Last year, it felt that we were perhaps getting a glimpse at The Great Escape’s future. In another pandemic-induced off-year, the Brighton festival introduced a virtual showcase to make up for the lack of a physical event, allowing acts and fans from all-around the world to gather for an accessible selection of brilliant new acts. The world we knew had changed, so perhaps this was a chance for festivals to move along with it?
And yet, for all the many positives, I’ve never felt this level of excitement for The Great Escape, their first in-person event since 2019. We’re all chomping at the bit to get down to the sea front, stumble between bars, discover some truly brilliant new acts, and reconnect with the steadfast community that has supported and sustained the emerging scenes in truly dire circumstances. Yes, we could watch these acts on a handheld smartphone at our convenience, but nothing beats witnessing and feeling it live in the flesh. Likewise, for many acts, this is their first opportunity to see the whites of their fan’s eyes, and show everyone what they’re made of.
There are hundreds of acts to see this weekend – all of which are worth your time, otherwise they wouldn’t have been booked – but here at NME Towers, we’ve had the clash-finders out, mapped out our sprints between venues and are particularly giddy about the following’s sets across the weekend. Come join us, won’t you?
Thomas Smith, Commissioning Editor (New Music)
Who: UK rap’s cheekiest and now charismatic new voice
Where to see them: Concorde 2 – Saturday, 9:30 pm
Look out for: The Brighton-born artist’s recent mixtape, ‘Pier Pressure’, charted at Number Two, and provided a taste of his bold and brilliantly brash anthems – and there’s plenty more to come as he begins work on his debut album. A fantastic opportunity to witness an artist on the verge of stratospheric stardom.
Key track: ‘Locker’ (Sophie Williams)
Who: Ascendant pop hero-in-waiting from Down Under
Where to see them: Thursday, 1:05 pm – Comedy Studio
Look out for: This year, the First Nations artist will bring his funky, old school rhythms and soulful tones to the festival’s Sounds Australia showcase. Having recently teamed up with PNAU, one of Australia’s most celebrated dance acts, the 20-year-old is already making major waves in his home country – next stop, Brighton and beyond.
Key track: ‘What Should I Do?’ (SW)
Who: Welsh psych-rockers are quickly breaking out of their local scene
Where to see them: Friday, 1:30 pm – Brighthelm
Look out for: With only one official single to their name – the hallucinatory swirl of ‘Docking The Pay’ – this set is sure to be an unpredictable, yet mega-exciting tease of bigger things to come. Having prepared themselves for the festival session by working their way around the south Wales gig circuit, they’ve done the graft, now it’s time for the reward.
Key track: ‘Docking The Pay’ (SW)
Who: TikTok superstar with huge hooks and equally killer dance moves
Where to see them: Concorde 2 – Saturday, 8:40 pm
Look out for: The 22-year-old’s cheeky, rapid-fire verse on 2021’s ‘Own Brand Freestyle’ – a scorching drill team-up with FelixThe1st and Finch Fetti – dominated the timelines. Now, Mac is preparing for her first summer of festival gigs, where she’ll take her dream of “world domination” to massive stages across the country.
Key track: ‘Ain’t No Way’ (SW)
Who: Restlessly inventive indie-pop from 21-year-old Anita Ikharo
Where to see them: Prince Albert – Thursday, 2pm / Comedy Studio – Friday, 9pm
Look out for: A debut EP ‘What Should We Do This Summer?’ arrived slap-bang after our first lost summer without music festivals and all-around shenanigans, but there was an immense amount of life in their breakout song ‘Garden’: chirping birds and reminders of wistful sunny days. The combination of tracks from her upcoming ‘VITAMIN-C’ EP next month, and a sparkling weather forecast this weekend in Brighton (fingers crossed, everyone), will provide plenty of long-overdue nourishment.
Key track: ‘KIWI’ (TS)
Who: A new, relatable hero for SoundCloud rap diehards
Where to see them: Revenge – Thursday, 10:30 pm
Look out for: The Vancouver native’s song may be stamped with the trademarks of his late heroes – the disaffected lyricism of Lil Peep; the gritty riffs of JUICE WRLD – but he’s reworking those reference points with an indie sheen, throwing jangly guitars and skittering drums into the mix. His material is quickly becoming as diverse as it is thrilling.
Key track: ‘it only gets worse, i promise’ (SW)
Who: Leeds quartet with a wickedly dark sense of humor
Where to see them: Latest Music Bar – Thursday, 8:15 pm / Comedy Studio – Saturday, 3.30pm
Look out for: After taking part in Glastonbury’s Emerging Talent Competition, the art-punks were awarded a performance slot at this year’s festival, which will take place a few weeks after they open up for the Yeah Yeah Yeahs’ UK comeback shows. The Great Escape, then, will provide an exciting, intimate taste of a band destined for even the bigger stages.
Key track: ‘Mental Maths’ (SW)
Who: Innovative vocalist and producer tackling bigotry with infectious sarcasm
Where to see them: Coalition – Friday, 7:15 pm
Look out for: With thumping basslines, supercharged beats that pull from dancehall, jungle, and hyperpop, and a mission to unify the world, this Bristol-based artist’s music is made for chaotic, cathartic moshpits. Expect them to tear up the stage with their uncompromising takedowns of dodgy politicians and age-old gender norms.
