Virtual Great Escape 2020
With 2020’s The Great Escape cancelled and holidays on my hands. I decided to create my own virtual lockdown festival. Taking the list of announced bands and creating my own virtual planner. The idea was to navigate around a virtual Brighton and pick realistic options for each time slot. So no virtual teleporting between Green Door Store and Concorde2. Each slot would have to be possible at the real festival. Then for each band, listen to recorded output and source Youtube clips of live performances, to hopefully discover new bands. Just as I would at the real festival. Here’s how I got on.
Unlike the real TGE, I travelled virtually down to Brighton on the day. Luckily, the real world power cuts on the line to Brighton, didn’t affect my virtual train.
There were no issues with early check-in and TGE registration was amazingly quick (although to be fair, I’m usually pretty much first in the queue on a Wednesday night, so I’ve never had issues registering in the past)
Virtual festival going, is a breeze.
The way I had decided to make it work was to use my living room, office and garden as venues. Each time, I changed venues, I had to move location, sometimes also doing five minutes on the exercise bike. It’s not the same as the 15 minute rush between venues, but it meant moving venue had some penalty.
Starting the festival were Sons of Raphael at the Hope and Ruin. They are two brothers with a fixation of religious imagery and noisy guitars. Most of the Youtube clips I could find were promotional videos. They were one of the few bands without any kind of live video presence. It’s hard therefore to judge them. I enjoyed what I saw. But the few Youtube clips were a bit shouty. Because of this, I decided to move on to the Prince Albert
Belako are a Basque band and completely new to me. As I was essentially catching the end of their set. I only watched two clips. Both featured a strong keyboard sound. The lineup appeared to be different in each clip, as did the sound. The earlier video had a strong post-punk vibe. The second clip seemed pretty unremarkable bland indie ballad. This had the later date. I guess they have changed their sound. But I would be willing to give them another listen.
Next up was Tragic Sasha at the Green Door Store for two songs – as I wanted to catch San Cisco at Patterns, which is a good 20 minute walk in the real world. She had a nice voice, but the music was pretty much generic singer songwriter fare. Far too much of it around. You need to have more than a good voice to stand out.
San Cisco were a band I saw at SXSW. I seem to remember enjoying them at the time. But in all honesty, I couldn’t remember anything about them. I thought I would give them another go and see if they would leave a strong memory this time. They’re an Aussie band with a breezy indie pop sound. The perfect sound for having a lazy day in the sun. (I was watching them in the ‘garden venue’). It’s probably why I enjoyed them in Austin. I could listen to the music all day as I kicked back in the sun. But that’s kind of the problem. It’s the sound that accompanies you, rather than taking hold and giving you a good shake. Again, I couldn’t tell you what they sounded like. Just that I enjoyed their set and I’m honestly not sure that is good enough.
My original plan was to see Miss Jane at the Hope and Ruin. But playing the game fairly. It would be pretty impossible to catch much of their set in the real world. Patterns to Hope is a good 20 minutes. So I decided to stick to a close-by venue and head to watch a band based purely on their name, Walt Disco. I am really glad I did. Just like the real festival, it’s stumbling upon unexpected bands that make festivals like The Great Escape so good.
Walt Disco are a theatrical Glaswegian band. Very much in the mould of the New Romantics and similar in the style of fellow Glaswegian band, Ninth Wave. I wasn’t initially keen on the singer’s voice. But on the second track, he went all ‘Freddie Mercury operatic’. All gloriously campy gothic. I decided to go with it there were some great clips of live shows in Glasgow.
After Walt Disco it was the short hop to Komedia for Diana Gavanski. Another singer songwriter. I enjoyed her set, but again, I felt like I had heard it all before.
You hit the point in every festival where you hit an artist your really don’t like. The thing I love about SXSW is that I can simply walk next door. This is why it’s the greatest music festival in the World. I have mentioned this in previous TGE reviews, the venues in Brighton are too widely spaced. which means if you do make a poor choice, you often have no easy alternatives. This was the first time my virtual festival threw in one of these bands.
The band in question was an Australian band called ‘Gang of Youths’. They really weren’t my thing. They have a big rock band sound. You know the type. All anthemic but without any edge. Radio friendly for indie music fans who don’t like indie music. I virtually moved on.
Next up were shouty punk from Chroma. I struggled to find any real live stuff. Mainly because their name was so generic (why don’t bands google their bloody names) and they seem to share their name with a long standing wedding covers band. So it was difficult to judge them. I liked what I saw. But I reserve judgement
Nearing the end of the first afternoon session, I decide to stick to the nearest venue. Again, a band with no live output, this time Toshin. Not much I can say. I called it quits and decided to head off to find some food.
When I constructed the schedule, there was a bit of method and a lot of madness. Taking my queue from past festivals. I decided the Dome (I don’t like the newer beach venue) was to be my headliner stage. The two obvious headliners were Fontaines and Hayley Williams. So both were given 1 hour slots on consecutive nights. I decided Concorde would have ‘2nd headliners’. Putting the local band Magic Gang on one evening and Ghostpoet the other.
