Brighton's Great Escape Launches Biggest Year With New Beach Venue and The Smith's Johnny Marr

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Mike Massaro
Jonny Marrr

Highlights from yesterday's 60-venue showcase includes performances by G Flip, Snail Mail and Soccer Mommy.

For its 13th year, Britain’s largest festival for new music and emerging artists expanded its footprint to feature 500 artists and 60 local venues, including two specially built waterfront venues.

Plastered with the festival’s signature colorful pinwheel, The Great Escape Music Convention welcomed thousands of delegates to the city of Brighton Thursday (May 17). Posters were hung in windows on every block along with decals stickered on the streets directing music industry professionals, musicians, and fans to the smattering of venues throughout the city for the Live Nation and MAMA Festival's long-running event. 

For the first time, the three-day event built their very own 2,000-capacity festival site right on the pebbled beach. The new festival site, known as The Beach, adds two music venues to celebrate some of today’s best emerging acts as well as bars, food stalls featuring South Indian cuisine and waffle sandwiches, hang out areas overlooking the sea, and pop up performance spaces.

On opening night, The Beach featured a female-heavy lineup beginning with Australian drummer-turned-solo star G Flip taking the stage just before sunset. The energetic set was followed by U.S. indie rockers Snail Mail and Soccer Mommy.

"We flew in just for this show. That was just a few days ago so we’re still tired,” said Sophie Allison, who goes by the stage name Soccer Mommy before thanking the crowd and closing out the 30-minute set with a red-light drenched rendition of bedroom rock song “Scorpio Rising."

In somewhat of a homecoming set, the Icelandic/London punk band Dream Wife took to the stage at the Beach House. The three original members (they’ve added a drummer to give lead singer, Rakel Mjöll, the ability to perform) were formed as a project for art school in Brighton.

Dream Wife’s show recalled early Karen O of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs as they smash through infectiously fun hits like “Fire,” “Hey Heartbreaker,” and “Kids.” The admittedly jet-lagged band who arrived in Brighton after acting as support for The Kills, still managed to hammer home a feminist message.

“Gender rules do not exist,” Mjöll shouted to the packed house. “So please push them out.”

Earlier in the day the unseasonably warm weather brought attendees out on the streets, snagging their wristbands under the sun while Afro/Hip-hop duo Native Sun got festivities started from the Jubilee Square stage. Jubilee Square was closed off to vehicles as the stoned streets filled with pedestrians, curated food vendors, and drink trucks serving specialty beverages to the roaming crowd.

The expansive festival that takes over the city from May 17-19 sprawls across 60 venues with sponsored stages from BBC Music, Fender, YouTube, Dr. Martens, VEVO and more.

In addition to the endless talent playing, The Great Escape also serves as a convention for music professionals and musicians looking for insights on the industry and networking opportunities. For two days, the festival held Speed Meetings at the Brighton Dome, where emerging artists and professionals could seeks answers from a revolving list of respected members of the music community including agencies like Creative Artist Agency and Agency for the Performing Arts, as well as reps from South by Southwest in Austin, Texas.

Artists interested in the stories and histories of music legends got a glimpse into the early career of Smiths’ guitarist, Johnny Marr. Surrounded by Fender guitars on display, Marr sat down with his own instrument discussing how he navigated the world of rock by turning it on its head.

"By the end of the '70s, the thing that I was frustrated about in guitar culture was changing, which was that it was very macho and it was very corny to me. It didn’t relate to what my sense of a man was,” Marr said between playing riffs for the crowd at Pattern’s. "After punk, I said 'Let’s get modern.'"

Marr explained that one of his guitar heroes was T. Rex’s Marc Bolan who was more effeminate and wore makeup. The Smiths guitarist said he modeled himself into a less masculine performer to modernize the genre.

"Part of playing guitar is getting your strap right," Marr said, adding "That’s the beautiful part of expressing yourself which is why laptops will never ever take over for guitar music. Even If you’ve got the newest Mac Book, it doesn’t look as cool as a Fender (Jaguar)."

The convention is a SXSW-style spread of venues all within a 20-minute walk of each other ranging from outdoor stages shrouded in plants and peppered with decorative pink flamingos to backyard spaces full of picnic benches being overlooked by church bell towers.

Events continue Friday and Saturday with conversations on AI technology, DIY panels, and more music throughout the city.