Afro-pop, riotous punk and perfectly-synced dance routines: Highlights from The Great Escape 2019
BEA1991 / credit: Jamie MacMillan
Some of the best acts we managed to catch across three days at the UK's biggest showcase festival
Brighton in May is any music lover's idea of paradise, with gigs taking place in every nook and cranny of the seaside town; interesting talks, panels and debates to devour; and every space buzzing with talented artists and music industry experts. As the dust settles on another phenomenal edition of The Great Escape, the highlights and favourite acts are starting to emerge, signalling what could be the ones to watch over the next year or so. This year's festival brought over 400 up-and-coming artists from all over the world, plus country-specific showcases that placed a spotlight on the best acts currently coming out of national music scenes.
From the Netherlands, BEA1991 is an utterly enigmatic performer who creates funky, soaring pop songs punctuated by an electronic backdrop. Despite her solo presence on stage, she engages the audience with her expressive vocals and her insistence on using as much space as possible in the venue, walking through the crowd during certain songs and maintaining contact with as many people in the room as possible. At one point, she sits on the floor, encouraging everyone to gather round her, like a storyteller telling tales around a campfire. Her strength certainly lies in her commitment to the emotion and narrative of her songs, and her ability to take everyone along on the ride.
London-based, Dutch-Zimbabwean pop innovator Rina Mushonga is similarly brilliant at captivating audiences, albeit with a sound that encompasses the rhythms of Afro-pop and sparkling hooks taken from genres like R&B and dancehall. Above all else, her set is fun and full of an energy that sweeps through the venue with ease, coaxing everyone to move, jump and dance. In contrast, Rotterdam's Lewsberg present their brand of lo-fi rock with plenty of fuzzy guitar lines and sardonic spoken-word vocals, giving off an air of dry humour and expression that is simple yet intriguing. Together, they perform like a rugged machine, perfectly well-balanced but with plenty of moving parts with every articulation.
The Scottish showcases, presented with support from Creative Scotland, have a typically excellent offering of acts from varying genres. Highlights include Glasgow-based Ghanaian artist Kobi Onyame, whose effortless cool and synchronicity with the audience make him a firm favourite in the venue. His efforts to encourage some participation are eventually reciprocated, proving his skill at drawing audiences in, whether it be to dance along to his highlife-inspired rhythms or sing back his especially catchy choruses. Also Glasgow-based, ambient dream-pop trio OK Button present a truly compelling set, with ethereal vocals and electronics floating amid some hard hitting and honest lyrics. Likewise, singer-songwriter Tamzene's blissful pop numbers are full of a soulful maturity, emphasising her current talent and future potential in the music industry. Alt-rock trio Cloth also play a superb set; their minimalist soundscapes reverberating through the venue with a tranquil and charming flow. Finally, Walt Disco are the ones to tear the stage apart, with their incredible live energy, post-punk glam and ostentatious spirit offering something both bizarre and beautiful.
With a major Australia focus this year, The Great Escape had a number of performances from some of the country's most prominent rising stars over the three days. For many, a major highlight undoubtedly would have been Brisbane's Confidence Man, the electro-pop dance crew consisting of Janet Planet, Sugar Bones, Clarence McGuffie and Reggie Goodchild. With mad dance routines, costume changes, and an insistence on having the most fun humanly possible, the band display maximum pizzazz and the ultimate sense of campy escapism during their short set. The Beach Site venue is packed with punters of all ages, all equally willing to 'get down', as Janet Planet commands during their irresistible 2016 single 'Boyfriend (Repeat)'.
From the US, avant-garde performer Yves Tumor provides an exhilarating and stark live set, his expressive and distorted vocals bewitching the crowd while at the same time taking them along on a rage-fuelled collage of noise. Brooklyn-based punk band Surfbort similarly succeed at gripping onto the audience with both hands, with their hardcore, in-your-face intensity drawing attention to their collective showmanship.
British singer-songwriter Westerman presents a quieter moment among the hecticness of the festival, his atmospheric pop and meditative vocal delivery serving as a calming retreat. Special mention also has to be given to the awesome Self Esteem aka Rebecca Taylor, whose buoyant pop bangers and perfectly-synced dance routines with her fellow vocalists are a major hit with the crowd. Her confidence and theatricality are entertaining for all involved, but also hugely empowering for those in the audience that hang on to her every groove.