In a city fully celebrating the weird and wonderful, the great escape shows Access exactly what it has to offer for music
After arriving in her hometown of Brighton, only to be greeted by the pouring of the rain alongside the coast and the sentimental scent of fish, chips and seaweed, this Access reporter was filled with an overwhelming sense of what the city holds for the music sector.
It is unheard of for anyone from Sussex not to have visited classic Brighton venues like Sticky Mike’s Frog Bar or Thee Green Door Store for your favourite underrated, local band. So, to have a festival dedicated to an international portfolio with input from foreign music exports, Brighton is grateful to be the home to such a welcoming event.
During the weekend, in a break between the heat waves and rain showers, Access sat down with general manager of The Great Escape (TGE), Kevin Moore.
After Moore’s initial shock and disappointment that someone from Brighton had never been to the festival, Access was able to move forward and discuss the weather situation. “On Thursday, the weather was a bit against us,” Moore laughs.
But how much does the weather actually affect the festival?
“Not too much actually,” Moore says. “We’re a festival of 35 venues, so if anything, it will help getting people into those venues. Not that we need the help.”
Evidently being held by the coast is part of the character of the festival, from the bright graphics filling tote bags with line-ups and venue maps, to the sheer atmosphere that the people and the city bring.
“In terms of the level of programming we have, the rain keeps people indoors,” continues Moore. “This year we have a bit more outdoor content happening. But people come prepared knowing it is Brighton and knowing that it could be all eventualities. It’s been such a pleasure and a privilege to see everything come together.”
“This is my sixth Great Escape but in my current position of general manager it has been three years,” he tells Access. “Before TGE, [pronounced by those in the know as tee-gee,] I used to work Manchester at an event called In the City, a similar showcase festival. Then I saw a job going at The Great Escape and thought, ‘I could do that’ and the rest is history.”
The suitably titled Great Escape is a showcase festival that uses venues in and around the city. Most are already established but some are temporary structures put up for the event. The event uses its platform to work with foreign music exports allowing individual countries to host over the three days in a set venue. For example, the music export for Canada was situated at The Green Door Store to impress its guests. Filling its doors with Canadian food and beer, making the musicians feel right at home.
Donna Murphy, the vice president of operations at the Canadian Independent Music Association (CIMA) takes the time to chat to Access on how the Canadian music export came to be a part of the Brighton festival. “CIMA has worked closely with e Great Escape Festival organisers for many years to host Canada House at key venues in Brighton.
In previous years, CIMA were based at Blind Tiger Club, which has since closed. Now, the Canadian stages call a venue located under Brighton station home
“It is a fabulous venue as it provides all the necessary elements for Canada House, a great showcasing space and a great networking area,” says Murphy.
In a city with venues of every shape and size, capacity and audience, Murphy continues to tell us why The Green Door Store is the perfect place for presenting Canadian talent.
“The stage and the production is top notch. e folks who run the venue, are extremely pleasant to deal with the space is conductive to our need to host networking and business events. Canada presents artists who perform across many genres of music and so far that has all worked amazingly well,” adds the CIMA president. “The venue was busy every afternoon and we ran at full capacity.”
The Canadian and UK music industries have a relationship-based business, where making new connections and arranging meet ups with existing contacts is a very important part of how the Canadian music export does its business. “The Great Escape brings decision-makers, tastemakers and press from across Europe as well as the UK. This is the reason why Canada needs to attend this festival.”
“When it comes to our favourite part of the festival, we are totally biased. is year we hosted the Canadian Night at Brighton Museum, which was fantastic. CIMA had eight performances on four stages throughout different galleries in the Museum. It provided the audience with an up-close and personal experience with each of the performers, and that intimacy is always well received.”
“Brighton is such a fantastic city,” continues Moore. “It’s got such a powerfully strong music scene. A lot of which is very independent as well. e city itself is a living and breathing thing. It always keeps us on our toes, there’s no two years that are ever the same.”
With a showcase festival, pushing the boundaries about where you can and can’t host a punk band’s performance is a big discussion in Moore’s books. “This city challenges us to think. The Slaves pier show on Thursday night is a great example of that kind of thinking. How can we put a band like Slaves in a big outdoor space? We needed to consider what spaces there are. We thought ‘How about the pier?’ We pulled it off, just about.”
Moore’s work on e Great Escape begins as soon as it ends. He tells Access that as soon as he finishes his work for the current year’s festival, he has two months evaluation and essentially being manic-all-systems-go-TGE-free, then it is back to taking bookings in August for next year’s event.
“Brighton is full of those little venues. ere is a new hotel around the corner called the Harbour Hotel around the corner, the Queens Hotel, the One Church, Unitarian Church, usually venues that by-day go by other uses, but then when TGE comes around we’re like ‘yeah we can t them in there.’
“The Great Escape we have 6,500 festivalgoers, and 3,500 industry folk who are here to do business and see new bands and sign new bands, so from the UK’s fans and business point of view, we are very much the event of the UK at the moment.”
A networking event that was hosted during the weekend was SoundCloud Go’s The Secret Show. Held on the Friday night (19 May) at Volks nightclub down Madeira Drive on the seafront, the evening was set up for eventprofs to mingle with the SoundCloud community, industry partners and journalist attendees of the festival. “The sun came out just as the evening kicked off with guests enjoying ice creams served from our SoundCloud Go ice cream truck,” said Julia Killer, senior content relations manager at SoundCloud.
“In terms of music, we had a killer line-up, which included a performance of brand new material from Mount Kimbie alongside sets from Romare, Oneman and Kojey Radical,” she adds.
“Brighton has a powerfully strong music scene. The city itself is a living and breathing thing.”
– Kevin Moore
When asked the reasons for hosting an event that felt much more like play than work, Killer replies: “The Secret Show was a moment of unexpected discovery at the festival, offering SoundCloud fans an evening of amazing live entertainment.”
“SoundCloud offers a hugely diverse and unique catalogue of music, and we wanted to reflect that. Our line-up provided a unique mix of talent that guests would not have been able to find on a bill anywhere else.”
“Internationally, our statue has grown quite exponentially over the past five years,” adds Moore.
“We’ve got 450 bands, a good 50 per cent of which are from outside of the UK.”
“From an international point of view, we work with a lot of the international music export offices, who give really good insight into what bands are around at the minute and who’s ready to make a dip into the UK. We like to keep open relationships with them all year round, and they let us know if there is ever a band that they think should be on our radar. It’s great to have that international network.”
During our talk on the top of a structure decorated with astro turf and inflatable flamingos in Jubilee Square, Moore tells Access of his plans to build the festival up even further and his next big step.
“It’s a bit more amped up from what we’ve had in previous years. Rather than just trying to revolutionise something, we’re seeing what we’ve got already and we’re just beefing it up a little bit,” he explains.
“I’m really into the idea of trying to build our own venue on the beach. It’s a dream we’ve had for a couple of years and if we can do it it’ll be fantastic,” says Moore, his face lighting up with the idea. “There are little pockets of Brighton that are bubbling up with new spaces, new thoughts, new ideas and creativities. We’re trying to identify those spaces right now and to make sure that we, as TGE, are present.”