Walking along Brighton’s seafront during the day as a non-native of the town, it's hard to visually locate the venues for that evening; everything seemed shut or disused, yet as the gaudy seaside lights lit up at dusk, it sheds light onto the burgeoning indie scene. With whispers of TGE being nothing more than an industry showcase with little regard for bringing in the fans, the experience is very much what you choose to make of it.
With over 200 bands in 25 venues over the course of just three days, there are some absolute gems to be found. The Red Stripe Music Award competition saw Jon Mills aka Klaus Says Buy The Record clinch the title, allowing him to open Friday night at the Brighton Coalition. Holding court by himself for the first few numbers, he captivated the audience with his lo-fi musical offerings which involved him and either a guitar, ukulele or guitar and harmonica combo. The audience was healthy for a complete unknown and Jon had them clapping along without command. Two other musicians joined him on stage for the last few numbers and whilst there were technical difficulties with the loop machine, it didn't stop the audience giving him a thunderous round of applause at the end.
Another act at the Coalition who seemed to win over the crowd was Canadian indie pop band Born Ruffians. Debuting new material from their forthcoming album Red, Yellow And Blue (out May 26) went down well with the crowd yet you couldn't’t help feeling how much more electric the energy could have been if singer Luke LaLonde could match bassist Mitch DeRosier’s excitement. The bouncy pogo movements of the crowd synced perfectly with the music and a quip made about "Brighton’s rocky beach" went down a storm. Wild Beasts, meanwhile, were refreshing in the midst of atypical indie bands we have come to know and love. They were heavily percussive with jaunty piano, laced with operatic acrobatics that Mika and Russell Mael (Sparks) should be worried about.
The Great Escape isn't well signposted and not much attention is given to acts that start earlier in the day, so there are some who are easy to miss. Horatio's Bar, with a matinee setting matching that of an elderly gentleman’s living room (three Chesterfield sofas mirroring the stage, red and brass curtain details) situated at the end of the pier, was host to many a daytime act. On Saturday, New Rhodes, who played material from their first album Songs From The Lodge with such gusto, also debuted newer material from an album set for completion in June, yet played to a scarce crowd.
Later, in that same venue, more people came milling in, yet absolutely no attention was paid to Matthew Sawyer And The Ghosts, who bled slowly and seemingly painfully from their sound check into their set without any presence or enthusiasm. On the opposite side of the musical scale, Screaming Tea Party had the full advantage of easing the awkwardness between artists and crowd, but to be honest, they would have been captivating enough without it.
The Japanese trio were visually engaging with baby-faced Nell heading behind the drum kit, Niyan reluctant to show his face (he began by wearing a gas mask before throwing it off halfway through the first track) and Koichi in an ankle-length skirt, and from the first bang of the drum the audience were sucked in. An absolute hurricane of thundering drums and harsh guitar riffs juxtaposed with Koichi's 'The World's End: Underworld' T-shirt only scratched the surface of how apocalyptic they sounded. The harshness somewhat dissolved into lead pop balloons, but it wasn't soft enough for the girl in the crowd with her fingers in her ears. In true heavy rock fashion, Koichi threw his guitar into the drum kit at the finale and took a bow to the now heaving crowd who gave him his dues.
Pete And The Pirates also acquired a raucous crowd come the end of their polished pop punk set where it took several steady hands to keep up a free standing speaker during the finale of 'Come On Feet'. However, nothing matched up to TGE show stealers Crystal Castles.
Heading back over the pier and onto the seafront, it's hard to imagine the rowdy duo of Alice Glass and Ethan Kath bringing down the house in Digital, a venue that seemed so trendy it wouldn't have let them in had they not have been performing. It was packed to the rafters, making it obvious that they were a definite on gig goers' itineraries. With a light show which was as dark, gritty, manic and hypnotic as their music, it hid Alice in the wings of the stage before she bounded devilishly out of the darkness. The band's energy was channelled through her and straight to the crowd who instantly absorbed her evangelical flailing and wailing. She fed dangerously off of the crowd by delving into them, going further each time before being pulled back by security. The crowd surfers, the sweat and hardcore jerks and moves of indie ravers were all a testament to the sheer wealth of hard beats nailed to their senses.
As exciting as it is to wander around a pretty town to quench your thirst for good music, a small amount of planning is required. For those 'bigger' name artists such as Futureheads or Young Knives who you really want to see, you have to expect horrendous queues or deal with a 'one in, one out' system, so planning your time and locations before hand is almost essential.
The Great Escape 2008 was a mix of seasoned performers and those still wet behind the ears, yet the crawl around the seaside town provided many opportunities for you to be led astray and weave in around different genres and its offspring.
You end up coming away with your very own individual musical journey.