Dot To Dot has happened. Been, gone, ain’t coming back for 12 or so flips of your tits ‘n’ ass Max Power calendar. Missed it? Too bad. We didn’t, and here is what we’re calling Some Words To Prove It. Or: Dot To Dot: the DiS Review.
Nottingham-based pushers of virtual pens Dom Gourlay, Josh Cole and Jordan Dowling were, quite literally, foaming at the gobs over this year’s Dot To Dot fest’, which – for the first time ever – split itself in half to accommodate a Bristol event, a day before the becoming-traditional Notts all-dayer across the city’s various scumholes and u-bends. Wipe them down is what we did, and pointed them at the city centre. Then we ducked for cover. Boys, over to you for a trio of tasty overviews…
Read our preview of the festival here
What is it with the rain and Bank Holiday weekends? Not for one single minute can I recall the heavens closing on Sunday, May 27, so from the first moment of navigating our way round the wristbands queue to the ridiculous trail of people that greeted us halfway down Goldsmith Street straight after The Thermals’ set, the wind and rain was on hand to accompany us every inch of the way.
It’s hard to compare this year’s Dot To Dot to the previous two line-ups in terms of quality, but maybe that has more to do with a lack of artists ready to make that step up from the Conference in general, so to almost-proverbially speak.
Whatever the case, I Was A Cub Scout sound impressive during their soundcheck, but unfortunately we have to leave before they start proper due to members of our party having to undergo unscrupulous ID checks. So, back to basics it is… and the confines of the Rescue Rooms.
And why not? I mean, Yo! Chomsky are on in a minute. Aren’t they? Aren’t they!? What do you mean they played an hour before their scheduled timeslot? Bah….
So, two hours into the festival and still to see a set, a friend sends me a text that there’s a band due on at Trent any moment now that shouldn’t be missed. After another good soaking we take our places among the dozen or so people watching Bristol’s Nova Saints literally tear through the University’s foundations with their panoramic soundscapes.
Having briefly caught a glimpse of Maps’ admittedly impressive electro-ambient shoegazing, it’s back to Rock City for more queues and the repetitive start-stop-start-stop jerkiness of Foals. They sound okay, but their reference points are so obvious and the four songs played while we’re present sound near identical.
With Rock City becoming excessively full and with queues forming at every opening – do that many people really want to see Kate Nash? – we decide to escape for our health and sanity to the even less-spacious confines of Stealth where These New Puritans play the shortest set in history. Importantly, though, they sound just right for a festival of this kind: their mash of electro, dub and new wave follows no blueprint whatsoever, yet falls into place with the drop of a hat.
A brief peep of the head round the Rescue Rooms door at Pete And The Pirates’ set makes me venture in for a further ten minutes’ worth. It’s good, old-fashioned rock ‘n’ roll of a Coral-meets-the Pigeon Detectives style, and serves to briefly brighten a lousy afternoon.
The highlight of the day comes at around 7:30pm when, after a walk across the city centre to Lee Rosy’s Tea Rooms, Napoleon IIIrd (aka James Mabbett) announces he’s forgotten his setlist and promptly knocks seven shades of excrement out of his trusty tape machine. Not that this detracts anything from his set, as he plays the likes of ‘Hit Schmooze For Me’ and ‘Defibrillator’ with a poise and grace that suggests it won’t be long before he’s topping rather than propping up many a festival bill.
More rain, a quick Subway sandwich and a half a shandy and we notice the queue for Rock City finally seems to have subsided. Who’s on? Why it’s Lethal Bizzle, and he and his entourage prove to be entertaining if nothing else, even if it is all a bit “When I say hip, you say hop”.
A quick glance at my watch tells me that We Are The Physics are gonna be on in five minutes, so a quick sprint back to Trent University gets me to the front just in time for their opening salvo. Despite the slow start, things perk up with ‘Bulimia Sisters’ and ‘Networking’, and WATP’s cranked-up Devo rock suddenly emerges as one of the highlights of the day.
