United Kingdom | 26 May 2009
Stag and Dagger may've been light on the wallet, but the live music was all over a little too quickly says Francis Whittaker.
This London indoor festival provides a blink-and-you’ll-miss it, one night only glimpse at the best, brightest and brashest new bands currently emerging from the music world’s leftfield underbelly. Now in its second year, Stag and Dagger transplants the multi-venue model of the Camden Crawl to the super-hip confines of Shoreditch, East London.
A credit-crunch crushing ticket price of £10 gives you access to 20 of the hottest venues in London, each populated with a diverse array of musical treats; ranging from established US acts such as Cold War Kids and Evan Dando, to too-cool-for-their-tight-trousers buzz bands like Micachu and The Shapes and Dananananaykroyd, to little-known Nordic prog acts you almost certainly won’t have heard of. Ungdomskulen anyone?
Mercifully, rather being a platform for the style-over-substance chancers often associated with the Shoreditch scene, the Stag and Dagger organisers have managed to pull together a bill which is as impressive for its diversity as it is for its quality. Scandinavian electro troupes vie for audience attention with US party-punkers, Scottish post rockers and home-grown acoustic troubadours, all of whom do a bloody good job of ensnaring legions of new fans.
Unlike many of its multi-venue contemporaries, the festival is small-scale enough to avoid most of the queuing problems that have blighted events like The Camden Crawl and Dot To Dot. Although a couple of the smaller venues do get understandably rammed, the majority are easy enough to hop in and out of without having the unnecessary worry of getting in early to claim that much-coveted spot near the front.
Stag and Dagger has proved itself to be a great value, well organised addition to an ever-growing indoor festival scene. Legs in Leeds and Glasgow have been added this year, but if organisers decide to expand the London leg they must be careful not to push the capacity so far that punters can’t enjoy their evening of staggering around Shoreditch fuss-free.
Getting there and back: 8/10
The festival is darned easy to get to. All venues are walking distance from Liverpool Street and Old Street tube stops, the latter of which is just two stops away from Kings Cross St Pancras. The festival is in easy reach of a good number of bus routes too.
For those who live further a field, there’s always the Leeds and Glasgow legs, both of which have near-identical line ups to their London sister. Attending one of these obviously wouldn’t incur the trek to the Big Smoke, but still take place in cities with excellent transport links to the rest of the UK.
The Site 8/10
Other than The Camden Crawl, no other festival can claim the entirety of one of the most vibrant parts of London as its site. The venues are spread out enough to avoid overcrowding but not so far apart that you spend any more than ten minutes getting from A to B.
Despite the inevitable Nathan Barley-a-like walking clichés that are unfortunately a permanent fixture of Shoreditch life, the area has enough diversity and creativity to be able to stake a firm claim of being the most exciting in terms of shops, food, music and nightlife in London. Plus Camden is just, like so last decade.
Even for an outdoor one-dayer, its likely there’ll be a fair bit of drunken camaraderie between strangers in anticipation of the headliners. The fact that Stag and Dagger is multi-venue and so brief means it isn’t really conducive for a great atmosphere. Plus the lack of distinct ‘headliners’, or any ‘big’ acts for that matter, means that twitchy collective excitement you get from waiting for a particular band just doesn’t materialise. This is by no means a bad thing, but it does mean people seem to stay within their own little groups throughout the festival.
Stag and Dagger is a fantastic way of uncovering the best bands you never knew existed. Although the briefness of the festival means that you’re unlikely to see more than a handful over the course of the evening, the ones you do see are likely to be of good quality.
Phantom Band 7/10
Scottish collective that channel the spirit of Krautrock through the chugging mastery of new experimentalists like Battles. Justifiably creating a buzz on internet forums, they’re notable for creating percussion out of a never-ending array of strangely-shaped woodblocks.
The Mae Shi 7/10
Purporting to have six members, The Mae Shi bring only three to Stag and Dagger: apparently not a rare occurance. The absent band member’s parts are played using pre-recorded samples on the singer’s Mac, meaning the only ‘live’ elements we get are bass, vocals and drums. However, this does allow singer Jonathan Grey to spend his time juddering around like a bug-eyed ADHD sufferer mid-tantrum, rather than being bogged down with those unnecessary musical instrument things. An entertaining spectacle indeed.
And I thought The Mae Shi were fun. This six-strong Glaswegian ‘fight-pop’ ensemble have more energy than ten Duracell bunnies pickled in a can of Red Bull. Their hectic set is peppered with band-versus-crowd dance-offs, frequent stage dives and more drummers than you can shake Zildjian-manufactured stick at. All this hi-octane magnificence means they just about get away with their silly, silly name.
Hailing from the icy climes of Norway, these electro-upstarts could get even the grumpiest of misers pulling shapes on the dance floor. One of the band had also handed in their Masters’ the previous day, prompting a big cheer from the crowd. Brainy as well as talented, then.
For ten pounds, you can’t really complain, but they could have a few more bands playing later on into the night. Most of the live attractions are crammed into a tiny time frame between 7 and 11.30, meaning that anyone who wants to sample a non-DJ act after then is likely to be disappointed.
The Mae Shi covering the whole of the audience in Vibe Bar with a big orange parachute. Thankfully it was only for a couple of minutes, meaning people could carry on watching the band uninhibited afterwards, but while it lasted it was a joyous flashback to primary school fun-days. Nice touch, lads.
By Francis Whittaker.