Left of the Dial is an international showcase festival that takes place in mid-October in the centre of Rotterdam. It offers a cross section of the most relevant alternative artists of the moment. The festival is named after a song by The Replacements. ‘Left of the Dial’ is a reference to American radio stations. To find the best alternative music, you had to turn the dial on your radio to the left.
To Left of the Dial, all bands are equally important. There are no headliners and even though not everyone might know the bands already, every day is filled to the brim with artists worth checking out. Every band plays two sets, 40 minutes each. Things couldn’t be fairer. You can also throw some bands on a boat, film screenings and a whole raft of free day programme into the mix, should you have the inclination.
Planning your route of attack through this festival is no small feat. I was fortunate enough to see 25 bands over the three days so in a change of proceedings to anything I have written before, I am approaching this review alphabetically. Here is B – L.
Bdrmm hail from Hull and were at LOTD in 2021. They are back after the recent release of second album ‘I Don’t Know’ and are one of the hottest bands on the line up. I catch them at the bigger stage of Cultuurpodium Perron on Friday, and the room is packed with eager fans. They blend hypnotising shoegaze with lashings of post punk that creates an ethereal soundscape that enraptures all who encounter it. Their set includes the intensely beautiful ‘Be Careful’, their shoegaze anthem ‘Happy’, and ‘Push/Pull’ which always causes a stir live with its building layers. Simply stunning.
Bikini Beach are drenched in fuzz and offer a psychedelic/stoner rock mash up that’s very much for the fans of King Gizzard and Thee Oh Sees. Hailing from the unlikely town of Konstanz in Germany, their set at Centraal on Saturday is a breath of fresh air in a steamy venue (part due to their sound, part due to the deluge outside). They pour through their set with barely a break and create an irresistible groove that sees bodies dancing happily all over.
Chalk are a Belfast trio with a huge, all encapsulating sound. Having not been able to get into their first set, they became a must-see on Saturday and were the concluding band of the festival for me at Rotown. Their gothic edged guitars fuse with an industrial edge which stands them apart. The wall of noise they create has the packed Rotown dancing in full swing from the first track. Their set is blistering from first note to last and I end up going from the first row to the back due to the mayhem of the crowed lost in their music.
Deadletter are another returnee, and to much uproar. They are one of the hottest live acts in Europe right now, and for good reason. They are also the only band I watched twice. The first set concluded proceedings at Perron Big, and unsurprisingly the room was full with a long queue round the block hoping to catch a glimpse. Highlights of the first set include ‘Madge’s Declaration’ which you could suspect would be lost on a European crowd, but not this lot who shout back joyfully. Their anthem ‘Binge’ always goes down a treat live and is no exception today. The set ends with a very sweaty crowd and some crowd surfing from singer Zac Lawrence. Listening to fans as they disperse, that was clearly something special.
After that, you would think it would be difficult to top. That is until you realise they play Saturday afternoon, in Arminius, which is, of all things, a church. There is something about bands in churches that kicks differently, and this piece of billing is a stroke of genius. The ambience, the people, the setting, the band – it is all just perfectly put together. With a slightly different set to suit the occasion, the songs themselves just feel different, with the acoustics playing to their sound in the best of ways. ‘Fit For Work’ sees drinks thrown around and the crowd go wild, but the best song of the set by far is the concluding ‘Zeitgeist’, with the notes and cadence carrying long into the night. Everyone expected Deadletter to be good, but I’m not sure anyone bargained for how good, I feel privileged to have seem them in such a setting.
Dim Imagery are one of Yorkshire’s tightest current exports with twisty art rock that draws influences from Krautrock’s finest with hints of New Wave thrown into the mix just for good measure. They have a talent for playing with the expected norms and speed up/slow down unexpectedly as well as playing with instruments in a much less than average way. I catch their set at Poing on Friday and the stand out track comes in the form of ‘You’re Doing So Well’ which teases in all the right way and quickly has the crowd jumping.
Egyptian Blue are from Brighton and whose name I have been seeing in all the right places for some time. They offer tight post-punk executed with surgical precision and yet somehow manage to retain a sense of mania that’s enthralling and intriguing. Catching them early on at the stunning Arminius on Friday afternoon, they fill the cavernous space with ripples of sound so carefully executed they leave you breathless. Highlights include the stunning ‘Contain It’ and ‘Four is the Last Four’ which both captivate and showcase their talents both as musicians and as live performers.
Flat Party are described as art-punk and come from London. In a city drenched in music, it is hard to stand apart, but these guys are quickly carving their own path. Presenting here as a sextet, they are the first band I see in full at the festival and couldn’t be a better opener. Taking to the stage at Poing and blend pop rhythms with art rock sensibilities to make something all their own. The stand out track is undoubtedly ‘Dig Up Concrete With A Plastic Shovel’, partly because the lyrics are just brilliant and partly because nobody can resist dancing to it.
Grandmas House are a queer punk trio from Bristol, who mash up grunge, post-punk and add some surf melodies for good measure. They don’t shy away from the small stuff with lyrics that touch on mental health, relationship struggles and vulnerability. The set includes several new tracks which is brave at a festival of this calibre and they fact they mess up a little bit only endears them to the crowd. An early highlight it ‘Desire’ with its bouncy rhythm that soon sets bodies moving and letter on we are treated to probably their most popular track ‘Body’ which they blast out without remorse.
The Grogans are a Melbourne based trio who explore nuances within surf, psych and rockabilly. They are known for their sunshine attitude and their sings reflect this and add a touch of light in considerably dark times. I catch them at De Doelen on Thursday and for a trio they have a huge stage presence. They rattle through melodic singalongs as more intense numbers with soaring breakdowns. They may be a long way from home but they brought every ounce of their style with them.
The Homesick are a homegrown offering and arguably one of the best Dutch bands around. Having first released an EP back in 2013 they are no strangers to this game and are renowned for their seemingly limitless creativity. I catch their set at Perron Big on Friday and live their set packs a hell of a punch, much more so than the recordings do them justice. An industrial, dance vibe takes over the room and watching closely one can see how carefully orchestrated the seemingly chaotic sound is, with close interplay between the band members. Without a doubt one of the stand out sets of the weekend and a band I hope to see again.
Hot Face are one of the two bands I enjoy as part of ‘Bands on a Boat’, a one hour cruise down the River Maas with all you can drink on offer, and much silliness besides. The garage punk London trio are firmly within the post punk arena, yet at the same time they are so much more than that. They released their debut single ‘Dura Dura’ through Speedy Wunderground earlier this year and their set features this and other nameless delights. High speed guitars seem out of control yet come back to order throughout and the almost motorik drumming keeps things in check. I cannot wait to hear where these guys are going to go next.
Kal Marks are the band to conclude day one for me in the smaller stage of Perron. The band initially dissolved in 2020, but the Boston band reformed as a quartet in 2023 and redefined their sound with an intensity previously unimagined. Their set is pacey, fierce and vigorous, which the crowd lap up and go wild to in equal measure. A name many were happy to see back, and for those new to the sound, one not easily forgotten.
Part 2 to follow…
Early bird tickets for 2024’s edition are already on sale, grab one here