The Great Escape Festival has earned its reputation as the UK’s answer to SXSW, with eight years of heavy focus on new bands, undiscovered talent and live music in its soul. With the city of Brighton as its nest, it’s a festival not just for festival lovers, but a celebration of new live music for the regular gig goers. Adam Ryan has taken up the difficult task of festival booker for this year’s Great Escape. How hard can it be? FM caught up with the man to discover just how hard the role is, how to compete with ‘those fields’, the importance of Brighton and what advice he has for those heading to the seaside this month.
How do you decide who to book and how do you go about discovering new bands?
Getting out and watching as much live music as possible is key but speaking with other industry folk and keeping an ear to the ground are also important parts of the job.
How does the Great Escape differ from a traditional field festival when it comes to catering for festival goers, and what have you got in store for them this year?
Brighton lends itself perfectly to a city based event. Loads of venues in close distant from one another. No mud and then there’s the sea. The Great Escape’s main focus is showcasing new talent which most traditional festivals don’t do – they are more concerned with the bigger acts that will sell tickets. This year we have a few surprises – we are taking over Brighton museum on the Saturday and programming artists in there. As well as this we are using St Bartholomew’s Church for the first year which is an amazing space modelled on Noah’s Arch.
What do you think about the current health of the UK festival industry?
It’s always going to be hard in a recession because people are a lot more savvy with their cash and want more than just some bands in a field and an over cooked burger. This has forced festival bookers to come up with more exciting ways to get people through the gates which has got to be a good thing right? So the festivals that are successes are the ones offering great food, unique locations and then a great line up.
What do you think the importance is over The Great Escape than that of the traditional field based festival?
Focusing on emerging talent. We also have a conference that runs during the day with key industry figures – this year’s convention line-up includes a DIY Panel with Billy Bragg, an ‘In Conversation’ talk between XFM DJ John Kennedy and Everything Everything which should be great, as well as this Stephen Godfroy co-founder of Rough Trade will talk about the future of music retail. Definitely worth checking out.
Do you think festivals such as The Great Escape do more for the live music community?
Around 3000 of the 16,000 that attend The Great Escape are delegates from over 30 different countries – these are made up of booking agents, managers, festival bookers, promoters and a load of other people that work in the industry. Playing The Great Escape is a great platform to get exposure to these people, so yeah I would say we definately do a lot of the live music community.
Do you have any tips for fans as to how to tackle the festival?
Don’t start drinking at midday. If there is an act you really want to see turn up 30 mins before to make sure you get in. Download the TGE App to your phone. All good tips. My mum also used to tell me to be safe whenever I left the house as a kid – I think that’s pretty good advice.
How important is Brighton as a location?
From an industry point of view its key. I don’t think TGE would work if it was in London. Too much of the music industry is based there and by getting people to step outside of the capital I think it can put people in a different mind frame. From a punter point of view, what better place is there to hold a multi venue city based festival than in a Great British seaside town?
Are there any bands that you’re particularly excited to have booked?
Looking forward to Chris Cohen, Title Fight, Chloe Howl and Superfood to name a few.
How soon after each Great Escape does work begin on the next?
This is my first year booking the event, a process which I started around the start November. The rest of the year is spent promoting bands I work with and travelling to events to catch as many live bands as possible. It’s important to get to other countries and see what’s happening there so when I come to booking The Great Escape I am able to have an informed opinion.
Is there anything you’d really like to get across about The Great Escape?
Tickets are nearly sold out so hurry up and buy one!
With scores of festival goers losing faith in the headline whoring festivals, many are seeking music’s live roots within their festival ticket purchase. Underestimated and overlooked, the importance of The Great Escape after eight years still isn’t as congratulated as it should be. For those who can’t afford the flight to Austin for SXSW, Brighton is certainly a more affordable, yet as much an endearingly wild eyed alternative. We all have a disposition for screaming our fuelled lungs off to favoured headliners, and those bands that grace the charts. But every band starts somewhere; mostly where ones feet stick to the floor and still lack nihilistic narcissism. The city based festival is a different beast to that of the field based, but you’ll quickly notice and consume the irrepressible festival spirit, despite the lack of mud.
Not only will you feel a part of something but you’ll discover your favourite band before you may have, or even ever would have. The festival respectfully provides few household names and instead opts for a cross section of those who can barely afford an amp. Those with their ear to the ground will know just how good this line up is, and those that don’t will get more than just rock from their trip to Brighton. And it’s not just amp fuelled goodness being shot through your ear drums; talks and panel discussions from some established names are ready to offer you an education on the state of music.
At some point at a festival you’ll have recommended bands or provided your preferred line up to your friends because you saw a bands first gig at your blah… blah… blah. You’re labelled a music snob, as everyone’s just there to have fun and are shot down like the bastard you are. Quite right; don’t be one those arseholes. It’s an easy mistake to make. However my friend, we understand you are a new band / live music purist and Christ is this a festival for you. See you in Brighton.
The Great Escape takes place at various venues across Brighton and Hove from Thursday 16th to Saturday 18th May. For more information and tickets click here.