On the South East coast of England, in the once resplendent seaside resort of Margate, By The Sea Festival took up residency in the re-imagined heritage pleasure park, Dreamland. After the success of Foals and Hot Chip in its inaugural year By The Sea returned to a resurgent Margate to blend the established with the up and coming in an environment like no other. Amongst the helter skelter, big wheel, carousels and coasters the various artists took to the stages (and decks) in the wonderfully evocative Roller Disco, down at the dodgems or in the newly restored Hall By The Sea. With Kiss Me Quick cocktails and enough locally brewed cider to entice The Wurzels the amassed throngs were in for a very entertaining weekend.
Wild Beasts ("They're so f'ing sexy"-Blaine Harrison, Mystery Jets) got off to a cracking start in the Hall By The Sea with a pumped up version of 'Big Cat' and an impromptu birthday celebration for "ideosynchratic drummer" Chris Talbot before launching into a sizemic, shape shifting and floor shaking rendition of 'He The Colossus' and a wonderful working of 'Wanderlust'. The Kendal foursome sounded on top of their game, channelling circa '82 Simple Minds, ahead of their upcoming live set on 6Music.
In the shabby chic surroundings of the kitsch come cool Roller Disco, Mystery Jets got joyously playful with 'Flash A Hungry Smile'. After the initial grief imparted in 'Telomere' they ramped up the tempo and asked the assembled masses, "do you feel like dancing?" A blinding rendition of their single, 'Bubblegum', ensued. Taken from the band's latest album, 'Curve Of The Earth', it easily got the biggest interaction of the night so far. The Middlesex quartet followed up with another crowd pleaser, 'Young Love', and quite bizarrely another birthday shout-out, this time for Gary who did all of the MJ's art work! With apparently "too many tracks for just one album this year" the band took to a highlight off their new 5 track E.P, 'The Whole Earth', 'The World Is Overtaking Me' sounded spectacular, with front man Blaine and his three cohorts synched in tight unison, delivering a belting track replete with (Tubeway Army era) Numan esc keyboard loop, they sounded awesome; full of passion and presence as well as full of love for their fellow performers, especially The Big Moon, Wild Beasts and Meilyr Jones (at one time late on in his set striking a quick Bowie pose whilst teasing us with an all too brief classic Bowie riff) Mystery Jets pitched it perfectly in the Roller Disco with a short, sharp very entertaining set that left you just aching for a little more.
Friday nights headliners, Super Furry Animals, took a while to engage, easing us in with 'Slow Life' and 'Tradewinds'. However, by the time we'd heard a warming 'Hello Sunshine' and a superbly rendered 'Juxtaposed With U' (with fab vocoder enhanced vocals, backing images from the original video and wonderfully interwoven chemistry between Gruff Ryhs and his band) there was no doubt about the appreciation from the packed audience. Amidst the Hall By The Sea the hazmat besuited boys embraced their seaside stage. The Welsh band's first new single in seven years, 'Bing Bong', brought a wry smile as the prompt boards/flash cards came out. Gestated in the valleys and born into Brit Pop the Welsh take on pyschedelia was flavoured with the odd nod to prog rock, some very acutely delivered synth work and an overwhelming sense of unity and harmony. After 20 plus years honing their craft you had to revel in their majesty. They closed out in their own inimitable style with the rousing 'The Man Don't Give A F**k' before a brief reappearance donned ala Chewy. 'Resist phoney encores' the board read and so exit stage (right, not left) they did, capping off a wonderful night with aplomb.
As the Enterprise, rockets and speedway were put to bed for the night Ibibio Sound Machine and DJ Joe Goddard kept the party going over in the Roller Disco. The last of the rides and the last of the candy floss had been spun for the night.
Saturday initially looked rather questionable with intermittent heavy showers throughout the day threatening to put a damper on proceedings. There was no need to worry, by the time early evening arrived all fears were allayed; the rain disappeared, the clouds departed and the sell-out crowd made its way in, Jarvis Cocker took to his roll over at the dodgems with a deft hand on the decks so naturally it was like a lost vocation suddenly realised. "As darkness falls, this is when the dodgems come to into their own" he commented, "let's have the next set of expert drivers, seat belts on, drive in the right direction" he instructed as, oh so aptly, 'Do what they told you' rung out from 'Killing In The Name Of'.
