Rating: 5 out of 5
Now in its third year, and most definitely at home, By The Sea festival returned to Margate in glorious style. Having surely established itself as Kent's premier music festival, By The Sea once again upped its game with an inspired roll call of artists. Across the last weekend in September, and in some iconic venues that included Dreamland heritage theme park and the Margate Winter Gardens, East Kent was treated to a spectacular musical menu.
If the thrill of riding the U.K.'s oldest wooden roller coaster, The Scenic Railway, taking a stroll along the golden sands or even seeing Steve Davis DJ in Olby's Soul Café were not enough to tempt you down to the coast on Friday night then surely huge dancing bears and the Hall By The Sea's headline acts were. As the dodgem DJs began to spin their last few tunes, the theme park took on a new guise under the bright lights and neon kitsch. As the yearning for Candy Floss subsided and the need for an Acapulco Taco took over Dreamland came to life.
Dutch Uncles were in great spirits in The Hall By The Sea kicking off their set with 'Oh Yeah' off of their most recent and most successful album to date, 'Big Balloon'. Singer Duncan Wallis was in fine form, excited to 'finally be there' and even inviting the crowd to come and 'ram us later' on the dodgems. With some very funky slap bass, a playful exuberance and a tight, polished set, Dutch Uncles proved a delight. After delivering crowd favourites, 'Face In' and 'Fester', Duncan declared, 'That's enough dancing around like p***ks, we're 30 for God's sake! If we wanted to be sick we'd have gone on the waltzers!' 'Steetlight' and a pulsating, percussively excellent 'Big Balloon' followed before the first of the evening's crowd participation, the harder hitting 'Dressage', closed out their set.
The stage was re-dressed for British Sea Power. Surrounded by trees, quite a few taxidermied birds and various other foliage, BSP brought a touch of refinement to The Hall By The Sea. 'Machineries Of Joy' sounded magnificent as Abi Fry's violin perfectly complemented the guitar and drum rhythms. Strobe lights enhanced the machine gun drumming of 'Bad Bohemian' before the fabulous looping bass line of 'Larsen B' shone through. A magenta glow bathed the band for 'Who's In Control' before 'Lights Out', and a pumped up take on 'Remember Me'. As the band played on, two huge and very entertaining bears proceeded to dance through the amassed crowd. It was a toss up as to whether to watch the bears or the band! A quality, three track finale of 'Carrion', 'Waving Flags' and a brooding, building, largely instrumental 'The Great Skua' ensured it was the latter, although it was a close call.
Everything Everything rounded out Friday night in their customary coordinated attire. The volume was ramped up and the sound reverberated around the hall as they tore into 'Night Of The Long Knives' and latest single 'Desire'. The Hall By The Sea was packed out with a clearly appreciative crowd (including a rather respectable middle-aged chap who was wearing my favourite t-shirt of the weekend...'Straight Outta Whitstable') as falsetto vocals, electro keys and thumping bass lines rang out. A playful 'Get To Heaven' set up the sing-a-long to 'Regret', floor filler 'Run The Numbers' and the intensity of 'Big Game'. A superb delivery of the title track of EE's latest album 'Fever Dream' kept the crowd engaged but it was the three track encore that raised the roof. A unified crowd clapped and danced out the closers 'MY KZ UR BF', 'Distant Past' and the lyrically brilliant 'No Reptiles' ('It's alright to feel like a fat child in a pushchair', exactly!). Lead vocalist Jonathan Higgs summed it up, 'Margate, you've been amazing.'
Saturday gave up a wider choice of venues. Margate Museum opened its doors to Martin Creed and closed out with Stephen Black, a.k.a Sweet Baboo, whilst Olby's Soul Café hosted Scotti Brains and Gentle Stranger amongst others. It was in the shabby chic of The Roller Disco, however, that I found both of my early evening's, polar different, entertainments. Girl Ray were a delight both musically and lyrically. 'Ghostly' was a real treat: 'If you're feeling down in the dumps, call me up, we'll play Top Trumps.' The jangly guitars and harmonies were in full swing for 'Don't Go Back At Ten' and 'oldie, semi-goldie' 'Preacher' before they picked up the pace 'to a sweet BPM' for 'I'll Make This Fun'. Girl Ray also delivered a punchier take on 'Trouble', very possibly a fitting introduction to the next band on stage.
