When you picture the line up of By The Sea Festival, the venues imagined to embrace the likes of HMLTD and Flamingods tend to be along the lines of Moth Club, London or Soup Kitchen, Manchester. A quant little seaside town in Kent certainly doesn’t jump to mind. But if Jarvis Crocker was on board last year then the world of indie rock and alternative music should follow suit. Introducing, By The Sea Festival 2017, Margate…!
It’s about two hours travel time from London St Pancras until you reach the end of Kent. It’s bright and bustling with the sound of gulls overhead and a nip in the air suggests that Autumn has come to welcome in the rest of the year. The town is small and all very walkable so a stroll along the beach is strongly advised before the afternoon proceeds. The venue for the night is Dreamland. Complete with a roller disco and a dingy games arcade untouched since the 80’s… if the tv shows Twin Peaks and Stranger Things had ever done a crossover episode it would most likely be filmed right here.
With a few hours until the party really starts, we exit Dreamland and wonder over to Olby’s Soul Cafe where Scotti Brains is playing. It’s a dark, underground venue which makes the day feel like midnight when it is in fact 4pm. The front woman stands on the corner of the stage, and as the band starts to play, play, play, you begin to realise it’s an instrumental. Except it’s not. Suddenly the woman in the corner starts wailing, yowling, moaning, on and on and on. This continues throughout the set but in different tempos. And with that, Scotti Brains have given ‘experimental’ a way more literal meaning.
Back to Dreamland feeling disorientated. After a few games of pinball it’s Girl Ray’s turn at the Roller Disco. They start slow, with whispy lullabies which whisked the room back in time, to a high school disco with teenage lovers holding tightly onto each other, swaying in time. Everything about the stage’s layout and the room itself embodied just that. A smoke machine paired lustful guitars and fluorescent neon lights transport you back to distant times where music was key and young love was in the air… and it’s all here and very present in Dreamland. But like desperate hands swatting away smoke from the air, the set is abruptly thrown into a pit of teenage angst for the last two tracks. Girl Ray finished up and electrified the crowd, who were now very much ready for HMLTD.
HMLTD were the highlight of the weekend. The stage presence paired with the outfits had won Margate over before instruments were even touched. They have such a powerful and bold energy that you wouldn’t expect to find in such newcomers. The accidental fumbling around is all worked into the act - or more accurately - performance. Happy Meal opened with 'Is This What You Wanted?', introducing the crowd slowly but surely into the mayhem that was about to ensue. At times you forget you are watching a band instead of an art show at Goldsmiths. It’s only until Kinkaku-Ji kicks off that you realise what an absolutely wonderful, noisey mess you’ve just stumbled upon. Elements of glam rock, electronica and bauhaus are all combined for the viewers confused pleasure. Sexual, loud and bizarre, HMLTD put on a show that was too good for Margate.
Next, the main event. Even though Happy Meal just stole the show, Metronomy were about to provide the funk that fuels the heart. Fittingly starting up with ‘Summer 08’ opener ‘Back Together’, the warehouse-like space slowly fills up to capacity and you feel the happiness bouncing around. After a few songs, and a “Hello Margate!” from Joseph Mount, those five recognisable keys are played slowly, teasing the crowd for what is to come.
And of course it’s ‘The English Riviera’s most beloved track. ”This isn't Paris, and this isn't London, it's not Berlin, and it's not Hong Kong” chimes throughout the room and to my right I hear a “No, it’s bloody Margate!” with the pride only a true Kentish man could possess. The evening is in full swing by now. “Does anyone in the crowd know how it feels to be in love?” Joe asks. With an uproar in response, in we go to ‘Love Letters’ and the crowd seems to reach peak electro happiness.
Sweat-covered and tired, it’s time to chill and have a lukewarm beer and a cig out in the wet. For the last act of the night we return to the Roller Disco stage to feast our eyes on the tribal Flamingods, who do not disappoint with their sweet sounds of psych rock lullabies. Coming out of the cold rain and into the Flamingods feels like an intense trip of its own, as you are suddenly fully immersed in all strange and wonderful sounds of the middle east paired with a psychedelic twist of the 70’s that makes you completely forget you are in ‘bloody Margate’.
Reaching out to at least three different corners of the world for inspiration, you feel like you’ve just embarked on your very own gap year. By The Sea is still a relatively new festival with a lot to learn still - that is incredibly obvious. But it feels like the acts that came to play, really came to play. It can’t be said for all, (including an act who are purposely not mentioned, points for guessing who) but there is something very sweet and genuine about this prehistoric English seaside town which makes it the perfect venue for newcomers to the scene.
Here’s to next year!
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Words: Laura Copley
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