Believe it or not, the Royal Wedding was not the most exciting thing to happen in the United Kingdom this weekend; it was Great Escape. For the uninitiated, the Great Escape is basically a British SXSW with fewer grackles and BBQ, more seagulls and “chips,” Ss where Zs should be, and the word “literally” pronounced with three syllables instead of four. Vinyl Me, Please trekked our American selves across the pond all the way to Brighton, a picturesque seaside town, for three days of showcases of the most up-and-coming artists on the scene right now.
‘Tis the season for summer restlessness, which can only be quelled by an impulsive alternative haircut or truckloads of good new music. To save you a bit of money and potential social ridicule because “it looked good on Cara Delevingne or whatever,” we watched carefully for the latest and greatest artists to turn your ears to next time they come through your neck of the woods.
You ever hear someone’s voice on their recorded tracks and it’s gorgeous, but you see them live and think “there’s literally no possible way a person can sound this good, how are we even the same species?” That was Poppy Ajudha. Her release from earlier this year, Femme EP, is a careful R&B reinvention — a bit jazzy, a bit pop-y, sparse where it needs to be and intricate where it fits. It’s even got a feature from another TGE highlight Kojey Radical. And on stage? Simply put, the South London singer’s got chops on chops, and displayed the kind of comfort on stage that listeners can find in her warm, dreamy, honey-smooth R&B.
I went blindly into a venue having never heard of London artist Jacob Allen, aka Puma Blue, but found myself slack-jawed in the front row. The band was a radiator of casual sensuality and was so tight, they felt like one big moving organism. And the sax solos! Don’t get me started on the sax solos. Their show was enough to use a chunk of precious international data to download last year’s Swum Baby EP, which has quickly become my close travel companion. It’s muggy, moody and sexy like the month of August, and the perfect jazzy, lip-biting lo-fi R&B.
“ICY GIRL” is a fun as hell Certified Bad Bitch Anthem, so naturally, I was stoked to see Cali rapper Saweetie. While I had some complaints about the audience’s lack of ability to turn up during her set like she deserved, her DJ/hype woman and two backup dancers made up for the energy void and then some. Seeing her perform had me convinced she’s far beyond a one-hit wonder and far bigger than a little festival stage. We’ve got our eyes and ears on Saweetie, and you should too.
Kwadwo Adu Genfi Amponsah, British-Ghanian rapper and poet know as Kojey Radical, was my weekend highlight. Like Saweetie, he had the challenge of playing to a somewhat older crowd of too-cool-for-school industry professionals, and he still absolutely demolished. With a vat of charm, a booming-yet-gravel-y voice, machine-gun-fast bars for days, and an absolute Look (complete with a black Stüssy beret), the London rapper probably could’ve held my attention for the entire 80 hours we were in Brighton. And to top it all off, he brought out the unique voice of fellow Londoner and singer Mahalia — yet another artist who should become a staple in your rotation.
There’s no denying the indie R&B wave is in full force and not going anywhere for the foreseeable future. No complaints here, of course, but a certain amount of saturation at the moment means you’ve got to have something special. Cue George van den Broek, the 19-year-old Surrey man behind Yellow Days. Broek’s voice has the necessary buttery richness for R&B vocals, covered in sandy, King Krule-esque gloss. Their live show had me torn between crying and thinking about making out all night long, which is the perfect mood for your summer, if you ask me.
OK OK, we know, you get it: VMP hearts Suzi Wu. We’ve made that pretty clear, but we can’t really say it enough. There’s no way in hell we’d go all the way to her home country and not catch a set from the young cyber punk rock god of the free world. Since performing at our rising showcase at SXSW in March, she’s signed to Def Jam and been in the studio recording, and she brought some new material to her TGE set. Let’s just say, it was a treat, and if you need us we’ll be over here wringing our hands in anticipation of a new release. Luv u, Suzi.
As a phone-junkie child with the attention span of a gnat, there’s nothing I hate more than waiting in line — and boy, was it a long line — but I can confidently say Bodega’s set was worth it. Now, I’m no meteorologist, but the Brooklyn post-punk band, and the most energetic audience I encountered our entire time at TGE, shook the venue’s floor so hard that I’m certain we registered on the Richter scale. Seeing as we’re approaching the season of being handed an aux chord in a car with windows down, Bodega’s the most on-point new post-punk choice.
Amileah Sutliff is a New York-based writer, editor and creative producer and an editor of the book The Best Record Stores in the United States.
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