Perhaps the most highly anticipated annual event on Glasgow’s musical calendar, Stag & Dagger heralds in the start of the festival season and once again floods Sauchiehall Street’s venues with an array of excellent talent.
Over the years, the festival has put on up-and-coming acts in intimate venues before they have exploded, with the likes of Royal Blood and Catfish & The Bottlemen having played pre-stardom sets at the festival in recent years.
As the festival takes place over six venues and eight stages, we take on reviewing tasks as a duo in an aim to cover all of the best offerings Stag & Dagger has to offer
An early stage time at an all-day festival can be a hindrance to artists who often are subjected to empty venues as audiences try to pace themselves – not here.
As LUCIA takes the stage for her early afternoon set (14.45), the Broadcast basement is packed to the rafters, and her brand of catchy punk sets a high standard from the off.
Her raspy vocals shine on the swaggering ‘What Am I’ before ending her short and sweet set on the riotous ‘Saturday Is Dead’.
The venue stays equally as mobbed as Shredd follow her and it’s Shredd by name, shred by nature as the three-piece make an absolute racket, making noise that sounds at least twice the sum of their parts.
Their set peaks on the excellent ‘I’ll Leave It’, sounding like The Vines in their heyday.
With more venues starting to open as we draw into the later portion of the afternoon, there’s more competition to attract crowds, however absolutely no one gives up their coveted spot in Broadcast for Rascalton.
One of the most hotly-tipped acts in Scotland at the moment, they are greeted with frenzied “RAS-CAL-TON! RAS-CAL-TON!” chants as they come onstage, and they haven’t even finished their first song by the time crowd surfers appear overhead.
The four-piece sound like Terry Hall fronting The Clash and the likes of ‘Hey Hottie’ and set closer ‘This Is It’ (where they are joined by Baby Strange frontman Johnny Madden) are indie anthems in waiting.
Immediately following them next door a cacophony of noise has another packed crowd witnessing a band that certainly has us excited in Edinburgh’s Bluebirds.
Regardless of the volume, and there definitely is volume, there is a real melody to them that runs through the four-piece, while pounding rhythm’s and Daniel Telford’s snarled vocals come up front and centre giving a punk edge to their heavier end of post rock sound.
Bluebirds carry a real confidence in their presence, and with their debut single, ‘Subcultural Love’ just out they could be onto a winner with Telford’s vocals at times taking a haunting reverberated spoken word format, akin to what we’ve come to expect from Dale Barclay in both Amazing Snakeheads and more recently in And Yet It Moves, before diving head first into powerful sections, backed by rhythms that stay clearly in place and keep their urgent tracks from tipping over the edge.
There is a massive queue outside the ABC as the excitement builds for The Vegan Leather, granted the venue isn’t quite open yet.
The band specialise in finely crafted effervescent electro-pop, and have everyone in the ABC2 dancing from the off.
In fact, the only person enjoying themselves more than the crowd, is frontman Gianluca Bernacchi, who has a smile plastered on his face throughout.
The Vegan Leather is The 1975 that it’s cool to like; fun, smart and accessible, their set is just one big party, and this is them just getting started – they play a midnight set at Broadcast later this evening.
It is then up the hill to the Vic Bar at The Art School for Roxy Agogo.
Fresh from being on lead guitar duties for LUCIA earlier this afternoon, Agogo and his two-piece backing band, featuring Christopher Ballantyne of The Lapelles, immerse themselves into their set of avant-garde performance art.
Agogo wishes the packed crowd luck early on, and his indulgent set is often a difficult listen; he does manage to sound refreshingly original as a result though.
‘When You Dress Up’ is a sleazy romp, before the immense ‘Crocod!les’ shocks everyone into submission as Agogo shrieks “I NEED SOME ATTENTION!” with the urgency of a man demanding his audience’s full undivided focus.
Meanwhile back down at Broadcast Berlin duo, touring as four-piece, Gurr become one of the highlights of the festival with a sparky dose of 60s girl group wonder that comes with a heavy dose of the 90s thrown in.
The fronting duo, Andreya and Laura Lee, are dripping with an addictive attitude as they tear through fast paced numbers even throwing in a chorus of ‘Hollaback Girl’ before launching into another charmer.
Gurr are fast, fun and completely endearing, the duo give a real engaging presence complete with welcoming smiles, cemented at the moment they request the crowd move forward and the crowd take the cue without a beat of hesitation.
Their surf tinged pop is just the dose for the early evening, as we start to move into regular gig times, and even if some mid song banter seems to get a little lost, the girl’s likeability wins through and we’re left with a truly rewarding set.
After making the dash up the hill to The Art School only to find that Shogun’s set has been canceled, there isn’t a better alternative than Artificial Pleasure down in The Priory’s dark, dingy basement.
If The Vegan Leather are The 1975 it’s cool to like, then Artificial Pleasure could become what The 1975 wish they were; their groove laden electro-artpop, complete with Phil McDonnell’s warbling falsetto are much grander than the setting forgives, indeed the frontman challenges people to dance with “if you dare”, in the tightly packed space.
Their sound packs all the indie dancefloor filling vibes you could wish for and McDonnell’s heavily accented banter is engaging in its crowd praising, which results in heckles of “fuck Newcastle” echoing around the venue.
Gang Of Youths are one of the surprise of the day; playing their brand of anthemic indie-rock, the Australian’s absolutely smash it.
