Three days, hundreds of artists and a beach – here’s the best of what we saw at this year’s The Great Escape

Music stops for nobody, but new acts have been spinning their wheels, waiting for opportunities like this. Now it's here, you can be sure they'll be taking them.


We’re all looking for the new thing. The buzzy new band, the exciting new sound, the hot talent our peer group has yet to discover. Over two decades or more of online music scenes, the cult of the new has only grown in power and prominence. Truth is, if you’re looking for something new in the UK, you can’t do much better than Brighton’s The Great Escape. Featuring many, many hundreds of bands performing across a multitude of inner-city venues by the sea, it’s three days of sonic treasure hunting. 

Forced into a pause of almost three whole years thanks to the global pandemic, it arrives back to a changed world. Music stops for nobody, but new acts have been spinning their wheels, waiting for opportunities like this. Now it’s here, you can be sure they’ll be taking them.

“Is anyone here super lactose intolerant, but also eats cheese?” spill tab‘s between-song chatter might be on the weird side, but that’s only to balance out how wonderful the rest is. A half-full The Arch early on the first evening of the first edition of The Great Escape in three full years might lack the kind of sweatbox atmosphere for an exciting new artist to buzz off, but there’s no denying she’s a genuine star. Both ‘Grade A’ and ‘Velcro’ rank up with the best bops Brighton will hear all weekend, too – so much so, we’ll let her off the slowed down, acoustically delivered Kelly Clarkson cover we’re so ideologically opposed to. (SA)

There’s a giddy sense of anticipation around MUNA‘s appearance, and just why they’re the talk of the festival is proven from note one of their takeover at The Beach. ‘Number One Fan’ and ‘Stayaway’ usher in a set that makes The Great Escape feel like their own headline gig. Massive singalong and pogoing bodies greet every moment as the entire room becomes a joyous nightclub of feel-good release. In just 30 minutes, they steal the show, running from new disco-banger ‘Home By Now’ and ‘Anyone But Me’ to the frankly ridiculous heights of ‘I Know A Place’ and ‘Silk Chiffon’. The set of the festival? It’s hard to argue against it – just get to a MUNA show as soon as you can. (JM)

With every show, things get bigger for Baby Queen. Bella’s TGE debut sees a future pop phenomenon owning that role she was born to own since day one – ‘Internet Religion’, ‘Raw Thoughts’ and ‘Wannabe’ all shining like the instant classics they are. Immediately pulled into the Baby Queen world, it’s a show full of ambition and more confidence than ever, and in no time, it’ll be crowning the biggest of stages where she rightfully belongs. Unfortunately, that moment is cut short tonight by technical issues and sound on-stage, but, if anything, it leaves Brighton eager for more. It may not be the full show Bella planned, but it sits as a teaser of what’s to come. Book us in for what’s next – you know we’ll be there. (JM)

Sinead O’Brien is a master in control of a set that grabs the mood in the room and turns it into one of her very own. At times hypnotic, at times overflowing with energy, and at times ready to pull you into another world – it’s a statement of intent from an artist truly in a lane of her own. Cuts like ‘Kid Stuff’ and latest number ‘There Are Good Times Coming’ blend those shuffling worlds together, serving through a set that feels special simply being there. Emotionally, spiritually and sonically – Sinead O’Brien proves why her every word is so vital right now. (JM)

“I can’t wait to see you all… IN 14 HOURS!!”. There’s no doubt that Lynks is pulling quite the shift at The Great Escape. Starting the day at 12:40pm in a sweltering stage on The Beach, they’re a refreshing tonic of ridiculous energy that even the hardest of sceptics can’t turn away from. The tone is set for the day: club bangers served with a dash of freedom and individuality that makes Lynks a must-see live force of 2022 and beyond. When they get to a 2:15am set at Chalk, the party that kicks off with ‘Str8 Acting’, ‘Hey Joe (Relax)’ and ‘Silly Boy’ proves it – Lynks can take over anywhere at any time. (JM)

