Live Review

Big Special, JayaHadADream, The New Eves & more: DIY’s highlights from across Brighton and The Great Escape 2024

16th - 18th May 2024

Here, we focus on the best new acts we saw across the seaside town this weekend; whether at official Great Escape showcases, or unaffiliated events.

It’s been a contentious and debate-provoking start to 2024’s festival season. Back in March, SXSW was subject to mass boycotts over its sponsorship ties with the US Army, while in the months since, the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) campaign has focussed its attention on Brighton’s The Great Escape due to their affiliation with Barclays and claims they have “financial ties to companies producing weapons and military technology used in Israel’s attacks on Palestinians”.

While the annual new band festival still took place over the weekend with many artists choosing to continue in their booked slots, others including SOFT PLAY, Lambrini Girls, Alfie Templeman and more opted not to play at all. A proactive new strand of unaffiliated showcases hastily emerged, meanwhile, popping up in venues and bars to host artists outside the banner of the main festival.

It’s with this spirit in mind that we look toward the brilliant artists that we saw across all the venues in Brighton - both official and unaffiliated. Whilst the presence of the debate is not to be overlooked, as a publication trying to shine a spotlight on emerging talents and uplift them wherever possible, we’re also choosing to focus on the quality of music that made its way throughout the city over these three days: a sky high bar that’s thoroughly deserving of your ears. Here was the best of it.

Highlights from across Brighton and The Great Escape 2024

Bringing the party to a free all-dayer at Unbarred Brewery Taproom, Cosmorat made the not-inconsiderable trek from the seafront to the top of Brighton well worth any punter’s while. Frontperson Taylor Pollock’s bouncing, Duracell-bunny energy is infectious, her seeming nonchalance belying the band’s considerable command of ripping riffs, drum pad wizardry, and a smorgasbord of vocal styles (guitarist Olly Liu’s wild yelps and impressive falsetto are the perfect foil to Pollock’s sucker-punch, emotive delivery). For an outfit who could reasonably still be finding their groove - their debut EP ‘Evil Adjacent’ landed just two months ago - Cosmorat’s sheer range is remarkable. 

Down on the beach, Cambridge-via-Nottingham rapper and sometime singer JayaHadADream takes to the sunny Pirate Studios stage with all the understated swagger you’d expect from someone who has just won the Glastonbury 2024 Emerging Talent competition. Though the open-air set-up means she can’t conduct the crowd at such close quarters, Jaya’s tight, witty, cooly confident flow is testament to the fact that she’s done the rounds of regional venues, festivals, and radio studios - as long as there’s a mic, she’s at home. She’s resolute about honouring her working class, Jamaican-Irish roots, but there’s also a sense of playfulness to proceedings; ‘Butthurt Men’, a track performed over a different backing each show, is this time aired via a gun-finger grime beat, while latest drop ‘Twiggy’ features choice references to (among other things) Patrick Bateman, veganism, and the iconic ‘60s model. Offsetting the moments of braggadocio with powerful bars about overcoming adversity and hard-won self-belief, Jaya seems to be well and truly warmed up for the big one at Worthy Farm next month. 

Despite only recently dropping their inaugural project (the aptly titled ‘VOLUME 1’), genre-fusing producer/vocalist duo MRCY (pronounced ‘mercy’) have clearly sparked widespread intrigue. The queue outside Komedia’s basement snakes a decent way down the road, giving people ample time to clock the ‘Free Palestine’ poster displayed in the residential window opposite, and, once inside, the pair provide another reminder of the shadow hanging over this year’s festival: “fuck Barclays - cancel your bank accounts”. Between the soul-psych stylings of debut single ‘Lorelei’, the Afrobeat-inspired rhythms of follow-up ‘Flowers In Mourning’, and the accents of experimental jazz which pepper the set, MRCY prove themselves masters at merging history and geography to imbue classic styles with stunning heart and decidedly contemporary flair.

La Sécurité
Things might’ve gotten off to a rather soggy start in Brighton, but by the time that Montréal band La Sécurité take to the stage upstairs at Patterns, they’ve managed to coax out the sunshine. Performing first on M For Montreal’s takeover of the venue, it might be early when they hit the stage but the quintet’s angular sonic wares are greeted by an already packed-out room. Dipping into a danceable melding pot of infectious new wave rhythms, gnarly guitars and bilingual lyricism, their eclectic brand of art-punk - as showcased in their 2023 debut ‘Stay Safe!’ - provides a giddily satisfying start to the day. 

