Stag & Dagger, Glasgow, 6 May
Despite some technical issues, Stag & Dagger 2018 is another excellent edition of the Glasgow festival, providing brilliant sets from Warm Digits, Bo Ningen and Protomartyr
Celebrating its tenth edition this year, Stag & Dagger has become something of a musical institution on the Glasgow music calendar over this past decade. The inner-city, inter-venue festival is renowned for finding some of the best new musical talents from across the UK over the years, with the slight luck of the draw feel to the annual shebang always an exciting prospect. This year is of course no different, but perhaps with an emphasised sentiment towards this notion, as this year feels a little light on the "bigger names" and more of a move towards exposing younger, new talent, which although can be risky in terms of ticket sales, can also have very rewarding results, as last year proved.
The Skinny's first act of the day, once it was able to tear itself from the glorious bank holiday Sunday afternoon sunshine, is Underwater Boys who were entertaining an already fairly full Broadcast. Though officially just a duo comprised of two brothers (Nick and Tom Klar), the Brighton band are an extended quintet here, making a highly appropriate, feel-good sound considering the weather and mood of the festival. Underneath the summery sheen however is an existential dread that underpins their sound, most obviously in Tom Klar's lyrics which sing to the tune of classic anxieties in love and life. While not hugely original – there's a pretty clear Mac DeMarco influence to their sound – this still very new outfit have bags of potential and, if nothing else, are a very enjoyable way to start the evening.
Next up, The Modern Strangers, who take the stage next door at Nice 'n' Sleazy, are also fronted by a pair of brothers – Max & Archie Davenport – and also possess an upbeat sound, but without much of the previous act's darkness swimming below the surface. Modern Strangers' sound is very much of the straight-up indie-rock and self-proclaimed "disco" nature, and while they seem to be talented enough to potentially go the distance in more mainstream audiences, they don't really offer anything of particular interest to the more discerning music fan.
Next up at the CCA is local lad Edwin Organ, whose recent EP Missing the T has been one of the low-key highlights of the year so far. The loosely Save As Collective maestro's largely electronic compositions are excellently thought out, but there is an initial caginess to their set brought about by a far too quiet bass guitar and a hesitance to get too wrapped up in the performance from the duo. However, a couple songs in and warmed up, the latter half of the set progresses into a pleasing and impressive group of songs to get the crowd moving, including the EP's title track and Ballad of a Lazy Boy.
Further up Garnethill, at The Art School Warm Digits open up this year's most appealing stage, in terms of acts converged this year, with the first really great set of the day. While last year's full-length Wireless World was a solid if unremarkable foray into krautrock and disco, in a live setting these tracks really come to life. Most of that is to do with drummer Andrew Hodson who is an absolute force of nature driving these songs to their inevitable climax, something that seems to have gone amiss on their records. This leaves a lot of pressure on guitarist and sequencer Steve Jefferis to fill the rest of the sound on his own, but luckily he manages it with aplomb, even if tonight's sound at The Art School is a little muddy in places (more on that later), with a particularly enthralling performance of Growth of Raindrops the highlight.
Following them at The Art School are the London-via-Japan noise rock quartet Bo Ningen, who at this point in the evening are just ridiculous fun. Despite not having released anything since 2014's III, or their collaborative work with fellow London noiseniks Savages, the band appear to have new material on the way. Either way, their half hour set is pure blissed-out goodness, with the band, all long hair and skinny frames, rocking through continuously until their dramatic climax which appears to just happen when they're good and ready, rather than due to any specific time constraints.
Next up are for many the major reason to attend this year's festival and thus quasi-headliners, Protomartyr. The Detroit quartet are on an incredible run of form at the moment, having released their best album to date in last year's Relatives in Descent (and with plenty critical acclaim to boot), and having just announced a new EP (Consolation E.P.) in collaboration with Kelley Deal of The Breeders, one of the band's most well-known fans. Despite The Art School's sound desk causing havoc throughout the night (good on bassist Scott Davidson for powering through despite the fact his amplifier may as well have been switched off for most of this set), Protomartyr are on such fire right now even that can't deter them. While it's a slight shame we don't get newly released single Wheel of Fortune, they completely rip through the best songs from their last three long-players (A Private Understanding, The Devil in His Youth, What the Wall Said) and continue to be the most exciting guitar band in the world right now.
Finally escaping The Art School for a brief jaunt, Solareye is already mid-set back at CCA. Solareye gives a technically proficient and entertaining set, but as a friend points out as we walk back up the hill afterwards, it is occasionally lacking in the challenging department on the lyrical content side. This isn't to say Solareye's, better known as Stanley Odd frontman Dave Hook, words are empty or vacuous by any means, he is full of witty quips and astute observations which shows his plaudits are deserved, it just feels like he has a little more left to give to perfect his solo venture.
Returning to The Art School and legendary London post-punks Wire have already taken the stage, though the venue's ongoing sound issues are visibly distracting the band. Maybe it's fatigue both from the crowd and the band, but their set feels very flat overall, and with such a large back catalogue to draw from, much of their material goes unrecognised by the crowd most likely waiting for something off 1977's Pink Flag.
Nevermind, final performers of the night before The Skinny calls it a day are Glasgow's The Vegan Leather whose very clinical, polished sound is rather at odds with Wire's ragged post-punk, but gives a feel-good end to the night. There's no denying the local quartet perform their sound extremely well, and it's not at all hard to see why they're currently one of the Scottish musical capital's hottest prospects, even if their sound is a rather well-worn one. Overall though, Stag & Dagger 2018 is another excellent edition of the festival, and the ability to check out some of the hottest young talents out there is always a welcome one.