Festival report || Left of the Dial 2023

The international showcase festival Left of the Dial is an annual celebration that offers a diverse snapshot of cutting-edge alternative artists. This weekend about 115 acts performed for 40 minutes at the sold out tastemaker event, most of them twice, at 15 pretty cool locations (17 stages) in the center of Rotterdam (Netherlands), including three churches, a salsa club and a lightship. You’ll understand that it was a challenging puzzle to choose what to see where and when, but it once again led to a great experience. It is telling that other attendees (and bloggers/media) followed a completely different program and also had a good time, which is one of the strengths of this very successful festival (another is that you regularly encounter artists on the way from one place to another or during concerts). Anyway, for the Add To Wantlist crew these were the 15 highlights (in order of appearance, some music embedded to give you an idea of what we heard), with some nice unplanned encounters:

Tramhaus (NL) @ Arminius (Oct 19)
Bluntly oversimplified on the festival poster as “The pride of Rotterdam making it all happen” || In a packed church designated as a national monument – in front of a large organ from 1898 – in their hometown, the popular post-punk five-piece kicked off the festival with well-deserved words of thanks for the organization. With a balanced setlist – favorites like I Don’t Sweat, Make It Happen, Erik’s Song and The Goat are rock solid, new work is promising – and nonchalant cool, they fully lived up to their name as a live sensation. The first crowd surfer of the weekend has been spotted, above a shaking church floor.

the Yummy Mouths (BE) @ Salsability (Oct 19)
“Melodic garage rock that leads to total mosh pit craziness” || These three enthusiastic young dogs delivered their catchy songs with bravado and wagging their tails. Tempo changes, humor and gang vocals went hand in hand. A bit messy but definitely fun.

The Tubs (UK) @ Salsability (Oct 19)
“Compellingly beautiful pop songs for slightly depressed lovers” || Thanks to their year-end list-worthy Dead Meat LP, this was one of the shows we were most looking forward to. Somewhere along the way the four-piece had lost a guitarist (“one man down!”), forcing frontman Owen ‘O’ Williams to take on double guitar duties (“double G, baby!”), and the remaining trio was quite drunk. It didn’t become any less entertaining (on the contrary – leave that to the drummer) and the quality of the songs remained intact, dancing came naturally.

Isaiah Hull (UK) @ Paradise Church (Oct 19)
“Elegiac hip hop with a unique poetic voice” || One of the nice things about such a large-scale event is the accessibility to step outside your comfort zone and go to artists who are active outside the genres you usually follow, but who you hope might be worth it in terms of performance. For example, we visited Haru Nemuri (“J-pop, noise, EDM, hard rock, hip hop all played with a solid punk mentality” from Japan) who made more noise than you would expect, but also Isaiah Hull fka Industry Poet, who in an old church made an impression with his spoken word delivery and engaging personality.

Bad Nerves (UK) @ Perron – big
“As energetic and undeniably punk as the first time they played Left of the Dial” || At the end of day 1, the crowd in this large, dark, low room is ready to party, and party it gets. From the first seconds, the well-oiled rock ‘n’ roll machine directs so much energy towards the packed venue that resistance would also be pointless. This band is unstoppable and cool, their songs – tight riffs, sneering vocals – are straightforward and infectious, and we went home sweaty and satisfied.

Blues Lawyer (US) @ Poing (Oct 20)
“Catchy, immersive, and lively power pop” || From our recent reviews of their All In Good Time LP and Sight Gags On The Radio EP, you could’ve already seen that we’re fans of this Bay Area band, and we’re very happy to now have met the four sympathetic musicians live. Our appreciation has only grown further: the combination of two (actually three) good vocalists, relatable lyrics and appealing musical influences also works very well on stage. As the performance unfolded, the venue filled to capacity, with not a single person leaving early. That tells you everything about how captivating and likeable this show was.

Silverbacks (IE) @ Perron – big (Oct 20)
“A band with late 70s art rock, punk and 90s indie in its DNA” || After being surprised by the funky sound of charismatic 7-piece Max Fulcrum & The Win (“An electronic, psychedelic, and foremost ecstatic experience” from the UK – apart from a few live videos on YouTube they have no online presence) @ Sahara, we went in good spirits to the Irish collective of Silverbacks, who played many new tunes. Their music is difficult to categorize, and although frontman Daniel O’Kelly’s description of “a lot of nice guitars” is apt, the song structures are a lot more complex than just that.

A.S. Fanning (IE) @ Paradijskerk (Oct 20)
“Magical, dark, folky and beautifully melancholic” || In the spiritual environment of the Church of Paradise (founded in 1647), singer-songwriter/multi-instrumentalist A.S. Fanning made a big impression with his witty announcements, warm baritone voice and poetic, intimate lyrics. Between the statues and symbols it all took on extra meaning (“This house is haunted”), although the bard also effortlessly got away with a fragment of ABBA’s The Winner Takes It All.