Highlights from across Brighton and The Great Escape 2024 Highlights from across Brighton and The Great Escape 2024 Highlights from across Brighton and The Great Escape 2024 Highlights from across Brighton and The Great Escape 2024

It might be a fairly spontaneous unofficial show, but word has clearly spread about Fräulein’s set at The Mesmerist. People are shoulder-to-shoulder from the back bar to the intimate stage (more of a plinth, really - that a whole drum kit can fit on it is a wonder in itself), with innovative crowd members even seating themselves along the windowsill to get a better view. And it’s not hard to understand why; the Irish/Dutch duo are unlike anyone else we heard this weekend - though they earn comparisons to ‘90s figureheads like PJ Harvey and The Breeders, Joni Samuels and Karsten van der Tol equally possess the dynamic range and melodic softer edges of more modern outfits, akin to early Wolf Alice. Live, there’s a special, White Stripes-like magic that comes from their partnership too; the fullness of sound is such that you almost forget there are only two people on stage, and the result is so much more than the sum of its parts. 

Big Special
For those making the jaunt down the pier to Horatio’s on Friday evening, prompt arrival is very much the name of the game. A queue scores-deep extends across the decking in anticipation of BIG SPECIAL - the Midlands duo who, amidst the many artists pulling out pre-festival, shared a considered statement outlining why they would be going ahead with playing their scheduled slot (and donating their performance fee to Palestine Children’s Relief Fund). Greeting the heaving venue with a tip of his cowboy hat, vocalist Joe Hicklin cuts a commanding figure as he strides around the stage, turning to bandmate and drummer Callum Moloney to faux-conduct the intro of acerbic debut album cut, ‘SHITHOUSE’. But as heavy on abrasion and bone-shaking bass as the set is - a sense of galvanising frustration is what the pair deal in best, after all - it’s also full of heart. And as Hicklin gets up onto his monitor, hanging on a loose rope from the venue’s nautical-themed ceiling while the crowd hang off his every word, there’s no doubting that BIG SPECIAL are living up to their name. 

Ellie Bleach
Southend-born Ellie Bleach deals in the sort of witty, narrative-driven piano melodrama that made Matt Maltese’s early work so immediately compelling. Recent EP ‘Leaving West Feldwood’ set itself in a noirish fictional town full of choice characters, and while her on stage set up - a fully fleshed-out gang of five - resembles more of a traditional indie band, there’s no doubt that Bleach’s wry tales and performative flourishes are the focus. In a mid-afternoon pub set at The Hope and Ruin, she’s magnetic; put her in her natural setting (jazz bar, candles, velvet), and she’ll be a star.

Highlights from across Brighton and The Great Escape 2024 Highlights from across Brighton and The Great Escape 2024 Highlights from across Brighton and The Great Escape 2024 Highlights from across Brighton and The Great Escape 2024

Antony Szmierek 
That Manchester’s Antony Szmierek walks onstage to Robert Miles’ trance classic ‘Children’, greeting the crowd as if he were playing the Haçienda, not Horatio’s, is an apt encapsulation of the roof-raising performance that follows. The former teacher turned club-ready poet opens with fan favourite ‘The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Fallacy’ - a cut often saved for his sets’ closing moments, but, as he caveats: “We’ve only got half an hour; we’re in international waters; anything goes.” Spending more time balanced on his monitor than he does with two feet on the ground, Szmierek has the adoring crowd utterly in the palm of his hand, taking us from heady euphoria (a cracking cover of Happy Mondays’ ‘Step On’) to tender reflection with ease. (No audience can be as daunting as a class of uninterested Year 10s, after all). He ends, as is his custom, with ‘The Words To Auld Lang Syne’, its sentiment of interpersonal connection feeling all the more poignant this weekend. As he says: “big respect to everyone who didn’t make it; big respect to everyone who did”. 

The New Eves
Across a weekend of eclectic talent, there’s no one that sounds even remotely like The New Eves. A quartet that would find a natural home amongst the heady pagan mysticism of Glastonbury’s Stone Circle, they come armed with, among other instruments, a cello and accordion; musically, they’re somewhere between a psych wig-out, a trad folk jam, and a four-part chanty summoning. As an all-female four-piece that probably own a fair amount of lace and paisley in their wardrobes, inevitably various industry bigwigs will be trying to turn them into the new Last Dinner Party. Ignore those guys: The New Eves are entirely their own thing and all the better for it.

