Dot To Dot Festival 2008: Nottingham

United Kingdom United Kingdom | | 27 May 2008

In essence, it is the Midlands’ answer to the burgeoning urban festival scene in London and the South East, giving us provincial types a hearty dose of the best up-and-coming artists from the relative comfort of indoors. Now also held in Bristol, 2008 sees the introduction of a whole extra day of bands with the event metamorphosizing into a full-blown weekender. This has mixed effects. While the spreading-out of acts conquers many of the queuing problems that have hampered recent years, the line up appears somewhat diluted, with much of the additional bill-space being filled by also-rans rather than genuine quality. You can’t help harbouring the feeling that the whole festival would be better, and the lineup stronger, if it were condensed into one day. Nevertheless, the weekend is peppered with some genuinely great bands, most scheduled on Sunday with Saturday’s bill looking comparatively weak, barring Rock City headliners Dirty Pretty Things. Matters aren’t helped by the late withdrawal of guilty pleasure popsters Alphabeat, leaving the Rescue Rooms conspicuously without a headliner.

Saturday does start with a pleasant surprise in the form of the band propping up the bill in the same venue left reeling from the cheesepop-shaped hole left Alphabeat’s absence. Straight Outta Saxmundham, Suffolk scallywags Cheeky Cheeky and the Nosebleeds treat the Rescue Rooms to their catchy, angular guitar pop. Whilst hardly ground-breaking, their gawky stage presence, malcoordinated dancing and high energy songs ensure this is possibly the most fun you could have mid afternoon on a Nottingham bank holiday Saturday.

It's only 4pm, but there is a sizeable gathering for Metronomy who take to the stage with the trademark circular nightlights pinned to their chests. Their impeccably produced concoction of heady electro-pop and eerie eighties falsetto is offset by the trio's cohesive stage presence and understated comedic dance moves.  'Radio Ladio' is accompanied by tongue-in-cheek superman choreography during the sing-a-long chorus, whilst a squalling sax solo adds diversity to dystopian computerised glitch-pop.  We practically dance out of the Rock City Arena afterwards, surprised to find it's barely even teatime.

Across the courtyard in Stealth are The RGBs; three synth-wielding ladies and a drum-bashing fella who purvey the kind of catchy electronica that makes you want head straight to Cash Converters and blow your money on a Korg keytar. The leotard-clad singer is hugely charismatic, proudly sporting a ‘best in show’ rosette and, while that statement may not necessarily ring true, it is an endlessly entertaining set that shows the band are definitely worth keeping an eye on.

The Rescue Rooms plays host to Ex Models. This Brooklyn three-piece may have overturned convention with their Eno-esque industrial noise, but opener 'My Psychosis' is so heavy with distortion and so deafeningly loud that much of the audience is blown back out onto the decking outside.

Soon afterwards in Rock City, Saul Williams is getting angry. Very angry. Generally upset with the injustices of the world, the performance poet soon turns his wrath on the sparse crowd; stopping mid-song after his call/response schtick falls flat to lecture the audience about how they’re ruining his “ritual”. This leaves certain quarters disillusioned, beating a hasty retreat for an earlier than scheduled fast food dinner.

Following this brief calorific break, the Rescue Rooms houses the underwhelming MOR of Ladyhawke, followed by the excellent Chrome Hoof. Looking like a devil cult of disco monks, the berobed 8-piece meld the best bits of 70s prog, funk and even death metal to create an utterly unique sound which borders on genius. In terms of musicianship they are unsurpassable - talented, tight and excessively watchable, providing an undoubted highlight of the weekend. Following this aural assault, Jeremy Warmsley’s Bodega gig seems comparatively lifeless. Despite a few good tunes (the wonderful crescendo of 'Craneflies' sticks in mind), the set plods along fairly uneventfully.

Over in Stealth LA six piece, The Mae Shi, give punk a new manifesto with their take on apocalyptic bible-rock.  New single 'Run To Your Graves' sees a deranged groupie storm the stage and leap about with the band until the end of the set: even the bouncers can't get him out.

'Uneventful', however, is one word that could not conceivably be attributed to the set of US oddball Dan Deacon. Placing a table full of precariously gaffer-taped buttons and wires in the bowels of the Stealth dancefloor, his interactive, hi-octane act is lapped up by an eager audience. Despite choosing a confused, under-the-influence, trouser-dropper as the first contestant in a bizarre tag-team dance-off, Deacon works the crowd (that he was effectively part of) masterfully, his part-rave, part-kids party proving an immensely enjoyable and brilliantly weird end to the day.

