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The Great Escape 2023: Youth Music NextGen Highlights

NextGen Artist Sam Akpro performing on stage with his band

Words: Sophia Metliss | Photography: Saskia Morley-Sage

The highly anticipated music festival, The Great Escape, kicked off in Brighton last week on Wednesday 13 May, and I couldn’t be more ecstatic. I was given the task of watching and reviewing seven different bands and artists from the Youth Music NextGen Community. In total, I walked fifty thousand steps and had an absolute blast!

Spanning four days and 35 venues, 500 emerging artists from around the world descend on Brighton and Hove each May to showcase their sounds. It’s the ultimate festival to discover new music.

Lemonade Shoelace

To kick off The Great Escape, I was sent to the Queen’s Hotel on the seafront to watch Irish musician and Youth Music One to Watch for 2023, Lemonade Shoelace. What a cool name! NextGen grantee Ruairi Richardson and his four-piece band travelled all the way from Belfast on their tour to perform a juicy burst of indie-twang-psychedelic-groove. Donning a red Thrasher hoodie, checked trousers, and white-rimmed round sunglasses, I remember just thinking, “Damn, that’s a rad outfit combo if I’ve ever seen one”.

Lemonade Shoelace’s 30-minute set was filled with bright tones and nostalgic 80s synth sounds, and included his recent single ‘I Think My Heart Is Set On You’. I particularly enjoyed the trippy EP artwork that Ruairi had created himself.

Sans Soucis

Next up, we made our way to Patterns to watch Sans Soucis (pronounced “Sans Soo-See”), an Italian-Congolese artist, songwriter, and producer living in London who commanded the room with her incredible voice.

Though there were some technical difficulties that delayed the start time, straight away I was enamoured by her stage presence, and she had the rest of the crowd fixed on her too.

Her music is perfect for the summer; Patterns looks out to the seafront and you could feel the warm breeze escape through the open doors. Her new single, ‘I Know Your Present’ is such a fun dance track that I will definitely be playing this summer.

Sam Akpro

Sam Akpro and his talented band brought crankwave and post-punk revival to the Komedia Basement.

The venue was on the larger side, and they had no problem filling out the space with fans. Deep synths, slap bass, and warped-grungy tones accompanied Sam’s voice in the performance. The whole stage was just packed with energy. ‘Juno’ caught my attention specifically because you could hear the passion in Sam’s voice, filled with emotional purpose.

I met him and the band after their set, and they had a super fun and friendly presence to them. His new EP, ‘Arrival’ came out last month, so be sure to check it out!

Katy Alex

To end my Thursday night, I went to the Prince Albert to catch Katy Alex. She’s an artist from Liverpool with 350,000 listeners on Spotify. I was welcomed with a glowstick at the door to get me ready for a fun night of pop music. While she was dancing, the layered tulle of her pink trousers flowed with her.

Katy's music enlightened our spirits with sparkly synths, and her beautiful voice took the audience on a wonderful journey with her love and energy. The whole set was really special.

Jessie Marcella

The following day, I’m tired after walking twenty thousand steps the day before but still feeling fresh faced! Before I could process any of the craziness of yesterday’s antics, I was out the door and heading to The Hope and Ruin.

My first act of the day was Jessie Marcella, a producer and composer from Leeds who won the Music Producer Award at the Youth Music Awards 2022.

Jessie was an absolute delight to watch and listen to. Bringing in ethereal frequencies of all kinds, she captivated the audience with an ambient introduction; soothing synths easing us into the performance. I was in a trance with her, as was the crowd. In the 30-minute set, we transcended into spacey melodies. I especially loved the sounds of nature that quietly played in the background of her music; it was like honey pouring into your ear.

Luke RV

One Church was next on the list to see Welsh rapper Luke RV at Showcase Cymru.

Exuding an upbeat attitude, Luke’s crowd engagement made everyone feel welcome. His music and lyricism are super fun, for example his single ‘LONG TERM PARKING’ was inspired by the iconic television series ‘The Sopranos'.

Another of Youth Music’s Ones to Watch for 2023, Luke chatted with the crowd between each track, riffing with certain audience members and mentioning it was his first time in Brighton. Towards the end of his show, he even teased a super catchy forthcoming single.

English Teacher

Rounding out the series of NextGen artist gigs was English Teacher, who brought a post-punk revival to Fabrica.

It was a little hard to get in considering the queue was as long as the road, but it was all worth it for the punchy tunes. Lead singer Lily Fontaine has an excellent, powerful voice, and you can hear her passion through the lyrics. I liked their true Gen-Z noise with the dark and groovy bass lines that complimented their songs.

The band have rapidly grown in popularity, and even won Rising Star Award (Artist) at the Youth Music Awards last year.

I had such a jam-packed Great Escape, jumping from venue to venue to catch each artist. There was a buoyant vibe in the air and it felt special to watch such a variety of musical acts before they hit the big time.

This feature was written and shot by two young creatives from the Youth Music NextGen Community.

Learn more about the Youth Music NextGen Fund here.

Find out more about The Great Escape Festival here.