WPGM Reviews: The Great Escape 2016

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In a landscape where music festivals of any size vie with each other to see who can announce the biggest headliner, an event like The Great Escape sounds completely out of place and time. You won’t find huge posters advertising acts based on their importance – with smaller artists relegated to the corner and their names almost unreadable.

No big artists, no huge superstar with cross-over appeal, but rather a plethora of raw, new talents, all hoping to impress the public and the huge number of people from the industry, who attend TGE since its foundation in 2006 hoping to find the next big thing. And considering the festival gave the opportunity to then-unknowns such as Adele, CHVRCHES, Grimes, Disclosure and The xx to showcase their talent, I bet they had the chance to conclude one or two good deals this year as well.

The 2016 edition saw me actively working for the Brighton festival, an occurrence which limited my possibility of attending as many gigs as I wanted to, but nonetheless I still had the chance to see some of the most anticipated acts of the next music season, and some definitely lived up the hype that surrounds them.

My festival experience started with Søren Juul: the singer-songwriter debuted under the alias Indians in 2013 with the album Somewhere Else, thanks to which he quickly achieved the title of “Danish Bon Iver”. Three years later, he decided to abandon his moniker and he’s ready to present his new project This Moment, due out in June via the legendary 4AD.

The not-so-young singer has a captivating voice, which vaguely reminds us of Tobias Jesso Jr., while sonically he recalls the never-too-lauded Tycho: his 30-minutes set ran smoothly, his voice is perfectly clear and it well matched with the natural reverbs and the onirical atmosphere of St. George Church, the suggestive venue where the gig has been held.

Juul is definitely someone who mastered his craft and knows how to use his voice, but at the same time his ability to hold the stage, to capture the audience is far from being admirable: overall, the concert has been a forgettable experience, a recollection of good songs with no climax.

You know that feeling when you go to a concert and you see a very good supporting act, but at the same time you can’t remember anything when you come back home, because the main artist absolutely annihilated the former? This has been my reaction to Søren Juul, despite his crystal-clear talent.

On the other hand, the second act I saw has no problem whatsoever when it comes to holding a stage: Skinny Girl Diet are absolutely everything you could ask to a band, and more. They are a London-based three-piece band with no intention of sharing the throne with men: Delilah, Ursula and Amelia unashamedly represent the riot grrrl movement of the 90s, both through their feminist lyrics and their “wedontgiveaf**k” attitude.

The one-hour set has been pure energy: the girls danced, shouted, jumped, sang and played – amazingly – and didn’t stop for a single second. The crowd absolutely went crazy and a perfect location – the Green Door Store below the train station, spooky and grimy enough to be the perfect stage for a band like this – helped in building up what has been one of my favourite concerts of the (long) weekend.

Without even the time for a quick pit-stop, it was time for one of the most hyped bands in the last few months to start their set at Komedia: Pumarosa highly exceeded all my expectations. Their unexpected mix of psych-rock and blippety electro-baroque is a one-two punch and their stage presence is fascinating to say the least.

In particular, their singer and guitarist, Isabel Munoz-Newsome, is a force of nature: her voice sounds exactly like a record, and her theatricality is so captivating that the crowd stood silent, admiring such a beauty, for over 30 minutes. “Cecile” is probably one of the best things put out in the past few months, and I can’t wait to see what Pumarosa have in store for us.

Straight after, it was time for Highasakite: the band, still relatively unknown in central Europe, is already a chart-topping reality in Scandinavia, where their debut album Silent Treatment broke records for the longest charting album in Norwegian chart history.

And we have no issues in seeing why: sonically speaking, the five young guys combine an acute ear for catchy pop melodies with a sophistication similar to critically-acclaimed Purity Ring and Grimes, as well as having a lead singer with a voice literally identical to Fever Ray – I’m still waiting for your sophomore album, Karin. The band used TGE as a chance to present their new album Camp Echo, which shows an even poppier and synth-led side of these big Norwegians. I’m sure they’ll conquer the rest of Europe in no time with this new sound.

My first day ended with a bang: Bonzai is not here to play around, and her show at Green Door Store was a statement of intentions. This girl is born for the stage. Her voice is pitch-perfect, she dances like she’s been trapped at a rave party for the last four days: I need a Bonzai gig every day.

After such such a good kick-off, I wasn’t sure that Friday could top the previous day, and being proved wrong has been a nice surprise. My evening started at the Brighton Pier, in a small bar called Horatios, where the widely unknown LCMDF were set to play. I honestly never heard of them, and I decided to attend their gig just because they’re a duo, and they’re from Scandinavia. And we all know what a Scandinavian duo is capable of.

They are two mid-twenties sisters from Finland and I would have never imagined to be so entertained by these two: their stage presence is out of this world, and their music is wrong and cheesy for all the right reasons. From a huge statement-song against Finnish metal scene to a pop number directed to one of the girl’s ex-boyfriend, everything was so halfway between corny and amazing.

To my ears, these strange unwanted children of Icona Pop and Tegan & Sara absolutely smashed, and I can’t wait to see them and their strange pop melodies – which in some parts reminded of PC Music and the obsessive loops of SOPHIE – again.