Next door, Blonde Redhead are just about to start their sonic assault, and the roar of feedback echoing round the venue suggests they’re either going to deafen everyone or blow the speakers up. Fortunately, it all calms down to a tranquil pace – maybe too quiet and slow in places – that proves relaxing but still unusual in the context of a festival of this kind.
In search of a few more thrills, we head upstairs for The Thermals but, after just two songs, decide to sit at the back with pints in hands, bemoaning the fact that on record they sound more interesting than the sub-Green Day pop-punk copycats on stage before us.
With the time getting on, and the rain pelting down relentlessly, we decide to brave the conditions and head elsewhere, only to find everyone else seems to have the same idea. Some bright spark has an idea and we head off to the Circus round the corner for free drinks and a cheaper-than-cheap three-course meal.
An hour or so later, the queues are still long, too long for us to bother with to watch some bloke play a few CDs, so we flag down the first taxi and head off home. As festivals go this edition of Dot To Dot isn’t the worst by any means, but maybe one improvement for next year would be to have more than two 18+ venues open beyond midnight, particularly as Rock City – the biggest participating venue of them all – regularly hosts club nights most days of the week.
Still, at least the bands played indoors…
Two years ago, the debut Dot To Dot seemed like a godsend: a festival based at Nottingham's twin hubs of 'underground' live music (Rescue Rooms and The Social) bringing a heady mix of local and out-of-town bands together for one day at a very cheap price. Mystery Jets, Ladytron, The Automatic, The Rakes, British Sea Power, Long Blondes and The Swarm were among those that made the trip to Robin Hood Country for the festival, and its follow up in 2006.
Now in its third year, Dot To Dot has swollen to nearly ten venues and a price of £25. 2007’s edition finds it accommodating elements of larger, more corporate festivals – such as manhandling security, poor organization, largely nonchalant crowds – as well as well as gripes of smaller ones (plenty of journeyman groups, but a lack of real headline-quality bands). Members of two of the city’s finest bands are reduced to selling merchandise and soundchecking lesser bands (Lords and the newly reformed Six By Seven, FYI) and on top of this the weather was constantly terrible. Yet from ragged roots sometimes beautiful things can grow.
For this particular scribe the day should begin with Nottingham's own Yo! Chomsky, but unfortunately their set time has been changed for the second time, and I have to make do with a chat with their frontman, Alex. However, from this negative an unexpected positive blossoms: plans are changed and bodies diverted to Nottingham Trent to see Nova Saints, whose atypically aggressive shoegaze stylings provide as good a start to the day as any. Downstairs at the same venue, Maps kick up a storm, with a thrilling and very well-attended live band-backed set. Think Sigur Rós driving at 100mph up the M83 and you are probably nowhere near, but it's a fucking great pun.
These New Puritans also impress at Stealth, almost making the room seem like an adequate venue for bands with a shockingly short, but incredibly tight, sets. The venue certainly seems to bring the best out of their repetitive, angular guitar riffs and half-drunken yelps. Could we be seeing The Fall of New-Rave? In one way, certainly, and live 'Elvisss' nearly takes the Song of the Year crown from Battles' 'Atlas'. So what if they sound like The Rakes did two years ago? I'm guessing they were better than Kate Nash, who those who missed TNP were probably in the queue for, for about half an hour. You tossers.
Despite a backfiring tape reel machine, Napoleon IIIrd is on typically great form, and delivers what turns out to be one of the longest non-headline sets of the day. Not that anyone is complaining; it is almost impossible to dislike stomping anthems such as 'Hit Schmooze' and 'Call To Arms', and Lee Rosy's Tea Shop is the perfect venue for his quirky delivery.
