Great Escape 2013

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I went to Great Escape a few weekends ago. It’s not a typical festival in that it doesn’t take place in a field, but at various venues spread out over the city (like a colder and more obscure version of Austin’s SXSW). This includes the usual suspects such as Audio, The Haunt and Komedia, as well as a few churches and other places which are not commonly used as music venues. The festival mostly focuses on showcasing new talent.

There are several possible approaches to Great Escape. You can try to see as much as possible and run between venues, flailing desperately to catch a variety of musical styles and changes in ambiance. This can work as long as you don’t try to go anywhere too popular as this can result in hours of queuing to get inside. If you want to see plenty of small, obscure bands, however, it can be done. If you’ve got your heart set on seeing some of the bigger names, the best approach is to go to the venue early on, and I mean EARLY. Then just stay there and watch whatever bands are on before the one you want to catch.

I had been to Great Escape before and so probably should have learned all these lessons, but I did have a temporary memory lapse which resulted in some unwanted queuing on the Friday night.

The first night, Thursday, was good in a pretty spontaneous way. I met up with my gig buddy, Daniel, at the festival hub on Jubilee Street. His friends had recommended a band for us to see at Coalition. We caught the band beforehand, Pictorial Candi, who were really good but perhaps not suited to the time of day and venue. It was packed but the crowd were completely still and characterless. We pushed to the front and made some attempt at getting involved as it seemed weird that no one was responding to them in an appropriate way. The next band, Girls Names (the one we had been recommended to see) were pretty boring and we took off for another venue. I decided we should see Bombay Showpig at the Queen’s Hotel, for no reason other than that I liked the name. They were part of a showcase of Dutch bands playing at the venue that night. It turned out they were one of the highlights of the festival: a two-piece with more energy and charisma than much bigger bands (physically and metaphorically). They played grungey new wave and were very upbeat and fun to watch.

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After Bombay Showpig, we moved on to Komedia to see yet another recommended band, Is Tropical. Again we were disappointed. We took our cans of Red Stripe upstairs to see what the alternative was (Komedia had two rooms operating as Great Escape venues). We found the brilliant Bleks (from Bombay… perhaps the secret that day was to find bands somehow connected with the word Bombay). They played energetic, accessible garage punk and put on a great show.

After that we headed over to  St Bartholomew’s Church, near London Road, to see Tom Odell. This was another random pick (though I had heard of him as Nylon magazine had recommended his music in something I’d read a few days earlier). The church turned out to be the perfect setting for his pared down piano and vocals. At one point he took out a guitar which he claimed to be rubbish at playing but obviously wasn’t. It was really nice watching a gig in a beautiful church, and I must admit it was a bonus being able to sit down. Much of Great Escape involves standing up as, even when a venue has a few seats, they’re inevitably taken as it gets so busy in most places. Pews are the way forward, it would seem.

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The next day we wasted a lot of time queuing. First we caught the end of Story Books at Sticky Mike’s Frog Bar, followed by To Kill A King, who were really good. Then we headed over to The Warren about an hour and a half before Iggy Azalea’s set but failed to get in as the small venue was at capacity hours before. Even when we abandoned the queue, realising entry was impossible, there were still dozens of people in front of and behind us who most likely never made it inside.

We left that queue only to find another, this time for Klaxons at The Corn Exhange. We queued for an hour and fifteen minutes and met some drunk girls who tried to get us involved in some ice breaker-type activities that frankly reminded me of my day job as a TEFL teacher. They eventually fell out with each other and left, and we chatted to a massive group of French people who were smoking copious amounts of cigarettes. Finally we got in, about 15 minutes into the set. They were so good. I’ve listened to them on record quite a lot but this was the first time I had seen them live. Everything made more sense live. I think they’re a band that needs to be listened to on high volume. From now on I will always turn them up to 11.

On the final night of TGE13, we started off at Audio and saw the lovely Parlour playing some relaxed lo fi surf rock with vocals low in the mix. Then we decided to get the queuing out of the way early on.

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There was a queue to get into The Haunt before it opened, and we decided this was our best bet as at least once we were in, we could stay there for the duration, thus guaranteeing we would get to see Parquet Courts (a garage rock band we’d both listened to beforehand and liked). As we waited, everyone in the queue was provided with lollipops to keep us happy or too high on sugar to care. It was nice of them, given that they weren’t really late opening and people were just queueing for the same reasons as we were; to guarantee entry.

This tactic meant we ended up seeing several bands we had not planned to see, but were all worth watching anyway. The first was The Orwells – a very pleasant surprise. They had great stage presence and worked up the already large audience with their brand of energetic garage punk. Next we were hit by a change of pace as highasakite took the stage. They’re a Norwegian band who sometimes veered off too far into the realm of floatiness and elves but at least sounded very pleasant while doing so. And they had nice fairy lights.

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Next up was supposed to be Jagwar Ma, but they had pulled out for some reason so were replaced by Deap Vally. They were a duo: guitarist/singer and drummer. They looked like a female Motley Crue and rocked like The Runaways. Tantalising stuff.

IMG_3881 After Deap Vally we saw the headliners and the band we had come to see, Parquet Courts. I had spent much of the afternoon listening to their song Stoned and Starving and was pretty excited. They were really good live. They had great chemistry and a lot of energy which eventually led to several members of the audience crowd surfing and stage diving. And they played Stoned and Starving, which was nice of them.

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After leaving The Haunt, we thought we may as well try and catch one more band as it was the last night of Great Escape. We decided on Woods at the Dome. Inevitably there was a queue, but thankfully not a long one this time. They were okay but a little dull. Still, it was the first time I’d been in the Dome and it was nice to see inside after walking past it roughly three billion times.

If I ever make it to Great Escape again I will definitely stick with the approach we had on the final night. Choose your poison and stick with it, kids.

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