Squeezed into the frankly ludicrously underground basement of Casablancas (a jazz club, btw), Courting pull a vast crowd to their only set of the weekend – queues filling the street as everyone looks to squeeze in. Their set is a riotous barrel of fun which showcases the exciting new directions they’re about to head in. ‘Grand National’, ‘Football’ and ‘David Byrne’s Badside’ set limbs moving, but newbie ‘Tennis’ and the unravelling ‘Slowburner’ signal the layers of goals ready to be scored. Certain sets across The Great Escape feel like turning points where bands click into a new gear, and Courting may well be one of the most exciting. (JM)

It’s a bustling Coalition that welcomes Willow Kayne, and for a Friday night, there’s arguably no better soundtrack. Razor-sharp PC pop smashes into electro-rap at every turn, feeling like an artist perfectly suited to soundtrack the late nights and electric club vibes. It’s a genre-smashing jukebox, all party and all vibes. New tracks (including ‘Final Notice’ that arrived but a few days ago) and cuts from ‘Playground Antics’ flow perfectly, from an artist that could be put into any situation and start a celebration. Looking for the sound of the future? Willow Kayne shows it and more at The Great Escape. (JM)

You just know when you see a star. It’s a feeling that immediately grips everyone watching Thomas Headon on Friday night, whizzing through a personable and electric set of indie-pop bops that nestle themselves squarely in your head for the rest of the weekend. ‘Nobody Has To Know’, ‘Strawberry Kisses’ and ‘Victoria’ are even bolder and party-vibed live, with a set that turns industry heads into dedicated fans with non-stop bangers. Getting the crowd to hug other before dropping in a cover of Taylor Swift’s ‘We Are Never Getting Back Together’ and shouting out other artists to go and see for the rest of the festival (we see you, Alfie Templeman), Thomas Headon is a bonafide showman who’s fixed on making your favourite tunes of the year. There’s no one more suited for the task. (JM)

There’s one thing not in doubt about Priya Ragu – she can certainly pack ’em in. Taking to The Great Escape’s Beach Stage, there’s no shortage of eyeballs for a set full of twisted, fresh electro-pop. On a stage where so many others have succumbed to technical issues across the weekend, Priya’s having none of its nonsense, pushing her band forward in the best way possible. Joined by brother, co-writer and produced Japhna Gold, final offering ‘Chicken Lemon Rice’ feels like a genuine moment. A breakout star, and no mistake. (SA)

“Are we ready… to rock,” asks Lime Garden‘s vocalist Chloe Howard, managing to fit two different seaside puns into a single bit of pre-song banter. The rest of their set is just as joyful as the hometown heroes deliver big energy and bigger grins. The scuzzy pop of ‘Surf n Turf’ is a fiery burst of guitar-driven attitude before an intergalactic sci-fi breakdown sits on the right side of ridiculous, while newie ‘Swim’ is a haunting, anthemic banger with a touch of twinkling math rock thrown in for good measure. “Give us some constructive feedback?” Chloe asks with a grin, knowing full well it, like the rest of Lime Garden’s catalogue, is an absolute rager. (AS) 

The Great Escape often plays hosts to rough-around-the-edges new bands who haven’t quite nailed their live show yet, but make up for it with bags of potential. CMAT, on the other hand, knows exactly what she’s doing. What she’s doing happens to be kneeling down on stage to simulate a trapdoor due to a lack of production budget, but our point still stands.

As soon as the first notes of ‘I Don’t Really Care 4 U’ get played, the crowd are singing along to every word. They’re so enthusiastic that a moshpit opens up to ‘No More Virgos’, which may be the only time a pop-country banger about bad romantic choices has caused people to leap around so much they spill half their drink.

