Here’s all the best bands we saw at this year’s Great Escape

One of the buzziest weekenders in all of festival season, the hottest new bands made their way to Brighton for  The Great Escape.

Sun scorching, queues snaking around the block and more than enough energy – Boy Azooga are the perfect band to kick things into the front row. Shimmering and effortless, it’s impossible to not fall in love with everything they do, the grin of frontman Davey Newington a calling card for the atmosphere they create. Tracks like ‘Face Behind Her Cigarette’ and ‘Jerry’ are a go-to sign of that infectious and unpredictable sound, for a band bringing joyous times back in abundance with a melting pot of style.

Downstairs at Komedia, Hatchie is equally delving into something important – with a set of wholesome and sun-kissed tales that hit that sweet spot between Tom Petty and Haim. Live, it’s a fully formed wonder, with the sort of enticing magic that’d win you over no matter what time of day it is.

Festivals are always the right time for big-time indie moments, and one of the bands leading that down on the seafront this year is Sea Girls. Their slot in the The Arch is written with a force that comes from a band knowing exactly what they do. With a kick-pedal rush, ‘What For’, ‘Eat Me Whole’ and ‘Too Much Fun’ pack a heady punch that never relents, with frontman Henry ending up deep in the crowd for a celebration that points to much bigger stages.

The new Beach venue at TGE this year is not only perfectly named (the pebbles are literally all around you) but also crammed with special sets from acts ready to embrace what comes next. Soccer Mommy is one of them, with an expertly crafted early evening set that sees her pour through cuts from ‘Clean’ and more for a must-see moment full of style and experience far beyond her years.

Slick neon-emblazoned pop doesn’t come much bigger than joan. It’s amazing to think that Arkansas could serve up such an unstoppable mixture. It’s super stylish, infectious from the first note and has you calling back to the unabashed pop majesty of The 1975 and Fickle Friends. That’s pretty good company, and tonight’s spot at The Great Escape is an eye into a lot of people’s next favourite band.

Whenyoung exist in that gap between awake and dreams. Their name already up in lights and coming onstage to Patti Smith repeating their name, they’ve come to meet the excitement around them head-on. ‘Actor’ sees them looking in the mirror, mirror on the wall, unsure of where it all fits. ‘Pretty Pure’ dwells on vulnerability, while ‘The Collector’ hangs in the air, twinkling in search of joy. A pair of new songs show that the best is yet to come. ‘Heaven on Earth’ fizzes and pops, while ‘The Others’ comes with reality’s bite. Dedicated to “everyone who died in the Grenfell Tower and has been forgotten and disregarded”, it points fingers and warns of an echoed future.

Dream Wife know how to make their mark. In recent years they’ve been tearing apart the rulebook and seizing attention with ease, but their set this year finds them in a different realm. With a debut album out, it’s a celebration and affirmation of how important they are, and that confidence can be seen at every move tonight – ‘Hey Heartbreaker’ particularly setting the scene for a band owning their moment.

In equal standing, Goat Girl have continued to grow and morph since their last TGE appearance, and a packed out moment in The Arch is a perfect mirror of their confidence and power. It’s a beguiling set, blending ramshackle power and exciting cuts from their recently released debut album. With strings on stage, it’s one of the most enthralling moments of the weekend.

Pale Waves write songs about falling in and out of love. It doesn’t matter if it’s fit to burst, or aching, empty and devastated, everything comes from the heart. The group have always been good live, with a ripe and ready arsenal of bangers, but over the past few months, they’ve been busy on the road. Getting used to the spotlight, they’ve quickly become rock stars and entertainers. Heather brings the songs to life, sharing jagged loneliness, electric chemistry and glittering joy. While ‘Kiss’ finds eternity in the small moments, ‘Television Romance’ wants something bigger. As ‘There’s A Honey’ glistens in the gloom, Pale Waves race forward, eager to stay ahead of their own breakneck momentum but enjoying the thrill of the chase.

You can hear IDLES all the way down the seafront. Firing on all cylinders, they have a message that refuses to go unheard in a blistering display of power. There’s no let-up, and it’s why they continue to grow and grow into one of the most important bands of recent times, leaving thousands in awe – and tonight is no different when ‘Well Done’, ‘Divide & Conquer’ and ‘Mother’ rings out. Now that’s how you take Great Escape and grab it by the throat.

You know it’s The Great Escape when you find yourself piling into a garage forecourt to watch a band play with cans of Red Stripe strewn around in buckets. Drahla have that honour, and their Shipwright’s Yard slot first thing on Friday throws any cobwebs away. The trio thrive on intense and sizzling scratches that take punk roots to a fresh new level, and they bounce off each other today in an uncompromising fashion. Screaming against the world, it’s an unstoppable display.

Luscious hooks and ready-made lines abound from Pip Blom. Spending the afternoon down in the Komedia underbelly, she leads her band through a set wrapped in melody but always ready to rile against the world. It’s a package perfect for bigger stages, and while her name was already on the lips of tastemakers, this weekend is undeniably the moment the world catches on.

Climbing up narrow stairs to a packed upstairs in a pub, Sports Team deliver one of the defining shows of the festival. Hilarious, self-deprecating yet swaggering with confidence, it’s a sensational coming together of pop showbiz and gritty back-alley worlds. With frontman Alex Rice already laying his claim to be one of the most talked about figures in new music, cuts from their debut EP ‘Winter Nets’ are joyous. A band staring straight at the brightest lights and laughing with glee, it’s time to jump on board.

