The Great Escape 2023: as it happened

500 artists. 30 tiny venues. Thousands of fans and a whole lot of massive seagulls. On the ground at Brighton's annual celebration of new music

Spotted on Brighton beach this weekend: a pebble with a QR code on it linking to a Bandcamp page. If you’re in a band, The Great Escape festival is the place to get noticed. If you’re in the audience, it’s the place to miss the next big thing because you got distracted by Grian Chatten busking outside a record shop.

But the UK’s biggest and most exciting new music festival has always been about finding the unexpected. This year’s line-up brought the likes of Maisie Peters, Arlo Parks and Unknown T to Brighton between May 10-13 but, as ever, the real headliners were whoever you didn’t turn up to see – with brilliant and often surprising new bands spilling out of every pub, club, church and random corner of the city.

Here are the artists that caught our attention.

Mestizo Collective

Kudos to whoever decided to let these folks essentially kick off the festival so early at Jubliee Square. They’re a bundle of internationally fused energy, paying homage to their roots in Columbia, The Caribbean and beyond with trampoline bouncing jazz. Unless I’m getting my barred instruments jumbled, that was a xylophone solo too. JB

Baby Cool

“If you’re into psychedelics, now would probably be a good time to indulge,” says the MC of the Sounds Australia stage in the sweaty basement of The Komedia – still barely lunchtime in the UK but clearly much later Down Under. Nice Biscuit’s Grace Cuell brings her solo side-project floating into the room on a wave of wooze – with sun-baked folkadelica building to crunchy pop rock. More openly sentimental than Nice Biscuit, Cuell’s voice works wonders wherever she takes it – with warm flecks of country grounding a sound that’s high as a kite. PB

Girl And Girl

Festival crowds are a judgmental lot. Witness the sudden hush that sweeps the room as soon as Melissa Jones hit the drums in the soundcheck. She might be the much older auntie of frontperson Kai Aubort, but she’s playing better than everyone else behind a kit in Brighton this weekend. Girl And Girl (Aubort putting the emphasis on “and” every time he said it, just to make sure) follow Baby Cool on the Aussie showcase with a set that lands somewhere between 80s new wave, 00s postpunk and David Bowie jamming with his cool aunt Liss. ‘All I See’ rolls through The Komedia like a train, while ‘Divorce 1’ brings what’s left of it down with a shimmer. PB

Alice Low

The angular Alice Low turned heads as the first name on the Ticketmaster showcase. With an eccentrically earnest performance, the Cardiff-born pop oddity fully justifies why everyone seems to be talking about her music in the same breath as Cate Le Bon and Aldous Harding. Prowling around the stage and targeting her disbelievingly deep voice at specific corners of the crowd, she merges her glam pop stylings with an unsettling Scott Walker-esque menace, commanding the unwavering gaze of the audience as she stared back piercingly at them. Apologising for the lack of band, instead circumstantially performing with a backing track, frankly, it means her unique presence is front and centre, where it belongs. TCH


Danish indie rock damsel Brimheim sweeps up the crowd in The Hope & Ruin in a dramatic wave of sound and emotion. Complete with full-band beneath the red and blue glow of the lights, she somehow gives a pub performance that plays like PJ Harvey and Florence Welch, and delivers a succinct yet soul-bearing set. Brimheim’s grandiose arrangements has echoes of heartland rock, filtered through a Scandi lens of haunting and self-reflection. Her acrobatic vocals recal 4 Non Blondes’ Linda Perry; her voice is eerily similar, but nonetheless enchanting. TCH

The Heavy Heavy

Long shadows are hitting the beach – unsigned bands all fighting for the best spot in front of the pier for their new photoshoot – perfect for a bit of summer psych rock. The Heavy Heavy look like they’d been doing it all a bit longer than most of the other names on the bill, and they have. Already huge in America, they’re still somehow on the rise in their own country (which is frankly starting to make us all look a bit silly), now playing Brighton Beach like Woodstock ’69. “Janis Joplin” is heard from every corner of the tent as soon as Georgie Fuller hits the big notes, with a soaring vintage sound that also comes unashamedly close to Fleetwood Mac and Zeppelin. There’s a lot more than just nostalgia going on here though – Fuller and Will Turner nailing one of the most electric live sets of the festival so far. It’s high time we took The Heavy Heavy back. PB

She’s In Parties

Despite She’s In Parties having only been a proper band since 2021, their superbly crafted shoegaze-inspired indie pop has the chops of a band twice their age. The plucky four-piece don’t quite lean into the introverted, reverb-laden noise you’d usually associate with the shoegaze scene, rather cherry-picking gorgeous melodies Slowdive might’ve utilised back in the day and injecting them with emotional defiance of Wolf Alice. Staking their claim for festival anthem of the summer with ‘Cherish’, She’s In Parties are already standing out as one of the upcoming season’s must-see new bands. TCH

