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So, the country’s fucked: no-one’s in charge, plumes of ash are threatening our summer sojourns and our monetary system is being savaged. Just like we saw in The Road, the only answer is to head south in search of food and shelter, fashioning rafts from driftwood to cross the Channel.

On your way though be sure to stop off at Brighton, where The Great Escape festival has made it into its fifth year. Like the Camden Crawl earlier this month, the concept is gleefully sadistic: adorn your arm with a wristband and start running frantically across the city to see as many bands as you can before Sunday, which you spend gasping in an alleyway as your heart implodes. Your last breaths are sure to be happy ones, though: there are good reasons why the NME recently named this the best of the UK festivals.

Foremost is the bill. Over 350 bands playing in thirty venues, ranging from the grandeur of the Dome to the grime of the Freebutt, big-hitters like Concorde 2 and clubs such as Coalition and Digital, alongside more eccentric locations such as the Unitarian Church and the ever-charming Duke of York cinema: this is a tour of Brighton as much as a trip through new music.

Fittingly, the bands are as eclectic as the locations, and at the top-end pretty much a who’s-who of this year’s hype lists. You’ll know Ellie Goulding, of course, The Big Pink, Delphic, Groove Armada and Marina & The Diamonds, and you’ve probably spent a sizable chunk of time trying, unsuccessfully, to forget Chase & Status.

Despite their third-billing on the promo posters Broken Social Scene are probably the festival’s biggest coup here, a ‘supergroup’ comprised of half of Canada that has showcased members of Metric, Feist and Stars within their recording and touring lineups, and whose gloriously excessive arrangements and breathless energy pretty much justify the ticket price alone.

More than just a festival, though, the Great Escape is an industry showcase, the hotels of Brighton overspilling with journalists and the A&R of big labels and independents alike, despatched like Ringwraiths to hunt down new sounds. Easy to spot, they’re the ones with their photos adorning lanyards around their necks, bypassing the queues and small-talking the bands, and sure, you’ll come to hate them all, particularly if you’ve read John Niven’s brutal industry dissection-cum-American Psycho homage Kill Your Friends (and if you haven’t, well, he’s speaking at the festival on Friday). But whatever your feelings on the music business, you can’t help but concede that its swarming agents lend the festival an incredible buzz: these aren’t just gigs you’re seeing, but potentially the moments where bands break through and finally get some recognition. And they are, of course, the reason why musicians from all of the world assemble here to play short sets in tiny venues, hope and fevered optimism charging every note because their futures depend on it. Larger festivals just can’t rival that.

It’s the reason why you won’t recognise so many of the names on the bill: these aren’t jaded artists doing it for the money, but the next generation, hungry and primed. To be honest, if all you do is flock to the names you know you’re missing the point – sure, they’re the ones you probably bought the tickets for, but so did everybody else. By all means see a few of the bigger acts, but make sure that you take some risks too – flee the crowds, and the queues, for a tiny room with a band you’ve only picked because you like their name (Pony Pony Run Run? And So I Watch You From Afar?). The same rule applies here as at the Edinburgh festival: pick five performances at random, and two will be awful, two will be good and one will be amazing. Those are good odds. That band that everybody likes in a year’s time – you really will have seen them first, bought the early promos and got drunk with the bassist. That’s the kind of smugness that keeps you warm through winter.

But back to that bill, and as you’d expect the hosting city is putting up a more than decent fight of its own, with Brighton residents Eighties Matchbox B-Line Disaster, Blood Red Shoes, Peggy Sue and the utterly essential cauldron-gloomtronica of Esben and the Witch, playing past midnight in Britain’s oldest cinema.

Elsewhere there’s the glitchy dance of Gold Panda, the hobbit-folk of Fionn Regan and the aural holocaust of Rolo Tomassi, there’s Tuung, Japandroids, Crystal Fighters, Pulled Apart By Horses, Sky Larkin, Ed Harcourt, Wild Beasts, The – you know what? The bill’s not the point: just buy a ticket, slip on some comfortable shoes, stuff your pockets with energy food and hitch a ride south. Fleeing the country can wait till next week.

 

Christian Cottingham

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