Ten Tonnes has had his eyes set on big anthems from the moment he started writing. Down on Brighton’s seafront, he’s now got the ammunition to truly take down giants, geared with the ready-made hits that’ll have thousands screaming along in no time. ‘Lay It On Me’ rips now with a beefier bite than ever before, melding bluesy charm with indie vibrancy for a set that points to The Strokes, Arctic Monkeys and Tom Petty in equal measure.

Drenched in darkness, Hotel Lux is an intoxicating and spellbinding detour. Vaudeville depths ring throughout, spitting at the world around them with a knowing class that feeds off the eyes gazing at them. ‘The Last Hangman’ is a muscle-flexing exercise and shows that their glazing world is one that can only grow.

Feet aren’t like any other indie band going at the moment. They may be flowing with jolting punk energy, but underneath there’s a playful indie spark for melody and a good ‘ol time that shines through their set at Patterns. Already with big-time game changers like ‘Petty Thieving’ and ‘Backseat Driver’, Coventry may be about to see a lot less of their favourite sons. In a good way, y’know?

Let’s Eat Grandma just want to hear something interesting, and they’ll do it themselves if they have to. On debut album ‘I, Gemini’, the pair pulled apart their own warped pop bangers, trying to hide the sheer size of it all but there’s no running this time around. Kicking off into ‘Hot Pink’, the pair burn bright. Fuelled by fury, broken promises and sitting at the end of their tender with boredom, the track fuses and spits. Rolling eyes and death stares, its jagged edges sparkle in the evening light. ‘It’s Not Just Me’ fingers through the Scrapbook of youthful excitement, anything goes freedom and having the best time as Let’s Eat Grandma change direction. Again. They don’t just colour outside the lines; they use voice, body and heart to build a picture that’s always shifting. At one point the pair hop off the stage, skip through the crowd chasing their own wonderland before returning in a flurry of handclaps and rolling about the place. Unpredictable and never bothering with the line, ‘Falling Into Me’ is a soaring promise. “You got this,” it smirks.

Tonight feels like the moment Sorry groove into the potential they’ve sparkled with since the very beginning. Tracks blend and swoon with sharpness and vigour, a packed room engrossed in everything they do. As the night blends into the morning, it’s a different prospect to anything seen before and all the more sensational because of it. Sorry, on tonight’s evidence, are ready to shake things up.

One of the most talked about new names at the festival, Stella Donnelly’s set is a captivating masterclass of a songwriter in her element. Cracking jokes and with the sort of soothing voice that you can listen to over and over again, her confessional tales are in full flight with ‘Boys Will Be Boys’ – a devastating track taking aim at assault and misogyny. When Stella rounds off her set, it’s almost bittersweet – leaving a packed crowd standing on the beach pebbles ready for more.

Surprises are always great, right?! Like Indoor Pets announcing a special appearance on the morning of the festival. They don’t disappoint at The Western, playing what has to be one of their smallest shows in a while. Trading in bangers and bangers only, it sounds massive – ‘Barbiturates’, ‘So Soon’, ‘Teriyaki’ all bouncing off the walls.

Blissed vibers and serenading tight whips of infectious jazz moves, Easy Life are another band bringing something undeniably fresh. Cuts from their debut mixtape are smooth, a charming flick of organ keys, horns and scatty kicks that sound like they’ve come straight from a late night jazz bar. Ripping apart the term genre and dancing in its confetti-strewn remains, Easy Life are an injection of something new – and by the time they end on the joyous ‘Pockets’, that message is one that rings loudly from everyone heading out into the Brighton night air.

Overcoming obstacles galore, Her’s’ set at St Mary’s Church finds the loveable duo up against it. Sound issues galore, they triumph for the exact reasons that have made them so insatiable. A carefree, almost jubilant spirit, laid out from the jumping moves on stage and the shimmering pop heights that reach from what comes out of it.

“Play a good one,” shouts a super hilarious dude. “We don’t have any,” Alicia fires back, without breaking her stride. Bully don’t do good songs, only great ones. From the flurry of feedback to the scorched earth fury of ‘I Remember’, they are as powerfully bold as ever. The band burn hot for thirty minutes and then disappear into the night, leaving behind one of the most memorable, exhilarating and pure sets of the entire festival.

Bonafide hometown heroes, The Magic Gang have the party firmly in their grasp as things begin to wind down. Having their debut album out, their sets are now at a stage where they’re even more devoted – a coming together of thousands born to scream along to every word. The energy never dips, from opener ‘Oh Saki’ through the singalong heights of ‘Jasmine’, ‘Alright’ and ‘Getting Along’, it’s a packed-in occasion that could only happen at The Great Escape.

Another special moment comes with Pixx, playing upstairs at The Western. Last year’s ‘The Age Of Anxiety’ was crammed with shimmering pop flourishes, with her set at The Great Escape firmly welcoming in what comes next. Feeling like a one-off moment, it’s a relaxed and shape-shifting show, airing new tracks and pointing to a beefier and uncompromising new direction.

After all of that, closing out The Great Escape can be quite the challenge. Thankfully, The Ninth Wave take challenges and turn them into melted ice cream on the floor. People line from front to back, as their propulsive Interpol-esque hits fly from start to finish. Latest EP ‘Never Crave Attention’ was the sound of them stepping into their own, refined and hungry with the tracks ready to match their ambition. It fizzes and runs rings live, pouring intensity from the bare-chested torso of frontman Hayden, primed to see a cult following grow quickly around them. They may have spent three days in Brighton, but The Ninth Wave were born for this moment. That’s how to close a festival in style.

  • cover
    Dork Radio
Spector have released their upbeat new single, 'Another Life': "We must be getting old because we left the acoustic guitar in"
Humour have announced a new EP with an early teaser inspired by a 19th century rubber baron - check out 'Big Money'
Alex Lahey has announced a new deluxe album with bonus single 'Newsreader'