Between songs CMAT is chatting to the crowd and throwing shapes like she’s in a photo booth. “I pose when I need to catch my breath but still want people to cheer for me.” she jokes before launching into unreleased track ‘Rent’. As the set finishes, it’s easy to forget you’re at a festival and not a headline show. “I’m a country music aficionado, but I’m secretly a pop star,” she says at one point. After today’s set, that’s a claim we’re more than willing to verify. (JH)

Let’s Eat Grandma spent a majority of interviews in the run-up to the release of ‘Two Ribbons’ talking about how their friendship has changed over the past few years. During their 45-minute set at The Beach tonight, though, they look as close as ever. The set opens with pulsating pop banger ‘New Year’s Eve’ that sees the pair embrace the spotlight before the wonky industrial dance of ‘Hot Pink’, the soaring ‘Watching You Go’ and the giddy ‘Levitating’. Yes, Let’s Eat Grandma still treat the stage like a playground – indulging in a mid-set macarena, diving into the crowd to inspire a few dancing moshpits – and they close with the sprawling kaleidoscopic ‘Donnie Darko’, but everything seems more ambitious this time around. (AS)

A 1am show at a festival is always a risky slot to fill. On one hand, you’re not competing with many other bands. On the other hand, you are competing with peoples’ desire to go to bed after 12 hours standing up. It’s a gamble that pays off for Working Men’s Club, as their show is absolutely rammed. Clearly keen to make sure everyone’s awake, they tear through their set without much in the way of small talk. It’s a mixture of the huge bangers from their debut and the moodier cuts from upcoming album ‘Fear Fear’, with pounding electro synths pulling the whole thing together. Tracks like ‘John Cooper Clarke’ hit like a brick through the head, and the momentum doesn’t let up for a second. It’s a breakneck set that more than makes up for the late bedtime. (JH)

If the scorching sun that beams down on The Beach stage isn’t enough to warm the souls of a Saturday at The Great Escape, then Stella Donnelly makes sure there’s no room for error. Rich stories and alt-indie licks combine for a set of wholesome joy, with new tracks showcasing a more piano-lead world full of unabashed personality. ‘How Was Your Day?’ has everyone singing in unison, ‘Leave It Alone’ send blissful vibes from front to back, ‘Die’ sees dance moves galore (including a handstand) while new cut ‘Lungs’ (out just a few days ago) is already embraced like a classic. Full of fun, celebratory and left grinning from ear to ear – Stella Donnelly may just have seized the weekend. (JM)

Canadian duo Softcult pull from shoegaze, grunge and post-rock to create brooding, emotional music that sways between beauty and rage. Lyrically though, their music gets straight to the point with a fierce sense of purpose. Today’s set fights back against cat-calling (‘Take It Off’), misogyny (‘Another Bish’), and emotional manipulation (‘Gaslight’), before ending with an impassioned speech about the murder of Sarah Everard that launches the snarling ‘Boys Will Be Boys’. Bristling with anger and with the whole room listening to every word they say, Softcult are determined to use their platform to try and make a positive change in the world. Today feels significant. It’s one of those rare sets that’s so raw, vulnerable and moving, it stays with you long after the end of the festival. (AS)

Already making the sort of exciting live rumblings that’ll have you rushing to whatever show you can, Regressive Left live up to that and more when they head to Revenge on Saturday night. With a rammed room leaving loads outside desperate to get in, the trio serve up indietronic delight after indietronic delight – smashing together the worlds of Talking Heads, LCD Soundsystem and more in a way that has you hooked into everything they do. ‘Eternal Returns’, ‘Take The Hit’ and latest number ‘Bad Faith’ are prime examples of their electro-punk world, one that a lot of people will be talking about very soon indeed. In terms of a discovery, it’s a new favourite band who make the most of the time they have to leave an unforgettable mark. (JM)

Finishing out the Saturday night of The Great Escape can be a fight against the tide (soz). The last fibres of energy are met with pure release though as Pixey closes Coalition in style. To a packed room, that Primal Scream meets surefire pop sensibility takes flight for sheer joy – ‘Electric Dream’, ‘Sunshine State’ and ‘Just Move’ feel practically euphoric as the night winds down. Pixey triggers bouncing bodies and wide-eyed happiness in equal measure; it’s a wall of sound that leaves people spilling onto the beach with one thought in mind – this is the summer soundtrack everyone needs. (JM)

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