By the Sea festival review – Wolf Alice and Super Furry Animals rock Dreamland

Dreamland, Margate
Bat for Lashes, Hot Chip’s Alexis Taylor and other alt-pop royalty descend on the amusement park for fun, games and fringe benefits

In the age of Pokémon Go, Oculus Rift and a real-life Crystal Maze, there can’t even be many five-year-olds whose idea of a Dreamland involves the UK’s oldest rollercoaster, penny falls machines made of magnets and the chance to gyrate gently with a plastic Captain Pugwash. So Margate is cannily rebranding itself as Dalston-on-Sea, and this second invasion of the By the Sea festival into the town’s iconically naff amusement park goes leagues to de-Chas-and-Dave the place.

Last year, Foals headlined the inaugural event and, continuing the cream-of-the-alternative angle, this year Super Furry Animals and Wolf Alice top refined alt-rock bills over two venues with such neatly dove-tailing schedules there is barely time to whack the occasional mole.

Mystery Jets at By the Sea festival.
Coming of age … Mystery Jets at By the Sea festival. Photograph: RMV/Rex/Shutterstock

Down in the Roller Disco, where someone is wheeling around a mermaid in a shopping trolley, inspired quirkiness reigns. The Big Moon sound like all of Pulp Fiction crammed into one band, while Strong Asian Mothers are possibly the most Dalston act ever, mashing Queen’s Fat Bottomed Girls into ironic arena-rock riffs, using Siri as backing vocalist on Megabucket and matching glitter cheek stripe with bobble hat. The Mystery Jets’ coming of age, meanwhile, continues to amaze, their early indie fripperies sounding as insubstantial as a Channel 4 Bake Off next to phenomenal new squalls of psychedelic pop.

Up in the larger Hall By the Sea, Wild Beasts let the side down by chasing the Garbage electro-rock dollar, but not even cheesy Euro 2016 anthem Bing Bong can tarnish Super Furry Animals’ sumptuous psych-pop extravaganza. Disco tub-thumper The Man Don’t Give a Fuck, complete with an appearance by their guitar-worshipping yetis, resonates stronger with every welfare cut, while the robo-Bacharach song Juxtaposed With U and folkier moments such as Run! Christian Run! and Mountain People combine into a set-long group hug. Witness singer Gruff Rhys grinning “I’m a minger, you’re a minger too … I want to ming with you” during Hello Sunshine, as the crowd ming blissfully along.

Super Furry Animals – Bing Bong video premiere

On Saturday, the fringe programme creeps out to the quaint town hall where, beneath portraits of lords and gentry, Slow Club and Hot Chip’s Alexis Taylor deliver stripped-back sets of misty country noir and lovelorn lounge. Back at Dreamland, meanwhile, there’s been a break-out from the ghost train. If they held a pop festival at the hotel from The Shining, the entrancing Norwich teen duo Let’s Eat Grandma would headline the Creepy Hallway stage with their Exorcist rap-pop tunes, gorgeous haunted ballads, handclap games and impressions of the Blair Witch doing recorder solos.

Natasha Khan of Bat for Lashes plays the Woman in Red, showcasing the unhinged Lynchian laments of her latest album, The Bride, in a scarlet wedding dress. And Wolf Alice are lycanthropic headliners, tearing through the velvet-lined savagery of Lisbon, You’re a Germ and Bros with the intensity of “our last gig for 1,000 years”. As Ellie Rowsell stage dives to Giant Peach, bassist Theo Ellis walks through the drum kit and a buzzing crowd heads off to frug until midnight to Jagwar Ma, Margate gains the cultural clout to go with its seaweed perfume emporiums and clothes shops for dogs.


Mark Beaumont

The GuardianTramp

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