Billie Marten

The recent (and much deserved) rise of Billie Marten has also seen the Rippon-born singer adopt more dynamic instrumental experimentation on record than from the stripped-back singer-songwriter days she was perhaps more known for when she began touring as a teen. Her set at Komedia pulls this into focus, armed with a new line-up of artists in her band who help bring the shimmering waltz ‘Mice’ and the deeply satisfying ‘This Is How We Move’ especially to life. JB

Mazey Haze

Filling in last minute for fellow Netherlanders Amy Root, who had originally been billed for a late night spot at the Ticketmaster showcase, Nadine Apeldoorn’s Mazey Haze blasts the dark upper room of The Hope & Ruin with a vibrant radiance. Gorgeously layered guitars seem to bounce melodic hooks for the keyboardist’s picking, as he drapes them in gooey, sun-kissed textures that compliment Apeldoorn’s soft-edged, conversational singing style to a T. JB


“I’ve had two lots of fish and chips today already” says Aramis Johnson, clearly making the most of his first time in Brighton. Finding the sweet spot where Pavement and Nirvana never met, Enumclaw swagger out of Seattle looking like they’ve turned up 30 years too late. There’s a touch of the Gallaghers to Johnson too – glowering at a motionless crowd from under a bucket hat as he spits lo-fi slacker grunge with US guitars and UK lairyness. Guitarist Nathan Cornell takes to the quiet British crowd even harder, stepping down off the stage and somehow managing to get a hipster circle pit going by physically grabbing people by the shoulders. Enumclaw aren’t messing around. PB

Hollow Hand

Not part of the official festival line-up, Hollow Hand play an early set on Friday in the quiet of St Nicholas’ Church. Starting off with something like a perfect B-side to Lennon’s ‘Real Love’, Max Kinghorn-Mills took the congregation up, down and around his influences – from Tom Petty, The Byrds, Stealers Wheel, a bit of Radiohead and lot of 80s psyche pop. Much more cohesive than it sounds, and twice as gorgeous, it’s the kind of thing that should have filled a few hours instead of just 30 minutes (and not just because everyone got to sit down…). PB


Those savvy enough to get down to Komedia early for L’Eclair – and perhaps the customary free beer and sandwiches from the Swiss Music Export – might have entered expecting a bit of the cosmic-themed funk and jazz, promised from a brief perusal of their top streamed tracks. It is cosmic-themed funk and jazz, but on acid. In keeping with their instrumental prog roots, it feels like the Geneva band only have four songs on their setlist, but tangled with percussive polyrhythms and deeeeeeep, doubled down bass, this feels like it flashes chaotically between dance music and even metal. If their name wasn’t sweet enough, there’s even Lindt chocolates being handed out at the back. JB

Georgia Harmer

Future tip: for those waking up early on Friday of The Great Escape with a sore head and not much planned, head to The Green Door Store. It’s when and where Canada House is held, showcasing the countries emerging talent (usually with a bit of an indie twist), and it’s so reliably good I make a point of not checking out much of the schedule and just enjoy the surprise. Georgia Harmer is a particular highlight, with a hushed picking guitar style that’s bolstered by understated drums that, along with her faultless vocal melodies, give goose bump-inducing songs such as ‘Headrush’ a kind of hypnotic drift. JB

Quasi Qui

You have to feel un petit peu for the French-based English siblings Yehan and Zadi Jehan of Quasi Qui, who had to dump their broken down truck somewhere along the A26 from Paris and clearly arrive just in time for their set all flustered and frustrated. It’s not helped when the sound tech clearly isn’t getting Yehan’s repeated demands for less in the monitors. But that’s all in the past when throbbing electro belters are your specialty, as ‘Whole New Era’ emphatically reminds us is theirs. JB


Assembled by Guinean singer Falle Nioke from all the veteran session musicians who have spent years doing the hard work for the likes of Michael Kiwanuka, Little Simz and Cleo Sol, Pigeon are what happens when the guys in the back finally get to the front. As expected, it sounds incredible. Nioke changes languages as quickly as the band skips from Afro-beat, disco, no-wave, wild synth-solos and jazz – making Pigeon sound like stumbling into the world’s best jam session. Do what you can to find them in a field this summer. PB


“WE’VE COME A LONG F*CKING WAY AND THIS IS OUR LAST ONE HERE. LET’S F*CKING FIRE IT UP!” Ben Portnoy sounds exactly like you’d expect a drummer vocalist in an Aussie thrash punk to sound – forever shouting over a sound loud and angsty enough to shake the foam of everyone’s IPA in the North Laine Brewhouse. One song in, he’s hit his kit so hard he’s smashed it. “EVERYTHING’S ALWAYS F*CKING BREAKING! WE NEED A MILITARY GRADE DRUMKIT!”. This is glorious aggression – fired broadside at everything from mental health issues to Aboriginal land theft – and Portnoy brings enough fire to burn the place down. Tables topple as the the crowd start climbing over each other to get closer. “THEY TELL ME THIS IS MY LAST SONG. BULLSH*T! I HAVE TWO MORE!” PB


