• Elise Damême

INTERVIEW: Adam Ryan, Head of Music, The Great Escape Festival (Brighton,UK)

Updated: Nov 1, 2021

Editor's Note: Sadly there won't be any wandering around the Brighton streets this May, traditionally fighting for our fish & chips with seagulls on the south coast of England and going from venues to venues looking for the next best act from England and beyond. But all is not lost as The Great Escape, the famous festival for new music, will be held online for the first time. From the 12th to the 15th May, expect your usual packed programmes of conference but from the comfort on your own home, while there will be two days of free showcases to stream online on the 13th and 14th. This year’s line-up of 68 talents includes punk powerhouse Chubby and the Gang, technicolour pop visionary Pyra, rising rap star Goya Gumbani, Spanish alt-rockers Belako and many more.

We asked The Great Escape's Head of Music Adam Ryan how he got this sweet gig, what his tips on booking an online event were, and who we should pay close attention from the line-up this year.

Thanks Adam!

1.Hi Adam, thank you for taking the time to talk to us! You are the music programmer for The Great Escape, UK’s best festival for new music, based in Brighton on the south coast of England. First, can you tell us a bit about your career thus far, how did you start in the music industry and what led you to your current job?

I grew up in a market town in the middle of England, a placed called Towcester. My friends and I used to throw house parties and that’s where I started DJing and buying and collecting music. Moved to the next biggest town, Northampton, and then eventually at the age of 20 made the move to London. Working in retail during the day and then at night I’d be out at gigs. My brother worked at Record Collector at the time so I’d be out most nights as his plus one. I met some liked minded people and we started DJing at the Camden Barfly twice a week.

While DJing and going to shows in my early twenties I started booking bands at a club night called White Heat in Mayfair, before it moved to Madam Jo Jo’s. There were a lot of late nights and working a 9 til 5 wasn’t going great. After leaving the safe open and sometimes the front door it was clear I was about to get the sack. As luck would have it Barfly were looking for a junior promoter. At the time I wasn’t aware of what a promoter was, I just liked going out watching bands and putting them on. Turns out that’s the bases of promoting. You need to get people to shows for sure but a passion for live music is very important. From there I was in. Turning my hand to most things involved in booking and promoting a busy venue. Mama Company who owned the chain of Barfly’s across the country started TGE in 2006. After booking and promoting in venues like Borderline, Jazz Café, The Forum, Hammersmirth Apollo, Camden Barfly, The Garage, Ritz in Manchester I made the move to head of Music at The Great Escape. That’s a role I’ve been doing for 6 years now.

2.This year’s edition of the festival will be a digital one due to the ongoing Covid-19 situation. How did you proceed to build this line-up without - we assume - seeing any of the artists play live beforehand ? More generally, what can an artist/band or their team do to convince you they will be a great addition to the TGE line-up?

Up until the end of 2020 we were confident TGE would be taking place in person. A firm belief in the importance and positivity it would bring to the industry and with the support from people like Melvin Benn (Editor's note : TGE's director) it felt achievable but coming into 2021 it was clear things had taken a turn for the worse. With live music venues closed across the land we felt it was important to continue to provide a platform to showcase new artists. Even if we couldn’t meet in person. We teamed up with our partners who work as Export Offices in their respected countries and major booking agencies to provide this opportunity. With those partners in place as the foundations for the event it was then time to book talent. Its not always possible to see artists live so judging performances online wasn’t new. It was also important for us to give something to the acts that were confirmed or offered on for 2020 and 2021 that got cancelled. Those artists were the starting point for bookings. Then we looked into our crystal ball to predict the next wave of talent.

2.Tell us more about this year’s TGE line-up. What are 3 acts from the UK, and 3 acts from 3 different countries you think we should pay close attention to?

Acts from the UK I’d single out are Yard Act, Bess Atwell, Bleach Lab and Mysie
Yard Act
Bess Atwell
Outside of that its hard not to pick every act we have from Ireland, music scene is amazing there at the moment across genres. Junodream, Pearl Charles, Keep Dancing Inc from over seas. Brighton Band Lime Garden.

Swiss artist Priya Ragu. Christian Lee Hutson, his album was on repeat at my flat last year. Ghanaian-Australian Genesis Owusu has been working with Kirin J Callinan, very excited about that. Remi Wolf is gonna have a big year. Finally Joe and the Shitboys. Wouldn’t be TGE without the weird and wonderful band names.

Let’s talk line-up stats for a minute: how many bands will be digitally presenting their work this year, and from how many countries? What’s the percentage of UK bands VS international, and how does it compare to previous years' repartition?

After weeks of hard work and support from everyone at TGE and wider we now have 28 hours of pre-recorded live performances from around the globe. Our showcases will be open to the public for free. We want as many people as possible to get onboard. In totally it will be 30 partners showcasing. 150+ Artists. TGE has built up such a fantastic reputation over the past 15 years so its been important to us to keep a high standard when transferring the event to online only.

We’ve seen recently in the news that major festivals in the UK haven’t really made much of an effort to have a gender balanced line-up yet again, how does the Great Escape stack up this year in this respect ?

A diverse line up is key to TGE’s success and longevity. Wether it's genres and styles of music or gender balance it's important to provide a solid platform for all artists to showcase their talents. I feel there are deep routed issues within the industry that need to be looked at and the balance of genders on festivals is the ugly face of that.

Looking at the inexcusable failure to equally represent female artists on some of the biggest festivals in the UK is a massive problem, however there are many fronts to fight this war. Radio play, lack of female producers being supported, how major labels spend their budgets, support from grass roots venues and fans to name a few, all play a major part in bringing change and it will take time. We’re trying to undo 50+ years of an industry that’s been built to exclude. I will always do my best to listen and learn and bring a balanced festival where ever I work. With the time frame I had I’m very pleased with how TGE Online has turned out.

Thanks Adam, we look forward to watching your fine artist selection at TGE 2021 !

Listen to the festival playlist on Spotify:

The Great Escape Festival will run from 12-15th May 2021 - Live music showcases are free but you need to register here, and here are the Tickets for the conference