This year's Dot To Dot festival line-up was arguably the best one yet in its five year history, so DiS went along mob-handed to both the Bristol and Nottingham legs on the second bank holiday weekend of May.
Chris Nicholls (Bristol)
Chik Budo remind me of the bit in The Lost Boys where the greased up, topless muscle guy wails on the sax whilst everyone's having a sexy eighties party. If that's not enough to convince you why they should be your favourite band, then I'm not sure what is! Since the last time I saw them the band seem to have lost a saxophonist, leaving one loan reedsman to wail into the night. They've lost none of their party spirit however and wrench out a sound akin to The Gossip's rhythm section raised on a steady diet of Talking Heads' Remain In Light. Whilst the "such and such mixed with so and so" review shtick is getting old; I wasted my best comparison in the first line - what more do you want from me?! Throughout their set the band does not stop smiling or moving. Neither does this appreciative, and by now very sweaty, Dot To Dot crowd.
Some gurning mentalist at the front of the stage seems to have mistaken the Cooler for Ibiza circa 2000. He's intent on trying to "have it" to Maps. I don't get it. I feel like maybe I'm the one latching onto the wrong elements of their sound. I hear shoegaze, dream pop, My Bloody Valentine and hints of New Order. Am I doing Maps wrong? Sure this is electronic music, and for all the charisma coming from the stage we may as well be in a club listening to a faceless, generically named DJ, but I feel more of an emotional than a physical connection with Maps' music. However this is headphones music and the power is lost somewhat when you can see that it's being made by three people pressing one key each on a synth. The beats were also overpowering at times and for a moment made me think the sweaty face-chewer may not be too far off the mark after all. Right band, wrong environment.
Vivian Girls have everything going for them. That sound (think 1960s girl group by way of Riot Grrrl and Spector biting), That look (retro thrift store cuteness with girl gang attitude and ink) and those friends (Crystal Stilts drummer Frankie Rose is a former Vivian). Tonight it just doesn't come together. The vocals are either too high or too flat and the harmonies don't gel. Disinterested girl vocals are cool and all, but it always helps if you're somewhere in the vicinity of the right note. Or hey, if that's your thing then perhaps put on a show. It's a real shame that we get none of this from Vivian Girls during their Dot To Dot set. Their records jangle and shine through the murk, but all we get here is a dull pop rock thud with barely a flash of brilliance.
I’m missing The Pains Of Being Pure At Heart for VV Brown and I don’t give a shit. I throw the words "guilty pleasure" around a lot when I’m talking to my friends about VV, but that’s a lie. She’s fun, shamelessly pop in the truest sense, and I admire her. I watch other bands and play the critic; pulling apart influences, melodies and lyrics; holding them under a microscope for authenticity and originality. VV magnifies hers for you. Tonight she’s larger than life, bounding onstage in a Zebra print one-piece and bursting straight into debut single 'Crying Blood'. Bequiffed and shoeless she pours her heart and lungs out onto the stage, engages in a drum battle with her percussionist and declares her ex (about whom she wrote her debut album) “…an arsehole.” There’s nothing hidden, sneaky or contrived about Ms Brown. Definitely nothing guilty either.
‘Tropical Punk’ eh? I don’t know. Yeah OK, sometimes their guitars sound like steel drums but that’s as far as it goes for me. This is late night, dirty punk club music, (that they’re of the many feted bands who call The Smell home is of no bearing on this), that on a later slot, to a more boozed up crowd would probably end in a stage invasion (You should have been in Nottingham the next day then - DG). I can’t tell if they all look older or younger than they are. These guys are either twelve or thirty-five years of age. Boyish looks belie musical maturity though as fleet fingers flay the crowd with a woozy, skittish paranoid wave. Perhaps it’s the new wave of no-wave. Things feel like they could fall apart and kind of do, but there’s a rhythmic thread keeping the elements together and preventing the sharp edged, razor wire guitars from taking out our eyes (though our ears are not so safe). The band of the weekend...? I think so.
Dom Gourlay (Nottingham)
Having packed out many of the city's venues for the past eighteen months or so, it almost feels like some kind of divine retribution that this quartet are finally being given the opportunity to shine in front of a wider audience, and their early afternoon slot - some fourteen hours or so after another sell-out gig in one of Nottingham's more intimate venues - doesn't disappoint. While the band themselves may occasionally be reluctant to tag themselves with the whole "shoegaze" malarkey, there's no question that Oliver Chetty's dazzling guitar work elevates them to another level, and on the acerbic 'To No Avail' and lolloping Germanic groove of closer 'Bad Lines', their presence amidst more celebrated company is ably justified.