Over in The Hall By The Sea Let's Eat Grandma drew a sizable and inquisitive crowd. Rosa and Jenny, Norwich's finest duo (Possibly ever), gave us what was the closest thing to performance art by any act of the weekend. 'Deep Six Textbook' and 'Eat Shiitake Mushrooms' amongst others made sure they didn't go "bat shit crazy' as the, clearly talented beyond their meagre years, teens shifted through more mood swings than a home for those with dissociative identity disorder. The multi-instrumentalists brought drama and theatre to the shores of Kent as well as a refreshing appreciation for the much maligned recorder!
Making her fourth trip to Margate this year Natasha Khan, aka Bat For Lashes, was next to tread the boards of this compelling stage. Looking serenely beautiful and elegantly regal in her red wedding gown and kitten heals Natasha played what was truly a magnificent set from the off. With three tracks from her latest album The Bride, 'I Do', Joe's Dream and 'In God's House', she immediately gripped the audience with a performance that was spine tingling breath-taking. Natasha ensured that this was one of the most memorable sets of the weekend mixing old with new and giving every song the utmost respect and minute attention to detail. 'Marilyn', 'Daniel' and a devastatingly superb rendition of 'Laura' were all simply brilliant. 'Sleep Alone', Glass' and even a take off their debut album 'Fur And Gold', 'What's A Girl To Do', ran through like a gold plated playlist. Her mesmerising performance, and stupefying vocals, had everything, including a great cover of Fleetwood Mac's 'Gypsy'. This really was one of the best gigs I've seen in years; it was like experiencing something almost spiritual it was that good.
In between times and back over in the Roller Disco Strong Asian Mothers delivered up an impassioned performance before the angelic vocals of Anna Meredith took over. She and her band delivered up a rousing and wonderfully percussive set showcasing the individuality and artistry that is gradually bringing her to the attention of an ever wider audience. Later on Jagwar Ma, and then Sink The Pink ensured the party was far from over as they mixed up a storm on the disco floor for hardy revellers.
By The Sea's final headliner in The Hall By The Sea was hotly anticipated and eagerly awaited by the biggest crowd of the weekend. On the back of numerous awards and a plethora of nominations, including a Mercury, Wolf Alice arrived after a phenomenal couple of years like a tornado to blow away all before them. Ellie, Theo, Joff and Joel looked and played like there would be no tomorrow. Their delivery was explosive and venomous; full of pent up energy, gnarly angst and frenzied excitement. With only one album and a couple of E.P's to their name the set was like their back catalogue on shuffle, but, that's more than fine when your output to date is packed full of such potency. The band tore it up with a super-charged 'Lisbon', a gloriously hard and heavy 'Fluffy' and a wonderfully worked version of their idiosyncratic stop-start standout 'Your Loves Whore'. The mosh-pit got manic and messy, the band incited, enticed and engaged....."this is our last f'ing show for so long we're all about to cry so let's have some fun, yeah" Theo called out. A rousing take on 'Silk' and a magnificent 'Swallowtail' (Complete with drummer Joel lit up like 'Jesus') were some of the many highlights. The best tracks of the night however were clearly the most feral. 'You're A Germ' and the eventual close out track 'Giant Peach' were simply brilliant; they dazzled in their own mania and whipped up enough energy to power a small town. As a fitting finale to proceedings Ellie was carried aloft from the front of the stage to the back of the hall, capping off a perfect performance.
Under a skyscape that would have undoubtedly inspired JMW Turner himself, in a venue that in its glorious heyday played host to The Rolling Stones and The Who amongst others, Dreamland and By The Sea conjured up a magical weekend of piquant pop, incendiary indie rock, ethereal eloquence and quintessentially British psych. With all the fun of the fair and through an inspirational and inspired line-up the two nights went off with a bang and left everyone buzzing with excitement. (Save the date for 2017!)
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