The Great Escape 2022 made Brighton the new music capital of Europe

The new music extravaganza took control of the Sussex shoreline for a weekend of sun, sea and sound systems...

18.05.22 Words by: Billy Ward

Meandering through the narrow lanes of Brighton on Thursday morning, there’s a noticeably different feeling in the air – the seaside town is well-known for exploding into life the second the sun begins to beam down on the East Sussex shoreline. But despite the heatwave, it’s the sea of yellow lanyards around people’s necks that makes the day stand out as unique. Each year, thousands of artists and industry insiders flock to the coast for The Great Escape festival, hoping to stumble across some of the world’s best emerging music across a myriad of venues and live music spaces.

For a fresh crop of emerging talent coming up through the ranks, Europe’s biggest new music extravaganza taking control of Brighton for a weekend of sun, sea and sound systems proves the ideal backdrop to win over new fans and turn the heads of some of the industry’s heavy-hitters.

West Londoner Jelani Blackman‘s grime-heavy set jolts a subdued Thursday afternoon crowd into life as his self-confessed “good mood” spreads like a wildfire through Revenge. Cartwheeling from conversational to confrontational over his stripped-back, bass-boosted beats, the rapper isn’t phased by the lunchtime set time and takes no hesitation diving among the onlookers to make even the stiffest heads begin to bop. By the time Magi Merlin graces the stage at Patterns, the festival is getting into full swing and a lively audience respond enthusiastically to the Montreal-based singer’s edgy R&B-rap-rock fusion.

The Offie Mag showcase proves to be the place to be as evening creeps in, bringing some of the most exciting emerging names in UK rap downstairs in Patterns for a night any self-respecting fan of the scene would be annoyed to miss. Dréya Mac is quickly becoming one of the most talked about rappers in the game right now and has no trouble proving why her future looks so bright. Later on, Deema‘s cheeky wordplay and boyish charm brings the energy levels right back up. Halfway through his set, the basement venue has packed out to capacity and the South East London artist gives his all until the final verse ends.

Still flying high from 2021’s socially-conscious ‘Black on Black’ EP, Kam-BU brings the rave vibes to Thursday evening and stakes his claim as a future headliner – a non-stop frenzy of drum ‘n’ bass and rap his weapons of choice. BXKS takes no prisoners either, closing off the night with underground anthems like ‘Must Feel’ and testing out new release ‘Collateral Damage’ on the live circuit for the first time – the subsequent mosh pit a collective gesture of appreciation towards the high-flying Luton talent.

With some of the music industry’s most important figures in Brighton for the weekend, it would be a waste not to make use of it. Luckily, The Great Escape Conference has plenty on offer – including keynotes in conversations, panels and parties – to satisfy anyone who wishes to delve deeper into the culture of the music business (or to quickly grab a snack in-between gigs). Delegate Pass holders hurry around the seafront, dipping in and out of the Jury’s Inn Waterfront hotel where some of the Conference’s main events take place. Sandwiched in between two videography workshops about music marketing and the role of TikTok influencers in the current social media landscape, music PR legend Barbara Charone talks through some of her career highlights – and disasters – with journalist Jacqui Swift, ahead of the publication of her memoir ‘Access All Areas: A Backstage Pass Through 50 Years Of Music And Culture’.

The wide variety of venues on offer at The Great Escape makes exploring the iconic seaside town a joy. A trip down to the beach leads you to the doorsteps of two of Brighton’s most renowned clubs, The Arch and Coalition, the latter being where Bob Vylan’s politically-charged punk-rap fusion whips a sun-kissed crowd into a frenzy and later on the stage where elusive masked rapper Casisdead makes a rare live appearance. TGE Beach Stage and the Amazon New Music Stage take residence directly on the sea front playing host to emerging acts such as Sam Akpro and Alewya and local headliners Frankie Stew and Harvey Gunn.

Enigmatic up-and-comer Bad With Phones confesses his show at Casablanca holds the biggest audience he’s ever performed in front of. It’s hard to imagine this record lasting long, however, as the South East Londoner’s cross contamination of electronic beats, guitar and R&B seems destined for stages much greater than the low-ceiling basement of Brighton’s enclosed jazz bar. Elsewhere, experimental hip hop-rock collective Nukuluk make a splash with their synth-heavy, abrasive punk. Tems, Enny and Gabriels’ headline Spotlight Show at Brighton’s Dome venue is also a runaway highlight off the weekend, with the three high-flying artists and their live bands drawing in one of the biggest crowds of the festival.

Overall, the return of The Great Escape puts it in a strong position to dominate the emerging music festival circuit for years to come. Where the pandemic has made the transatlantic pilgrimage to similar industry festivals significantly less appealing, The Great Escape is more than happy to step in and take number 1 spot – with a sunny Brighton proving to be the perfect destination to kickstart festival season once and for all.

Read next: UK Focus: Beneath the surface of Brighton’s bustling underground rap scene

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