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.
You can check out part one here, and now we have L – #.
Life are, for good reason, one of the most hotly anticipated names on the billing. The post punk sensation offers tracks that are an ode to kinship and friendship. Their energetic songs, filled with pumping drums and sharp guitars, are about longing, chaos, and pride. The Hull quartet are playing two sets on Saturday, I catch the later of the two at Worm. They play with their back catalogue serving up the brilliant ‘Bum Hour’, ‘Big Moon Lake’ and ‘Shipping Forecast’ as a weighty trio that sets the entire room in motion. Other highlights include ‘Pop Music’, whose lyrics seem appropriate in the circumstances, and they end with ‘Friends Without Names’, which literally just leaves you begging for more. A brilliant set from a brilliant band.
Madmadmad could not be a better name for the set witnessed from this trio in Sahara on Thursday. Finding a rare gap and the venue being round the corner, I knew nothing about these guys and could not have been happier to find them. Inspired by 70s no-wave, postpunk & disco they create mutant versions of danceable, funky beats that are beyond hyperactive. Insane amounts of percussion make a wall of sound that literally slaps you in the face as it waves from the stage. Words can’t really do it justice, if they’re coming to a town near you soon, do experience it for yourself.
Max Fulcrum & The Win are one of the most mysterious entities on the line-up, that is until you realise they contain ex-members of Fake Turins and Enjoyable Listens. I catch their set as part of the ‘free day programme’ LOTD gifts to Rotterdam, and the setting of a big red boat known as V11 adds to the fun. They create luscious soundscapes that suit the setting perfectly and considering the time of day, draw quite the crowd who are soothed into submission. A very pleasant way to spend part of a Saturday afternoon.
Naked Lungs are an Irish noise punk band and are the stand-out of the first day. They take to the stage in Perron and stun from the first note to last. A blistering onslaught of carefully constructed sound assaults the senses, and to give you an idea, there are not many bands who could cover Gilla Band and make it louder. ‘Why Do People Change’ is particularly powerful and sees the crowd truly lose it. This is the type of set people will talk about for years to come, hats off lads.
Nze Nze are a French outfit who blend noise, industrial, post punk and even hints of dub in an intoxicating mixture that the darkened and intense atmosphere of the larger room in Perron only amplify. The French vocals which, apparently, tell tales of the Central African Fang warriors, add to the mystique and the whole affair is very curious.
Pink Eye Club have the honour of opening the festival this year and do so by gliding into the harbour on a boat, with eager fans stood on the shore waving flags and glugging blue shots. The brainchild of self-proclaimed geek Haydn Davies, he skilfully mixes observations about everyday British life with banging dance tunes, crafting high-energy electronic tracks from the confines of his laptop. The perfect bouncing opening to what is set to be an incredible festival.
Plattenbau are a Berlin based, industrial tinged quartet. Having seen, and reviewed them before, I was desperate to see them again, but somehow the times just don’t work out. I unfortunately spend most of their set at Roodkapje queuing outside; the sound still permeates. I manage to get in for the last two tracks and am no less impressed than on the previous occasion, so they get an honouree mention. Next time.
Pozi are an experimental three piece who draw on influences from art-pop, dub, drum and bass and even hints at jungle. They come out at Perron on Friday with a jangling set that takes the audience on a journey through sound that is almost impossible to keep up with, almost. Highlights include the captivating ‘Whitewashing’ and the jarring ‘Watching You Suffer’ which are both flawless. Bands like this are not for the faint hearted but for those brave enough, the rewards speak for themselves.
Splint are a must for me, being fellow Mancunians. Having seen several transitions in this band, curiosity definitely kills this cat as I am one of the first into their set at Centraal on Friday. The intensely smoky room swathed in red and green light is the perfect setting for their catchy hooks, reverb drenched lyrics and lingering bass tones. The crowd lap them up and cheer with gusto, always a pleasure to see.
Tummyache are the opening band on my ‘Bands on a Boat’ outing. The London based power pop/shoegaze outfit hit all the right notes in all the right ways judging by the crowds reaction. Female led they have gritty guitars and sometimes screaming, reverb-drenched vocals which never fail to linger.
Vanity Fairy is not the type of artist I would choose on such a billing, yet her kitsch-pop cabaret style songs had me well and truly intrigued. The East London solo act appears at Poing on Friday and her hedonistic dabblings with disco draw many close. She dominates the stage in both costume, presence and sheer vitality in a way that will be hard to match this weekend. Highlights include ‘Superstar’ and ‘He Can Be Your Lady’ which have more sparkle than the brightest disco ball. Light-hearted, fun and ridiculously talented.
The 113 are a Leeds based post punk band who conjure up some of the danciest riffs the genre can throw out. I catch their late set at Salsability on Friday and the intense little dance space filled with oriental décor could not be more perfect for them. Their track ‘Presence’ has captivated many who found it on the LOTD official playlist and ensures the room is packed, with a long queue outside. They do not disappoint with a frenetic set that sees a mosh pit erupt at the front of the stage, and a lot of dancing elsewhere. Having not been around very long, they are definitely an intriguing proposition for the future.
The beauty of festivals like this is that every person here experiences it completely differently; from the bands you watch, to the venues you go to, to the distances your travel to get here. Even the bands see things differently, and friends who navigate it together remember things in their own way.
Left of the Dial, it’s been a pleasure and a privilege to be part of the 2023 edition – I cannot wait to see what you will come up with for next year.
Early bird tickets for 2024’s edition are already on sale, grab one here!