Depresión Sonora
While the name of Marcos Crespo’s solo project might translate to the rather bold moniker of ‘depression sound’, his appearance at Horatio’s on Friday afternoon - as part of the second Spanish Wave showcase of the festival - is decidedly more buoyant than the name would have you believe. Bolstered by lilting guitars and bright synths, Depresión Sonora might tackle some of the darker subjects of life within Marcos’ lyrics (his 2022 debut was titled ‘The Art of Dying Slowly’ after all), but his sonics tell a much more vivid, vibrant story.

Highlights from across Brighton and The Great Escape 2024

Thursday night’s de-facto headline slot falls into the hands of Wunderhorse who, having announced second album ‘Midas’ earlier the same day, use their return to the festival to rip into a set majority-filled with new wares. Of course, Jacob Slater and co are further on in the game than most this weekend. But it’s nonetheless notable just how viscerally massive they sound these days - Slater’s ragged vocals unleashing like a young British Kurt Cobain (not a comparison we use lightly) as the janky guitar stabs that open new single ‘July’ give into gargantuan sledgehammers of noise. Old favourite ‘Teal’ is a reminder of how gut-wrenching Slater’s storytelling can be at its best but, gauging by tonight, Wunderhorse mk II is set to be a gnarlier beast.

Jacob Alon
With no released music to his name, Scottish singer-songwriter Jacob Alon is the definition of a festival wildcard that comes up trumps. Playing up at the altar of the One Church, there’s a tenderness and fragility to their wares - something akin to the heartbreaking delicacy of early Perfume Genius - that entirely suits a setting such as this. And when they take a portion of the set to explain their decision to play despite the boycott, using the platform as an entirely new artist to read out stats and facts about the war, it’s a fittingly thoughtful way to address the situation from a musician for whom compassion is clearly key. Later, we hear that Alon is working with Speedy Wunderground’s Dan Carey on their debut - an unexpected choice for the post-punk figurehead, but proof that the singer’s talents are hard to ignore.

While venturing downstairs at new venue DUST reasonably early on Friday feels more akin to wading into a swimming baths - thanks to a heady mix of humidity and cleaning products - that’s not enough to stop the full room embracing the day’s BIMM University showcase. Led by opening act Emileo, an alumnus from BIMM’s Dublin campus, her woozy brand of electronica provides an intoxicating introduction to proceedings. Just days on from the release of her EP ‘A Thief of Mother's Milk’, her darkly pulsating offerings sound even fuller on the live stage, with her standout track ‘Marrakesh (sanctuary)’ transporting the audience straight to the Moroccan medina in an instant. 

Highlights from across Brighton and The Great Escape 2024 Highlights from across Brighton and The Great Escape 2024 Highlights from across Brighton and The Great Escape 2024

Sailor Honeymoon
Packing the Green Door Store out way past its titular barrier, Korean garage punk trio Sailor Honeymoon deal in the sort of fuzzy, lo-fi riffs that are part riot grrl, part Ramones; purposefully scrappy, often simple, but delivered with the sort of band-as-a-gang attitude that will never not appeal. Early single ‘Cockroach’, with its tongue-in-cheek spoken word verses and two-chord, deadpan chorus, remains a highlight.

The rise and rise of Belfast trio Kneecap has been one of the last year’s most delightfully disruptive narratives; as they take to Chalk for a much-anticipated Friday night turn, they’re simultaneously awaiting the release of a Sundance Film Festival award-winning biopic, and the results of a lawsuit against the British government. It’s a backdrop that’s made forthcoming album ‘Fine Art’ all the more talked-about, but live, the trio remain a whirlwind of drug-referencing, party-starting abandon: you can’t spell hype without an E, after all. Like an unfiltered, Northern Irish Beastie Boys, you can take Kneecap purely on the level of anarchic musical fun - of which there is much to be had - but the group are as much about the politics as the pingers. In truth, we’d expected some sort of incendiary protesting display. We get an actually quite reasonable speech (“We live in Northern Ireland which is still occupied, and so is Palestine…”); maybe Kneecap aren’t all about the shock factor.

Highlights from across Brighton and The Great Escape 2024
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