I then created a few themed sessions.
Often a music magazine curates one of the stages, so DIY were given Green Door Store. The BBC always have an Introducing stage, usually at Paganini’s. Then were are the regional stages, with the usual suspects, Australia and Canada, joined by Ireland, as there appeared to be a lot of Irish artist on this year’s lists. I also filled up the slots at the Unitarian Church and One Church with classical and singer songwriters.
There’s the method.
The madness came from the fact every other artist was randomly pasted into a venue without really taking notice of their popularity or if they clashed. (or on my own pre-festival list of who to catch)
And this was where the problem came. When I went through the list of artists I had pencilled in. I suddenly had a very ‘clashy’ Thursday evening. With the hand-picked DIY stage being full or bands I wanted to see and the clashes often in venues like Patterns or The Hub. There was simply no way in the real world I could move between them. So it meant a lot of interesting bands, were off the agenda. Like the real world, it was the case of sticking to a venue for most of the evening. In this case the DIY stage.
First up were Lazarus Kane. I’ve seen them before. I didn’t particularly like them. Tonight, I was a little bit more impressed, but still left at the end with a fairly ambivalent attitude to them. I just can’t connect with the singer.
Dream Nails followed on the DIY stage at the Green Door Store. I hadn’t realised I had seen them before. They were a support band for Cherry Glazer (who I didn’t like). But I had first been to a Rough Trade gig, so arrived late, catching one song. What I saw on YouTube I enjoyed. But they aren’t somebody I would necessary rush out to see as a headline act
It turned out I had also seen the next band, Silverbacks, supporting Fontaines D.C.. I really enjoyed them tonight. They have a post-punk sound, often veering off in the Sonic Youth style guitar noise. But for most the time, pretty chilled in a Parquet Courts kind of way
One band I wanted to catch were ARXX who I had been listening to pre-festival. It turns out the racket I had been listening to was made by two people in pretty much a classic garage rock format. While, I enjoyed the clips I saw, they mainly featured the same songs. So again, I will reserve judgement.
In this fictional TGE, I decided that unlike in the real world. There was a chance to catch the end of the Fontaines set at the Dome. At the real festival, the headliners tend to be popular and the Dome often fills up early with big queues outside. I’ve only had a photo pass since they moved to the Beach venue. I assume though, I would have been allowed in for three songs – so I applied the ‘three songs and I’m out’ rule. As you would expect. There are some excellent Fontaines clips on Youtube.
I called it quits after the Fontaines and headed to a bar (fridge).
The afternoon of Day 2 was dominated by Canada and Ireland’s showcase at Green Door Store and Horatios. This is the nightmare schedule. Two extremes of the map and a 20-25 minute walk between the two. As often with this festival. The scheduler really needs to be replaced. This is also why TGE will never be SXSW as it often seems to aspire to be. At SXSW, there’s 30 venues in a 15 minute walk. At TGE, there’s a 15 minute walk between venues. Making the wrong choice is costly at TGE.
Starting off to Horatios. The plan was to see Melts, meander up to Hope and Ruin and then finally end up back at Horatios for Sinead O’Brien.
It turns out this was a good plan. Melts, the first band, were one of my favourites of the weekend. Waves upon waves to great psych music.
After Melts I made a quick dash to Queens Hotel for Alicia Edelweiss. I really wish I hadn’t bothered. While I enjoyed some aspects of the music. I really did not enjoy Alicia’s voice. At times, I found it too affected and really out of tune. I ‘left’ after two songs and went back to Horatios to catch a song of Soda Blonde, who were too pop for me, before treking up to Komedia to catch the last song of Eve Owen.
Another cool band, The Cool Greenhouse, with an infectious sound played the Hope and Ruin. They were new to me, but I will definitely try and catch them again.
After a short trip to see Taylor Janzen at the Green Door Store as part of the Canadian showcase, I headed down to Komedia to see on the of buzzy bands of the festival PVA. I’m sure TGE place the buzzy bands into Komedia Studio on purpose so people have to queue to see them and these queues help contribute to the ‘buzz’ around the band. In PVAs case. While I can kind of see why there is a buzz. But they didn’t work for me.
Closing off the morning was Sinead O’Brien via one song of Mr Ben and the Bens at the Queens Hotel. The Bens are just too fun to miss and perfect indie for any festival.
Closing the afternoon was the always excellent Sinead O’Brien. Sinead and her band have quickly grown into one of my favourite bands around at the moment. Sinead’s storytelling, combined with guitar that arches around the stories, driving everything forward, really works for me.
The evening session started with Talk Show. Starting off a strong evening lineup. They’re one of my tips for 2020. Just a bloody good, fun band. Tonight playing the Green Door Store, they produced a storming performance that left everyone in the room with the same impression.
After Talk Show, I headed to headed to one of my favourite venues. It’s odd. It’s actually a terrible venue. It has terrible beer. It’s basically a posh function room. But, I like it. It’s where BBC host their introducing stage and therefore there’s always decent music. Tonight, was no exception.
