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Opinion Discordant notes on a south-coast shindig

AP CHILDS goes behind the scenes of The Great Escape music festival and unearths some negative developments for DIY music

SHOWCASING over 400 up-and-coming rock and pop talent from all over the world across 35 venues in Brighton in early May, the Great Escape Festival (TGE) is some event and this year — its 14th — was no exception.

In addition to punters on the look-out for the next big thing, TGE provokes an annual stampede of music-industry types deep behind the south-coast shoreline.

In 2015, promoter giant Live Nation acquired MAMA, the parent company of TGE, and since then the event’s flown to even dizzier heights, attracting more than 3,000 industry delegates alone to Brighton and Hove.

But has the success of the event and an ever-swelling off-schedule programme revealed a darker side to what is widely acknowledged in industry circles to be Britain’s, if not Europe’s, leading music beano?

This year many of the independent promoters and labels that make this part of the south coast their home for several days have been frozen out of participating within the warmer, more spring-like confines of the main event. They’ve been forced to go it alone in finding new partner venues to keep them involved with the busy annual fest.

In recent years, a promising and varied “off-schedule” programme has emerged, which has absorbed not only acts booked onto the main TGE schedule who are looking for additional shows but also those not selected for it.

Some years back, TGE took control of any such peripheral activity by devising the Alternative Escape (Alt-Escape) platform, widely regarded as an entry-level doorway for an artist to come and showcase and then hopefully return to the main event in future years to perform on a more official level. Its success is fair reflection of an appeal that goes beyond the main programme.

Independent promoters, agents and labels pay TGE up to £1,250 to obtain a venue to host a series of showcases in the afternoon and evening — up to 10 acts a day. The cost covers venue hire, front-of- house, technical support and promotional advertising across TGE’s platforms.

On the face of it, in terms of marketing spend on a promotional vehicle, it’s a good mechanism for the average independent company to shop-front its artists.

But the issue this year is that where once TGE allowed, or at least looked the other way, when those involved with running Alt-Escape shows brought on commercial partners or sponsors as a way of coping with some or all of the cost, TGE this month refused those wanting to organise an Alt-Escape show the freedom to deal with commercial partners and tie-ups, however small and unassuming.

The centrally located Black Lion pub was formerly a registered Alt-Escape venue but this year it independently partnered up with London-based promoter Kick Out the Jams to host three days of solid showcasing. Among others, it was one of the go-to “rebel” events in Brighton.

Calling itself The Brighton Mix-UP and organised by industry veteran Roger Kent, all the acts performing, apart from the unsigned Saint Agnes, did not feature in the main event’s programme.

“Saint Agnes could only play if they were anonymously billed as special guest,” he says. “Threats of expulsion from the main event by The Great Escape forced two other acts I had booked for the Mix-UP to pull out.

“Understandable, as young artists don’t want to rock the boat in such a highly competitive market place. And TGE is an event to be seen at.”

Initiatives like Kent’s are great news for DIY culture within the music industry, especially for artists not on The Great Escape, let alone Alt-Escape, programmes. And they’re great news for the pubs and drinking establishments in the Brighton area, of which it’s said that there is one for every day of the year.

But the question remains as to whether despite the success of its core event, TGE is perhaps becoming a victim of its own success and its crackdown on peripheral activity might be a case of shooting itself in the foot.

Maybe next year things will be different.

 

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