The best of Portsmouth’s new music and hot national acts head for Dials Festival

Art School Girlfriend plays at Dials Festival in Southsea on October 6, 2018. Picture by Tom Dream
Art School Girlfriend plays at Dials Festival in Southsea on October 6, 2018. Picture by Tom Dream

Dials, the one-day multi-venue festival dedicated to highlighting the best new music returns on Saturday.

And among the up-and-coming acts is Art School Girlfriend, the performing name of Polly Mackey, an electronic-based singer-songwriter.

Originally from Wrexham in north Wales, Polly was previously known as the founder of cult shoegaze group Deaf Club.

But after a stint in London she now finds herself living in Margate, Kent.

She recently released second EP Into The Blue, and The Guide caught up with her shortly before it came out. She’s signed to Wolf Tone, the label set up by super-producer Paul Epworth and also home to acts like The Horrors and Glass Animals.

‘The first EP, I’d just split up with my old band and was just making music.

‘I was making music without kind of knowing what was going to become of it, which I think effects the process a little bit, and I didn’t show anyone for a long time what I was doing, until it happened to get into the right hands.

‘So this EP, I’m not living in London any more and it has way more of a sense of purpose –  Art School Girlfriend is a “thing”, whereas before I didn’t even have a name!

‘And my skills in production have come on since the first EP, I have more equipment now, and access to a studio on London should I need it. So it’s been quite good. Where my first EP was quite sparse, this one is much more layered.’

So is this finding her voice more as a solo artist?

‘I don’t know. There’s always something about people’s first songs and singles. For a lot of artists it tends to be their best work and what defines them. I really like the first EP for how sparse it is and slow. It was called Measures and it feels quite measured.

‘This one,  in terms of the production, I’ve been able to spend a bit more time on it and tinker more. They’re a bit night and day – the first EP was quite orchestral, this one is more electronic. I don’t know if that’s me finding my voice or whether it’s just experimenting with extra stuff.’

With Deaf Club, the band picked up a lot of national attention early on, but then Polly ‘immediately’ moved to London, and guitarist Jac Roberts was studying in Cheltenham, so they found themselves split across the country.

‘Whenever we came together we tried to get as much done as possible, but further on with the band, it was me getting back from work really late, and then doing music all through the night, which was why it tended to sound like night-time music.

‘I was still doing the production quite a bit then, although I definitely didn’t have the skills I have now. But when you’re in that formula of two guitars, a bass and a drum-kit, you really have to stick to those elements. Anything else and you have to work out how to play it live!

‘I do it the other way around now, I write the music first and then work out how to play it live - but it’s way more electronically-focused.’

While largely a solo project on record, live, she performs with a full band, including her old friend and colleague from Deaf Club, Jac.

‘There’s not much guitar on the music at all but he’s really good at making his guitar sound like lots of weird atmospheres,’ she explains. 

‘Playing live is one of my favourite things to do anyway, so it was important to make that a really strong part of it and with the live setup there’s a bit more going on than on record. I didn’t want it to exactly like it does on the record.’

Away from her music, she runs an art bookshop, Spine Books, with her girlfriend.

‘It’s one of those things when you do music at this level, you have to find other things to do to help you along.

‘The good thing about living in Margate is that the cost of living here is so much cheaper. You can do things without wondering if you’re going to be able to pay rent, whereas in London your mind every day is going: “I can’t afford to do that, I can’t afford to do that.”

‘You don’t have to do that in Margate, which leaves more room for creativity.’

In a relatively short space of time, Polly has seen Margate change significantly.

‘It’s like this expat community of creatives who are disillusioned with London who’ve come here and have been able to set up what they want to do. A new venue opened just the other day, there’s record shops, bars, cafes. When I moved here two-and-a-half years ago, there was none of that, and then there’s also the local community who grew up here, so it’s really fertile ground here at the moment.

‘There’s so many musicians and actors here, it’s weird but it’s good.’

Even though she has moved all the way across the UK, Polly sees parallels with where she grew up.

‘In some ways it feels like it did growing up in Wrexham. Wrexham was this small town, not the best economically in terms of employment, and if you wanted anything to happen, say if you wanted to go to a gig, a group of people had to come together and put it on. It’s not there on a plate for you. It feels like the same thing here.’

‘If you’re into the same thing and you’re a creative person, you kind of all come together and make it happen It’s a nice place to be.’

DIALS FESTIVAL

Albert Road, Southsea

Saturday, October 6

dialsfestival.com

_____________________________________________________

THE FULL SCHEDULE

The Wedgewood Rooms

10.10-10.55pm: Tigercub

9-9.30pm: Estrons

8-8.30pm: Thyla

7-7.30pm: Barbudo

The Edge of the Wedge

11pm-2am: DJs Fuzz Tones and Luke Joynes

9.30-10pm: Hotel Lux

8.30- 9pm: Fröst

7.30- 8pm: Vinyl Staircase

6.30-7pm: Mystic Peach

5.30-6pm: Sad Palace

4.30-5pm: Bella Spinks

3.30–4pm: Omar Baba

The Loft

9-9.30pm: Grace Savage

8-8.30pm: Lice

7–7.30pm: Krush Puppies

6-6.30pm: Salt Ashes

5-5.30pm: Curxes

4 -4.30pm: Highlights of Our Modern World

2.45-3.20pm: Lauran Hibberd

1.45-2.15pm: LibraLibra

The Vaults

9.30-10pm: Yassassin

8.30-9pm: Art School Girlfriend

7.30-8pm: Bokito

6.30-7pm: Penelope Isles

5.30-6pm: Los Bitchos

4.30–5pm: Ugly

3.30-4pm: Jerry Williams

2.30-3pm Fake Empire

1.30-1.55pm: Temples of Youth

Acapulco

9-9.30pm: Melt Dunes

8-8.30pm: Breathe Panel

7-7.30pm: Horseflies

6-6.30pm: Sleep Eaters

5–5.30pm: Violet Mud

4-4.30pm: Margot

3-3.30pm: Megan Linford

2 -2.30pm Dani Uziel