If I were to tell you that for one day only, all of a city’s major music venues would be taken over by a wave of touring bands who are teetering on the brink of wild and unprecedented success – would you think this sounds like a great idea and someone should do it? Well, fear no more, Dot to Dot festival is an annual music festival which hijacks the music venues in Bristol, Manchester and Nottingham. The festival has been going strong since 2005 with previous Dot to Dot’s featuring British Sea Power, Mystery Jets, SBTRKT, Annie Mac and Jakwob.
Of the 80-100 confirmed bands for Dot to Dot, I had mapped out a day of bands which would deliver happy melodies, foot tapping guitar riffs and the occasional trumpet. Dot to Dot is shaped by the variety of acts who come along for the day whether the heavy, post-grunge Northern mumbles of Drenge get you jumping into the mosh pit or the happy clappy Hudson Taylor getting you cuddling your friends in a loving drunken embrace then you’re guaranteed to see someone who falls into a niche genre of music which really tickles your fancy right now.
Amber Run, Thekla
First band was Amber Run, a five piece band from Nottingham, I’d vaguely recognised their name from the schedule so it was amazing to go along for the ride. We were not disappointed, the band played with the kind of vitality that you only get with fresh and enthusiastic talent – desperate to impress and to win over a core following. When the lead singer shouted “Who’s seen us before?” a “WOO!” was screamed out by a girl in front of me (who I later found out was the keyboardist’s sister). Seeing Amber Run live made me realise the true potential of lead singer Joe Keogh’s wicked vocals and the drummer Felix Archer’s spectacular drumming skills. Personal highlights were Heaven and Noah.
Before leaving Thekla we swung up to the low ceiling confines of the Upper Deck to see Southern. Southern consists of brother/sister, Thom and Lucy Southern from Belfast. Lucy reminded me of a cross between Shirley Mansun and Taylor Momsen providing backing vocals to brother Thom whose charm and politeness in between songs was thee bipolar opposite of his moody and aggravated vocals. These guys exuberated coolness and delivered a selection of wicked songs, next year I’ll be disappointed if I don’t see them on the lower deck of Thekla (In Dot to Dot land – that’s a promotion).
St Paul and the Broken Bones, Trinity Centre
The rain was falling outside but inside the warmth of the Trinity Centre, a former Church in the moody side of Bristol, the band St Paul and the Broken Bones were warming up the trumpets, tuning up the guitars and waiting for the 6:45 start. After watching Call Me on YouTube, I had converted to the wonderful ways of Paul Janeway and his crew of soul brothers (figuratively speaking). The crowd were half engrossed with their various conversations when the sound of the brass hit the fan (me trying to be funny, please ignore) and suddenly everyone walked towards the stage like an uninterrupted magnetic attraction.
I love this band for so many reasons, if not for Paul Janeway’s epic stage shuffles or the drummer’s sheer elation at the crowd’s uproar, if not for the infectiously catchy rhythms then it might be the way the whole band express every single note with the emotion that makes you nearly cry with joy. Then they launched into a slow number and suddenly the world stopped and balanced on the soulful sultry uttered words from Janeway, the whole church was entranced and captured within a moment that no picture or video could have gotten. Our faces, our hands, our applause caught the band by complete surprise, a band that are so good don’t even know that they have got the formation to take the world on by storm.
Hudson Taylor, Fleece
Hudson Taylor comprise of two brothers who just seem really nice and you just know if you brought them home to meet your Gran – she’d approve. Hudson Taylor were good but the sound in the Fleece was disappointing and it became pretty distracting seeing members of the band making signs to the sound guys at the back. After numerous screams of “one more song” it became apparent that the organisers had strictly forbidden encores in the name of keeping to schedule. I like Hudson Taylor but on a Sunday afternoon when I’m feeling quiet, mellow and on my best behaviour… not on a Saturday night when I’m drinking dark ales and going to gigs where you don’t have to apologise when you tread on someone’s foot by accident.
Wolf Alice, Thekla
Seeing Wolf Alice at the Thekla before the Pizza Underground was definitely the kind of gig where treading on people’s feet was the last thing on your mind. Wolf Alice are a four piece band from North London who, by the second song, had the whole boat’s attention aswell as a core fan following who had very quickly formed a mosh pit at the front. The lead singer Ellie Rowsell oozed attitude, her vocals fiercely held off the energy of the drums and the guitars. I can’t help but liken the split personality of Wolf Alice to Beyonce’s ‘Sasha Fierce’, a band which absorbs the genre characteristics of both folk, punk and grunge and forms a dual personality of both sweetness and rage. It was great to see such an exciting band on the brink of indisputable success.
Pizza Underground, Thekla
It must get to a point for all non-celebrity type celebrities where they realise the talent which propelled them into the spotlight in the first place is no longer making ends meet. For Macauley also known as ‘Mack’ in the band, the high pitched screams of KEVIN! had rapidly faded a long time in the dark abyss of an in/out relationship with drugs until the Pizza Underground came along. The Pizza Underground mocks the Velvet Underground covering songs by Lou Reed, Nirvana and switching up the words for pizza-related lyrics. The festival organiser’s decision to place this band at the end of billings seems to suggest a desire to see out the festival with a bang – the sort of bang you’d get with the final chord of a song that has been rehearsed and practiced through blood, sweat and tears, or the first beat on a drum of an opening song which fans throughout the land have repeatedly streamed and shared on Soundcloud. Not the bang of a stick hitting a battered cardboard pizza box.
To deconstruct this performance into a legible and comprehensive review is really quite impossible just because I didn’t get it. I’m using to getting things, I did an art degree. The quintet were dressed up in black, wearing black sunglasses, they rarely smiled and the extent of interaction with the crowd was through strange and scripted lines like ‘Do you all like pizza? Good, we do too’. Behind them there was a screen with a number of projections controlled by a apple mac that was sat on the floor, operated by a professional apple mac-operator-wearing-an-Andy-Warhol-wig, he occasionally took selfies of himself to tweet his friends.. When the sound of each song came to a blissful end, one of the band members would attempt to handle revving up the crowd – this involved poor attempts at 2 line pizza jokes which one of the girls told in a terrible German accent – this may sound like I’m lacking all sense of humour while reviewing this, but it just wasn’t funny or engaging, or even ironic.
I’ve been reading about the angry reactions in Birmingham and Manchester, well in comparison I’d like to summarise Bristol’s reaction as that of shock. We’re a pretty receptive city in terms of new music, with bands across the world pinpointing Bristol on the map of their UK tours as an absolute imperative. In between songs, the conversation of the crowd seemed to out-noise the sound of the band member chatting absolute rubbish. At one point, the sounds of boo’s escalated from the crowd to have ‘Mack’ say ‘aww, don’t do that’. At the end of the set, I was feeling deflated, uninspired, mildly hungover and annoyingly craving pizza! It was coincidental that the band played on a boat as I couldn’t help but feel how much the Pizza Underground’s performance was about as successful as a sinking ship.
I view Dot to Dot festival as an event which celebrates the gig venue infrastructure of each city involved, it provides a level platform for small bands to continue making a big noise. It encourages the local music scene to thrive so the inspired are now inspiring and the cycle can keep going. The £20 ticket price for the day was a much friendlier price than the neighbouring festival Love Saves the Day in Bristol whose early bird tickets for the day start off at £25. Dot to Dot helps you draw the lines between the gaps in your knowledge and reminds you that talent has to step on some stones before getting to the big venues – so put the date in your non-existent diary for next year and watch them step stones.
Find out more about Dot to Dot >here<