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Finding escapism

NXT Features
10 March 2018
Adam Ryan
The Great Escape has become as important a hub for networking as it has for performing. Rob Sandall finds out what to expect this year.

 

The Great Escape has since 2006 carved out a reputation as one of the most vital networking and showcase events in the UK music calendar, attracting delegates from not only across the country but the wider world.

Its popularity can be attributed to the notably compact nature of the event, taking over numerous venues across Brighton and making use of the city’s streets, open spaces and more unusual locations to house as many as 450 acts.

Up until now, that ambition has stopped short of the actual coastline, but booker Adam Ryan reveals that for 2018, change is coming.

“This year, things are a little different, in that we’ve decided to expand onto the beach itself,” he says.

“Essentially we’re building a semi-permanent structure that will house a 300-capacity venue and a 70-capacity venue under its roof, along with a bar, as a new way for the crowds to enjoy acts at the festival.

“It’s giving us that extra room in a controllable environment, so we can make use of the beach while keeping the experience and the sound quality to the right standards.”

Ryan notes that several newly-emboldened genres will make significant changes to the lineup this year, with additional interest in regions outside of the capital.

“We’ve always booked acts to try and represent the broad spread of acts in the UK music scene, and this year there’s a prominent focus on jazz – there’s a growing number of acts in that genre so they’ll feature quite heavily.

“Then there’s our separately-ticketed event, which is the only one we’re doing [as opposed to three last year] that’s built around the UK hiphop and afrobeat scene.

“We’ve been making a point of looking outside London for some of the acts involved in that, too – we’re conscious of the fact that showcases can sometimes be a bit capital-centric and want to make sure we’re representing the entire country.

“Because we always have roughly the same number of acts, it means that those more ‘traditional’ rock and indie artistes will still feature, but if anything will just be further refined in terms of quality.”

Lucas Barham

Freedom to network

Martin Elbourne, co-founder and creative director of TGE, echoes the importance of the quality-over-quantity approach.

“It was about five years ago that we became aware that trying to expand too much would take away the atmosphere we’ve built,” he says.

“You look to the sheer size of events like SXSW, and that’s not the sort of approach that the industry comes to TGE for – we’re much more compact.

“Brighton is extremely walkable, for one thing, so you can actually get between venues incredibly quickly, and because it’s a city that’s busy all year round, it has the hotels and the infrastructure to support the entire industry and the festival goers appearing for a weekend.”

Elbourne adds that the emphasis on networking at the event has come about naturally, largely due to what began as oddly awkward scheduling.

“To be honest, a May event means we’re at exactly the wrong time of year in regards to booking acts – it’s too late for the festivals, in particular,” he says.

“But it means that our visitors can generally focus on networking. There’s time and room to talk to everyone you need to see, and we’re seeing increasing numbers of American and Australian delegates heading to TGE, then into London to meet with colleagues, then flying home.

“It’s a very good opportunity to make connections and you’re still in a small enough area that you can take random walks throughout the weekend, like I do, and catch a huge range of different acts.”

Martin Elbourne

A real chance

Sean Stevens of Kobalt – an online platform for artistes including digital distribution service AWAL partnering with TGE – says that the event will be a good chance not only for artistes to gain exposure, but to learn more about the industry.

“We believe strongly in education for artistes as we know that the better informed they are, the better decisions they’ll then make about their careers going forward,” he says.

“Kobalt’s founder and CEO, Willard Ahdritz will be giving a keynote presentation, and other Kobalt and AWAL executives will be participating in panels aimed at helping independent artistes in today’s new music economy.

“For us, it’s also a great chance to meet and talk to artistes who are interested in our services as well as hear AWAL members who are performing – there’ll be a showcase of our acts.

“In general, TGE is a great opportunity for independent artistes to be in front of a lot of agents, promoters and festival bookers as well as media and industry people.”

For those acts hoping to catch the eye of delegates while they talk the talk, it’s helpful to have already built a reputation. Luke Barham, owner of indie record label Super Fan 99, notes that scouting out acts is usually a premeditated affair, but adds that despite the city-wide takeover by TGE, it’s always worth keeping an eye on events going on outside of the core festival.

“I’d usually know in advance who I’m going to see, having already been a fan or been keeping tabs on acts,” he says.

“I’ll also be going to alternate escape shows which often have a more lively crowd as they’re put on by DIY promoters or labels. It’s where you’ll tend to find bands that might be a little more raw but often have a ton more enthusiasm.”

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