Rotterdam’s Left Of The Dial festival returns triumphant for its 2021 edition.

Words: Karl Johnson | Photos: Elinor Haskew

Rotterdam is Europe’s largest seaport, it’s also know for its varied and eye-catching architecture – following the near-complete destruction of the city centre in World War II – but on a sun-kissed weekend in October, there was one thing only on the lips of the city, Left Of The Dial. Having had to cancel the three-day new music festival at the last minute last year due to the pandemic, the multi-venue festival returned to the heart of Rotterdam, stretching across twelve unique stages within the city’s centre.

Somehow Speedboat seem tailor-made for a Rotterdam crowd, their set at photo museum-cum-culture centre Worm was a match made in heaven, all they needed was a post-set slipway into the Nieuwe Mass river and it would have been a perfect sunset to their set. You only need to follow the words to bigboy123 to appreciate the lyrical wit surrounding the Brighton duo’s buoyant and danceable synth pop, and their onstage performance is transfixing. Not many bands can pull off the vest quite like Speedboat.

Fake Turins :: Credit E.Haskew

The evening takes us to Perron, a derelict and concrete-heavy post building near Rotterdam Centraal station to see Fake Turins. Dressed in matching white suits, which clash beautifully with the neon-lit venue and its graffitied walls, the North London collective boast 10 onstage performers and their set fuses tightly-wound disco and floral psychedelia, both bent around grooves so danceable it hurts. Saloon Dion play in the next room and Robbie & Mona in an art gallery-esque space called Roodkapje expo – translated by google as little red riding hood – in the building next door, the sheer wealth of exciting new artists on display is almost overwhelming. A shout out must go to Amsterdam/ Toronto outfit Baby’s Berserk too.

Brighton sextet Opus Kink are a lively bunch, arriving on stage at Roodkapje expo’s gallery space they flick between a gritty brand of high-octane country sleaze to soothing moments of sax-led soul. Live their set fidgets enthusiastically and has a rhythm section that brings a furious dance element to the sound, the storytelling in their music is part folklore part preaching, each set somewhat of a live exorcism. Latest single This Train might be their crowning jewel, but each track they play is a tune. This set was followed by Netherlands quartet Kieff, whose chaotic and razor-sharp post-punk should have the likes of Nov3l and Omni shaking in their boots.

Resplendent in neo-Romanesque architecture, and also playing the part of Left Of The Dial’s central festival hub, was Arminius Church. Oxford psychedelic explorers Mandrake Handshake are carrying the baton for an explosive new brand of psychedelia in the UK, their June EP Shake The Hand That Feeds You set a quality marker in the sand for its experimental yet cohesive nature. Floating through a set which ties krautrock, noise and groove into a bow of spacious psychedelia, the 18th century church surroundings formed a perfect sonic pairing.

Just a short step from the centre, we found ourselves in Rotterdam’s Maritime District, a combination of waterway restaurants and hotels, and in amongst it an old British lightship docked and serving fish and chips, drinks and… bands. Aboard the ship and two flights of stairs down into its bowels was arguable the best venue of the weekend, the sweaty and uniquely intimate Vessel 11. West Country boys Saloon Dion don’t do it halves and didn’t waste a second in getting their sea legs and they raged across the small boat stage to a receptive Dutch audience.

What better way to finish a weekend of music than the one-two combo of London bands Legss and The Cool Greenhouse, both set up within the squat-like concrete confines of Perron. Legss are on their own trajectory, and live are in their element. The band bring a tensity, a clash of guitar sounds and an overwhelming sense of impending doom. Lyrically they lock in and engage, and sonically prove difficult to pin down as they throw the listener left then right, with their new cuts such as Hollywood they bring a welcome feeling of heavyness to their sound. A minute before their headline set is due to start, vocalist Tom Greenhouse asks the audience if anyone has a guitar he can borrow, he appears a minute later with someone’s guitar and doesn’t waste time in sinking straight into tracks from the band’s self-titled lockdown debut LP. One thing about The Cool Greenhouse‘s live set which stands out is the sense of groove, the upbeat tempo and instrumental strut of the band which brings about a collective crowd surge. Alexa! is without doubt a weekend crowd highlight, it’s refreshing to see an artist thrive on the edge of chaos. In a flash the curtain comes down on a stunning weekend of unrivalled new music discovery, in a city that provides such a perfect backdrop. 10/10. Tickets for 2022 are selling here.

Saloon Dion :: Credit E.Haskew