The Great Escape festival review – Stormzy caps off Brighton's feast of discovery

Various venues, Brighton
New-music weekender delivers delight after delight, from South Korean sea shanties with virtuoso violins to grime’s own human bullwhip

Three days and nights. So many bands. So many beards. So many bobs. So many bands with bobs and with beards. Brighton’s The Great Escape is what you make it: a feast of variety and discovery, or a long weekend of by-the-numbers banality.

Pinballing around town semi-randomly turns up delight after unheralded delight. The thick, eerie electro-folk of Ireland’s Saint Sister, not so much haunted as delicately possessed. Belfast psych-rockers Exmagician’s songs rolling like coloured clouds over a sweltering tentload of bewildered lunchtime drinkers. LCMDF, a bright, droll and spiky duo, sticking it to the Finnish metal boys with their invigorating electropop, and their immaculate Eighties styling. (Or maybe that’s normal for Helsinki, I wouldn’t know.) Nascent goth diva Fable, with a heap of star quality and, in Fragile, a stone killer tune. Bess Atwell, a gifted singer-songwriter with a voice like slow, cool water.

Classical-pop crossovers tend to be on the formal, even stiff side. Not Anna Meredith. The Scots composer glories in bellowing, whacking things and making a grand racket. Her show is joyous, and not a little deranged. Poland’s Brodka and her band seemingly come costumed as an early Christian sect, adding to the faintly hallucinatory air of their sombre folk-pop. More unnerving still is to watch Swiss electronic experimentalist Aïsha Devi’s occult visuals unfold and loom across the nave of St George’s Church.

Delilah Holliday of Skinny Girl Diet at The Great Escape festival.
Fearsome … Delilah Holliday of Skinny Girl Diet. Photograph: Tabatha Fireman/Redferns

South Korea supplies two extraordinary bands. Danpyunsun and the Sailors look like a totalitarian physics seminar circa 1976, and play magnificently bonkers sea shanties from weird and distant oceans, augmented by furious virtuoso violin and a sweary, hilarious frontman. Jambinai are an enthralling post-rock group; imagine Godspeed You! Black Emperor melded with, to these ears, strange and wonderful traditional instruments.

Fabulous, exhilarating disco-rockers White put me in mind of all The Killers’ very best bits relieved of bombast and distilled into an absurdly potent glitter-shot. The only thing more instantly zestful I hear all weekend is DBFC, “from Paree”, who throw psych and prog into the formula and produce wildly danceable tunes with it.

Skinny Girl Diet are a fearsome, semi-feral outfit with a sandpaper-throated singer who makes her most obvious influence, Courtney Love, sound like Dido. They haven’t yet assembled much of a songbook, but they rock as hard as anything new I’ve heard in years.

Stormzy headlines at Brighton Dome.
Coiled energy … Stormzy headlines at Brighton Dome. Photograph: Ollie Millington/Redferns

One of last year’s biggest draws is deservedly a headliner this time around: Bamako’s sublime Songhoy Blues, of the sidewinding grooves, eye-popping dance moves and deep soul. Just as Skepta and JME last year underscored the commercial and artistic pre-eminence of grime, Stormzy caps off this weekend with a masterful show at the Dome.

He’s a human bullwhip, carrying all the coiled energy of the form in his elliptical, stop-start clatter and thrilling verbal pugnacity.


David Bennun

The GuardianTramp

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