Later on, We Are The Physics' scuzzed-up indie-punk falls on deaf ears during the build-up to Blonde Redhead, who play an assured but slightly disappointing set in front of a surprisingly large crowd downstairs at Nottingham Trent. Opener 'Spring By Summer Fall' is a strange and unlikely beginning, a mid-album track that takes five listens before its true beauty is revealed. '23' and 'Equus' fare better, but there is a slight sense of everything anti-climax amongst those who have seen the band before.
And so, for some of us at least, the festival finishes: some go home, some queue up hours to choke to death on florescent coffin air. Three of DiS's contingent go for a £3 three-course meal with free drinks at Nottingham Circus. That this is a highlight of the day says a lot for this damp Sunday, which despite flashes of promise fails to make up for its numerous negatives.
Due to its location, an adherence to the NME scene and availability to under-18s, next year's Dot To Dot will no doubt be as well attended as this year’s, but a few major changes wouldn't go amiss. In Rock City, Rescue Rooms and even Lee Rosy's, Nottingham has some of the best venues in the midlands, if not the entire country. It also has a brimming live music scene. Today, during what could have been a perfect way to showcase the best of the city, it seemed only the most mediocre was displayed. A great opportunity missed? I think that’s accurate.
Of course it’s all about the music, man. However this year’s Dot To Dot will not just be remembered for its impressive array of underwhelming acts, but also for the day’s constant drive of cold and clammy rain.
I Was A Cubscout open Rock City – Dot to Dot’s unglamorous equivalent to the Pyramid Stage. The teenage duo are a more exciting prospect today than a year ago, having added muscle to their emotronica sound. So it’s a shame that old song ‘Pink Squares’ still sounds a zillion times better than the newer tracks. Here’s hoping I’m proven wrong on future records.
Sadly the walks between venues become increasingly unpleasant, as clothes get heavier and wetter. Still, I must go on… must… make… it… to… You… Slut. Inevitably when I eventually arrived at Lee Rosy’s Tea Room for You Slut!, the ‘venue’ (an adapted leftfield café) was rammed to the extent I could not actually get inside, so stood outside, face pressed mournfully against the window, in the pouring rain.
As I force myself back again, thoughts of having to embrace further rain-lashed queuing (a lot of queuing was involved today, particularly for massive acts like Kate Nash) drive me to seek refuge either in a McDonald’s doorway or, more appealingly, at home.
A nice, dry afternoon of The Sopranos (Series 3) does the trick and when I eventually return to the city centre for eccentric singer Scout Niblett, the rain has thankfully subsi…oh. Wishful writing. Scout is not nearly as bonkers as the last time I saw her (when she spent most of the show under a table in a blonde wig), and, whisper it quietly, but she proves a little bit boring. Still, her simple and intense guitar picking does provide some thrills.
One thing Gallows cannot be accused of is being boring. Chief runt Frank Carter is certainly passionate about his band’s racket, flinging his little torso around Rock City's Basement like a ragdoll gone horrifically wrong. Or perhaps Chucky would be more accurate. The band’s hysterical collaboration with Lethal Bizzle, that most novelty of UK rappers, is hardly the 21st century's ‘Walk This Way’. OH! LOOK! It’s Sam Duckworth (Get Cape. Wear Cape. Fly.) crowdsurfing down the front, ditching the heartfelt shtick for some wholesome hardcore punk. He looks like Hardy to Frank Carter’s Laurel; Pooh to his Chucky.
Finally the festival’s ‘headline’ act, The Cribs, really aren’t very good. Men's Needs, Women's Needs, Whatever is a fun album sure, but live the sound is Philboyd Studge, and the album’s immediacy and sharpness is lost among Rock City’s dingy grot.
Despite all these criticisms it would be unfair to end on a negative. Dot to Dot is a brilliant day out, and will undoubtedly come back stronger and sunnier next year.
All pictures by Toby Price, from top: Nova Saints, Blonde Redhead, Kate Nash, Gallows, Blood Red Shoes, Chromeo, The Cribs.