If you’re Europe based, then the UK can be a bittersweet scene to follow: you can enjoy the bands from afar but rarely can you get sweaty in a crowd whilst they storm a set onstage. Luckily, London Calling sees Amsterdam’s Paradiso transformed twice a year into a melting pot of new music, transplanting the allure of England’s capital closer to home and into the gorgeous 2-room ex-church.
Kicking off day 1 is Cardiff quartet Boy Azooga, who take to the stage grinning ear-to-ear and ready to wreak havoc. Early singles ‘Face Behind the Cigarette’ and ‘Loner Boogie’ get the crowd grooving, but it’s the upcoming tracks from debut 1, 2, Kung Fu! that really let the group show off their talents. Stitching together their sound from a multitude of indie-kid influences, they could sound derivative – it’s testament to the young 4-piece’s talent that they weave the threads into a unique ride, littered with dirty Led Zeppelin-esque riffs and afrobeat grooves. Dedicating songs to nearly everyone in the room, lead Davey Newington is clearly enjoying himself (so much so he ends the set on his arse) and so are the crowd.
After the excitement of the Heavenly signees, there’s time for a quick break before finding our way to the small hall to catch New Yorkers Frankie Cosmos. The 4-piece are slick and tight, sounding much like they do on new album Vessel, from which most of the setlist is taken tonight. While not as thrilling as what’s come before, the introspective indie-pop is a nice respite from the chaos elsewhere.
Ending TMB’s Friday (our excuse: it was a long and hot day, but feel free to call us cowards for leaving early) is the excellent Frankenstein stadium-rock of Husky Loops. Teasing epic riffs out into weirder territories, the Italy-via-London trio craft a wild ride of wonky rock and deliver it with stylish panache. Looking as slick as they sound, a breakthrough hit could see them become an eccentric answer to the question ‘What would Royal Blood sound like if they bothered to be interesting?’. After an exhilarating set packed with curveball pop samples (Ed Sheeran gets a nod) and lightning-sharp guitars, the group end on a bizarre bum note with what sounds like a Kooks ripoff. Sometimes, like a student in freshers who’s just found Tumblr, facial hair and ketamine, the 3-piece are just too weird for their own good. In a weird turn of events, the strangest moment is ending with their blandest song.
A blisteringly hot Saturday gets off to an intoxicating start with the always reliable Porridge Radio, marking their international debut in incredible style. Debuting a number of new songs from an impending second album, those arriving early enough for Dana Margolin and co are treated to a furiously fecund set, fraught with emotional intensity and sweetened with gorgeous pop melodies. It’s made all the more impressive by the fact that the band are functioning on less than five hours sleep.
Following the Brighton 6-piece is a disappointing set from Flyte who fail to get the crowd moving despite their best attempts. Ditching the hymnal approach of early breakthrough tracks for the limp indie-pop of last year’s debut The Loved Ones, the high point is an acapella cover of Alvvays’ ‘Archie Marry Me’, which seemed like the permission to leave the crowd were waiting for, as they slowly drained out of the regal church hall.
Much busier is Snapped Ankles, on the smaller stage, who bring a throbbing tempest of psych-dance music jams, whilst dressed like bog monsters. Only South London could birth such weirdness but only the musicians on stage could craft such fruitful and intense dance-prog. A unique set in every sense of the word, the brandishing of neon strip lighting becomes a call to arms and the crowds respond with a sweaty moshpit, the first of the festival for the normally polite European crowds. Angular and dynamic, the group are a sick surprise and their pummelling rhythms are an excellent remedy to tepid acts elsewhere.
Bodega are up next, and following a scorching SXSW and equally hyped appearances at Brighton’s Great Escape, the room quickly packs out. The Brooklyn 5-piece maintain the pounding energy of Snapped Ankles’ grooves, but choose to pursue grinding post-punk in place of swirling psych. Replacing a conventional drummer with two in standing position, 4 members capitalise on unrelenting, frantic movements whilst the lead singer captivatingly holds court with long lasting, static stares like New York’s answer to Morrissey, both cocky and romantic. Musically a concentrated dose of New York’s DNA, they combine the jagged riffs and idiosyncratic rhythms of Parquet Courts with the vocals and approach to dance indebted to LCD Soundsystem. Expect big things – romantic, slower numbers are a surprising and tender respite while harder tracks are built for partying.
Heading back down to the magnificent bigger hall, we find Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever although you’d be forgiven for losing them in a cloud of disappointing fuzz. Their clean sound on record, balancing delicate textures with intelligent songwriting is lost completely as a result of an overcrowded stage. Despite the messy sound, the crowd enjoy themselves and closer ‘The French Press’, easily one of last year’s best songs, is the perfect solution to the disaster of the preceding set which even blurry sound can’t tarnish.
Warmduscher are an excellently chaotic way to end London Calling – sleazy, sticky and sordid. Wrapping snappy riffs and a charismatic frontman up in filthy scuzz and wicked drumming, their set is yet another highlight from a hit-and-miss festival (mostly hits).
London Calling brought some of the most exciting new acts in music from not just the UK, but the world – see you in October for more of the same.