by Katharine Fry
Photo credits for Friday: Katharine Fry
Photo credits for Saturday: Jennifer Wexler
Dalston, a Land of Kings, and I’m not talking about large men brandishing larger kebabs, though those are also available in plentiful supply. Yes, the hip spot-hopping night returned to the ever expanding Dalston drag for another year with more music, more names and more venues than before, pitting its caché of cool against the mighty Camden Crawl.
With 17 venues and a whole host of simultaneous action, planning a winning recipe for a night to remember appeared a hit or miss affair but with some helpful adjectives from the programme and some tips from the crowd – Dalston did not disappoint!
First up on Friday was Magnolia, a basement banqueting hall complete with crystal chandeliers. After getting wristbanded up, I entered the most high-tech of the night’s stages complete with retro rounded sepia screens and a 3d wall projection device, staying for some of The Invisible’s pulsating guitar philosophising before the grass is greener syndrome kicked in and I space-popped my way over to the Shacklewell Arms for Famy.
One problem with such a large line-up became apparent – split crowds mean small crowds. It felt like I was watching a band play to their mates and maybe I was – the whole are they aren’t they French banter from the gathered fans went way over my head – but that didn’t stop Famy delivering an awesome set.
Framed by a folk influence with a punk edge, we went from a vocal driven hair holding yodel to some amazing syncopated drumming strumming and clapping before arriving at my new favourite song about a girl called Eileen, this time a moaned and whispered call and respond by the lead and the drummer. Rapture was in their harmonies and the crowd’s applause as I left on a high to get down with O Children at Birthdays. P.S.I have since found out Famy are indeed French.
Birthdays, a fresh music venue filling the space left by African outfit Open the Gate, is so brand spanking new that the ladies room is filled with eau de polyfiller and comes to you sans mirrors or locks. A comfort break and a Desperado later and I was down the front for O Children, last seen at Green Man 2010. Truth to be told, I couldn’t remember much from that set beyond lead Tobias O’Kandi’s very large hands but I knew I was excited. After roadieing for themselves they reappeared transformed (winter coats removed) and got down to business. The low snarl that emerged from between those beautiful cheekbones spoke of much darker material recalling something between Joy Division and the Liars while the commanding percussion said you must move and obey. We duly did, the spell only broken when they made their exit and I was free to catch editor-at-large’s hot tip for the night, Slow Club.
Disappointmenterama! I made it back to the Shacklewell Arms in good time but nary a band was in sight. Apparently, licensing meant they had to pull the later end of the live programme and put on the djs and those hooked on twitter were in the know. Grr. Some 5am streaming gave me a taste of what might have been. Next time.
Now for something completely different – Dalston Boy’s Club for Live Art Speed Date. I’ve been to one of these before, a formally organised affair where you use date cards to go from booth to booth for 3 minute’ dates’. Not so this time. I burst through the door into a hula hoop-off, the only way to score apparently. Wearing only a circle of black lace rather hindered my hooping but some immodest tucking later and I’d taken a token, slipping away to find my first booth before the human pyramid had fully taken shape. Some blind staggering up and down staircases and along skinny balconies and I finally happened on what looked like something. A velvet rope was swept aside and I was ushered to my own private banqueting table. Eat like no-one’s watching. There are no rules. There is no shame. So I did. Smoked salmon, blue cheese, apricots, strawberries, Christmas cake, Big Macs, jars of pickles, a dubious spam and sausage session and more was the perfect 1am pick me up. But where was the interaction LASD has become famous for? Ah-ha! The real action is in the basement. Soon my head was in Japanese artist Yoko Ishiguro’s lap for an ear massage complete with soothing oil, tinkling piano and the laughter of children. Bliss!
And to follow my relaxtion session? Only one thing. D.A.N.C.I.N.G. As the bands wound down, the djs revved up and I headed to the relocated Arcola for an eagerly awaited set from he with the telephone cans of Durr and Trash fame, one Rory Phillips. A rib-busting crush later and the tiny floor was rammed with eager bodies, though as we couldn’t use the toilets without forfeiting our spot and requeuing, some of the moves might have been more of a leg-squeeze panic shuffle. Baaaad! After bounce bounce bouncing under the smoke machines and disco lights I was looking to get down, deep and dirty with some heavy bass and thought Eliphino at The Alibi might cut the mustard.
However, the onset of uber-queue syndrome led discretion to be the better part of valour and I retired ready for Saturday which started with a swoon! Upstairs at the Vortex was ready to burst for Land Shapes (formerly Lulu & the Lampshades) who used two electric ukes, a mighty red xylophone, pom poms and leopard print, not to mention harmony upon harmony of sweeping beauty to put us all in thrall. I’ve said it once and I’ll say it again. Swoon. Or, as my friend had it, they’re really good.
All stirred up, we returned to Birthday’s basement for an aural blasting courtesy of Kitsuné’s Is Tropical. And how! Soaring electronic sampling, heavy drum beats and transportative chords took us on a psych-pop-dance-romp-shoegaze kind of journey. They’ve dropped the masks form previous outings, now preferring to use curtains of hair to confound their audience. The posse’s verdict? Also really good.
Tanked on tinnitus, we’d run out of hot tips or people we’d heard of, so putting our faith in our programme notes, we plumped for Kutmah, ‘a pioneer of the LA tripped-out electronic hip-hop scene’ but, this being the Shacklewell Arms, another genre seemed to start slipping in D.I.S.C.NO. Being true children of the 80s we renounced the funky grooves for an extended drinking session soundtracked by dirty rock in the bar’s front room.
Restored, we soldiered on but were hitting club queue jams left, right and centre, choosing to pick our next venue using the mother of all discerning criteria – we can get in here straight away. Boys Club it was! Though when we discovered the dj was called Comadisco, we knew the flavour was not to our taste. Off again! Last stop was The Alibi where Is Tropical were taking to the decks for some rip-roaring shook up action.
17 venues in 2 nights, a heady challenge. We rose to it valiantly but with so much on offer and only two legs to carry us, we were bound to miss some of the more obscure delights. I would have liked to check out the Literary Death Match or the Poetry Slam, maybe have caught some of the film screenings and been looking lively enough to make some of the afternoon action too. Next year. Promise.