It rained torrentially for the best part of our drive down there, but no amount of bad weather can dampen the magic of arriving in Brighton. So, what better way to start proceedings than walking down to the pier, colourful and cartoonish against the gently twinkling waters. The venue furthest out on the pier is Horatio’s, where Haze are charming the crowd with their cool, crunching indie, their visible camaraderie and generous charisma making for as compelling a watch as it is a listen. Next, we step away from the seafront and take our first foray into town, to what I truly believe to be the UK’s darkest music venue (correct me if I’m wrong), the Komedia. Gently wading through the pitch black darkness, we find ourselves in the midst of the joyful spectacle of the Mauskovic Dance Band. Hailing from Amsterdam, their Cumbrian grooves are totally infectious, bringing the whole room to life in an Afro-Caribbean space disco. I challenge you to keep still during their set; a gentle hip-shaking is involuntary, though with the sea air having blown away any travelling tiredness and the first couple of drinks down my neck, I indulged in rather more than a gentle shake of the hips and basically entered full party mode.
After a quick pit-stop for chips (chip-stop?) it’s down to the specially-made beach site – where TGE starts to feel less like a sea of yellow lanyard-wearing musos and industry types, staring at their phones and anxiously scrolling through the (very good) Great Escape app — and more like the sort of festival you might go to for fun. It’s a small site, bookended by two main tents, plus a handful of street-food vendors and pop-up bars. The larger tent, The Deep End, is rammed full for Little Simz. When the British rapper dropped GREY Area a few months ago to critical acclaim, it quickly became an early contender for album of the year. Simbi strides on stage to Boss, megaphone in hand, and the crowd is instantly hers. She’s powerful, and playful, as she ripples through tunes like Therapy, and a ferocious rendition of Venom, all brought to life by her live band; the woozy disco refrain of Selfish has hands in the air. Emotions that carry weight on the record are elevated seeing Little Simz on stage: she’s a dynamic performer who so connects with her crowd, masterfully moving from fierce to vulnerable, and bouncing between the personal (like the achingly confessional Sherbert Sunset) to the political (see Pressure). There’s anger in these songs, but a calmness to her flow. Her imaginative style of hip-hop has humour and heart, and by the time we reach 101 FM the crowd is giddy with sheer love. Perhaps the set overruns, because she’s not given chance to say goodbye, but Little Simz does leave the stage to rapturous cheers and applause: one of the most exciting artists in the UK.
Friday’s highlights start with Kitt Philippa from Northern Ireland, whose contemporary twist on their classical sensibilities has the Queen’s Hotel totally captivated. There’s a sadness, and seriousness to their bold keys, looped vocals and reverb-drenched percussion creating something stunning and original. It’s the kind of gig where you can hear a pin drop – in fact it’s so quiet you can hear the bip-bip-bip of their click-track on Human. A very special talent: Kitt Philippa’s star is definitely rising. Down at the beach, we catch the wonderfully weird Snapped Ankles – the band becoming infamous for their gnarly live shows and freaky ditch-monster costumes. Their music is feral-meets-industrial, angular-yet-motorik – refreshingly odd, and brilliant-brilliant-brilliant. Then to a very busy Jubilee Square where another band have dressed for the occasion: Plastic Mermaids though are head-to-toe in golden tinsel, which, weirdly, feels apt for their opulent dream-pop, awash as it is with lush analogue synth – trippy and cool, poppy and arty, a real crowd-pleaser. But the best crowd reaction I see all weekend has to be for Sports Team. From the minute they walk on stage (to Robbie Williams’ Let Me Entertain You, no less), The Haunt turns to putty. If putty could mosh. It’s a real frenzy for their tongue-in-cheek, balls-to-the-wall indie satire. Every member of the band is distinctly watchable, but Alex Rice really delivers the goods up front, and we hang on his every word.
Saturday, and it’s wet again – which isn’t such a bad thing because it makes it much easier to leave. And we do have to leave. But not before one final trip to the beach to soak up the Sydney garage four-piece Body Type; their third show of the festival, and this one’s one-in-one-out. For dessert, an indulgent slice of Confidence Man – a small but perfectly formed set, complete with their signature dance routines, plus champagne spraying, sunglasses choreography and some of the best tunes in the business.
Pictures: Owen Richards