Top Five Discoveries from The Great Escape Festival

The Great Escape is one of Europe’s biggest musical showcases, with over four hundred bands performing over three days across the city of Brighton in the UK. Its focus on introducing new and emerging artists from across the world makes the event an ideal platform for musical discovery. Here are my top five findings from this year’s festival, which you can read more about in my review.

One: Monica Heldal.

Norway’s Monica Heldal is a singer song-writer whose acoustic folk feels fresh and vibrant thanks to the infusion of rock and blues. The decision to stage this show in a church was inspired, as the surroundings perfectly complemented Monica’s angelic voice and heavenly melodies. Monica’s silky smooth voice, with its warm Scandinavian undertone, created a soothing atmosphere and the variations in style from folk infused ballads to foot-tapping blues numbers kept the performance interesting throughout. Her dextrous, finger-picking guitar style was a joy to watch and demonstrated that not only is she an excellent singer and song-writer, but also a very talented guitar player as well.

Monica was accompanied on stage by a touring musician performing on an electric guitar, adding contrast and reinforcing the blues-rock element. Her stage partner brought strong male vocals to the mix, harmonising wonderfully and adding extra depth. As an artist, Monica possesses the holy trinity of talent, beauty and an endearing personality and I left the church fully believing that she should be a higher power in her genre of music.

Two: The Mispers. 

Electric guitars, acoustic guitars, violins, keyboards, bass, drums and dual vocals: throwing this many elements at your band can give you a sonic mess. However, London-based quintet The Mispers prove that when you have the ability to balance these components, you can achieve spectacular results. Lead vocalist Jack Balfour Scott’s vibrato-heavy voice instantly brings indie-folk to mind, particularly when paired with acoustic guitars, but the inclusion of Joey Arnold Zapata’s raspy, rock-tinged vocals, electric guitars and hard hitting drums, pushes the sound more towards alternative rock. When you then add in a violin and keyboards, it gets difficult to describe the band’s sound. While that can be a challenge to write about, it makes for a very exciting stage performance.

For a band so young they are impressive song-writings and their stage presence belies their relative inexperience. They commanded the stage well with confidence and energy, and encouraged the crowd to get involved, making it a pleasure to watch them perform. The Mispers have a persona that is creative and different, but one that could easily translate to a mainstream audience. In flashes, their sound is reminiscent of other successful indie-folk acts such as The 1975 or Arcade Fire, but with sufficient individuality to give themselves their own identity. It’s a formula that I can see working very well for them in the future.

Three: Soley. 

The festival’s Iceland Airwaves showcase introduced a series of Icelandic musicians, of which Soley was a stand-out performer. One of Iceland’s most famous musical exports is Bjork: an eclectic, creative musician and it’s clear that Soley’s electronic-folk-with-a-difference has been shaped by Bjork’s influence. Her music inspires intrigue and adventure thanks to her use of various instruments including percussion, samplers, loop-pedals and vocal percussion, helping to keep her music exciting and fresh.

Being a first time Soley listener, I didn’t know what to expect and even prior to the final song of the set, I was still no wiser. It’s rare for an artist to sustain that level of anticipation through a whole set and it’s thanks to each song’s individuality and the way Soley incorporated various instrumental elements into her music. Although the gig was set within a refurbished art deco hotel on the sea-front, the performance wouldn’t have been out of place inside a cave beneath a waterfall, with toadstools for the audience to sit on. If you closed your eyes while Soley performed, this is the type of imagery that her music inspires: a fairy-tale mystery that is rare and intriguing. It’s certainly a unique experience and one of the most memorable of the festival.

Four: Orla Gartland. 

This infectious set of pop-rock songs kept a smile firmly on my face and ensured a positive end to the festival on day three. Though she may be a red-haired girl from Ireland, Orla Gartland is no stereotype; her pop music has a certain edginess to it with a personality all of its own. Orla has an excellent voice which carried the sing-a-long choruses brilliantly and the rock-elements of her music kept the energy level high, making it impossible for the audience to stand still. The songs themselves were interesting and varied, demonstrating her skills as a song-writer as well as having an excellent voice.

Orla emits an endearing youthful enthusiasm as a performer. Her music feels happy, excitable and fresh but at the same time she’s managed to write solid, well-constructed songs that demonstrate her maturity as an artist. Her on-stage persona is quirky and genuine, laughing and joking with the audience between songs and engaging in banter with her band-mates. This balance between fun and integrity makes her an excellent performer and gives her music authenticity as you get the sense that she’s simply channelling her own, warm personality through her music.

Five: Brighton. 

This was my first trip to Brighton and I don’t think the festival would be the same anywhere else. The city has a genuinely artistic, cultural vibe to it and I enjoyed walking through its quirky market streets between venues. The range of places the city can offer to stage musical performances makes it perfect for an inner-city festival of this size. Not only in volume, but character as well, with venues ranging from old prison cells, to churches, to underneath railway bridges; this eclectic mix was a perfect complement to the city itself.

I’m thankful to the festival for drawing me into Brighton for my first experience of the city and I’m already counting down the days for my return next year.

FDRMX Eyes: London-based electronic artist Kelpe’s video for “Go Visibile” is riddled with amazingly done, surreal visual effects that compliment his unique sound perfectly. Check out the video here:

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