The Great Escape provides a 'unique opportunity for artists to reach industry experts and audiences'
We speak to some Scottish acts heading down to Brighton to find out what it means to be a part of the UK's biggest showcase festival
For emerging artists, playing a set at a showcase festival can offer a potentially career-changing opportunity. As well as putting new acts directly in front of the industry professionals that could help them take their next steps, showcase festivals provide a unique space for creatives and professionals to meet, share ideas and set future trends.
Austin's SXSW, the most globally recognised showcase festival, is a hotbed of talent from around the world, with over 2000 acts annually performing at the city-wide festival. Often considered the UK's equivalent to SXSW, The Great Escape is another positive avenue for musicians, with many viewing it as the place to go for the next big thing in contemporary music. Both festivals hold a huge amount of significance, not only because of the sheer number of music industry folk that attend each year en masse, but because of the impact that a successful showcase slot can have on the future of an up-and-coming act.
'I think the whole process of showcasing is really important for acts early in their career because it gives you something specific to work towards,' Highlands-based singer-songwriter Tamzene explains. As one of the ten emerging acts chosen to represent Scotland at The Great Escape this year with support from Creative Scotland, Tamzene will soon be playing in front of top industry figures and music fans, with the intention of finding further support for her music. 'A moment where you feel you get to show people what you're capable of can really be so fulfilling as an artist. For me, I just hope people enjoy the music, and maybe we can connect with some more acts in similar places to ourselves.'
For three days every year, Brighton becomes the focal point for the music industry, with every available space in the seaside town brimming with performances, talks, networking opportunities and more.
'Showcase festivals are a unique opportunity for artists to reach certain industry experts and audiences on a scale that's difficult to achieve otherwise,' Glasgow trio Cloth's Rachael Swinton says. 'So for us, we're mainly excited about the idea of whose radars we could end up on. It would be great to come away feeling like we've played good shows and left people excited to hear more. Having looked at the history of the festival, there's so many bands that have played it and gone on to do great things afterwards so it feels like a really good opportunity for us.'
Aberdeen collective OK Button similarly understand the value of being involved with a showcase festival like The Great Escape, with vocalist Amber Wilson noting that they hope to 'make some new friends within the industry and ultimately some contacts that can help us forge a sustainable career out of our music. There is so much talent out there and it's amazing that there is a festival in the UK dedicated to helping us be heard.'
'It's exciting, but also a bit nerve wracking – first impressions matter!' Her bandmate Nass Donald continues. 'You have to make the biggest splash you can, often without a soundcheck, so it's important to be as prepared as possible.'
Glasgow quintet Walt Disco, increasingly becoming known for their eccentric style and musicality, are looking forward to unleashing their 80s new wave and post-punk sound on Brighton crowds. 'It's a huge pleasure to be involved in the festival,' says frontman James Potter. 'The line-up this year is so strong. I think it's nice to know that people in the crowd live and breathe music, they're the people I most enjoy seeing in crowds.'
Having applied to play The Great Escape previously, Ghanaian-born Glasgow-based rapper Kobi Onyame is also excited to be heading down to take part in the festival for the first time. 'It feels great,' he says when asked for his thoughts on his involvement. 'My goal is to secure a publisher and agent. TGE is great as it puts me in front of those people in what I feel is my strongest form of expression – my live show!'
Showcase festivals like The Great Escape also have the added bonus of providing a chance for bands and artists involved in particular national music scenes to break out and attract the attention of bookers and promoters beyond their home towns or countries. As the quality and variety of the Scottish showcase line-up demonstrates, Scotland is extremely fertile ground for the creation of innovative new music, and the addition of the Scottish showcases ultimately helps to raise the profile of these emerging acts south of the border.
'The Scottish music scene is buzzing right now,' OK Button's Nass says. 'The digital age is allowing more of us to get our music out there. Since we started out as musicians, there seems to be more Scottish artists breaking through into the mainstream like Young Fathers, Kathryn Joseph, Chvrches, Lewis Capaldi, Emeli Sande … it's an exciting time.'
'Scotland is a huge pocket of talent!' Tamzene adds. 'It amazes me, every time I go home there's a new band or a new young artist on the scene. Most notably for me would be how exciting the neo-trad scene has become in recent years.'
When asked how he would describe the music scene in Scotland to people unfamiliar, Kobi Onyame is keen to point to the diversity of talent. 'There are talented bands and artists across the country from indie and singer-songwriters to afro-beat and hip hop and alternative. I've always said that the beauty of the scene in Scotland is that it is so far away from the hub of what London can be at times that there isn't any pressure to jump on a hype or wave and some of the most original bands and artists In the UK come from Scotland. The most obvious change I would say about the community since I started out is the pure DIY culture that exists now. It's beautiful and testament to a scene that really has it's own vibes.'
'Pretty damn vibrant!' is Cloth guitarist Paul Swinton's answer to the same question. 'There are great new bands popping up all the time which is really valuable as it stokes the fire of Scotland's heritage and legacy of providing some of the world's best artists,' he continues. 'Although we only released our first single last year, we've played in bands in Glasgow in the years before Cloth and feel that Glasgow is, and always has been, a fantastic place to write and play music because there's such an appreciation for the arts here.'
Alongside Tamzene, OK Button, Walt Disco, Kobi Onyame and Cloth, the Scottish showcases at this year's The Great Escape will also feature ALLIGATOR, Aaron Smith, Heavy Rapids, LUCIA and The Snuts. Like all the acts playing throughout the festival, the goal will be to come face to face with the gatekeepers of the music industry; to create international networks, find opportunities and gain that vital traction and support for a fruitful career in music.
The Great Escape, various venues, Brighton, Thu 9–Sat 11 May. greatescapefestival.com
The Great Escape
Over 500 up and coming artists from around the world showcased across 30+ venues in Brighton. Running alongside the festival is a convention that features panels, debates, speeches and networking opportunities with industry insiders.