Hole, PJ Harvey, Pixies, Veronica Mars, bad sex, self-loathing, sepsis and revenge rock all swirl in Hove’s Old Market – with anyone turning up early for Chrissie Hynde getting a glimpse of a future Hall Of Famer in Sabrina Teitelbaum. “We’re here on official business. We’re gonna play you an album”. Filling a 30-minute set with her entire debut record, Teitelbaum plays with the kind of confidence that catches. Once abandoning a pop career for alt-rock, there’s a confessional DIY edge to her angst – lilting as well as screaming her story in a candid set that carves out a whole new genre somewhere between Kurt Cobain and Phoebe Bridgers. This feels like a “saw it here first” moment. PB

Acid Klaus

“I was at the Royal Albert Hall last night,” says Adrian Flanagan in a thick Lancashire accent after the first track of his new Acid Klaus project (recently signed to Yard Act‘s Zen F.C label). “It’s a lot nicer than this sh*thole,” he says of the, ahem, recently refurbished Chalk, “but I prefer it. I like being up and close with all you dirty f*ckers.” If that’s what I am, so be it, this acid house is knockout, and even better that it’s coming from a man who, I’m reliably informed by the venue manager, turned up with his synths in a Morrisons bag for life. JB


It might be a new music festival, but there’s still plenty of room for pedigree as Chrissie Hynde headlines Saturday night at the Old Market. Getting one of the weekend’s only 45 minute sets (and then completely running over the curfew), the Pretenders debut two new tracks from their upcoming album – Hynde on winning form as she plays the smallest stage she’s probably stood on for 40 years. “We’re not doing the hits today,” she says, getting a gasp from fans who’d been queuing all afternoon to get in, some flying in from America just for the show. “This isn’t really the place for it, is it?” Of course it is, and of course ‘Back On The Chain Gang’, ‘Stop Your Sobbing’, ‘Cuban Slide’ and ‘Don’t Get Me Wrong’ sound bigger than ever in such a tiny room. This band is one to watch… PB

Unknown T

For some reason, rapper Daniel Richie Lena tells us that he was informed that this would be a quiet show. He was very much misinformed. There are mosh pits, a wall of death (don’t worry mum, the fun kind) and his top is off now. I’m sure the ol’ faithful Concorde 2 has hosted many a heavy metal band in its time, but UK rap is giving its crowd energy a run for its money. JB


Dressed from a wardrobe straight out of the 70s and with halcyon folk-rock to boot, Sylvie step on to the One Church stage as if from the past. But this recent project of ex-pro inline skater Ben Schwab is very much current – one of those acts at the Great Escape that bring the ‘in the know’s flocking. Man, this is gorgeous. Lauren Jean Anderson sings ‘Falls on Me’ like it’s straight out of Carole King’s songbook, while Schwab seems to conduct his band with the smile of a proud dad. JB

Dream Wife

Another band who definitely aren’t new at all make themselves look right at home at The Great Escape by showing a completely different side of themselves. Dream Wife are back in their old haunt (back when Chalk used to be called The Haunt…) but everything else feels different to the early Brighton shows the band cut their teeth on. Now three albums in, they’re still opening with ‘Hey Heartbreaker’ but the energy levels are taking them through the roof. What used to be dirty, angry, noisy punk now sounds like it belongs in a stadium – Rakel Mjöll almost bouncing off the sweaty ceiling as she turns ‘Leech’ into an empowerment chant (“have some f*cking empathy!”) that would have been heard clear over the South Downs. The floors of Chalk are sticky enough to weld a car to the spot, but there’s no chance of everyone not jumping. PB


There are big queues at Great Escape, there are really big queues, and then there’s “Steve Lamacq likes this band” sized queues. Sprints have been on steady rotation on BBC6 over the last few months – which means no one’s getting in. Anyone who does manage to squeeze into Patterns on Saturday afternoon found themselves pulled in closer by something even more magnetic – the sound of lighting breaking out of a bottle. The Dublin four-piece have been doing the garage post-punk thing that everyone’s been trying since Fontaines DC picked up where Savages left off, but they’re just doing it better – bringing wit and energy and warmth to a genre that’s often far too cold. PB


Sounds Australia feels like the festival’s stand-out international guest, with signage all over the city (although I can’t seem to find the once staple Aussie BBQ). Newcastle’s Vacations are one of the countries brightest Gen-Z sparks, who serve up a lovely slice of glittery bedroom pop that balances pleasingly with the grungey fuzz of Teen Jesus and the Jean Teasers before them. JB

Earlybird tickers for next year’s Great Escape festival are on sale now here.