Featuring We Were Evergreen, O Children and more
Friday At Land Of Kings - Live In Dalston, London

“Cool” – or at least the hollow approximation of it – has risen inexorably up London’s Kingsland Road and festered ungainly around Dalston for what seems like an eternity. A grubbily disordered wonderland that serves as a byword for “au courant”, it’s a place where you could likely find yourself watching a gauche indie troupe, a surrealist live art collective and a woman smashing pint glasses into a microphone in the name of “art” within the same evening. The multi-venue extravaganza Land of Kings attempts to accumulate such varied curios across a two-day stretch. Crotchless high-visibility leggings and designer drugs ground from powdered seagull’s feet are strictly optional.

First up, Toy, in the cavernous enclaves of the Magnolia Banqueting Suite; a yawning space more accustomed to hosting Turkish wedding parties than the great unwashed hoards of E8. There’s a preposterous amount of hair on display, and they look like the sort of group you see on those mid-‘70s Germanic music programmes where each band is accompanied by churning psychedelic visuals. Fortunately, their merging of relentless motorik rhythms and shoegaze-minus-the-boring-bits sounds fucking IMMENSE. Imagine if Hawkwind had time-travelled and played the UFO Club. Seriously. You’ll even overlook the fact the bass player looks like Gareth Hale (of Hale & Pace “fame”) in a Spinal Tap wig.

After this shock to the system, Slagbox (think single’s night for jaded hipsters) at Barden’s seems a logical next stop. Regrettably, though perhaps fittingly, the venue is laced with the wretch-inducing odour of fish – as though a Grimsby trawler had just dumped a year’s supply of mackerel beside the bogs. A sharp exit, then, to watch We Were Evergreen at the Shacklewell Arms. These London-based Parisians play the sort of twee xylophone-infected melodies you expect to hear on a Match.com advert, as a bearded numpty gazes longingly into the doe eyes of a girl in a flowery smock dress. It’ll certainly appeal to those people who think France is full of kooky (read: nauseating) people riding bicycles and filling brown paper bags full of artisan bread. However, despite the fact they’re most likely virgins, even a decrepit cynic such as I finds them impossible to hate. Their closing number is a bass-heavy librarian-disco jam with a trumpet. And a ukulele, for fuck’s sake. And it’s still good. They’ll be soundtracking some Zooey Deschanel vehicle imminently, no doubt.

After feeling somewhat mortified that I enjoyed such pretty-pretty cuteness, blood is in order. Fortunately, O Children take the stage at the chronically unfinished new venue, Birthdays. Amid the acrid smell of new paint, their faintly camp melodrama – fronted by Tobi O’Kandi’s booming baritone – provides much-needed respite. A great deal of the set is drawn from new LP ‘Apnea’, and despite the portentous title it sounds like they’ve cheered-up a bit. Opener ‘PT Cruiser’ is the best song about a car since the ‘Cayonero’ ode from The Simpsons, and elsewhere a new-found optimism is strapped to their ever-strong pop sensibilities. It’s about as gothic as a night in with a DVD of The Craft, but far, far more gratifying.

An aborted attempt to watch Connan Mockasin – mystifyingly stuck-on at one of the smaller venues – rather unceremoniously concludes the evening. It’s been a chaotic, occasionally shambolic, sporadically nightmarish affair, punctuated with some genuine delights. For better or worse, Land of Kings is as accurate a distillation of the Dalston oeuvre as one could hope for.

Words by Aidan James
Photo by Al de Perez

Click here for a photo gallery of the festival, including NZCA/Lines, Connan Mockasin, Male Bonding and O Children.

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