They use their time onstage as a platform for some politically inspired rants, with frontman David Le’aupepe preaching “if you’re scared, I’m scared too”.
There’s a feeling of unanimous uplift in the atmosphere, also in the literal sense as Le’aupepe dives into the crowd and lifts people in the air as they end on single ‘Magnolia’, and the cacophonous ‘Vital Signs’.
The floorspace isn’t heaving by the time Marnie takes the stage in The Art School’s Assembly Room space, but it should be as the Ladytron singer’s set is shimmering in all the right ways; on point drumming from Jonny Scott, ethereal synths courtesy of Sarah J Stanley aka HQFU, and those dream glossed vocals that allow everything to soar in this space.
Marnie’s second solo outing, Strange Words and Weird Wars, is due very soon and given the chance to breathe there’s no reason why this collection of up-tempo dream pop won’t be as successful as her full band’s material; Marnie and her sound is effortlessly cool feeling in this space and leave those that have made it up the hill in a tranced daze.
Back at Broadcast and we have a distinctly less upbeat vibe from London trio Girl Ray, still Poppy Hankin’s distinctive Nico tinged vocals and the band’s lo-fi pop sound is a real warmer, possessing a timeless feel that’s hard to achieve.
Their sound draws a lot from the heartbreak hits of C86 indie pop; the twinkling keys, bouncy rhythmns and high lovelorn vocal passages, however it is when the slightly accented vocals dip into Hankin’s enriched deeper range that lift them beyond just an indie pop band to something a bit special.
A jump next door and Calva Louise start their set to a sadly sparse crowd, but the London based trio, who hail from Venezuela, France and New Zealand, and only have one track available online to date do not let this phase them, blasting though high octane garage rock riffs, crashing cymbals and squealing guitars that keep anyone that does wanders in firmly staying there.
Frontwoman Jess Allanic’s manic facial expressions almost match her vocal delivery and her on point surfy guitar shredding is seriously impressive, there’s plenty of reasons why Calva Louise have been hotly tipped for 2017 and it’s plain to see from their set today.
Calva Louise presented the one big clash of the festival with them taking the stage the same time as 2015 SAY Award winner Kathryn Joseph, lucky there’s two of us ay?
There are very few singer-songwriters on this year’s bill, and Joseph’s diversity to the rest of the lineup and clashes with some of the festival’s bigger names means that the CCA is barely half full, however this just adds to the beauty and intimacy that makes the Aberdonian so great.
Joseph is still surprised at how many people have turned up, and she can’t contain her excitement at playing a Wurlitzer piano for the first time live.
The natural reverb from her instrument adds depth to the likes of a hauntingly beautiful rendition of ‘The Bird’ and stark ‘The Blood’.
The venue is deathly silent throughout her performance, people scared to even take a breath so as not to interrupt the ambience, emanating from the songstress’ gazely stare.
Kathryn Joseph is easily one of the highlights of the festival, and to be lucky enough to witness her perform in such an intimate setting is a privilege.
Talking of highlights, up in the Vic Let’s Eat Grandma are about to take the stage, and the incredibly young duo, who met aged four, started making music together at 13 and now, just four years later are on a mission to transform pop music, sure create a sound that simmers the room to a hush.
Whether the crowd don’t know quite what to make of the girls or are just dumbstruck by the talent on show is debatable, however one thing is for sure, Let’s Eat Grandma produce music that is way beyond their years as delicate and haunting ethereal electronics, match with subtle guitars and laptop beats allowing the girl’s vocals to shimmer.
Bizarrely both girls disappear off stage after the first song, but after sorting/locating what they needed they return with a xylophone opened track that is linked up with sharp keyboard chords, giving way to a pounding beat, cue dancing as the teenagers set a real swagger before breaking out a ukulele and then a clarinet, neither of which break the vibe of the track instead creating an interesting instrumental dynamic to the duo’s set.
Still, as much as their multi-instrumental forays work and are impressive, it’s in their more straight forward moments that this duo shine most, that said when they introduce a saxophone you can’t help be impressed again, however in moments when it’s just them with a beat, keys and dual vocals that come across as the most impressive.
There’s something wonderfully eclectic about these girl’s, they’ve been accused of being too dead-pan in their delivery and indeed they don’t utter a word to the audience until the very end of the set, but things like starting songs laid flat on their backs, engaging in handclapping routines mid track and posing in sitting positions simply staring at the audience come across more as an interesting curio that standoffish.
You do get the impression it would come across as annoying if the music doesn’t work, but it does, and if these girls can harness the special talents they have at the tender age of 17 there could be very, very big things to come.
Entering the mix upstairs one of the festival’s big hitters has already started his set, still probably three hours earlier than would be prime for a Gold Panda set, yet he already has the room drenched in powerful beats as he bobs away seemingly entranced by the creation of his intricate sound.
Club atmosphere’s can’t really be expected pre-11pm but this is as close as we’re going to get here and Gold Panda doesn’t let the illusion go as soaring electronics are enhanced by bleeps and beats that get every part of you moving, while engaging visuals keep a focal point behind, his hunched busy presence.
In terms of music this year’s Stag & Dagger is another success, with Scottish music lovers being spoiled with a plethora of excellent sets over the course of the twelve-hour extravaganza; the countdown has already begun to Stag & Dagger 2018.
Words: Graham McCusker/Iain Dawson
Photos: Allan Lewis/Stewart Fullerton