Melin Melyn (UK) @ De Doelen (Oct 20)
“Vintage-country-surf-twang tunes with a touch of psychedelica, folk and alternative rock” || Intrigued by their extraordinary Blomonj EP (repress, please!) we didn’t want to miss this, and it was even more fun than hoped for. The introductions of infectious hits like Lucy’s Oddyssey (“Whose name here is Lucy?”) and Jelly Vs Blomonj (“This song is definitely not about breaking up with my ex-girlfriend”) were more than welcome, but anyway it was impossible not to smile during the Welsh 6-piece’s eclectic and cheerful sunny show. The band members wore matching outfits (only the drummer did not have a sun visor on, nor did he participate in the dance moves), and when vocalist/guitarist/saxophonist Gruff Glyn went solo for a moment, going full opera with increasingly high pitched yet tuneful singing, his fellow musicians casually ate a candy bar. Between all the jokes it became clear what a good bunch of musicians these are, and they even had an important message: “Without artists, the world would be shit.”

India Arkin (UK) @ Roodkapje (Oct 20)
“Dreamy indie rock with a touch of modern soul” || With her awesome vocals, the endearing singer-songwriter from Newcastle knows how to both impress and touch, a golden combination with the sound of her band that is compelling but doesn’t lack a bite. Appealing and exciting.

University (UK) @ Rotown (Oct 20)
“Classic rock on crystal meth. In the best way possible” || We had no idea what we were walking into with UK’s frustratingly hard to google University. The few online samples of their music hardly scratched the surface of the electrifying experience that awaited us at their live show. Sure, the band’s mascotte playing Call of Duty on stage was a nice gimmick, but we found ourselves completely captivated by the music and intensity of the band, and how the three members build on each other’s playing. The drummer attacked his kit with an unrelenting force playing fills only. The intense singer/guitarist sung and screamed his guts out and playing mind-bending and uniquely original guitar riffs. The bass player rounded out the band’s sound with disaffected charm. In front of the stage, the front rows were teeming with fellow musicians standing in awe of the sheer brilliance unfolding on stage.

Mary In The Junkyard (UK) @ Rotown (Oct 21)
“Angelic, edgy, melancholic and raw at heart” || Because it was too full at The Orielles show to actually see them (arrived too late, our bad), we sought refuge from the rain at the performance of Mary In The Junkyard, a blessing in disguise. Clari Freeman-Taylor (vocals, guitar), Saya Barbaglia (bass, viola) and drummer David Addison (drums) only have one single out (listen below), but they play so many strong, dynamic, poetic, intimate songs that you don’t have to be clairvoyant to predict a successful future. The combination of distinctive clear vocals and driving rhythm section – bonus points for the violin – makes this wonderful music.

Scott Hepple and The Sun Band (UK) @ Waalse Kerk (Oct 21)
“British 60s/70s tinged psych/indie rock” || It was obvious that this enthusiastic 4-piece enjoys what they do, the interaction between the charismatic singer and his fellow band members is contagious. Their performance was a powerful revival of 70s rock, playing potent songs distinguished by commanding vocals and incisive, searing guitar riffs. When they say they just want to play one more song, 10 minutes will pass without a single moment of boredom. They made the pews dance.

Terra Twin (UK) @ Baanhof (Oct 21)
“Moody art rock tumbling downhill with the brakes off” || The four musicians delivered a grooving sound somewhat reminiscent of The War On Drugs and R.E.M., with a confident appearance and driving guitars. They were hesitant about playing an Americana song, but it was a peak in their set. Hopefully it will be released on an album soon?

L.A. Sagne (NL) @ Worm (Oct 21)
“Garage punk band with a big punch of adrenaline” || We missed the first couple of songs because the venue was too full. Who dares to say punk is dead in the Netherlands? Once we got in, we had a blast. L.A. Sagne sounded super tight and fun, and the powerhouse voice of the frontwoman slices through the air in the best possible way. When you get this many people dancing, sweating and smiling in the latter hours of three-day festival, you’re clearly doin’ something right.

Tramhaus also closed the festival – different location, different time, different mood – with a cover of Fugazi’s Waiting Room as a gift to the audience. Left of the Dial 2023 – the sixth edition of the festival – once again provided an awesome three days (just like in 2022). Tickets for 2024 are already on sale. See you again next year! Can’t hardly wait.

PS You can also find some of the photos above on our Instagram account, and below you get an idea of the different venues. This report was made in collaboration with Niek.

2 thoughts on “Festival report || Left of the Dial 2023”

  1. Pingback: New album: The Grogans || Find Me A Cloud - Add To Wantlist

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