Day One, Thursday 8th May
Jimi Goodwin, Brighton Centre East Wing
The East Wing doesn’t get used for gigs all that often but it’s a perfect addition to The Great Escape this year, welcoming in hundreds without the hassle of queuing. Jimi Goodwin’s not happy though, grimacing through opener ‘Terracotta Warrior’ before letting rip at the sound desk (“I’m all for this Student Grant shit but at least know your fucking job”). Turns out the Doves’ frontman’s just woken up, and as his head clears the mood improves. Led by Goodwin’s melodic bass, the band find their groove on the tumbling flow of ‘Lonely At The Drop’, an eventual triumph.
Grumbling Fur, Green Door Store
We get inside the Green Door Store for The Quietus’ showcase just in time: by the time East India Youth plays a gremlin-befuddled set, the venue’s at boiling capacity and the outside queue immovable. Grumbling Fur reward early arrivals a hundred-fold, Daniel O’Sullivan and Alexander Tucker seated and at ease as they build a richly melodic but consistently unsettling mesh of pinging rhythms, abstract synth lines and edge of sleep vocals. More leftfield and singular than any other act appearing this weekend, they’re our band of the festival, although their jokey stage banter is pretty bloody creaky.
Day Two, Friday 9th May
Kaiser Chiefs, Concorde 2
The festival’s sole sunny day gets underway early, as hundreds of punters get in line at the Old Steine for tickets to Kaiser Chiefs’ sort-of secret show later. It’s always worthwhile seeing a band with something to prove, and, after his mainstream-tickling appearances on The Voice, Ricky Wilson explodes with energy on the Concorde 2 stage, determined to show he’s still got the passion. His keen crowd manipulation – scaling the Victorian metalwork, working the room from onstage and off – is as much showbiz as rock’n’roll, but a jubilant, hit-stuffed set reminds us life is more fun with Kaiser Chiefs around.
Las Kellies, Tube
With a bunch of wristband-less friends in tow, we head to Fire Records’ free Alternative Escape showcase at The Tube. Although they’ve brought along a strong quartet of bands from their current roster, it’s headliners Las Kellies we’re determined to catch. On record, the Argentine trio’s post-punk pop has benefitted from spacious mixes by UK dub legend Dennis Bovell, but live they’re sharper, spikier and, even while wearing sunglasses indoors, very cool indeed. The sound in The Tube is fantastic too (more gigs here please), the crowd moving as one to the lithe bass and percussion workouts.
Frànçois And The Atlas Mountains, Spiegeltent
The mirrored panels and intimate atmosphere of the Spiegeltent bring out cheer in anyone on a warm summer’s night, and when we arrive even the grim, morose country of Canada’s Crooked Brothers is eliciting whoops and dancing. Frànçois Marry and his Atlas Mountains shouldn’t fail but some drunk old punks are already stumbling out, having bafflingly mistaken their beguiling electronic pop, multiple drum kits and synchronised dance moves for Mumford & Sons. If anything, the Atlas Mountains’ live experience is far closer to their Domino labelmates Hot Chip, rich in elastic, synthesised disco grooves. We danced anyway.
The Black Tambourines, New Road
Coming up through Pavilion Gardens after midnight, a howl of feedback burst forth from up ahead. Four familiar looking young men are tumbling out the back of a van, crashing into some definitely not scheduled punk rock. Turns out it’s Falmouth’s The Black Tambourines, back in Brighton again having driven all the way up from Cornwall that evening to crash the Great Escape party. Pissed up crowds of festival goers mingle with genteel Fringe stragglers, irate taxi drives and exasperated Dome security, as the band flail through a ridiculously ragged version of ‘Wild Thing’. Big balls, big noise, big applause.
Day Three, Saturday 10th May
Oliver Wilde, Queen’s Hotel
Diving deep into the belly of the music industry beast, we manage to slip into schmooze city, the Queen’s Hotel, for a stripped-back set by Bristol songwriter Oliver Wilde. Later tonight he’ll play with his full band, but tucked into this low corner of the hotel basement it’s just him and violinist Caelia Lunniss. It’s not the ideal space for Wilde’s introverted pop, and soon enough yet more equipment failure forces the pair into an even more unplugged performance. Still, woozy tunes like ‘St. Elmo’s Fire’ (not the John Parr, nor the Brian Eno, one) are worth the diversion.
Charli XCX, Corn Exchange
Having a hand in one of last year’s biggest hits (Icona Pop’s ‘I Don’t Care’) hasn’t quite filled the hall for Charli XCX’s NME headline this evening, but it’s not stopping her bringing the party. On record she’s polished up for maximum radio play but live her band rock like The Runaways, Charli owning the stage with all the self-belief and massive tunes of someone who’s been ready for stardom all her life. She laughs, she swears, she punches their air through a delirious cover of the ever-dubious ‘I Want Candy’ and she’s pop magnificence, so there.
Sky Larkin, Pav Tav
Down in the Pav Tav, things are getting messy as the weekend’s busiest Alternative Escape schedule thunders on. Katie Harkin’s sizzling indie rock outfit Sky Larkin don’t really need to be playing shaky stages on beer soaked carpets these days but as Harkin grins joyfully, “Pub gigs are the best.” Her talent for infectious choruses is matched by some serious guitar hero chops, playing her instrument behind her head just because it’s fun and it’s daft and she can. Even the fixed-grimace security approve, nodding along as they throw another addled devotee back into the mosh.
Jon Hopkins, Corn Exchange
This is the way to end a festival, with a massive actual hands-in-the-air rave. Last year’s ‘Immunity’ brought producer Jon Hopkins onto the shelves of the broadsheet studying, home-listening brigade but tonight, elevated on a simple black dais, the non-showman soon brings those endorphins rushing back. Ignoring the mixed bag of art films behind him, we focus on the energy with which he fires off sequences of deep bass hits, stabbing rapidly as he triggers kicks and snare rolls, before submitting to the body of the crowd. Finishing off with some fierce, abstract techno, Hopkins exceeded expectations and crowned the weekend.