The Pains Of Being Pure At Heart
Every once in a while an artist or band comes along whose music is impossible not to fall in love with. The Pains Of Being Pure At Heart seem to occupy that mantle for 2009 quite impeccably, and with very little room left to manouvre in around Trent University's spacious dancefloor, despite the scorching sun outside, it seems the New Yorkers are at the top of everyone's "must see" lists this weekend. Playing a set almost exclusively taken from their eponymous debut album, it feels like Ramones-style rollercoaster as each song's ending is punctuated by a simple "2-3-4" to signal the next one's opening salvo, dragging the spirit of 1986 kicking and screaming into the present. By the end, smiles beaming back and forth between both band and audience, their set is an unparallelled success that only beggars the question, why weren't they higher up the bill? There's always next year I guess...
The Soft Pack
Calling themselves The Muslims not so long ago was perhaps not the wisest move and ultimately guaranteed to end in a veil of tears and controversy. However, the burning question that would make or break them in the long-run was always whether or not they had the songs to back up the whole furore. Thankfully, the re-christened Soft Pack have both tunes and charisma in abundance, and on the likes of 'Bright Side' and 'Future Rock' sound like the missing link between Jonathan Richman and The Walkmen as curated by Clint Boon. Its the closing 'Parasites' though that really wins the day, as masses of bodies hurry from the bar and balcony to jostle for a front row spot even though precisely three minutes from now their set will be no more.
When it was announced that Som Wardner and co. were to be playing their first Nottingham show in eight years at Dot To Dot, it felt like a re-enactment of the prodigal son returning for one last big send-off. Two songs in - a grandiose 'Moodswings' kickstarting the set followed by an equally impressive (and as-yet untitled) new composition - and it would be fair to say My Vitriol see this festival appearance as anything but a final swansong. Indeed, the set pretty much follows a similar course throughout; dalliances with the more familiar ('Grounded' and 'Losing Touch' sounding particularly incendiary, vital even) interjected alternately with several unreleased pieces, all of which resonate magnificently like it was 1999 and the year of shoegrunge all over again. Afterwards we trudge off and find they're selling their t-shirts for £2 a throw. Bargain!
Marina And The Diamonds
Not being one to ever be influenced by hype, Welsh songstress Marina Diamond could actually be the most interesting pop star you'll hear all year. Sure, the comparisons to people like Kate Nash - however lucid - will always follow her around, but there's something quite effortlessly charming about her Kate Bush-does-'Playschool' repertoire that lifts her out of the quagmire known as average. There's also no doubt that being aesthetically pleasing will captivate many an audience besides the music, but by the time a towering 'Mowgli's Road' announces her imminent departure, there's a sea of singing and dancing bodies animating the Bodega. Game, set and match to Ms. Diamond it is...
The last time Crystal Stilts played this city in a venue half this size it felt like an event, the start of something special that was about to happen. Therefore, it is no surprise to find the Bodega is jam-packed a good ten minutes before the Brooklyn five-piece take to the stage. When they finally do appear, mayhem ensues, pint pots go flying - one of which lands squarely on frontman Brad Hargett's shirt - and technical problems threaten to halt the set's flow early on. Nevertheless, the simplistic beauty of these songs - think The Doors being played via the Reid brothers' echo chamber - elevate them above the ordinary no matter what the setting, and the closing double whammy of 'Departure' and 'Love Is A Wave' feel like perfect festival anthems in such salubrious surroundings.
Future Of The Left
Forgive me for missing the point but it seems like I'm the only one here in Rock City's basement that really doesn't quite get Future Of The Left. Never have to be perfectly honest, and despite the obvious enthusiasm on and off stage throughout their set, I'm left to contemplate as to whether this so-called "supergroup" are really that super at all, or if too many people are getting carried away by the combined members' previous outfits past glories. Still, maybe there's a 'To Hell With Good Intentions' or 'Paris And The New Math' lurking in there somewhere; just don't hold your breath too long. I know I certainly won't be.
