The Great Escape is a rite of passage for music fans and artists alike. The three-day event annually signals the start of festival season, as Brighton turns into a mecca for new sounds each May. With a near-overwhelming amount of talent to see across dozens of venues, punters can be sure to get their ‘I saw them first’ stories in the bag. Emerging acts, meanwhile, get to prove themselves on stage before the most enthusiastic of audiences.
As Europe’s main hub for new music discovery, The Great Escape has played host to early shows from a wealth of huge names throughout its 17-year history. Rina Sawayama, Fontaines D.C., Sigrid, and Aitch have all played the showcase in the past, and have since gone on to become festival headliners in their own right.
Needless to say, this year’s lineup is teeming with future stars. As we prepare to descend on the seaside city, tinnies and suncream in hand, let us be your guide to this year’s unmissable performances at The Great Escape. There are hundreds of acts set to play this weekend, but if you’re unsure where to start, we’ve extracted 20 brilliant names we think you should add to your must-see list. Here we go…
Sophie Williams, Associate Commissioning Editor (New Music)
Additional words: Hannah Mylrea and Thomas Smith
Who: North Londoner boasting the “UK rap anthem of the future”
Where: Amazon New Music Stage – Saturday, 9:30pm
Why you should see them: AntsLive galloped onto the scene with ‘Number One Candidate’, an audacious and witty escapade that’s blown the doors off every other music video this year. Probably won’t be able to fit that noble steed on the stage, mind.
Festival anthem: ‘Number One Candidate’ (TS)
Who: Nu-metal revivalist with a searingly powerful message
Where: The Arch – Thursday, 10.15pm
Why you should see them: Deijuvhs’ lyrics are as real as they get. Assured, unapologetic and charged with a dark wit that’s impossible to turn away from, the Londoner’s songs honour both the electricity and the competitive nature of the capital’s underground punk scene, while also highlighting the inner turmoil he continues to deal with. Prepare to scream in 3, 2, 1…
Festival anthem: ‘Seraphim’ (SW)
Who: Australian post-punks embarking on a sonic adventure
Where: Komedia Basement – Thursday, 3:40pm / The Hope and Ruin – 11:00pm, Friday
Why you should see them: Most of the time, bands dabbling with sounds of this intensity forget to make their songs, er, catchy or memorable. No such problem here: the band’s debut EP ‘Et Cetera, etc’ is stuffed with big riffs, a strong vocal performance and punchy, memorable lyrics: “I don’t want to be idolised / I want to be the person that you see waste away / I want to be a character in the feature film that slowly slithers away”, they drawl on ‘Joy (Guilt).’
Festival anthem: ‘The Gutter’ (TS)
Who: Swedish rockers creating huge anthems for festival season
Where: Prince Albert – Friday, 9:30pm
Why you should see them: The buzzy four-piece met studying jazz at Royal College of Music in Stockholm, but during the pandemic, they traded blues and improv for their own brand of energetic, ’90s-flecked indie-rock. Having dropped their excellent debut EP ‘Real Life Human Garbage’ earlier this year, this is your chance to catch their infectious tunes live.
Festival anthem: ‘Do You Remember Sally Moore?’ (HM)
Who: Irish punk upstarts with a wildcard energy
Where: Prince Albert – Thursday, 3pm / Alphabet – Saturday, 7pm
Why you should see them: You know something special is afoot when an act continues to sell out shows off the back of only two singles. Having recently played at south London’s The Windmill – the launching pad for raucous forebears Shame and Goat Girl – Gurriers are a band best experienced up close in the pit with your fellow moshers. With a string of UK and European shows booked for the coming months, this is the festival season that could make them stars.
Festival anthem: ‘Approachable’ (SW)
Who: Shit-hot new rockers with bags of potential
Where: TGE Beach Stage – Thursday, 3:30pm / The Old Market – Thursday, 8:30pm / Chalk – Friday, 01:00am
Why you should see them: Recent discourse suggests it might not be wise to mention the following, but the fact that HotWax are due to share festival stages with some of their heroes (The Strokes, Yeah Yeah Yeahs and more) this summer is a solid sign for a band. The ferocity of ‘Treasure’s riffs suggests they’re more than just up for the challenge.
