Beginning in 2008 as a London only event Stag & Dagger is certainly now starting to feel like something of an institution, promising to provide the vast spectrum of musical tastes we weegies have to come to expect when May rolls around.
Since its inception the variety of acts on offer that may or may not have been declared as the best new band in the world by the NME has provided a more than welcome kick start to the impending festival season.
Although billed as an all day event not much was scheduled this year to test the stamina prior to 3pm with the exception of a cinema screening at GFT, which I’m unfortunately too lazy to attend.
Firstly, the following disclaimer: ten hours of music on a bank holiday weekend may (read will) have resulted in the senses over time perhaps not remaining in peak condition and dark forces known as bars may limit certain recollections.
After the relatively painless collection of wristbands in comparison to previous years at the ABC, we make the jaunt over to Broadcast just as Glasgow three-piece garage types Womps close their set.
From our interesting vantage point at the middle of the stairs to the basement of Broadcast things appear to have gone well as the venue is bursting both in terms of cheers and capacity.
As we unsuccessfully squeeze our way along we can hear but not see a rather epic seven-minute or so set closer from Womps, who on this evidence we should really have seen more of.
The packed environment of some of the venues later becomes something of a feature, but for the moment I’m only too pleased to be afforded a smidge of breathing space as people dash off following the end of the set.
Thankfully, at least from the artist’s point of view, this breathing space is short lived as the basement is once again rammed by the time Sea Change kicks off her set.
“I’ve came all the way from Oslo, just for you” and its a good thing she has as her soothing breathy vocals act as the perfect afternoon tonic to those perhaps still suffering from Saturday night escapades.
Armed with nothing but a mic laptop and midi keyboard of sorts, she is up against it to maintain standards set in her recently released first album, Breakages.
Not getting of to the finest start with some reverb issues throughout the opening two numbers she begins to find her stride with ‘Stairs’, singing sombrely into the microphone while sampling her own voice, looping it with beats and bass while singing over the results until as a piece the whole thing becomes a melodious if disorienting web of noise.
Continuing in the same vein the wondrously heady and ethereal ‘Burstin’ has a basement crowd sucked in to each and every hypnotic rhythm as sparse beats laden with synth shatter through a now engrossed Glasgow audience.
Set highlight is, however, perhaps the eerie and spooky atmospherics of ‘Fearless’ in which Ellen W. Sundes appears to alter her tone to a far more dark and twisted CocoRosie-esque gritty nature.
Trotting over to the Garage’s G2 venue it is difficult to imagine the standard being set by the fresh faced Norwegian being maintained throughout the day, but we should at least give Jim Valentine and co the chance to do so.
After a 20-minute delay in which the venue didn’t yet appear to be open we are eventually treated to Valentine’s brand of Arctic Monkey-ness.
For this reviewer the all out aping of Arctic Monkeys and the Last Shadow Puppets was difficult to take at various stages, but everyone in the venue seems pleased with the results.
The bass driven swagger and snarling of ‘Tripetta’ is the high point of proceedings, while a welcome cover of ‘Jolene’ has the expected in the palm of your hands effect on those inside the G2.
So, then off to the Art School for more Glasgow rock band shenanigans, this time the mysterious WHITE on show.
Maybe it was because I knew little to nothing about them, or maybe because it was in The Art School, or maybe, just maybe it was because they absolutely nailed it; likely a combination of them all, but whatever the maybe there can be no maybe that WHITE are an exciting band to look out for.
From the moment they launch to the point of landing during the seven or eight song blast the band’s brand of 80s inspired new romantic mutated disco has The Art School unable to resist their charms.
At times it feels a bit like what you would want Spandau Ballet to do, as opposed to ‘Gold’ on loop, for a supposedly new band they are an incredibly tight proposition live
It is difficult to ignore the five-piece’s red leather clad frontman strutting around as if this is what he was born to do while introducing ‘How Can You Get Love So Wrong?’
All this synth sleaziness sends large portions of those in attendance rather batty, with almost no one left able to control the urge to tap and nod along to what sometimes feels so overwrought it shouldn’t work, but somehow it does.
‘Future Pleasures’ has everyone immersed in what already sounds like a modern day classic “down down down again” being sung in unison both amongst an outfit with clear chemistry and within the audience.
WHITE’s explosive Bryan Ferry type capabilities are perhaps best showcased through ‘Blush’, its sharp melodies laced with healthy smatterings of synths combine with vocals almost irritatingly excellent.
Leaving us with “see you when we play again… Whenever that may be,” the mystery so far cultivated by the band will likely have to end at some juncture, surely on this kind of form it will be sooner rather than later.
Having supported the likes of The View and The Fall in recent times Dundee’s latest export Vladimir take to Broadcast with a fair amount of experience and exposure under their belts.
Disappointedly, however perhaps not surprising given the amount of acts now on across the festival Broadcast is relatively sparse by this time to see the noise four-piece.
Although labeling Vladimir as simply a noise band is a tad disingenuous, as well as the noise there are real moments of quality, it’s just that as ever it can be difficult to possess a complete presentation that stays at such a level.
The two outstanding portions on show being ‘Come Over’ and a rather magnificent cover of Underworlds ‘Born Slippy’.
‘Come Over’ is a dreamy piece of post punk with drums to kill for and ‘Born Slippy’ is potentially the highlight of the whole day, blowing the walls of Broadcast.
Quickly skipping over to ABC2 just as Vladimir are finishing we attempt to catch a bit of KLOE but three-minutes is about all we manage, so as nice as those three-minutes are its upstairs to enjoy rock guitar god Thurston Moore and chums.
After what seems an eternity of tuning stroke intro fiddling the musical master-class that is the Thurston Moore band begins with ‘Forevermore’.