Clare Joslin (Bristol)
Perfect for that mid-afternoon lull, Hjaltalín quietly meandered on stage looking like a pick ‘n’ mix of musical misshapes. An awkward violinist and a lady with bassoon joined a Caleb KoL-alike, a non-brash Adele and a frontman who may have stepped out of a Nordic Nirvana. But who am I to judge appearances? Proceedings commenced and 'Goodbye July'‘s acceptable pop-rock pounced out to entertain. Then it stopped, and a big swaddled woman pitched in with a confusing operatic interlude. This was worsened by guitar and bassists fumbling on the floor with plugs and cables throughout. Was this meant to happen, or was she just filling while they fixed the equipment? Translating their last song, frontman Högni Egilsson explained the romance of “Friday or Saturday night spontaneous appointments” with genius comic delivery - intentional or not - before closing with a song so lovely a Harvester advert would be proud to have it.
Exuberant eccentricity is the name of Patrick Wolf’s game, so it was no surprise to anyone when he flounced out dressed all in red with knee high boots, square shoulder pads and sparkly red make-up to match. I’ve wanted to see Patrick for some time, so was eager to witness the spectacle that would be his show. However - whether down to limited stage time or simply putting on ‘lesser’ shows for festivals - there was nothing extreme or shocking. This is in no way a criticism - au contraire - as Wolf’s performance was confident, engaging and powerful enough simply with him standing on stage and humbly showing his character. The setlist was also marvelously planned for the diverse audience of fanatics, semi-fans and those who just came for a look. It took full advantage of the poppier, more mainstream singles of past, present and future, from the shiny new 'Oblivion' and the playground cheer of 'Accident and Emergency' through to the haunting 'Libertine'. Above all, despite being dressed like a bit of a queen, Patrick Wolf fucking rocked the shop.
Mumford And Sons
The mighty Mumford and Sons graced the mainstage of the 02 Academy as the audience’s scantily clad sun-and-booze binged girls brought a whole new meaning to the term hoedown. But this is British Bluegrass at its finest. With double bass and banjo at hand it’s impossible not to join in. Looking down from the stage, the breezy gaps between spectators must have been obvious, but when Marcus Mumford and his merry men sang, the gruff richness of chorus boomed out filling the spaces like foam insulation. Finishing with the epic 'Dust Bowl Dance', Mumford stepped behind the drum and bashed one out – so to speak. I’ve always wondered why they had drummers on the battlefield but as Marcus pounds down with a brutal strength the adrenaline answers my question. The crowd cheer as the band exit stage right, and I try to slow my thumping pulse. This is no ordinary drumbeat, this is an M&S drumbeat.
Naive New Beaters
Having never heard of Naive New Beaters, it was sheer fluke that I found myself watching their set. Gracing the small stage of the Thekla bar before Pulled Apart By Horses, I’d turned up early to avoid disappointment and miraculously managed to! This quirky three-piece - apparently made up by an American singer, a 90s rock fan and a French programmer - are another one of those “Are we just having a laugh or are we serious?” groups. A little like The Hoosiers of hip-hop rap, but as horrid as that sounds, it actually worked. Granted, the singer looks like he’s wearing a mullet wig and they only seem to have one knitted sweater/t-shirt each, but the NNBs do have some party-time tunes that get people grooving. Why, I was approached by two men offering their “out of ten” rating services and the fact I didn’t punch either of them should be testament enough of this music’s mood enhancing qualities. 'Live Good' was probably the best song and as they pranced the stage with ironic sex appeal I couldn’t help thinking Har Mar Superstar fans might find something they like here.
Pulled Apart By Horses
The floor begins to shake and, being the lady I am, I clamber on top of a seating booth for a better (and safer) view. Below I hear the panic of accidental witnesses who only came in for a drink, fear filled eyes scanning for the exit. When Pulled Apart By Horses play the final beats of opener, 'The Crapsons', one girl shouts to her friend in terror “Quick! Go now before it starts again!!” Cue the next pulse-wave of smash rock power and the crowd surfing begins. People are climbing up walls, fixtures and fittings, clinging to the ceiling girders and riding a euphoric wave of hands. A cover of Nirvana’s 'Aneurysm' unites the crowd and band alike in teen nostalgia. People invade the stage and knock over equipment, but no-one bats an eyelid. Smiling from ear to ear, it strikes me that if I fall to my death right now I’ll die happy. I might need to get out more.