Stag & Dagger 2017: The Best Bits

Before I moved, I made a mental checklist of the places and events I wanted to see and go to when I got to Glasgow. Near the top of that list was Stag & Dagger, the all-day music festival that takes place over the May bank holiday weekend. Friends up here are big fans — their festival, a feat of meticulous planning: listening to and rating bands weeks in advance, all in preparation for the final line-up announcement just a few days beforehand, and the creation of The Spreadsheet: a document with the full listings and the planned route between their top picks of the line up.

If it sounds nerdy as hell, that’s because it is — but frankly, I don’t blame them. Stag & Dagger’s hosted early gigs from the likes of Ed Sheeran and Kathryn Joseph, and a bit of early effort means you can narrow down fifty bands to the eight or nine favourites you can squeeze in before close of play.

This year, that effort definitely paid off. Though some last minute shoogling in the stage times meant we missed the sublime Kathryn Joseph this year, I got to see some ace bands: five of whom made my festival, three of whom who rocked my tiny little world. Here’s who you might want to watch out for in the next few months.

ARTIFICIAL PLEASURE (click)

Thank god the Priory held off unleashing the house puma to allow ARTIFICIAL PLEASURE a few minutes in their dungeon*. This was one of those sets a festival goer dreams of: secreted away in a tiny venue, a band near shuddering with electricity and playing out of their skins, the only witnesses the handfuls of folk they managed to stuff inside. A clash of funky synth pop, that day fronted by the candlelit ghost of early eighties Bowie, Artifical Pleasure was the one band all three of us had agreed was a must-see this year. Felt good to be right.

*The Priory’s aesthetic is part venue, part Furry sex lair, complete with scratch post decor on the pillars.

MATT MALTESE (click)

One man and a box, a spotlight from above, on stage that was built for a choir: this MATT MALTESE cuts an unassuming shape, right before he sets your world on fire. A voice that you could float on, singing sweeping ballads about love, the end of the world, and wanking in the bath: Matt Maltese elevates the mundane (and slightly sticky) to the glorious epic, in a way seldom seen outside of Scott Walker or John Grant. He’s a treasure — and, for all these schedule changes, one witnessed tonight only by a precious handful. I can’t help but feel sorry for all those who missed him.

LET’S EAT GRANDMA (click)

I’ll admit it. My reason for seeing this band, before any other consideration, was the name**. My second was a little less laudable, but then, no band of 14-year-olds I know have generated this much buzz since S-Club Juniors. LET’S EAT GRANDMA are gleefully indefinable, blending dance pop, trip hop and indie rock into their own multi-instrumental alternative sound. The hair hiding, hand-claps, the sudden collapses and climbing about under the keyboards, are as much part of the musical performance as the mandolin, recorder, and keys.

It’s a quintessence of artistic playfulness: it’s not that they’re not self-aware — they are — just they’re also unwilling to surrender to either side of the cusp between childhood and adulthood. In short, they’re refreshingly themselves, making them not only the coolest act in their teens you’ll have heard since early Kate Bush, but an utter fucking joy to watch.

**I still regret never seeing Darlington band Neil, Your Bedroom’s On Fire.

Honourable mentions:

GANG OF YOUTHS (click)

I hadn’t intended to see these guys, but I was left at a loose end for a bit, and decided to join my mates there. Live, their indie rock aesthetic has much more of a shoegaze vibe, at times reminding me of a harder-edged, poppier My Vitriol. But it’s their frontman, David Le’aupepe, who deserves the credit for this mention — an energetic soul, brimming with a passion like wildfire. One day people’ll talk about their gigs like a religious experience.

KATHRYN JOSEPH (click)

A victim of last minute schedule changes, sadly, we missed KATHRYN JOSEPH this year — but let me persuade you why you shouldn’t. I first saw Kathryn Joseph at the West End Festival All-dayer, skipping up to the auditorium at the Òran Mór, and stopping in my tracks at the top, as this bare music of unbearable strength trembled out, dappling like the afternoon sunlight across the Alasdair Gray mural. A voice like a bird trapped in the ice, able to make a piano sing between your bones, Kathryn Joseph is a genie — her gigs are a transformative experience. Be careful of who you want to become.

DUTCH UNCLES (click)

It made sense on paper. Bouncy, arrythmical pop sound, sweet melody, and some fantastic David-Byrne-Discovers-His-Hands dancing. This should have ticked every box on my list, but… Ever have one of those gigs where your friends have raved about a band for years, and when you got there, you weren’t quite feeling it that night? Honestly, I think this was more me than them, so I’d gladly give them a second go.

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