the crown as figureheads for an uncertain generation with their latest EP ‘Zero Dollar Bill’. Packing unhinged guitars, dulcet delivery, and cutting lyrics that nailed the confusion in the world at the minute – this is a band determined to have their say. Add into the mix a stirring live show and you’ve got one of the most vital post-punk names around right now.
Key track: ‘Fits’ (RB)
Who: Wisconsin duo with barrels of youthful energy
For fans of: Snail Mail, Elliott Smith
Why you should check them out: The band’s debut album ‘Collector’, out on Saddle Creek, gives US indie rock a much-needed shot in the arm. Born out of the boredom of living in small-town America, Disq capture the feeling of being trapped and making the most out of your shitty situation. Predictably, it strikes quite a chord right now.
Key track: ‘Communication’ (WR)
Who: The National collaborator going it alone on stunning, piano-based debut album
For fans of: Sharon Van Etten, The National
Why you should check her out: Her debut album ‘Don’t Let The Ink Dry’, recorded with The National’s Aaron Dessner, mixes soaring vocals with spacey, lush production – it sounds like a dream, and proves Owen capable of playing far more than just a bit-part role on others’ songs. She commands the spotlight wonderfully.
Key track: ‘She Says’ (WR)
Who: Trumpeter, producer, multi-instrumentalist, beat-maker – all-round legend
For fans of: Moses Boyd, Moodymann
Why you should check them out: Emma-Jean’s ‘Rain Dance’ EP was the perfect showcase of their skills – there’s dexterous playing, slick beats and a fresh approach to playing. Britain’s jazz scene is having more than a much-hyped ‘revival’, it’s genuinely thriving.
Key track: ‘Movementt’ (TS)
Who: Boiler-suit wearing pop innovators straight outta Congo
For fans of: Awesome Tapes From Africa, Songhoy Blues
Why you should check them out: Merging up-cycled instruments with electro and traditional influences – KOKOKO! are trailblazers. The high-spirited, boundary-breaking sound the collective offer up resembles the beating musical heart of their native Congo. Topics of identity and inner-struggle are driven home in chaotic fashion with megaphones and all. No matter what turmoil is going on in the world – this band are guaranteed to lash a massive smile on your face.
Key track: ‘Malembe’ (RB)
Who: New Zealand pop hero with viral TikTok banger
For fans of: Mallrat, Dua Lipa
Why you should check them out: There’s a fair chance you’ll have heard ‘Supalonely’ – a sleek disco-infused jam with Benee’s playful vocal patterns – that blossomed from viral sensation into IRL success. Her Great Escape set would have proved that there’s more to get stuck into than the one song – but it is well good, though.
Key track: ‘Supalonely’ (TS)
Who: North-West Londoner bringing old school hip-hop vibes to UK rap
For fans of: Loyle Carner, Headie One
Why you should check them out: Sampling is what first made Knucks fall in love with hip-hop, which might explain why his instrumentals are among the rarest heard in the UK scene: the MC variably jumping on everything from lounge-jazz (‘Jubilee’) to GameBoy music (‘Breakfast at Tiffany’s’). Recent single ‘Home’, meanwhile, lays drill bars over haunting piano.
Key track: ‘Home’ (LMB)
Who: Colombian-Canadian star who blends beauty and chaos
For fans of: Rosalia, Tune-Yards
Why you should check them out: Lido Pimienta’s music is often dream-like, surreal and hypnotic; juxtaposing traditional cumbia rhythms with the odd gut-punch of heavy bass and jagged synths. It’s a genre the artist herself calls “industrial reggaeton”. Her new album, ‘Miss Colombia’, is a self-proclaimed “cynical love letter” to the country of her birth, inspired – no less – by a Steve Harvey gaffe.
Key track: ‘Eso Que Tu Haces’ (LMB)