various venues, Rotterdam
For three days in October, masses of the latest and greatest up-and-coming acts from the UK and Europe can be found, gathered on street-corners and in the smoking areas of Rotterdam, for a celebration of all things new music.
The self-proclaimed “alternative showcase festival” is now into its fifth edition and Left of the Dial impressively boasts over 100 acts, playing in 14 venues sprawled across the tram-carved city. With stages built into clubs, boats, churches and dance halls, the festival – which features no headliners and sees each act play multiple sets over the weekend – ensures you get the opportunity to soak in the city’s dazzling architecture whilst you also discover a new favourite band. And there’s something for everyone with Left of the Dial bringing together a whole host of bands across the sonic spectrum – including psych, punk, rock, shoegaze, post-punk, folk, synth-pop and everything in-between.
The true joy of the festival, however, is it all its playful details. The merch stand where band tees are screenprinted before your very eyes. A country line dancing course where the first 25 participants get a festival branded cowboy hat. There’s the vaunted ‘Bands on a Boat’ where lucky ticket holders get the chance to see such buzzy London acts as Tummyache and Hot Face while sailing around Rotterdam’s harbour. And, finally, there’s a wonderfully memorable opening ceremony where punters congregate to catch a ‘pirate ship’ sail past, adorned in flag-wavers, an inflatable luchador tube character and Brixton Windmill cult favourite Pink Eye Club rocking the waves with his irreverent disco-pop. That’s Left of the Dial for you; unique, welcoming and gloriously on the pulse.
During a very wet and rather cold weekend, we took on the task of cherry-picking just five key performances from this wonderful festival and uncovering, just maybe, the artists we’ll all be talking about in the months and years to come.
“Left of the Dial is eindelijk begonnen!” [“Left of the dial has finally begun!]”
Giddy from the aforementioned opening ceremony, queues of people stretched outside the picturesque, late 19th century Arminius Church, in eager anticipation of some raucous Dutch rock’n’roll. In perhaps the festival’s most iconic venue, it made complete sense that local Rotterdam heroes Tramhaus would deliver an incendiary homecoming show to shake the pews and rattle these vaults. Opening the festival with a bang, Tramhaus deliver a spell-binding set. Layered in a soupy psychedelic fuzz, rich with feeling and hot with psychedelic groove, the quintet plate up a smorgasbord of introspective heart warmers, post-punk fidgeters, and heavy-hitting punk crowd pleasers to whip the audience up into debauched, festival-ready shape. Immersive entertainers to the hilt – not least due to a rakish front man with a mean shag cut prancing like a member of the New York Dolls and throwing limbs about like one of the signature Left of the Dial inflatable luchadores scattered across the city – Tramhaus are emblematic of the festival itself: fun, riotous and extremely, extremely cool.
In the same pew-lined church as Tramhaus, UK outfit Tapir! provided a captivating midnight show with their fantastical folk. One of 2023’s more unique newcomers – with bowing cellos and blowing trumpets, their tunes interspersed with sounds of the sea – Tapir!’s delicately nuanced indie-folk, under the glowing church lights, are exquisitely beautiful for such a late hour.
Guiding us tale by delectable tale through the narrative of “The Pilgrim, their God, and the King of My Decrepit Mountain – the band’s debut album – stand-outs are the anthemic Gymnopédie and the all-consuming calm of closer Eidolon, with a stripped back arrangement of guitar and vocals offering a touching lullaby to send off the day.
Witnessing the sweat visibly dripping from the crowds that stumbled out of their Thursday set at Rotown late on Thursday night in part explains why Butch Kassidy are not only one of the most talked about bands at the festival, but one of the most exciting new live acts in 2023. Period. With only one song released – nearly three years ago – thus far, it’s well and truly at their shows where their hype is comprehended. For their Friday set, the dark, low-ceilinged club space of Perron Big offers the perfect setting for the band’s second set of the weekend.
A rapturous and demonic spectacle fusing punk and metal hellfire with tense and beautiful post-rock ascensions, Butch Kassidy’s music swarms like a kettle of vultures, suffuse with danger and harrowed vulnerability. With their brooding electronic synth-churns and mustering snare rolls, the five-piece suck you viciously into their gravitational pull. A staggering performance of masterfully orchestrated rock.
The New Eves
Back at the Arminius Church, there is nothing at this festival quite like The New Eves. The Brighton band feature violins, cellos, accordions, flutes, harmonica choirs and a stand-up drummer – all covered by just four members. Not to mention the flowing dresses and mesmeric dance routines. Steeped in old-world folklore and freaked by uncanny, pagan flavours, The New Eves are an elemental force to be reckoned with.
Charging folk, krautrock, and 60s garage psych with a forthright punk expressiveness, their three-part vocal harmonies burst from the lungs and pierce straight into the soul; their basslines bend you into hypnosis; their arrangements are bare, with space to breath, yet abundant with life. The poeticism of singing a song about The Virgin Mary in such a venue as this is not lost on them. Nor the fact that their musical stylings are far from easy to pin down – as they anecdotally shared with the crowd, “someone came up to us and said we were “Folk drum ‘n’ bass”.
The final day of the festival brought yet another onslaught of rain, and a final chance to catch a band that, for many, was a treasured new discovery of the weekend. Coming all the way from Crewe, the four-piece have one enigmatic member dressed head to toe in black – wearing a balaclava and a KFC-branded cap. His role is to hold up pieces of A4 with the band’s absurd track titles scratched on during conspicuous pauses between songs. He also plays Call of Duty Modern Warfare 3 on a tiny television set up in front of the drum riser. And that’s it. Rumour has it this guy even writes the music too.
Their flair for comic theatrics aside, more impressive than these endearing gimmicks is the incredible athleticism and jet engine energy of UNIVERSITY. Performing like their very lives depended on it, and beating their instruments to a bloody pulp, the band glitch their high-octane, pedal-to-the-metal punk with the suburban desperations of the greatest late 90s midwest emo. Witnessing such a raw expression of euphoric melancholia is like having a dam burst above you, only to watch-on stoically as the masses of water surge earthwards and swallow you whole. Mesmerising, deadly, and deeply cathartic, if UNIVERSITY are on a stage before you, nothing else in the world matters at all. A fittingly impactful and antics-filled performance to round-off this year’s Left of the Dial.