Sunday starts promisingly with Scandinavian songstress Ida Maria who, in between instigating water fights with her bassist, produces a playful set of superior, big-lunged indie rock in the Trent main room. Shortly afterwards, Canadians Caribou treat the same venue to a dose of their unique brand of Krautrock-meets-sixties pop-meets-electro. Songs from their excellent ‘Andorra’ album don’t come across quite so well live as on record thanks to lynchpin Dan Snaith’s unassuming stage presence and quiet vocals. Nonetheless the performance is strong overall, the addition of two duelling drum kits means the peaks and troughs of the likes of 'Melody Day' come across nicely.

Parisian filth-pop trio The Teenagers are on at Rock City soon after. Conceived on Myspace before they'd even written any music (apparently through a shared love of thick black rimmed specs and cardigans), Quentin, Michael and Dorian take to the Rock City stage to execute a set of astounding vapidity that shows them up as little more than the style-over-substance gimmick they originated from.

A short while later down the road and the hoards are gathering for Mystery Jets' hotly anticipated Rock City gig. Purveyors of frankly the best credible indie-pop album of recent years, the band are inexplicably reduced to playing in front of a banner bearing the name of tonight’s misguided headliner choice (the pseudo-political claptrap of Get Cape. Wear Cape. Fly.). They eventually emerge to a chorus of sirens before launching into a set comprised of sterling renditions of tracks from their excellent new record, whilst coming across as thoroughly likeable chaps in the process. ‘Two Doors Down’ is a highlight, while ‘Flakes’ provides an unexpected ‘lighters aloft’ moment.

One resounding triumph is followed by another in the form of Johnny Flynn in the Bodega. Flynn exhibits a commanding yet calm stage presence, rarely interacting with crowd and - to use a cliché - ‘letting the music do the talking’. But boy, is that music good. The talented troubadour flits from guitar to mandolin to violin, performing olde-worlde folk numbers that stand up as some of the best examples of modern English songcraft. If this set is anything to go by the world could soon be putty in his charming, cherubic hands.

A trudge through the puddles to Trent University brings us to one of the most hotly tipped acts of the festival: Caribou. Dan Snaiths and his live band reproduce the psychedelic euphoria of their flawless album 'Andorra' with the help of swirling luminous visuals, confirming Caribou's musical dexterity alone as worth the price of a weekend ticket.

Back at Rock City festival-goers are squashed into the main room ready for the Mystery Jets.  The four-piece are minus Miss Marling for the first time in a while, but the boys carry themselves effortlessly, with Blaine filling in for Laura on 'Young Love'.  By the time 'Umbrellahead' and 'Two Doors Down' come around the audience are leaping about in giddy euphoria to their special brew of sugary eighties pop.

Following a brief break it's back to the Rescue Rooms to catch headliners Glasvegas. Their Phil Spector meets Jesus and Mary Chain anthemics seldom break from the box marked boring and their stage show is no more than four unassuming Scots standing in a haze of smoke and red light. On this evidence their growing hype and popularity is somewhat surprising.

Santogold adds some sparkle to a grey day.  It's the first time this weekend that we've seen a queue, testament to the festival's good organisation.  The atmosphere is static and when Santi White creeps on stage five minutes ahead of schedule the audience breaks out into enthusiastic whoops.  "I'm just here to mic check!" she giggles, obviously excited, before sneaking off again. Her glitzy performance combines urban vocals with an ear-splitting elecro-ska DJ set that kick-starts the roisterous evening to come, as festival-goers fight for dancefloor space during heavy sets by Primary 1, Dan Deacon and A-Trak until daylight. 

The 2008 installment of Dot To Dot can be regarded as a success, the risk of expanding the festival to two days genuinely seemed to pay off despite Saturday’s lineup perhaps needing a bit of beefing up. Festivals that focus on unearthing new bands are always going to have their fair share of musical chaff to sort from the metaphorical wheat. Taking this into account, Dot To Dot is a great little event. Bustling, hectic and friendly, it is replete with plenty of opportunities to big up or bitch about the great and not-so-great bands you’ve unearthed over the weekend, and more than stands up against its more frequently-lauded cousins in the capital.

Francis Whittaker and Hazel Sheffield

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