As is perhaps to be expected the majority of the material on show is culled from Moore’s latest non-Sonic Youth offering, The Best Day.
‘Forevermore’ is effortlessly segued into ‘Speak To The Wild’ the LP’s stand out opener track, “the king has come to join the band” sounds particularly apt; drumstick-scrape guitars and hum up amps topped off by My Bloody Valentine’s Debbie Goodge bass brilliance.
I had toyed with the prospect of bolting down the road to see a bit of BABY STRANGE, but predictably Moore and his cohort’s classic sprawling guitar odysseys simply didn’t allow an early exit.
No gimmicks light shows or questionable clothing attire, just pure unadulterated joy, performed by professionals at the top of their game, the closest we get to stage banter is “this song is about independence”.
The sheer intensity on show during the rendition of the title track is enough alone to hold those in the ABC’s attention, the gnarled guitar jam accompanied by understated vocals is arguably as good as any within Moore’s catalogue.
Just as Moore wraps things up I decide to hot foot it back over to Broadcast and catch London based trio Yak.
If I say that Yak mix bluesy psychedelia with the insistent drumming and droning synths of Krautrock, are you going to be able to imagine what that sounds like? The most I can say about the performance is that the band played, I was there, and I enjoyed their music, but after that I’m at a bit of a loss as to what to say.
Their most memorable moments tend to occur out with a musical context, the general chaos they portray becomes more of a feature than the music itself; comically requesting more bass throughout, singing strangers in the night, discussions over which key is played and lots of messing about with the backstage curtain among other ‘highlights’.
‘Strangers in the Night’ is the least obscured vocal on show as crashing guitars and a general intoxication of noise dominate the room.
The music they play is distinctive, in that they don’t sound exactly like anyone else, but the individual songs soon become a bit of a grind.
Nothing to particularly dislike, but there’s precious little that feels genuinely inspired either.
Maybe the band are tired or maybe the audience aren’t appreciative enough, whatever the reasons, I leave the performance feeling that what I witnessed was nothing to write home about and as the drummer chucks his kit we chuck it.
Back at The Art School we find that most disappointingly Moon Duo are in fact not a duo any more, somehow they have seen fit to have three live members.
The psychedelic side project to Ripley Johnson of Wooden Shijps takes us on a journey through time and space, guitar crashing, electronics throbbing, and motorik beat propelling the melodic noise forward through a galaxy of reverb.
For the 20-minute window we have with Moon Duo, their somewhat intergalactic wanderings translate into something approaching Sunday night space rock bliss.
The psychedelic projections that accompany Moon Duo are still fresh in the find as we trample back to the ABC to get a decent spot for Stag & Dagger headliners Django Django.
In town, just as the difficult second album is set to become available, they announce their presence to the ABC with synth-pulses, which near split the venue in half.
Their natural quirkiness is matched in every aspect of their sound, from vocalist Vinny Neff’s playful singing style to some delightfully wonky electronics.
Admittedly, they all too often settle into a repetitive mid-tempo blur, but the crowd are nevertheless captivated, lapping up the sugary lead single from their 1st LP, ‘Default’, in particular.
The set is punctuated with new cuts, which the crowd is understandably less receptive to, but the band are in fine form and enjoying themselves as the frontman beams “last time we played this we were way down the pile, now look at us!”
A few songs in, a new number with a particularly jazz influenced vibe shakes the venue up, toes tap and heads nod along as the track develops into something approaching acid house.
Synth sounds bounce off the walls and reverb back, bringing us all together in an encompassing Django Django embrace, with fans craving more.
The quick one-two double whammy of ‘Waveforms’ and ‘Skies Over Cairo’ is possibly the peak of the set, samples, blips, beeps, riffs, vocal cues and suddenly we’re transported to another location; the extended version of ‘Skies Over Cairo’ provides a fantastic evocation of deserts, sand dunes, oasis’ and bustling bazaars.
Having seen Django several times previously I shuffle downstairs prior to the conclusion of their set to see some Dutch Uncles in ABC2.
Four albums into their career Dutch Uncles are relative veterans compared to much of today’s lineup, indeed Duncan Wallis has been doing questionable dance moves while crooning to synths way before Letterman ‘discovered’ Samuel Herring.
A polished six-piece full of quirks Manchester’s Dutch Uncles have a healthy backing in ABC’s smaller venue, with many dance face offs taking place to accompany Wallis and co.
Sneaky shifting time signatures merge with those funky Kinks/Small Faces type hooks are order of the day on the likes of ‘Belio’ and ‘Flexxin’ as the crowd warm further to the likeable Manchester outfit.
While the hardcore element of their fanbase may have preferred some more hidden gems from their library, there is no denying the quality of the newer numbers showcased tonight with the soulful ‘Be Right Back’ a wonderfully harmonic stand out.
Wallis claiming that tonight’s crowd are better than Leeds gains further brownie points from an already convinced and by now fairly inebriated Glasgow audience.
“Maybe am just crazy, lazy” sings Wallis in between a xylophone duel meshed with sloppy sampling, there is no doubt Wallis carries a certain eccentric stage presence, which should hopefully help Dutch Uncles capture the larger audience their talent merits.
After waiting for an encore that wasn’t to be we march back up Sauchiehall Street to Broadcast again, however, having collected yet another cheeky ale it becomes apparent that everyone has had the same plan and the closest we are getting to hearing Bully is again via the stairs.
Once Bully are finished things only continue to get more over populated, so we have to admit defeat in our attempts to see the remaining two bands set to play in the basement.
Only time left to slink away to another venue minus the live acts we so craved, oh well, next year then?
Words: Andy Quigley
Photos: Tim Gray