Key track: ‘Sticky’ (SW)
Indigo De Souza
Who: Free-spirited indie star that inspires both peace signs and moshpits
Where to see them: Friday, 8pm – The Arch
Look out for: This North Carolina artist crafts slacker-pop that is euphoric, danceable and vulnerable at once, with bright, lean riffs that move as freely as the light shows her music is made for. The dancefloor is primed for last year’s ‘Any Shape You Take’, which fizzes with moments of both intense guitar breakdowns and indie club vibes.
Key track: ‘Hold U’
Who: London duo bringing uplifting, community-inspired floorfillers to the masses
Where to see them: Comedy Basement – Friday, 3:15 pm
Look out for: Throughout the COVID-induced lockdown, Henry Counsell and Louis Curran put on over 100 six-hour pop-up raves across the capital. At the time, they brought relief (and huge beats) to NHS workers after their shifts; On Friday, they’ll bring that same sense of togetherness to Brighton’s day ravers.
Key track: ‘JOY (Love’s Not Real)’ (SW)
Who: Socially conscious, brilliantly independent rap star
Where to see them: Patterns (Downstairs) – Thursday, 10:30 pm
Look out for: This South London artist’s music is forward-facing and expansive, and he counts innovative British electronic producer Leon Vynehall as a collaborator. Last summer, the 25-year-old performed a tent-shaking set at the Boardmasters Festival, Cornwall; prepare for even more chaos at The Great Escape.
Key track: ‘Black On Black’ (SW)
Who: Colorful, personality-powered New York pop crew
Where to see them: The Hope and Ruin – Saturday, 1AM
Look out for: They’re a prolific bunch (four albums in as many years) so there’s a wealth of material to pull from, but ‘Did You Sleep Last Night?’, The finest moment on their latest release, has shades of Easy Life and ’90s Beck – let’s hope they cram that one into their setlist.
Key track: ‘Did You Sleep Last Night?’ (TS)
Who: Lively alt-pop collective made up of six best pals
Where to see them: Thursday, 9:15 pm – The Old Market
Look out for: The band’s stellar second album, ‘After Dinner We Talk Dreams’, took on the vibrancy of New York City’s underground music scene and projected it to the world. Their recent live videos – which were recorded at various downtown subway stations – are a tantalizing taster of what to expect: super-smooth harmonies; plenty of personality.
Key track: ‘Syncopate’ (SW)
Who: ’90s-obsessed, real-deal rockers with the world at their feet
Where to see them: Horatio’s – Friday, 11:15 pm
Look out for: With their loose, rollicking, singalong choruses, the duo’s killer recent singles ‘Rockstar’ and ‘Speeding 72’ are surely both future indie anthems, having delighted crowds on the recent Wet Leg tour. Prepare, however, to also hear some currently-unheard material from their forthcoming album, the equally brilliant ‘Household Name’ (due July 1).
Key track: ‘Rockstar’ (SW)
Who: Irish noise-rockers who recently worked with Gilla Band’s Daniel Fox
Where to see them: Jubilee Square – Friday, 12pm
Look out for: To go three-for-three on your opening singles, as Naked Lungs have done so far, is a quite astonishing feat. Their set will be an early opportunity to catch a group with buckets of momentum on their side; if those early singles are anything to go by, it should be something truly special.
Key track: ‘Why Do People Change?’ (TS)
Who: Ramshackle Brighton collective with a flair for the theaters
Where to see them: The MVT Stage – Friday, 3:15 pm / Paganini Ballroom (The Old Ship) – Friday, 10:30 pm
Look out for: Consider this appearance at The Great Escape – their first, but hopefully not last – as something of a homecoming for the gang. They’re a fixture on the city’s live circuit, and are now armed with their stupidly-fun second EP ‘The Unrepentant Soldier’. Consider this the band you’ll be excited to go bounce around with multiple times across the weekend.
Key track: ‘Wild Bill’ (TS)
Who: Vibrant, fun-loving raveheads with a real DIY approach
Where to see them: Comedy Basement – Friday, 12:30 am
Look out for: The band’s recent foray into drum ‘n’ bass and old school garage sounds has resulted in a wealth of club bangers to mosh to, made up of self-produced beats. Their set, which will take place in the wee hours of Friday morning, will certainly be a big one. Gun fingers at the ready…
Key track: ‘Figure Skating’ (SW)
Who: Thai-born, London-based winner of Best Solo Act From Asia at the BandLab NME Awards 2022
Where to see them: Revenge – Friday, 2:15 pm
Look out for: If you can dare to remember, Pyra’s “feral future-pop” made them the star of the virtual show when The Great Escape went online during their pandemic-induced pause last May. Now it’s time for the real thing, and worth heading down just to hear this line from their banging recently-released single ‘Out!’: “I make it drip drop / I make the bass drop / See ever since I came out / Everybody jump on my Bangkok”.
Key track: ‘Out!’ (TS)
Who: Scouse gang with the ambition – and attitude – of future festival headliners
Where to see them: Patterns (Upstairs) – Thursday, 6:15 pm
Look out for: If you want an idea of how rowdy this Liverpool four-piece’s gigs get, their performance at last year’s Reading Festival got so feral that security almost threatened to pull their Leeds set the following day. Massive moshpits and even bigger indie bangers? Bring it on.
Key track: ‘Let’s Dance To The Real Thing’ (SW)