Izzy Bizu attracted everyone to the small club Coalition: I must admit I’m not a huge fan of the kind of music she proposes – a very soulful R&B full of jazzy arpeggios – but I can clearly see why hers was THE concert to attend. The British-Ethiopian singer-songwriter is undoubtedly amazing: some critics compared her to the likes of Amy Winehouse, and after her concert, I think no one is close to Amy the way Izzy is.

Her voice is strong and clear, but at the same time you can clearly hear a subtle fragility, as if her voice was always about to break. Her lyrics are bittersweet, she recounts millions of break-ups always hoping for the light at the end of the tunnel. In between the gig she sang an amazing ballad, and you could have clearly seen her whole body shivering, and that was the moment where I realised Izzy Bizu is going to be a huge name in the music industry.

Just the time for a quick fish’n’chips on the beach, and another uber-hyped act was about to perform: Anne-Marie. She a young Essex-born club superstar, having previously worked and toured with the collective Rudimental, as well as collaborating with UK superstars Magnetic Man and Gorgon City. Radio is pushing her as the next big thing and I was incredibly curious to see her solo debut, but her set has been the biggest disappointment of the festival.

She’s good, and that’s unquestionable; the main issue is that everything about her persona sounds uninspired and unoriginal: from her Rita Ora look, to her “I’m a South London gal” attitude and her synth-trappy songs, with huge drops perfect for the dancefloor, you can’t really tell who Anne-Marie really is, and what she can bring to the pop table. Thumbs down.

Declan McKenna, the last act of my Friday night, reassured me about the future of music: unlike Anne-Marie, this Hertfordshire teen has a personality, and it shone throughout the whole gig. The kiddo could be easily mistaken for one of the many new indie troubadours, but there’s a lot more behind him.

His creativity is admirable and his six-minute masterpiece “Paracetamol” showcased his ability to take the listener to dreamy worlds with his magical voice, which is a bit too much Alex Turner alike, but we can forgive him, considering how good he is on stage. He danced, talked, jumped on stage. And he’s freaking 17 years old. Watch out for him headlining Glastonbury in a couple years, with a plethora of screaming teen fans.

Saturday closed the festival with a cornucopia of amazing talents. I kicked off my day with a strange-looking four-piece band which, after having opened for the amazing Shura, is ready to take over the world. Clean Cut Kid are definitely not what you would define in: they are not cool, they are not good looking, but damn, these four Liverpudlian rock.

Their music is a strange mix of lo-fi pop, the indie guitar-led music proposed by Vampire Weekend and bluesy-rock à-la Fleetwood Mac: from the moment they started playing, the crowd started dancing and didn’t stop for a single second, despite the concert being at lunch-time.

Their lead singer is incredibly funny in his being so Northern, and provided endless laughs with his jokes, while the rest of the band is made up of incredibly talented musicians. The only throwbacks about their performance are the timing – they definitely deserved an afternoon/early-evening placement – and the location – Komedia, which is definitely too dark and claustrophobic for a band like this. But apart from this, these guys have been incredible.

Up next was an artist who’s receiving the same treatment as Anne-Marie, but has been able to live up the hype: KLOE’s mini performance for VEVO has been one of my favourite moments of this TGE. She’s stunning from head to toe, her voice is amazing, and most importantly, she seemed genuine: she was smiling, making jokes and looked intimidated by the audience; but as soon she started singing, all her fears were gone. This little Scottish girl and her charming synth infused pop, which recalls the happiest moments of BANKS, will go incredibly far.

Straight after Kloe, I had the chance to discover the biggest and most unexpected surprise of the festival: I had never heard of HYPHEN HYPHEN before, but apparently these four teenagers are shaking up the French industry, and it’s not hard to see why. Their energy is unbelievable, their music is an incredible melting-pot of the best things happened to music in the last couple years – from MGMT to M83 – and their singer is a force of nature: her voice is strong like a rock, and at the same time hits the highest heights.

Listening to her mesmerised me and reminded me of the virtuosity of Florence Welch and the raw and rock vocal talent of Lady Gaga, while her attitude on stage was completely out-of-place like a legitimate heir to Peaches’ throne. No one in the audience knew them, but after two songs they were all singing along these incredible guys. I bet this won’t be their first and last performance in the UK.

6pm marked the start of my most anticipated event of the weekend: Neon Gold Records, my absolute favourite label ever, set up a series of gigs at Coalition, showcasing the best new talent within and outside their roaster: MUNA, Ardyn, LISS and St. Lucia were all set to place, but because of work commitments, I only caught the first act.

The all-American, all-girls trio reserved me more than one surprise. I listened to their debut EP The Loudspeaker countless times, and I grew to love their wise neon-glowing mix of soft-rock and sultry R&B choruses, but with their show, MUNA turned things upside down.

I was expecting something very similar to their recordings, but instead the young girls sound way more rock live, and it’s clear how their attitude is dangerously close to critically acclaimed Cali band HAIM. Nonetheless, they have potential, I wouldn’t be surprised to see them having the same degree of success of the sisterhood-based band.

In very few words: The Great Escape 2016 has been a blast. The festival has been managed greatly, everything ran smoothly and it all contributed to creating one of my best experiences as a full-time festival goer. If you enjoyed this report as much as I loved the event, check out my playlist of the best (and the worst) of what I listened to in these amazing three days, and book your tickets for the 2017 edition!

Words by Raffaelle Buono

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