THE BEGINNING

You know the drill: Brighton, fish and chips, cans of lager and hundreds of new bands.

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The most important thing The Great Escape (TGE) has taught me is that you have to accept the things you can’t change; with 600+ acts vying for attention across the concert halls, nightclubs, churches, basements, apartments and back-alleys of Brighton, you can’t catch it all. So it’s perhaps best not to view this as a festival at all, but rather a choose-your-own-adventure, one that favours bold choices in a quest to slay the dreaded fear of missing out. Whether you’re awake, asleep, eating, drinking, queuing or walking between venues, there’s a band playing somewhere – probably a band you really wanted to see – so it’s best to just let the cultural tsunami sweep you along and move onto the next thing.

Anna Meredith gets proceedings going with an unexpectedly bonkers start. I don’t quite know what I was expecting. But it falls somewhere between Max Tundra and Elgar dropping pills and running through the countryside together and the results are raucous. It’s just what we needed to kick off the festival, before heading up to see the much lauded Frankie Cosmos, in the opulent Paganini Ballrooms.

Cosmos seems enthusiastic, if a little flat on record, but manages to fill the air with a huge sound, winning over a packed room over despite a few technical hitches. Brodka [top of the page], who also packs her venue, doesn’t feel like the winner of a TV talent show, but more like a melancholy chanteuse. But I’m reliably informed by the people next to me that she won season three of Poland’s Pop Idol; she’s more Lykke Li making gloomy lullabies than Michelle McManus, though, and it briefly makes me think of moving to central Europe, where even Pop Idol can produce something rather wonderful.

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Above: Sorry Boys

The Queens Hotel’s basement is probably more accustomed to hosting wedding receptions than industrial Finnish noise. But as K-X-P’s chilly electro-rock surges with dark energy, swirling in the void, it makes the gold-weaved net curtains and sprung dance floor take on an altogether more sinister tone. That intensity is counterbalanced by Mothers, who bring their bittersweet jangle to The Haunt on Friday afternoon, Kristine Leschper’s vocal filling the room with spectral yearning.

In complete contrast are Bristolian five-piece Idles, who take to the same grand Regency stage that Frankie Cosmos filled the previous day, unleashing one of the weekend’s highlights with their soaring post-punk fury. “Are we having a good time?” shouts the lead singer, to which the crowd hollers with affirmation: “Don’t do that… this isn’t fucking Butlins!”

Aside from a few bigger names spread across the weekend, such as Mystery Jets and Stormzy, at its heart TGE is all about the new and emerging music. And a huge part of that is represented by The Alternative Escape; a sort of festival within the festival where blogs and labels take over pubs to present up-and-coming artists.

The nature of the Alternative Escape means you might see a lot of acts, but you’ll probably never find out who they are. Some may be tremendous, other not so much, some signed, others not: but they’ll fill your head with music as you wander the streets or step off a side-road for a quick refreshment. The Mucky Duck is a particularly good place for this, which apart from being rammed to the rafters is playing host to Swimming Tapes, who soothe us after Idles’ wholesomely abrasive rawk; their dreamlike lilt and Smiths-esque jangles taking us into the night on a high.

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Above: Partybaby

The Big Moon are then one of the most impressive acts on the final day. It’s all big, brash summer sounds which, while coming over as a little La Sera-lite on record, feel alive this weekend. The single ‘Cupid’ takes on a brilliant rancorous anger, while their exuberant cover of Madonna’s ‘Beautiful Stranger’ erases all memories of its association with Austin Powers.

To dilute all the guitar rock on the menu, it’s back towards the seafront for South London rapper Cadet and a scrappy show, pulled together in front of a tiny crowd. But an enthusiastic audience, a touching story about his father – which ends with him having to restart a song three times to hold back tears – and a grime banger before we leave means it’s huge smiles all round. That smile is somewhat diminished by the hyped Sorry Boys. It’s the kind of maximalist pop designed to drift across open fields, not rattle around an airless club’s basement, and despite a spirited performance from their lead singer, they can’t really live up to the acclaim.

Californian pop-punk quartet Partybaby are playing their first gig in the UK, and from their enthusiasm you’d think they’d sold out Brixton Academy. They haven’t – they’re in a shabby pub at the end of the pier with bad lager and amazing views. Confidence can carry you a long way, though, and they bring sunny west-coast songs about young love and running away from home to a frenzied crowd.

Of course, there were countless bands I didn’t see. The democracy of a festival like TGE means that even with a press pass you can’t just swan through the door, and by the Saturday local people have woken up to the idea that their whole city is now a festival so NZCA Lines, SG Lewis and Teleman all have queues round the block while 808Ink and and Oliver Coates prove logistically impossible to make. But you can’t be upset about these things because that’s the charm of TGE – it’s not about who you missed, it’s about enveloping yourself with a collective passion for music, and the experience is like few other festivals in the UK.