All of a sudden, Dalston is crawlable. A multi-venue stagger in one locale, like the Stag & Dagger (in Shoreditch/Hoxton) and the Camden Crawl (er, in Camden). It has not one but two stations on the Ginger Line to bring revellers in, and plenty of locals up for swelling the ranks. As such, Land Of Kings (a nice play on Kingsland, that) has been building momentum over the last three years. In that time, new venues in Dalston have opened, or been refurbished, and established themselves. Welcome recent additions the Servant Jazz Quarters and the hipsterer-than-thou Shacklewell Arms joined the relatively vintage Vortex. For the festival’s fourth year, more new spaces have flung open their doors; it’s not quite an established grown-up yet, but it’s showing promise.
Admittedly, some of the venues are not quite complete. We’re amongst the very first people to set foot in Birthdays, a basement venue and ground floor bar/eatery helmed by the Old Blue Last crew that’s so new we get to wave aside concrete dust, admire the hole in the gents’ toilets where the plumbing for a sink will eventually go and swoon at the unpainted wooden doors. Virginia Wing are the first band on; the sound system works, the lights are present and correct (if a little blinding). Priorities sorted, and draft beers and decor are promised for the not-too-distant future; this is a venue that’ll sit happily alongside the Sebright Arms and CAMP Basement as a welcome addition to the London gig circuit.
A few doors south is the much larger Magnolia Banqueting Hall, a big open space of a ground floor venue normally given over to wedding receptions and accessed through a narrow passageway. It gives the impression of having been, variously, a Victorian theatre and a Greek restaurant. Pressed into service as one of Land Of Kings’ larger spaces, on the opening night it plays host to a mix-and-match line-up consisting of the ubiquitous Toy, Kwes, Mercury nominees The Invisible, and headliners Slow Club, who attract a sizeable crowd of fans well able to sing along.
Less traditional gig settings can be found over at Bardens in the hands of Slagbox, who are hosting a singles night where everyone has a number that’s read aloud in the hope of romance. This being a bank holiday weekend, the schedule is geared up to making a night (or two) of it, with a 5am close on both nights giving the impression that Dalston is run on Spanish time. Kwesachu – a collaborative project between Kwes and Micachu – aren’t due on till 1am at Birthdays, the same time as Connan Mockasin headlines at the Arcola Studio 3. We repair to the Vortex for NZCA/LINES at the witching hour, and they do their best to interest a rather woosy audience with their eponymous debut album. They’d head to the Camden Crawl the following evening.
Indeed, Land Of Kings’ clash this year with the rescheduled Camden Crawl means several acts play both festivals across the weekend. This two-places-at-once horror sadly means we’re unable to partake of Saturday night’s expected delights – Magnolia had the return of Esser, as well as the always supreme Factory Floor, while Birthdays pushed the boat out with Stay+ and the Vortex headlined with Speech Debelle. While the Crawl is an established force in London’s music calendar, it ought to keep a weather eye on the much less expensive, decidedly on-the-up and no less fun Land Of Kings.