The Great Escape programmer Adam Ryan on their 2019 festival’s Aussie focus & why the Sounds Australia team are the “best in the world”

Ahead of The Great Escape, which takes over Brighton in the UK next week, I caught up with the festival’s programmer Adam Ryan to talk about the growth of the festival, the involvement of Australian acts at it, working with Sounds Australia, and what it means for Australia to be the feature country in 2019. Plus he lets us in on his picks for artists for the 2019 event as well as a look back at some of his favourite Aussie acts from over the years.

Firstly, who are you, what is your role, and how long have you been with The Great Escape (TGE)?

My name is Adam Ryan and I have the amazing job of programming The Great Escape Festival in Brighton. The Great Escape is a festival for discovering new music. We have around 500 artists perform from about 30 different countries over three days in May. It’s job I’ve been doing for the past five years. The event itself is now in its 14th year.

What have been some of the biggest changes to the event in the time you’ve been involved?

When the festival started in 2006 we were very indie band focused. The main thing I wanted to do when I took over the bookings was to have a wider offering of genres and streaming services have really helped us do that. People are a lot more switched on and open to listening to a wider range of music than ever before. We can now showcase Hip Hop and Grime next to Folk, Indie and electronica. We just have to make sure we are presenting it in a credible way with the right artists.

Australia is the feature country at TGE this year – can you explain a little bit about what it means to be the feature country?

At the moment we official work with 25 countries and their export offices. Each year we have a lead country partner. It’s a way for us to highlight the amazing artists and work that goes into that country’s music industry. On top of showcasing the best talent we also assist in the industry side of things. Arrange meetings, parties, mixers and other buzz word events to help stimulate future business and develop relationships.

I’ve been attending TGE since 2011, and it’s been incredible watching the growth of the Australian contingency, and the events that Sounds Australia orchestrate. Can you talk a little bit about that growth from your perspective?

Oh man, no disrespect to any of the other partners we work with, but the Sounds Australia Team have to be the best in the world. Their approach to exporting and supporting Australian artists and working with showcase events, festivals and everything else they do is second to none. I have no doubt that the explosion of Australian artists hitting European charts, festivals and stages is in part down to the support Sounds Australia offers. The talent has always been there for sure but with the help of these guys it’s slightly easier for artists to break out. When it’s a nightmare trying to tour your own country, that support is invaluable.

Has the way Sounds Australia run events at TGE influenced anything else at the event? 

We’ve been working with Sounds Australia for 10 years now. The legendary AUSSIE BBQ on Saturday is a must for anyone attending our event. This year we’re hosting a three-stage beach take over (pebble beach, this is Brighton). To be able to grab everyone’s attention like that is hard work when we have over 90 stages over three days. Sounds Australia seem to do that effortlessly. Maybe it’s the free sausages but I have a feeling it’s probably down to the amazing line up. 

So many Australian artists who have played TGE have gone on to do amazing things around the UK and Europe. Are there any particular acts or performances that stick out for you in this regard?

Stands out for me would be Courtney Barnett, Pond, Unknown Mortal Orchestra, Gang Of Youths, Julia Jacklin, DMA’s, Remi. Amyl and the Sniffers last year. Tkay Maidza, Twerps, Parcels, Confidence Man. We have around 25 to 30 artists perform each year so there’s way too many memorable shows, but these are a few of the acts I’ve enjoyed over the years.

Are there any particular Aussie acts you’re excited to see this year?

Nice Biscuit, Tropical Fuck Storm (pictured) and Cables Ties are three acts I can’t wait to see live. Body Type, Winston Surfshirt. To be honest I’m looking forward to seeing them all. I wouldn’t have bothered booking them otherwise. Go to the website and have a look at the full list. It’s nuts.

Outside of the Australian element, what else can you tell us about TGE 2019 – what are looking to be some of the highlights for this year?

This year we’ve been lucky enough to celebrate Transgressive 15th Anniversary with them. We’ll be hosting a special show with Foals in a 500-capacity venue. That’s going to be truly memorable. TGE is all about new music in every way so it’s great to have the band showcase their new album. Outside of returning artists I’m looking forward to Surfbort, Viagra Boy, Black Country, New Road and Scalping and all the mayhem which is about to unfold.

And finally, for those Australian delegates (and those from around the world) who are still umming and ahhing about attending, why should they not miss TGE 2019?

The Great Escape is Europe’s biggest new music festival and conference. We engage with every aspect of the industry and the calibre of delegate that attends is strong. I can guarantee you’ll come away with more than just a hangover.

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The Great Escape runs from the 9th to the 11th of May in Brighton, England. For tickets and more details for the conference and the music festival itself, head to greatescapefestival.com

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Larry Heath

Founding Editor of the AU review. You can find him on Twitter @larry_heath or on Instagram @larryheath.