By The Sea 2017 (Festival Review)

(All photography by Joseph Singh)

Returning bigger than ever, with the announcement of not just two, but three headline acts, By The Sea festival outdid themselves this year from the get-go. From riding Dreamland’s iconic scenic railway to seeing some killer bands, the festival delivered everything you’d expect and more from a musical retreat to the seaside.

Boniface opens the event on Friday, having only been announced the day before. The last-minute change to schedule works a treat, as a gentle indie ambience fills Dreamland’s Hall by The Sea, setting the tone perfectly for the weekend ahead. The night proceeds to get a little more electro-fantastic as Dutch Uncles bring an energy-filled set, complete with a tribute to the widely acclaimed, Wild Beasts, who played the same stage last year. A stunning performance that ripples through the crowd with their sensational prog-meets-pop sound.

Next are pioneers of indie rock, British Sea Power, complete with on-stage foliage adding a mystical air, while their furry guests crash the crowd. Their music fills the room with such undeniable power and is one of the tightest performances of the whole weekend. The first night comes to an end with an exhilarating show from Everything Everything, as their electro falsetto blasts through the hall, with ‘Distant Past’ proving to be a massive crowd favourite. An incredible start to an impeccable weekend, this lineup left us hungry for more, and boy did we get it.

Saturday brings some of the By The Sea magic across to Margate’s Old Town, with fringe events hosted between Olby’s Soul Cafe and Margate Museum. From the soothing soul of Barbarossa to the weird and wonderful performance art from Gentle Stranger, the fringe events surely add a little something extra that the festival would not have been complete without. It is really quite something to be sat in Margate Museum, as Denai Moore, gives a beautiful acoustic set, in her own disbelief to be performing in a town she visited as a child. Further out in Cliftonville, is an added touch of cool, as some of the acts can be found DJing and sipping coffee in a true gem of the seaside town, Cliffs Cafe & Record Store. Joseph Mount of Metronomy can be found on the decks as his bandmates eat and drink opposite; a scene that is all too surreal for a town that is recently on the up.

The evening draws in and the music returns to Dreamland, as Deep Throat Choir bring a whimsical energy to go perfectly with the theme park. Later on, they can be found singing their way to the rides, a truly passionate, fun-loving group, even if a little twee. Things get wonderfully peculiar as post-punk band Snapped Ankles, bring a fantastical forest psych party to the Roller Disco stage, working the crowd into a trance. Safe to say there is nothing quite like them.

Back in the main hall, Shame are found thrashing on stage with a delicious punk take on a classic indie sound. This is a truly unforgettable set, a solid sound carried in divine fury, these are certainly ones to watch. From Shame to tame, as Girl Ray plod gently through their first few songs, thankfully working up to a greater energy with the welcomed addition of thick bass lines and funk rhythms.

As we work our way to the headline acts, Marika Hackman graces the stage with her alt-rock tinged folk sound. She weaves angelic notes with darker moods, presenting a complex character all while showing true gratitude for her performing band, perhaps the most personal performance of the weekend. Meanwhile, HMLTD rock up a disco complete with bursts of 80s goth rock, jazz and plenty of dark delights. This is a band that belongs on everyone’s live bucket list.

Saturday’s headliners are electro pop masters, Metronomy, with a perfect balance of material, new and old. Each song is amped up to the max, played like never before. More funk. More synth. More everything. Highlights are ‘The Bay’ and ‘The Look’, but ultimately, every single moment goes down a treat. Flamingods continue the party, keeping everyone dancing with their tropic disco mixed with psychedelia.

Sunday rolls around and calls for brunch at Cliffs, while Annie Hart of Au Revoir Simone spins all the dark and trippy records that David Lynch would approve of and it is no wonder, after all, her band did perform twice in the recent season of Twin Peaks. Later in the afternoon, Hart performs at Olby’s, starting the second set of fringe events. Her sound is haunting and beautiful, delicate yet deeply chilling. On a totally different note, Alaskalaska bring their own unique sound to festival. Their sound, described as art pop, weaves jazz with a sort of indietronica shoegaze, and though the crowd is small, they are very much won over, and rightly so. Their set closes on ‘This’, a compelling single rich with pure emotion, a gentle caress into a different realm entirely. The Rhythm Method play next, mixing hip hop and 80s synth vibes with a lighthearted political agenda. Their dry, dark humour wins our hearts, a truly insightful performance.

Today’s main acts play at Margate’s Winter Gardens, a high turnout is expected for headliners The Libertines. First up are Gang in all their grungey hysteria, these guys are true performers and well in sync with one another. Dream Wife follow, bringing a whole new meaning to girl power, their raging track ‘FUU’ even featuring a little nod to the Spice Girls ‘Wannabe’. There is a 90s rock and roll essence to them, making their sound timeless. Each song has a fairly straightforward message, served up with full power and pride. True crowd-pleasers, this group certainly earned a few new fans at this festival.

New indie band on the scene Blaenavon open the main stage. They start off gently with gorgeous vocals, delicate riffs, building up to a frenzy of energy. This band are all in, a passion for their music and one another, with a set that is both sweet and exciting.

The moment The Libertines walk on stage, the crowd are raring to go. They play with such charm, their relationships with one another shining through any missed notes. Tonight is not about musical perfection, but sheer enjoyment. “We’re your new neighbours,” says Carl Barat, referencing the band’s recent purchase of an old town house in Margate. The iconic band storm through a killer set, and you can’t help but fall for their dastardly charm. Fan or not, it is impossible to deny their live power, The Libertines have a certain magic about them.

As the weekend comes to an end, the reality of returning to the real world is slightly painful. By The Sea is a top class festival, whisking us into a realm of sheer joy, with new bands discovered, and old favourites fondly revisited. We look forward to many more to come.