Rotterdam’s Left Of The Dial resets the standards for new music exploration.

Left Of The Dial isn’t just a forward-thinking new music showcase festival, but a portal into Rotterdam’s sweeping streets and historic waterways.

Words: Karl Johnson | Photos: @elinorhaskewlive

It took 3hrs 49mins by Eurostar from London St Pancras to get to Rotterdam Central on the Thursday morning. After setting off on an incredibly crisp and wet London morning, we made the 6:16am train out of London, moving through France and Belgium to reach the The Netherlands’ second biggest city, and home to Left Of The Dial festival.

In the beginning  
Opening the festival at Left Of The Dial key venue and festival hub Rotown was Oxford duo Enjoyable Listens, their dry comedy and lovelorn storytelling was undoubtedly a perfect choice in exhibiting just how similar the Dutch and English humour and music tastes align. Following this we were ushered to the docks following a tip that the official festival boat was about to dock. After a short walk, we turned a corner and descended a damp staircase to be welcomed by a boat – more like a pirate ship – turning into the docks, aboard were Pet Shimmers, who played a blistering and emotive set as locals and ticketholders strolled alongside the moving vessel before it docked to a standing ovation.

Windswept and elated we return to Rotown to catch Manchester outfit Soup! who offered a juxtaposition of high-octane post-punk and jerky XTC-infused pop – a beautiful experience. While following London bands around from venue to venue was top of the list of what not to do, excuses had to be made for Kyoto Kyoto’s set at Roodkapje, an open plan art exhibition space with thick divider curtains and neon lighting. Bolstered by the addition of cello and flute live, Kyoto Kyoto brought a floral and atmospheric dynamic to their tightly-wound waves of noise as crowds pulled back the stage curtain divider to catch a glimpse of the action. With no let-up in sight, Leeds outfit Mush kicked off in the room next door, with their duelling guitars and a breakneck vocal delivery.

Covering 3 to 4 miles on foot each day, Left Of The Dial worked unexpectedly well as a half pint musical pub crawl, and with the end of the first night looming and a date with Beige Banquet at 11:40pm, we stopped by DE DOELEN en route to see the excellent Noon Garden. Playing solo on the night, Noon Garden’s set glowed in the backdrop of what seemed to be a corporate business centre, track’s from his debut LP ‘Beulah Spa’ proving to be a true highlight live. Striking a chord close to midnight were Beige Banquet, rising fast through the ranks of the London live scene, their pummelling and tight-as-hell post-punk thrust was the amount of energy needed to finish the evening in style – key tune ‘AWAKE’ still haunts my dreams.

Bands on boats (don’t forget your sea legs)
There’s no better hangover cure than fresh sea air wafting over the river Maas, and with this thought it mind we boarded a boat for the traditional ‘Bands On A Boat’ edition of Left Of The Dial. With acts such as deep tan, Eades, Beige Banquet and Gus Englehorn soundtracking the 1 hour return trip up and down the Maas and under the Erasmus bridge, this was certainly a one-off experience. It took approximately 10 minutes to re-find our land legs, a suitable amount of time for the short zigzag to catch London post-punk hotshots Deadletter, a festival highlight.

The rest of the afternoon turned evening saw sets by the insanely talented O. using baritone sax and drums to meld jazz and noise, Third Man Records-signess Island Of Love and an expectedly riotous performance by KEG. In between these hours of chaos we caught Bristol outfit Waldo’s Gift within the grand confines of Arminius Church, who caught me off-guard with a fusion of jazz, experimental electronica and rock heavyness – there was also a touching improv performance dedicated to the Rotterdam crowd. Having their set pushed back to midnight, Glasgow newcomers Humour found themselves facing an unofficial headline crowd, but with hits such as ‘alive and well’ and the crowd call-back of ‘yeah, mud!’ in their sonic arsenal, who would have bet against them.

Scented smoke machines and permanently moored hearts
When walking around Rotterdam’s grid-shaped city centre – complete with the most fantastic array of architecture – the key question posed by fellow festivalgoers was “who’s been your favourite act?” It wasn’t until we wandered into the 19th century Arminius church and caught a truly mind-melting set by Japanese psych-rock outfit Bo Ningen that the question was finally answered with purpose. Moving back to the docks, this time towards the permanently moored boat and venue V11, we caught Sunday League who’s anthemic Verve-esque tunes and subtle harmonies collided in beautiful fashion in the sweaty underbelly of the boat.

Joint first on the highlights reel were Rotterdam dream pop quartet Bed, who played in the backroom of an ice cream parlour. The vocalist lit incense which spread through the packed-out room (a scented smoke machine?) and washed over the crowd. The songs were gentle and immersive with an underlying power, straying between blissful dream pop to powerful shoegaze, Bed played on the intimacy of the venue to great effect and surely would have had the crowd eating out of their hands at triple the capacity.

Our festival was brought to a close by two special sets, the former by Manchester outfit Mewn who’s new EP ‘Such as This’ stood out in it’s gradual builds, intimate instrumental structures and anthems-in-the-making – think the grandeur of Arcade Fire with the more intimate moments of early MGMT. Folly Group ended what was an incredible 72 hour experience of new music and community spirit, the band are undoubtedly destined for bigger and bigger stages as hit after hit flooded the room.

My heart is permanently moored in Rotterdam. Bought your ticket for next year yet?

Photos in order of appearance: Enjoyable Listens, deep tan, Humour, Bed – all by Elinor Haskew.