After tentative steps were made in the right direction last year to bring back The Great Escape following the pandemic, last weekend (May 10-13), the Brighton festival returned to life in its loudest, drunkest, most exhilarating form. Across dozens of inner-city venues, clubs and bars, hundreds of emerging artists performed to new music fans and industry heads, kicking off the huge festival season that lies ahead.
There were riffs ahoy at the three-day event, with unsigned rockers Picture Parlour drawing in a huge crowd (you can read the NME review of their set in full here), while Lana Lubany staked her claim as a pop hero-in-waiting. Katie Gregson-Macleod, meanwhile, set hearts alight with a powerful set on Thursday afternoon. Rumour has it that some of us are still crying after the Scottish songwriter’s emotional rendition of ‘Complex’.
Following a stellar few days of live music, with sunburnt noses and aching limbs, Team NME present to you the best acts we saw at The Great Escape 2023. Same time, same place next year?
Sophie Williams, Associate Commissioning Editor (New Music)
Additional words: Hannah Mylrea
When NME saw Bellah at SXSW festival earlier this year, we concluded that “the future of R&B is in safe hands” – and her set at Brighton’s Patterns cemented this statement. She has the sort of charisma most artists would kill for; “Who here’s in therapy?” she asked at one point, before quipping, “Who here is too broke to afford therapy? That’s why you write songs guys!”
Yet it’s Bellah’s powerhouse vocals that really do the talking. Her kinetic vocals cartwheeled over the arrangements, elevating her performance to new, heavenly heights. From the Afrobeats rhythms of ‘Evil Eye’ to the moody electronics that embellished ‘Garden’, it was a mesmerising affair. (HM)
Bringing her own brand of raunchy electro-pop (imagine if Confidence Man met CupcakKe at a rave in the ‘90s) – as well as several X-rated props – to the Charles Street Tap in the wee hours of Saturday, it was impossible not to have a good time at Big Wett‘s late night show. Shimmying around the stage in a hot pink bodysuit and wraparound sunglasses, delivering some of the filthiest lyrics of the weekend (closer ‘Eat My Ass’ was a particular highlight), the Melbourne party starter brought the fun factor to The Great Escape. (HM)
There were lovely, laid-back vibes to be found at NME 100 graduates Dolores Forever‘s set, which felt like a balm for any hungover punters kicking around Brighton Pier’s Horatio’s on Friday evening. With an easygoing charm and sweetened harmonies, Hannah Wilson and Julia Fabrin channelled their friendship into a confident, compelling stage presence that belied their status as relative newbies. Tracks such as ‘Rothko’ and ‘Good Time All The Time’ segued smoothly into one another, before they finished ‘Baby Teeth’ with a joyous high five: the uplifting climax to a set brimming with energy. (SW)
When was the last time you saw a circle pit unfold in the middle of a tiny pub? Alternative rap trio Frozemode entered chaos mode as they took over the Hope & Ruin, knocking over pints, mic stands and chairs while running riot across the floor. As the sun began to set outside, the tunes were equally as fun, too; both ‘Simon Says’ embodies the hilarity, frustration and thrill of a night out gone awry, with flashes of irreverent charm. Theirs is a sound born for future late night festival sets. (SW)
When future pop hero Jessica Winter performed ‘Choreograph’ at her Club Revenge show, it made for a moment of real electricity. The euphoric tune is a slow-burner, building up to a chorus of “Real love can’t be choreographed” before finally – finally! – launching into a powerful breakdown. A real heart-swelling moment, it felt like the musical equivalent of cycling up a steep hill, and the joy that comes when you finally reach the top. It was the perfect way for the songwriter to close her set. (HM)
You may only know Mae Stephens from her viral smash ‘If We Ever Broke Up’ – the slinky nugget of funk-pop that went viral earlier this year – but as she told NME in a recent Breakout interview, she’s been doing this for a while. Starting with open mic nights in her early teenage years, Stephens went on to play festivals and charity events at a young age.
This experience is evident in her slick performance at The Great Escape; she confidently chatted away between meticulously planned renditions of her tunes. Flanked by a three-piece band, she encouraged the audience to “raise your drinks up to the drunkest girl I’ve met in my life” prior to ‘Boozy Bitch’, and rocked out to an Aerosmith-style guitar moment throughout ‘Make Me Your Missus’. (HM)
Mary In The Junkyard
If The Great Escape is supposed to represent the new artists pushing scenes forward, then Mary In The Junkyard certainly fit the bill. Having become regulars at independent venues across London in recent months, the young trio make music that is beautifully confounding, with songs that shift rhythms almost constantly against playful, Jens Lekman-style vocals.
They’ve certainly started to sweep listeners into their sonic world, too; at Unbarred Brewery, some festival-goers had to watch through the venue’s large glass windows just to catch a glimpse of their set. Get down to one of this band’s live shows ASAP – but be sure to get there early. (SW)
Sam Akpro is an artist with an intensity at his core. On stage, the Peckham-born musician’s shy demeanour slowly faded away as worked through tracks off his thrilling new EP, ‘Arrival’. “It’s Thursday tonight, but it certainly feels like Friday,” Akpro exclaimed, before launching into ‘Trace’, a blunt force bombshell of a song that he delivered with an unnerving calm. The set was transporting and effecting, as Akpro took his audience through a disjointed blend of jazz, no-wave, and funk sounds. By the end of the summer festival season, you suspect his star will fully be on the rise. (SW)
Genre-splicing maverick Sam Austins kicked things up a notch for his set at The Great Escape. The LA-based artist – who was clearly buzzing to be playing the festival – encouraged the audience to get wild, eagerly urging them to “lose their shit”. This electric energy was only intensified by his instrumentals, with tracks like the surf rock-infused ‘Dancing With The Devil’ given a new grungy edge when performed live. It was a sweltering call to the mosh pit; a show that is certainly destined for bigger venues. (HM)
Nigeria’s Somadina entered her first-ever The Great Escape as one of the festival’s hottest tickets, and delivered with ease. Chatter ping-ponged between the 23-year-old and the crowd; “Get some vocal training,” she joked after audience members attempted to mimic her smooth and commanding ad libs during ‘I Saw An Angel on The Roof And Wept’. A joyous undercurrent of theatricality bubbled away, as Somadina pulled off a beautiful falsetto during ‘Citrus Tears’, beaming all the while. (SW)