When those Luchador Sky Dancers start appearing in Rotterdam, you know what time it is. The annual musical rumble that is Left Of The Dial has arrived. Once again, let’s drink full and descend into a line-up of promising artists who just might be a year (or two) away from becoming a household name.
Early adopters can rejoice, although this year’s edition will have more familiar names than previous editions, which may or may not have anything to do with Left Of The Dial’s not so secret ambition to become one of Europe’s premier showcase festivals. It’s an ambition worth pursuing, since Rotterdam is a city with a nice assembly of smaller autonomous venues – ranging from WORM to Rotown – which makes its infrastructure rather fertile for expansion. Besides, any festival that sports the likes of Whispering Sons, The Orielles, Nuria Graham, The Homesick and bdrmm is worth dropping by.
But as said before, Left Of The Dial at its heart is a treasure hunt: each watering hole in town guarded by one of those springy Luchadors contains a hidden gem begging to enrich new sets of eager ears. Indeed, there’s nothing better than music that makes you feel something new, and the following 12 artists definitely fall under that rare category.
The New Eves
LOLA has been my favorite film this year, partly because it presented this stirring hypothesis: what kind of music would spawn from someone alive during World War II if they had heard David Bowie? Now let’s pose a similar question: what if someone alive during the The Ed Sullivan Show Beatles-era used the titular time traveling MacGuffin in LOLA to discover The Raincoats? The answer would undoubtedly sound like The New Eves. This band offers like a revisionist take on familiar pop tropes, sounding gloriously naive, fresh and oddly moving.
THURSDAY | WORM 2 | 23.40 – 00.20
FRIDAY | ARMINIUS | 20.30 – 21.10
mui zyu‘s brilliant album Rotten Bun for an Eggless Century unfortunately flew under the radar when it came out, as it became overshadowed by more high profile stuff like Fever Ray. But it’s honestly one of the most gorgeous and vibrant alternative pop albums of the year. The project of Eva Liu – who also co-founded indie outfit Dama Scout – combines blissful melodic progressions with controlled chaos, forging in some Chinese instrumentation and folklore for good measure. It’s a record that feels like a fully realised pocket universe designed by its maker. How it will unfold live? Only one way to find out.
FRIDAY | WORM 2 | 20.40 – 21.20
SATURDAY | WAALSE KERK | 21.40 – 22.20
If a band somehow inspires exultations like ‘Jason Molina fronting Deftones’, I dunno man, you can bring out the sweeper and dustpan and wipe me the fuck up.
THURSDAY | PERRON SMALL | 23.00 – 23.40
FRIDAY | SAHARA | 21.30 – 22.10
Every big music event has that one performance that unfolds like its emotional center, the holistic gravitational core from which everything else orbits around. I would bet good house money on Joshua Idehen being that guy at this years Left Of The Dial festivities. As a member of London psych jazz behemoths Sons Of Kemet, the Nigerian-born, Sweden based Idehen’s freeform poetry disarms with profound musings and more light-hearted quips. The one mission Idehen seems to transmit from his engaging performances: make compassion cool again.
FRIDAY | PARADIJSKERK | 22.20 – 23.00
SATURDAY | ROTOWN | 19.50 – 20.30
Neighbours Burning Neighbours
Saying that Neighbours Burning Neighbours are one of the best live bands in The Netherlands actually sells them short. Because they are one of the best live bands I have ever seen period. Imagine a supercharged synthesis of Unwound, Blonde Redhead and Siouxsie and The Banshees, and you get an approximation of what this band pulls off on a nightly basis. Do not “Hesitate” to see them perform. Like most bands this weekend, they’re going to play twice, so you have no excuse.
THURSDAY | SAHARA | 20.10 – 20.50
SATURDAY | WORM 2 | 22.20 – 23.00
Forgive the cheesy pun, but dynamic Francophile outfit MADMADMAD more than live up their higher case ‘mad’-status. Imagine a DJ who loves feeding dancefloors with deep cuts of seventies kraut rock, obscure disco and feisty dance punk, except that DJ is an actualfucking live band. Yup, that sounds like something to experience up close and personal, regardless of whether your feet can keep up. What, us worry?
THURSDAY | SAHARA | 22.50 – 23.30
FRIDAY | PERRON SMALL | 16.20 – 17.00
Lip Filler seems like one of those bands that will predictably blow up: their combination of The xx’s detached innuendos with more widescreen indie rock works surprising well. I can picture them opening up for Wolf Alice in the not-so-distant future
THURSDAY | SALSABILITY | 23.00 – 23.40
FRIDAY | V2_ | 18.00 – 18.40
We talked about some of the more familiar names on this year’s Left Of The Dial lineup: out of all of them, Haru Nemuri undoubtedly elicits the biggest ‘whoa, way cool!’-kind of reaction. Nemuri is a deconstructionist at heart, an artist who combines basically any style-imaginable: a Katamari boulder where synth pop, post-hardcore discharges, noise and J-pop brazenly get caught up in, performed by Nemuri with the verve of an anarchist.
THURSDAY | ROTOWN | 22.20 – 23.00
FRIDAY | SAHARA | 18.50 – 19.30
NZE NZE clads African warrior spirituals in a potent armor of dub, industrial, trip hop and post-punk, all of that to thrilling, deafening, blood-curdling effect. To give you an indication : NZE NZE’s debut LP is called Adzi Akal, which literally translates to “eat the metal”. Indeed, there isn’t much room for subtlety in this project founded by Matthieu Ruben N’Dongo (Sacred Lodge), Tioma Tchoulanov and Gaëtan Bizien (UVB76). This is music that vibrates through your very bones and takes hold, and once the lights come on you’re left to wonder what the hell just happened.
THURSDAY | PERRON BIG | 19.40 – 20.20
FRIDAY | ARMINIUS | 22.00 – 22.40
If first impressions mean anything, you can make an educated guess that Cowboyy have snatched some pages from the black midi-playbook (and I’m well aware of the naive assumption that black midi even have a playbook). I’ve had the dumb luck of witnessing Cowboyy perform earlier this year, and they are a pretty sure thing. The quartet sounds like Battles covering the most wayward material of The Fall, and in the midst of that, sandblast audiences with the most dizzying sonic callisthenics you’ll likely witness this weekend. Virtuoso rock and/or roll music performed with the ennui of tank station clerks on their graveyard shift, file under ‘seeing is believing’.
THURSDAY | WORM 2 | 22.00 – 22.40
FRIDAY | V11 | 16.00 – 16.40
It seems these days all you need is a funny name and a repertoire of blithe pop songs that sound as if Radiohead, Jaga Jazzist and Lemon Jelly are having a picnic party on psilocybin. You figure out the rest, true believers.
THURSDAY | ARMINIUS | 23.20 – 00.00
FRIDAY | WAALSE KERK | 17.40 – 18.20
I reckon it’ll be one happy, hectic homecoming for Rotterdam’s resident demolition crew Tramhaus, who have mastered the perfect live set before even releasing their debut full-length. A tour de force in battering ram bangers and white-knuckled menace, Tramhaus routinely bring everything you could possibly ask for in a rock band. When they scold Rotterdam to ‘make it happen’ on stage, I’d like to believe everyone playing Left Of The Dial this weekend has surreptitiously understood the assignment.