Festival anthem: ‘Treasure’ (TS)
Who: Alluring vocalist capturing the spirit of contemporary folk
Where: TGE Beach Stage – Friday, 12:40pm
Why you should see them: The south Londoner’s stellar new EP ‘Same Streets But I Don’t See You Around’ showcases the 24-year-old’s impressive, elegant songwriting. Spinning poetic lyrics reminiscent of country storytelling over modern folk accompaniments à la early Bon Iver, Jethwa has created an otherworldly sound that’s entirely her own.
Festival anthem: ‘Money To Burn’ (HM)
Who: The leading lady of Cardiff’s burgeoning grime scene
Where: The Old Ship – Saturday, 9.15pm
Why you should see them: The no-nonsense nature of Juice Menace’s delivery is what sets her apart – she says whatever she wants, whenever she wants. With only a handful of tracks to her name, it’s testament to the 23-year-old’s fierce ambition that she has already performed at Glastonbury, and has appeared as the face of a recent Welsh football campaign. Expect her to reach new levels in 2023, starting with a killer performance at The Great Escape.
Festival anthem: ‘No Speaking’ (SW)
Who: DIY-minded punks making sense of a rapidly-changing Manchester
Where: Volks – Saturday, 5pm
Why you should see them: Mandy, Indiana were the talk of the town at March’s SXSW festival in Austin. Led by Parisian vocalist and songwriter Valentine Caulfield, the experimental band’s live show is physically – yet brilliantly – overwhelming. They have an ability to execute multiple sounds simultaneously, from crafting an immense industrial clamour to pairing lacerating descriptions of their home city against rattling, suspenseful drums.
Festival anthem: ‘Pinking Shears’ (SW)
Who: Experiential collective creating a new but already signature sound
Where: Inn On The Square – Thursday, 1pm
Why you should see them: Man/Woman/Chainsaw may be entering their first-ever festival as a virtually unknown entity, but they are sure to leave triumphant. The seven-piece make music that is brash and brassy – “The drums they swing low / And the trumpets they go,” they repeat on ‘Any Given Sunday’, a wickedly funny nod to Jason Derulo’s ‘Trumpets’ – by mixing humour with skilful musicianship and feverish energy. Expect the unexpected.
Festival anthem: ‘Any Given Sunday’ (SW)
Who: Soulful wordsmith with a catalogue as ambitious and varied as they come
Where: One Church – Thursday, 10.15pm / Patterns – Saturday, 1.15pm
Why you should see them: It’s pretty much impossible to where McKinley Dixon is going to go – and therein lies the joy. The Maryland-born artist’s exceptional new record ‘Beloved! Paradise! Jazz!?’ (due June 2) is a sprawling collection of rap, soul, spoken-word and jazz arrangements, all of which encapsulate the thrill, pain and melancholy of the modern Black experience. Brighton, get ready – you’re in for a sumptuous treat.
Festival anthem: ‘Sun, I Rise’ (SW)
Who: Melbourne-based beatmaker and DJ making spritely dance-pop
Where: TGE Beach Stage – Friday, 3:20pm
Why you should see them: As recently told to MusicTech, the 20-year-old grew up in the heart of the city’s club scene, often hearing the thud of nearby clubs through the walls. Her recent releases, including the peppy ‘Coffee’, suggest the experiences have seeped through into her music.
Festival anthem: ‘Coffee’ (TS)
Who: The latest and greatest band to emerge from the West Coast’s consistently-brilliant hardcore scene
Where: Prince Albert – Friday, 11:30pm
Why you should see them: Next month, Militarie Gun’s debut album ‘Life Under The Gun’ will take lift off. Comparisons to Turnstile might follow, but they’re refining their own razor-sharp sound: there’s flashes of The Cribs and Pixies in these songs. Get in nice and early before it gets silly for this band.
