Review: Dot to Dot Festival

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Faris Badwan from The Horrors. Image courtesy of Paul Hudson (via Flickr)

SCAN had the pleasure of reviewing this year’s Dot to Dot Festival! Our writers Matt Hitchinson and Sam Possible share their experiences of a glorious day of new music discovery…

The idea of a travelling festival of this nature causes confusion in a lot of people but Dot to Dot Festival very successfully manages to take over a city within a much shorter time scale than most multi-venue festivals. This isn’t a figurative use of that phrase either, no less than 20 venues across Manchester opened their doors to wristband-holders to hear over 100 bands and musicians within a single day. That’s more venues than most cities have to offer at all! This really showed with not only the turnout inside the venues, but was noticeable on the walk between them and around the city: festival-goers revelled in the atmosphere of being around people who were as interested in the indie, alternative and new music as they were – and it was perfectly timed, with most of the music kicking off at around 4pm, perfectly coordinated for those finishing work for the Bank Holiday weekend. Perhaps the clearest example of this was the use of the Pabst Blue Ribbon van, used as a sort-of session stage, that had a perpetual crowd as people milled around it.

Up-and-coming band Cassia opened the show at the flagship venue, the O2 Ritz, and played a brilliant set of their relaxed, beach-indie rock ‘n’ roll that made everyone forget about the rain that was falling outside. Their infectious happiness spread to the crowd that grew and grew exponentially throughout the set. This has to be one of the most successful shows of the day, with the band looking and feeling perfectly at home in the dress rehearsal for their headline show at the Ritz later this year.

Albert Hall is a stalwart of Dot To Dot in Manchester – playing host to the headliners over the previous few years including Sundara Karma last summer and The Horrors this. A big stage to fill then for openers No Hot Ashes. For a band playing so early in the day they still had a big turnout who really enjoyed what they saw, which was a powerful display by frontman Isaac, which was contrasted cleverly to the delicate musicality of the surrounding members.

Ady Suleiman may have been late for his set following No Hot Ashes but simply hearing his voice live made up for the wait, and was a real reward for those who stuck around to watch him. The high ceilings and stained glass windows of the Albert Hall worked perfectly for him: both in terms of the purity and effortlessness of his vocals and the deeper messages conveyed by his songs.

The woman stood next to me may not have known who Pale Waves were before they began playing, but she’ll certainly remember them after they finished! The staging utilised colour so effectively, drawing attention to the sounds of the instruments, rather than the people playing them; showing the importance the band places on their music rather than their onstage persona. Seeing Pale Waves live highlights an intricacy to their music that is unnoticeable when hearing a recording: the bassline drives the melody much more than with other bands, utilising the guitars as a tuneful overtone beautifully.

My personal standout performer of the day surprisingly came in one of the smaller venues in the city and from a band with under 20,000 listeners on Spotify. Larkins played Dive, a stylish, underground bar off the beaten track in the Northern Quarter, at the same time as big names The Horrors and Dermot Kennedy headlined the major venues. The competitive timing is a real testament to how good this band are, as they still managed to pack the performance area, and got the whole place dancing and singing along. Larkins are a band with great promise, great music and great hair and if Dot To Dot’s history of uncovering new talent is anything to go by, then this may be the stepping stone that they need!

(Words by Matt Hitchinson)

Recently I was lucky enough to go to my fourth Dot To Dot Festival in Manchester. This three-day metropolitan festival moves from Manchester to Bristol and Nottingham over the course of one weekend and is an amazing celebration of fresh up-and-coming talent from across the world.

After finishing my last exam for a while, I made my way to Manchester, collected my wristband and headed to Soup Kitchen for my first act: Georgia Flipo aka G-Flip. The Australian bedroom singer-songwriter is incredibly talented, managing to fill up the basement with her textured tracks, varied instrumentation for a singer-songwriter and the energy to get people bopping their heads early in the afternoon.

Making my way over to Gorilla, I managed to catch The Regrettes in a packed-out venue. Providing punky tracks with funny, powerful lyrics that cut deep and put a smile on your face, I saw my first mosh pit of the festival and they wrapped up with a deliciously fun cover of The Sweet’s ‘Ballroom Blitz’.

I hung around for a bit to get a good spot for Easy Life, also in Gorilla. This five-piece is what you get when you throw lush hip-hop, jazzy and funky instrumentals together into a blender and get some smooth, catchy and (most of all) danceable tunes out of it. I’m a sucker for anybody who uses brass in their act, so Easy Life automatically got my approval with their wide array of instrumentation to set them apart from the crowd.

My next highlight of the festival was Men I Trust performing in Night & Day. Calm melodies, relaxing beats and ethereal vocals let me take half an hour to relax but I still found myself tapping my foot and swaying. These act was hypnotic and a joy to watch with incredibly tight chemistry. I’m very excited to dig into their discography!

Moving back to Soup Kitchen for Puma Blue, I was falling deeper into my comfort zone of soft, funky bedroom pop. Jacob Allen and his five-piece band really left an impression on me and satisfied my thirst for a jazzier Gilles Peterson-esque sound I wanted to hear. The saxophone cut through and provided a refreshing timelessness to the tracks and I think the one thing Puma Blue needs now is the faint scratch of a vinyl record in the background. Later, I stumbled upon energetic and colourful synth-pop act China Lane in Dive and caught the last few minutes of the very impressive The Elephant Trees during an acoustic set in Gullivers.

My final act of the evening was in the Gullivers main room, where I just so happened to bump into our former Music Editor Zach Hughes, who was also there to see Haiku Hands. This Melbourne crew of artists hooked me in with their borderline abrasive, rave-inspired instrumentals and tongue-in-cheek lyrics. This is the kind of act that you would find on MTV in a blunt, dystopian fiction whilst making a significant artistic statement – all the while giving the audience a wildly fun experience.  Keeping the lyrical chants and synchronised dance moves simple to encourage audience participation (it worked!), Haiku Hands were just as good as I imagined them to be, reminding me of Confidence Man, another Dot To Dot gem I found last year.

The selection of artists this year at Dot To Dot Festival 2018 was as stellar as always and there’s definitely something for everyone. Most of all, it makes me optimistic that there’s so much good stuff coming at us from around the corner and I’m excited for this wave of artists to have their time in the spotlight.

(Words by Sam Possible)