With a fair chunk of the audience made up of music industry folk, bands typically have to fight to get much in the way of a reaction from them. Lawyers, it seems, do not like to mosh. With strict changeovers between sets, most acts don’t get much in the way of a soundcheck either, giving every thirty-minute set a real sense of unpredictability.
It means that when a band truly stands out at The Great Escape, it’s despite all the odds. The best sets from the weekend are a good indicator of who will go on to have an incredible festival season and shine, no matter the situation.
Last year’s Great Escape was the first one following the pandemic and the big conversation was if bands who found success on TikTok could make it in front of a real audience. Turns out, many of them could. By contrast, a lot of the most anticipated sets at The Great Escape this year came courtesy of bands who had focused on playing live, rather than building a presence on social media.
Neither Fat Dog or Mary In The Junkyard have released music on Spotify but already have a fearsome reputation, while The Last Dinner Party were the hottest ticket in town, after the release of just one track, ‘Nothing Matters’, released last month. Still, Venbee’s chaotic late-night set and the excitement that followed James Marriott everywhere proved that viral stars should never get written off.
Elsewhere, hometown heroes Yonaka and Maisie Peters made their grand return to the city, with a new generation hot on their heels while big, bombastic pop was very much the flavour of the weekend after a few years of introspection and vulnerability. Judging from the sound and spirit of this year’s Great Escape – which in many ways constitutes a barometer of what’s to come – it looks like 2023 is going to be the time to dance.
Here are the standout sets from The Great Escape 2023.
The Last Dinner Party
After meeting at uni and cutting their teeth with a string of gigs across London, The Last Dinner Party got signed to Island Records and secured a management deal because they’re very good at what they do. People have found this incredibly normal story suspicious though, with the predictable shouts about ‘industry plants’ and manufactured friendships going hand-in-hand with the pure, visceral excitement that came alongside the release of debut single ‘Nothing Matters’ last month.
Long-story-short, The Last Dinner Party deserve every positive word that has, and will be, written about them. The band easily packed out Brighton’s 550-capacity Chalk on Thursday evening before delivering a slick set that slowly dials up the urgency. ‘Burn Alive’ and ‘Caesar On TV’ are dripping in confident melodrama while ‘Portrait Of A Dead Girl’ is a pure indie banger that isn’t afraid of a little theatricality.
The Last Dinner Party are equally fearless, with vocalist Abigail Morris “sshing” the crowd to give guitarist Emily Roberts’ flute-playing the attention it deserves. “Dance, unless you’re too shy,” she teases later. Finishing with the fiery euphoric indie-stomp of ‘Nothing Matters’, The Last Dinner Party are undeniably brilliant and no amount of discord is ever going to change that.
After seasoned festival legends Yonaka and Dream Wife tore Chalk apart, newcomers HotWax had a lot to live up to. The three-piece make it look easy. It might have been 1am but their ferocious rock n’ roll still feels like a jolt of electricity.
Their tight set delivered killer riffs, massive drum solos and a whole lot of swagger. ‘Treasure’ flickers between indie-disco staple and all-out rock rager, ‘When We’re Dead’ is a joyful guitar-driven beast while ‘Barbie (Not Yours)’ blends groove with a hammering rage. Upcoming single ‘Rip It Out’ is slightly more reserved but that too explodes in a burst of chaotic energy as HotWax establish themselves as legends in the making.
Bands really do play everywhere at The Great Escape. Ahead of a packed-out show at The Prince Albert, Swedish indie-rockers Girl Scout take to Unbarred Brewery’s Taproom for a sleek, giddy set. Pulling influence from ‘00s guitar bands like The White Stripes and The Strokes, Girl Scout’s music is instantly infectious but that leaves space for the band to play.
They met while studying jazz and while no one breaks out a saxophone, there’s plenty of intricate, exciting flourishes throughout their music. ‘Bruises’ is a big emo number, all catharsis and fuzzy guitar while ‘Weirdo’ has more than one ridiculously flamboyant solo. “I thought this was going to be a chill gig,” says guitarist Viktor Spasov before the brilliant ‘Do You Remember Sally Moore?’. “It just never happens,” grins vocalist Emma Jansson.
Hometown boys Snayx spent their first Great Escape as a band playing as many shows as they could. After causing chaos in various sweaty pubs, the trio took to Chalk on Friday night and, well, caused even more chaos.
Opening with a burst of audio samples including that Samuel L Jackson quote from Snakes On A Plane, Snayx then came bursting out the gate with raucous punk anthem ‘Work’, which kickstarts a rowdy half-hour. New song ‘Boys In Blue’ is an aggy political number that whips the room into a frenzy before a snarling cover of Slowthai’s ‘Doorman’ ups the energy. After a string of scuzzy punk numbers, Snayx switch things up for the electronic-influenced closing number which turns the churning mosh pit into a euphoric rave.
Scottish five-piece Vlure might pull heavily from the brooding world of post-punk, but they cut it with a healthy dose of club energy. The result is an aggressively good time. Taking to the elegant Paganini Ballroom on Thursday evening, the venue’s impressive chandeliers won’t have seen anything like it.
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Frontman Hamish Hutcheson is a formidable force, constantly asking more from the packed-out room but they chase his unrelenting energy. He’s helped out by the gritty rave that the rest of the band conjure on tracks like ‘Show Me How To Live Again’, which has more in common with Faithless than The Fall. Their blistering set ends with hands aloft and the room bouncing as one, with Vlure a constantly unifying force.
Aussie pop-trio Blusher have spent the past year working on their debut album and teamed-up with a movement coach ahead of touring with Aurora. The Great Escape is their first time performing abroad and all that planning has clearly paid off. The show is a glitzy, polished pop spectacle that still allows the personalities of Jade Ingvarson-Favretto, Lauren Coutts, Miranda Ward to shine through.
The twitching ‘Softly Spoken’ quickly morphs into a snarling pop banger, ‘Dead End’ is a joyous song about late night dance parties while the closing ‘Backbone’ is jubilant and fierce. There are nods to ABBA, Charli XCX, Robyn and MUNA throughout the set but Blusher are confidently their own thing.
Since breaking through in 2016, Dream Wife have developed a reputation for unmissable live shows. At a festival with so much unpredictability, it can be nice to see a sure thing. Their Great Escape show this year, though, wasn’t your typical Dream Wife set. Instead of the deliberately unfurling pop-meets-punk spectacle the band have been refining over the past few years, the trio attack the stage from the minute they walk out. It’s gnarly, heavy and joyfully chaotic.
Their music still walks a line between pop hooks and punk aggression but they’re clearly not worried about being precious, throwing themselves about the space and delivering classics like ‘Hey Heartbreaker’ and ‘Somebody’ with a renewed force. Then there’s recent song ‘Leech’ which sees the band screaming for empathy over earth-shattering riffs. Eight years in, Dream Wife have never sounded so vital or exciting.