Festival anthem: ‘Very High’ (TS)
Who: A thoroughly modern boyband prospect
Where: Patterns Upstairs – Thursday, 8pm
Why you should see them: The four-piece – who boast just two released songs – are committed to bringing back, according to a recent TikTok, “singing in the rain R&B”. As such, ‘Committed’ and ‘Lie To Me’ are suitably dramatic and winsome. Next stop: flowing shirts popped at the buttons, and texting on an Excel spreadsheet.
Festival anthem: ‘Committed’ (TS)
Who: Viral singer-songwriter with globe-conquering appeal
Where: Unitarian Church – Saturday, 9:15pm
Why you should see them: Earlier this year, Paris Paloma’s ‘Labour’ went viral on TikTok before it’d even been released. Thousands of creators on the app used the anthemic track to soundtrack videos detailing their own experiences of misogyny, with Paloma’s lyrics (“All day, every day, therapist, mother, maid, nymph then a virgin, nurse then a servant”) providing a powerful musical accompaniment. Her performance is sure to be a rousing smash.
Festival anthem: ‘Labour’ (HM)
Who: Deservedly hyped as future indie-rock superstars
Where: Zahara – Saturday, 12.30pm
Why you should see them: Hear that rumble in the distance? It’s the sound of the UK’s next breakthrough act rocking and high-kicking their way into action. Led by Katherine Parlour, a confident leader with a simply astounding voice, the Manchester-via-London band have cut their teeth on the live circuit, winning over fans – including Courtney Love – at their recent gigs across the capital. Get down to their next show before the secret gets out…
Festival anthem: ‘Sawmill Sinkhole’ (SW)
Who: The glorious serotonin shot that your emo playlist needs
Where: Prince Albert – Friday, 10.30pm and Saturday, 1.30pm
Why you should see them: Last year, Hayley Williams claimed that Pool Kids’ tight, distorted anthems are what she “wished Paramore sounded like in the early 2000s.” If that remarkable co-sign somehow hasn’t convinced you to add this band to your must-see list, then check out the hate5six recording of their recent Richmond show on YouTube – it’s a display of giddy, explosive power. Thank us later.
Festival anthem: ‘Conscious Uncoupling’ (SW)
Who: Best friend duo making open-hearted alt-pop
Where: Zahara – Thursday, 7:30pm
Why you should see them: SIIGHTS’ recent EP ‘Somewhere Between Lost and Found’ is a total joy. One for fans of Muna and Griff, the duo (made up of Mia and Toni, who hail from Dublin and Glasgow respectively) have a knack for creating nuggets of soaring alt-pop. From the exhilarating ‘Fake It’, to slow-burning ‘Late Nights in Soho’, these are songs made to be belted back to the band.
Festival anthem: ‘Fake It’ (HM)
Who: Nigerian-born newcomer taking her unique aura to the world
Where: Komedia Studio – Thursday, 7:15pm
Why you should see them: Later this year, Somadina will become one of three Nigerian acts to perform at Lollapalooza festival alongside Tems and Rema. It puts her in fine company, but she can more than hold her own: ‘I Saw An Angel On The Roof & Wept’, for example, is the sound of Kali Uchis meeting ‘The Slow Rush’-era Tame Impala. Catch an intimate glimpse of this star before the biggest stages beckon.
Festival anthem: ‘Rolling Loud’ (TS)
The Last Dinner Party
Who: 2023’s biggest – and best – breakout band
Where: Chalk – Thursday, 8.30pm
Why you should see them: The recent furore around this group suggests they may need no introduction, but for the uninitiated, let’s recap. Two weeks ago, The Last Dinner Party released their debut single, ‘Nothing Matters’, a richly arranged, swooping baroque pop anthem with a level of melodrama that could be likened to Siouxsie Sioux or Echo and the Bunnymen. Their rapid ascent has seen them pack out headline shows and rake in huge streaming numbers, but they have a real, eccentric sensibility that cuts through the noise.
Festival anthem: ‘Nothing Matters’ (SW)