Dot To Dot is fantastic for catching quality new music with organsiers having a knack of encouraging big bands into tiny venues says Kai Jones.
Overall – 7/10
Inner-city festivals: great for catching dozens of amazing new bands at a multitude of venues, bad for the feet that have to drag you there. This year’s Dot to Dot in Bristol featured a mix of established acts and fresh-out-of-the box artists, all set against a glorious day of blazing sunshine. Roll on next year – but book in a foot massage for afterwards.
Getting there and back – 7/10
The M32 takes you straight from the M4 into the city centre, while the M5 to the east ensures a simple journey for travellers from Manchester, Birmingham or Exeter. Bristol is also on the London to Swansea Great Western line, so getting there is a breeze. Trains and buses shutdown well before midnight though, which leaves you with a dilemma – miss the headliners or find a humble friend to drive you home. Many people opted for hostels, hotels or an apartment, meaning that Bristol was fully booked up by the festival – reserve early for next year.
Site – 7/10
Eight stages in five venues, two of which were in the legendary Thekla – a venue on a boat. The Cooler is a great little place for new bands, hosting intimate and vibrant sets by Vivian Girls, Maps and Chik Budo, but its location on the hill that is Park Street – along with the Lousianna, Fleece and The Academy being a good fifteen minutes walk from each other – means your leg muscles will hate you by the end of the day.
Atmosphere – 7/10
With a small amount of venues and the distance between them, you don’t get the magical carnival atmosphere of Camden Crawl or Great Escape, but once you’re inside the vibe and expectancy of the crowds tend to be electric. Dot to Dot has two great strengths – it’s fantastic for catching new music and they have a knack of encouraging big bands into tiny venues – both these create massive grins on festival-goers’ faces. Two examples from many: Hold Steady’s relentless swagger carving smiles into everyone at the Fleece; the Naïve New Beater’s addictive electro-pop filth causing a stage invasion at the tiny Thekla Bar.
Ladyhawke – 7/10
Rustled hair as big and sexy as the bold, dreamboat melodies, Ladyhawke’s intriguing quality is the contradiction between those lifting, ice-cool anthems and her own endearing shyness. Her debut album is a delicious slice of infectious 80s influences (all Go Go’s, Duran Duran and Pretenders) and sharp noughties production, and ‘My Delirium’, ‘Back in the Van’ and ‘Paris Is Burning’ swirl beautifully around the Academy like the spirits at the end of Raiders of the Lost Ark. But then you glance up at Ladwhawke hardly moving, hiding under that blonde fringe and it seems incredible that this massive euphoria originates with such a timid figure.
Patrick Wolf – 8/10
His gravity-defying blonde quiff dancing above him, Patrick Wolf bristles with the brooding intensity of Marlene Dietrich or 70s Bowie at his most subversive – it’s easy to see why half the audience want to be him and the other half want to shag him. A cabaret of string-laden crescendos and delicate anthemia, Wolf’s raw presence and cheeky glint-in the-eye swagger is swoon-inducing.
Hold Steady – 8/10
A great band in their own right, it’s their own-admitted debt to their influences that makes the Hold Steady’s late night set a must see event. Their compelling channelling of The Replacements and The Clash plus their ability to make the intoxicating bar-room brawl of a sound seem so massive and yet so intimate makes the intimate Fleece seem like Dot to Dot Ground Zero. When Craig Finn leans into the audience during ‘Constructive Summer’ and screams out with all his conviction, “Raise a toast to St. Joe Strummer / I think he might’ve been our only decent teacher,” you can feel the rise of empathy in the crowd and the tingling sensation of band and audience becoming one.
Future of the Left – 8/10
In between banter as spiky and cynical as the jagged songs, Future of the Left’s relentless delivery tonight is deliciously vicious, but entirely absorbing. Maybe it’s the way Kelson delivers those cutting between song lines with such a wry, affectionate grin or the way Falkous hammers at his keyboard during ‘Manchasm’, contradicting any opinion that such an instrument could ever enhance such a menacing intent. A band for our times, Barack Obama would be proud of Future of the Left’s frugal approach – the intoxicating grinding rhythm never wastes a note – and when each stabbed melody comes to an end you feel equally bruised and happy.
Naïve New Beaters – 8/10
Like fellow Parisians the Teenagers, Naïve New Beaters straddle that filthy line between electro and sassy pop, delivered with some irreverent wordplay and some ridiculously catchy tunes. Their first two EPs received remixes from the likes of Yuksek and Bloody Beetroots and they’re so style mag dirty-cool you’ll be hearing a lot more from them when their debut album, ‘Wallace’, is released this summer. At the Thekla Bar tonight they create the biggest, messiest party in the tiniest place, ‘Get Love’ and ‘Live Good’ forcing everyone into shapes before the littlest of stages is overcome by dozens of grinning new fans.
Dinosaur Pile Up – 7/10
Three piece. Gnarly singer with a violent, earnest, scream. Rhythm section that just doesn’t combine as lock horns and attack each other like raging bulls. Yes, Dinosaur Pile Up share more than a few common similarities with a certain Seattle trio, yet the chainsaw guitars, thunderous bass and moody delivery prove there’s enough of their own intense charm to remain distinctive.
Hjaltalin – 8/10
Ever seen a band with a bassoon player? Trust a band from Iceland to come up with something so magical. Hjaltalin woo the Cooler crowd from the start, slipping us a wondrous mix of Arcade Fire and Sea Bear. Dreamy, orchestral and sweeping, they feel like warm hugs on a cold day.
Dan Black – 3/10
‘Symphonies’ may be a glorious Jamie T-esque anthem, but throughout his set the pretentious posturing suggests something so naggingly annoying, but we’re unable to put a finger on it – until some bright spark behind us comments: “He looks like he should be on fucking Nathan Barley!”
Brothers Strawberry Cider – rocket fuel for between venue walks – plus a blazing sun equals a fabulous Dot to Dot.
Clash Your Bands Say No
Future of the Left verses Pulled Apart by Horses? Little Boots verses Hold Steady? Maps verses Lovelikefire? Sometimes choosing between bands is so painful.
Delayed by technical problems, when Little Boots did arrive she was greeted by a half-full Thekla, a slow hand clap and a chorus of boos. Even though she went on to do a great set that ended with an intense and magical version of the incredible Fake Blood remix of ‘Stuck on Repeat’, she looked like she couldn’t wait to finish and rushed straight off the stage the second the track finished.
Nun Too Fun
Baldwin Street. Hell on Earth, just with extra testosterone – circumnavigating the drunken hordes throughout the night became an event in itself. The drunk guy throwing his kebab at a taxi, whilst dressed as nun, would have been worth a chuckle if he didn’t look like he would batter you for it.