I have a rule. If Steve Lamacq is in attendance, you are in the right venue. The next band, Bambara, are one of Steve’s current favourites. In fact I think we might have discovered them at the same time at SXSW where they put in several blistering performances. Tonight, on a much bigger stage, they showed that edge that caused them to stand out at SXSW. You can see why they have supported the Idles. They have that edge missing from many post-punk bands.
After Bambara’s excellent set it was a rush up to The Green Door Store to catch Girls in Synthesis. As is normal with this venue on Friday and Saturday evenings, it was a case of waiting to squeeze in to the back of the packed room. Thankfully I catch one of my favourite sets of the weekend. I’m surprised I’ve not seen them before in London. They are my kind of thing, with an edgy post-punk sound and great live performance. Definitely one to watch.
Sadly, they clashed with one of my other tips for 2020, Egyptian Blue, who were playing the Hope and Anchor. In real life, there’s pretty much no chance of getting into this venue on a Friday night without having to queue. (Can’t remember if you can jump the queue with a photo pass). So normally, it wouldn’t be worth heading down to catch their last song. But I made an exception in the virtual world, as it was good to catch up with them again (and another excuse for a real photo!)
The three options at this point were to stay and watch Public Practice, who I enjoyed at SXSW 2019, watch Chubby and the Gang at Paganini’s or Hayley Williams at the Dome. In real life, I think at this time of night. I wouldn’t go rushing off and I would stick with the the Hope and Ruin and take the opportunity when the crowd grabs a beer to get to the front to grab some photos. So that’s what I decided and I stayed and watched Public Practice who were every bit as good as I remember from SXSW.
Closing the evening were another a band I had seen before, Qlowski. They had played the Horn in St Albans in February as one of the support acts and while initially I wasn’t sure, as the set progressed, I really enjoyed where it headed and I was left really impressed. Tonight, was equally good. Another band to keep an eye on.
I hate reaching the last day of a festival. You know you are going to soon have to leave the festival bubble and return to the real world. Even at a city festival like The Great Escape, you end up in a bubble. While everyone else goes about the weekend shop or is heading to work, I’m rushing between venues, always focused on who to see next. Even food is controlled by the festival, grab a bite here, bite there. I’d stay in festival world forever. Oddly, the same had happened with my virtual festival. Everything was revolving around the timings of the festival.
Like at SXSW, Australia always put on a strong showing at The Great Escape. While there’s usually free food and drink at SXSW, Australia still make sure they bring a healthy supply of new acts to the UK.
At a normal TGE I rarely go to the Australian events. It’s not because the bands are poor. Far from it. Australia has many fine acts. No, it’s simply because on the Sunday after TGE, they take their Aussie BBQ to London’s Hoxton Square and I know I can catch most of the acts the next day.
With ‘one thing and another’, I decided to catch as many of the bands as I could at the VTGE and spent most of the morning bouncing between the two Komedia stages catching Bananagun, Ali Baxter, Lime Cordial, Evie Irie, and Spacey Jane before heading out of the venue to catch The Snuts at the Green Door Store (who I thought were awful).
Overall, the standard was high. Bananagun and Spacey Jane were good. Ali Baxter was a big surprise. However, Eviei Irie was far too pop and did little for me and I took the opportunity to grab some lunch
Closing the morning was Mabes at the Green Door Store (pleasant) and Hayley Mary, the lead singer of a band I’ve seen quite a few times, the Jezabels, playing her solo stuff. I was really impressed.
As Jezabels lead singer, Hayley doesn’t play instruments and does a proper front-person job of performing each song, discarding the mic stand and making sure she earns her keep. But playing her own stuff, she stayed behind the microphone playing guitar and the performance was more through her vocals. I have to admit, I really enjoyed her performance.
I find at every festival, even SXSW, there are times when you hit a quiet spot where it’s not possible to find anything interesting. Saturday evening turned into one of those periods.
The Lazy Eyes started the evening off well in Patterns. Enjoyable psych. Although I did feel that there wasn’t anything particularly different to set them apart from recent psych bands
The next band, John, I have tried to catch and have missed. I have heard many great reviews about them and was looking forward to seeing them. However, I wasn’t overly impressed. Another garage setup. I thought they sounded a bit like Japandroids, quite heavy but nothing jumped out and new or interesting. Enjoyable, but not enough to drag me into London to catch them another time.
Eventually, Love’N’Joy popped up and surprised me. Another psych band, but one with an expanded sound palette drawing in other 60s and 70s styles, giving them an edge.
Closing my evening were Los Bitchos. An instrumental Psych band with a touch of the latin groove. I’ve seen them before. They are good. I just feel they are missing a vocalist.
So there you go. Thanks to a lot of YouTube clips. I managed to put together my own virtual TGE. It wasn’t the same. How could it be? But, I have to admit. I rarely trawl Youtube for new music, assuming most videos are pretty rubbish. But there’s some really good live recordings for many bands and as somebody missing live music. This was a welcome and enjoyable diversion.
As it happened (on Twitter)