Festival Frolics: Stag & Dagger 2011.

Two years ago to the day, a frenzy was whisked up just off Brick Lane for the inaugural Stag & Dagger Shoreditch overhaul. Twenty four months down the line and the writing on the wall is of a different shade, of a more commercialist tinge, a perhaps somewhat ominous scarlet. For the above mural reeks of lucre in place of liquor as it probably ought in shameless association of black cherry-infused Bourbon with the once-vibrant event the festival used to represent. The 'Stag & Dagger London Guide' proves to be erroneous both orthographically and schedularly, whilst its map explicitly accentuates the festival's geographical shift westwards towards the pseudo-squalor of relatively recently restored/revived/reconstructed venues, namely the CAPS LOCK-jamming XOYO and CAMP. Just for tonight the Village Underground on Holywell Lane has become the home to 'the official shot of Stag & Dagger', although somewhat more intoxicating than saccharine ethanol concoction are Echo Lake, whose brand of sparse yet simultaneously indulgent shoegaze has a sizeable multitude transfixed. In all honesty there are probably one too many guitars, mudding up the sound in a venue that needs no encouragement to begrime and blur any audio intricacy (see last month's Dazed Live where we were forced to evacuate the building for fear of ears being eaten alive by shuddering, unwanted bass frequencies). Leading lady Linda Jarvis is a little aloof too, maintaining constant eye contact throughout with the cement holding the exposed brick together, yet there's definitely more than mere intrigue gluing eyeballs to this lot.
Anticipating Northern English cacophony and winding up with prim Seattle boys Beat Connection (thanks, minuscule foldout 'guide' thing) is enough to wind up even the most placid. Presumably Vampire Weekend are pretty placid types. They certainly seem it. They'd have to be to put up with regurgitating that heinous Cousins night after night after night. And Beat Connection somehow sound a little like their NYC contemporaries, were Ezra et al. reared on Gauntlet Hair in place of Graceland (had Gauntlet Hair been around in 2006 or whenever it was Vampire Weekend came and invaded "indie"), Reed Juenger tonight garbed in attire befitting a weekend away in the Hamptons or something. Enough with the negativity: Silver Screen is instantly adorable, as aurally glorious as Cheesecake Factory wares are calorific. Back over on Holywell Lane, half Canadian/half Yank duo No Joy provide little at best with their almost pastiche, scuzzy ode to Hole. That their backing blokes on bass and drums look quite so incongruous does few favours to ameliorate the overall experience and although Heedless is fairly, well, joyous much of their short set sounds like The Popguns fishing for Stories From The City, Stories From The Sea-era PJ through a sewer-grate with a Jazzmaster. Needless to say, little success is achieved.
Resorting to expletives and blasphemy all too often can come across as lazy and quite conceited but on a night like tonight, thank the fucking Lord for Big Deal. Their sound may be limited by the neglect of a rhythm section, Kacey Underwood's hair may be unkempt and in drastic need of a spruce, and the general sexual tension onstage may be as awkward as watching fully grown adults shamelessly grope one another on Dating In The Dark while your parents gaze on flabbergasted, but there's nothing here not to revere. They bring a warm, tingling sense of humility to an otherwise overtly ostentatious bash, and do so in the dank CAMP basement, a realm seemingly barely fit for human patronage. From the tender Giant Drag-esque dulcet tones of Locked Up, coated in distorted Weezer dynamics to sumptuous closer to their criminally brief sojourn, Talk, Underwood and ingenuous, if potentially femme fatale figure (on the premise that the tales of wistful guitar lessons etc. holds weight) Alice Costelloe provide infinite comfort in the discomfort. Across the road in XOYO, CREEP have ditched the cellist that set them apart at Camden Crawl a few weeks back and although their pristine visuals look exemplary projected onto the open plaster of the venue, vacuous voids seem to have appeared ubiquitously. Of course Days and their customary redux of Memory Tapes' Green Knight still sound wicked in the word's every sense, yet with not one guest vocalist, and with Flax and Dillard opting primarily to merely prod away at atmospheric drum samples, disappointment's kinda rife tonight. Back over in CAMP, the aforementioned Northern raucous that ought to have been and gone a few hours back is finally up and running, as Leeds' Eagulls play to a tentative few, leaping onto tiled flooring to boost the numbers. Yet it's a little tricky getting animated to what sounds like FLATS hurling the kitchen sink at Dinosaur Pile-Up. It being a school night and whatnot, and with Star Slinger due to take to the Queen of Hoxton at 12.45, Stag & Dagger 2011 peters out on dissonance and vague disappointment. Devoid of headline-clinching headliner, the evening at times feels like an interminable, effort-sapping gig in which only around two sets' worth of songs are actually caught. Roll on 2012, and hope for better times to roll...