Having popped our Dot To Dot cherry at last year’s event, we couldn’t wait to head back for another day of dashing from one venue to another, to take in as much of the programme of wall-to-wall new music as possible.
To say there’s something for everyone on a line-up like this one would be a huge understatement. The wealth of new music on offer offered a journey from pure pop, through all strands of indie and, at times, into the rockiest of rock. Across 18 stages, the festival featured hundreds of acts, kicking off around lunchtime and carrying on until the small hours of the following morning, offering the chance to see ground-breaking, emerging acts in mostly intimate surroundings.
Running across three days in three different cities, the event descends on Manchester and Nottingham, visiting Bristol in between which is where we caught up with the craziness. One of the earlier acts on the bill was Bristol band Fossette who drew a suitably large crowd to the Thekla’s top deck. Loud and energetic, they offered the perfect way to get things kick-started. Down the road at HY Brasil Club, soulful and catchy tunes were in plentiful supply thanks to Girlhood (London duo Christian Pinchbeck and Tessa Cavanna) whose material mixes classic soul with piano house and dance chillout.
The main stage at the o2 Academy got underway with a very fine duo of bands, starting with BRIDGES (who will be returning to the city in November with a show at Rough Trade) who delivered a flawless half hour with soaring guitars and captivating lyrics. They were soon followed by American rockers Turnover, stopping by on the Dot To Dot weekend in the middle of a huge European tour, and who demonstrated exactly why they are such a big deal on the global stage.
By early evening, the real schedule clashes started to occur, with horribly tough choices having to be made between the likes of finely crafted indie-pop from hotly-tipped Men I Trust, bouncy beach-pop vibes from talented duo Kawala, and local Bristolian bands Cousin Kula and Swimming Girls – the latter stepping into a later-than-planned slot to fill in for another band.
Australia’s Haiku Hands were ones to catch at SWX. Bringing electro hip-hot with an at times retro 80s edge, they didn’t disappoint with a lively, confident set.
Back at the o2 Academy’s main stage, some of the festival’s big guns were in full flow. Local band Bad Sounds delivered one of the performances of the day, full of fun as they delivered their unique and inventive material to a crowd that was absolutely lapping it up. Fronted by brothers Ewen and Callum Merrett, this is a band on a sure trajectory towards bigger things, certainly once their debut album Get Better lands later on 17 August.
They were soon followed by Manchester’s Pale Waves, a band not short on hype – all of it justified. The performance of lead singer Heather Baron-Gracie was mesmerising as she and her band delivered an impressively polished 45 minutes that was every bit as slick as their recorded material, including New Year’s Eve, Television Romance, and Sync favourite The Tide. A hugely anticipated album is due for release in the Autumn.
Event headliners The Horrors then took to the stage. Initially beset with microphone issues which plagued the first couple of songs, the goth-rock outfit from Southend-on-Sea recovered to create a spellbinding atmosphere in the festival’s largest venue. Aided by a dramatic and persistent light show throughout their set [how we managed to get any decent photos from this one remains a mystery to this day!], frontman Faris Badwan delivered his typically dominant stage presence with plenty of swagger, and not just due to his towering 6’5’’ frame.
The award for hottest, sweatiest gig of what was already a humid, sultry day probably goes to The Regrettes, whose ridiculously popular appearance in the o2 Academy 2 suggested a bigger venue might have been better suited. It didn’t stop both the band and the crowd loving every minute of an attitude-packed showing – although your correspondent having to drink a pint of water immediately afterwards perhaps conveys a little of how hot it was in there!
American singer-songwriter Gus Dapperton brought a unique and highly distinctive edge to proceedings, entertaining with his ‘unusual’ dance moves and trademark bowl haircut as much as with his innovative and fresh indie-pop. His stand-out tracks I’m Just Snacking and Prune, You Talk Funny showcased just what this 21-year-old New Yorker is capable of.
Meanwhile, Birmingham-based Mahalia illuminated the stage at SWX with her incredible vocal talent and down-to-earth, personable stage presence. She included the superb No Reply and Sober in her excellent half hour set.
Many others made a big impression throughout the day too. Talented pop artist Rothwell will certainly be one to watch for the future. Her tunes Velvet Heart and Left Me At The Party were great to hear live on board the Good Ship Thekla. Peach Pit rocked the boat too with an absolutely stomping set on a packed main stage.
Sandwiched between Rothwell and Peach Pit was Winston Surfshirt, whose mellow lounge music style was just perfect to drink in on a warm Saturday afternoon – although he arguably would have been best enjoyed at one of the smaller venues on the event circuit. Connie Constance provided a sublime, chilled out way to unwind towards the end of a frenetic day of music. She filled The Louisiana with her soulful voice, wrapping up the venue’s eclectic schedule which also include some fine moments courtesy of Oscar Jerome and Puma Blue among other highlights.
Reading five-piece Valeras are another band that have been much talked about in the blogosphere and they crammed onto the modest stage at HY Brasil Club to massively impress with confidence and polish. Their tuneful rock – exemplified by their single Painkiller – sounds simply superb live and they should be on anyone’s ‘must see’ list.
We wrapped up our Dot To Dot experience for this year with a fantastic feelgood set from Cassia. The trio from Macclesfield clearly enjoyed themselves in front of an enthusiastic, packed-out Thekla crowd. Their calypso-infused sound seemed wholly appropriate for somewhat tropical temperature of the evening, with tunes Sink, Weekender and 100 Times Over showing the considerable strength of their material.
It was a suitably upbeat way to wrap up proceedings. Dot To Dot remains one of the best city takeovers for new music – out-scaled by The Great Escape in Brighton of course, but infinitely more manageable contained as it is within just the one day.
For anyone serious about discovering new music… earlybird tickets for next year’s Dot To Dot are available here for a frankly ridiculous bargain price of £14.
Photos by Martin Allen