Headline acts will draw the crowds but it's further down the bill that you can often find a surprise or two; a hidden gem, a one to watch or the next big thing. The Roller Disco delivered on all counts at around 8:45pm. My curiosity was rewarded with one of the most astonishing, unique and original performances I have seen in years. HMLTD were nothing short of amazing. With a Punk influenced, Glam Rock flavoured intensity that was ear bleedingly loud they were visually astonishing and musically astounding. Through a blistering seven track set they tore the Roller Disco apart. Looking like something out of a zombie apocalypse movie and sounding like Marilyn Manson meets Sigue Sigue Sputnik with a little Peter Murphy and Iggy Pop thrown in for good measure, they were a revelation. 'To The Door' shook the fabric of the room to its extremes before 'Music' and 'Stained' closed out a performance that no one will forget in a hurry. I felt like I had witnessed the future and it was very, very bright!
Over in The Hall By The Sea there was some riotous thrashing about courtesy of 'Shame' before Marika Hackman changed the mood with a more contemplative, considered set. 'Great Intentions' was the opener, and they may have been her wish, but Marika never really seemed to connect and engage with the crowd. 'Ophelia', complete with its 'Tusk' like drumming, sounded great and there was more life in gig by the time we got to 'Gina's World'. Marika invited the crowd to dance as 'this one's more bouncy' before striking out with 'Boyfriend' and closing up with a sonic onslaught by way of 'Blah Blah Blah' but over all I was a little underwhelmed, and there was no 'Animal Fear' which was a shame indeed.
A very smartly turned out Metronomy restored the balance with a spectacular performance. They quickly set about pleasing the enormous crowd with a segue of three tracks off their last album 'Summer '08'. 'Back Together', 'Miami Logic' and 'Old Skool' immediately got the crowd's attention and got them dancing . Performing (nearly) all in white, looking like the remains of the Guilty Remnant (Leftovers) on a platform of dry ice, Metronomy owned the Hall By The Sea. On 'the Eastern-most gig of [their] tour', Joseph commented that it seemed like a long while since the band had performed indoors. It made no odds as they played out their biggest tunes to a very appreciative audience. They smashed it with 'The Bay' and blew us all away with 'Mick Slow'. The three ladies to the side of me were word perfect all night and the rest of the crowd were never left faltering. There was a real party atmosphere inside The Hall By The Sea as 'On Dancefloors', 'Night Owl' and Anna's stage front appearance for 'Everything Goes My Way' kept the crowd in the proverbial palm of the band's hand. A fabulous 'The Look' and 'Reservoir' encore ensured the night went down a storm, for both the band and most certainly the By The Sea crowd.
Sunday saw a sportswear-clad Rakel Mjoll of former Kills support band Dream Wife rock up in playfully mischievous form at The Queens Hall of Margate's Winter Gardens. With the odd Spice Girls interjection, Dream Wife drew a curious crowd that were possibly 'confused and amused'. They played out an eight track set including 'Act My Age', 'FUU' and closer 'Let's Make Out' before the doors of the main venue were flung open.
Blaenavon made their second trip to Margate Winter Gardens in less than a month, having supported Alt-J earlier in September. 'Take Care' and 'My Bark Is Your Bite' were set highlights from the Hampshire trio, however you got the sense that the crowd were just waiting for the main event rather than trying to enjoy the appetiser. Bassist Frank Wright did his best to inject some energy into proceedings with his animated performance and closers 'Orthadox Man' and the seismic finale of Prague '99 did not disappoint.
With a brief pause and a star turn for The Magic Mod, it was left to The Libertines to bring By The Sea 2017 to a spectacular close. With only three albums to their name, it was like listening to a set list of greatest hits from the sometimes fractious foursome. The Libertines held nothing back tonight though and played out a fantastic gig that they too looked like they thoroughly enjoyed. From the slower ballad of the magnificent 'You're My Waterloo' through to the blistering brilliance of 'Up The Bracket', Pete, Carl, John and Gary delivered a stand-out, crowd pleasing performance. 'Time For Heroes' got the gig off to a superb start and after that everything else just seemed to fall into place with only the occasional let up for drinks to be served, swim suits and fur coats to be thrown on stage and Pete and Carl to have the odd chat. 'Boys In The Band', 'The Saga' and Campaign Of Hate' kept up the incredible momentum and ensured the electric, palpable atmosphere in the Winter Gardens was maintained throughout a very special night. Pete had the occasional wobble and even started a few tracks prostrate on the floor but he didn't miss a cue. 'Can't Stand Me Know', 'Heart Of The Matter', 'Fame And Fortune' and a playful 'What Katy Did' were all mesmerising performances from one of the most watchable bands you'll ever see. 'Horror Show' headed up the a whimsical 'Good Old Days' before a quite unforgettable four track encore that fittingly ended with fan favourite 'Don't Look Back Into The Sun'.
After three days and some quite breath-taking performances, By The Sea 2017 had drawn to a close. Its latest incarnation was most certainly its best to date. The headline acts were first rate and the supporting bill a fabulous mix of new talent and more established acts. Let's hope we'll all be back By The Sea next year.