The Dot to Dot Festival, one of the best new and emerging talent festivals, rolled back into Bristol this weekend to claim its place alongside all of the Diamond Jubilee celebrations. As ever the festival brought in over 80 acts from a wide range of levels from local breakthrough bands to established transatlantic and transpacific artists. The one thing shared by all of them is that you won't find a boy band or pop princess anywhere, the music is predominately aimed at fans of indie, rock, dance and the all too popular raft of singer songwriters. There is a tradition with Dot to Dot of bringing a whole host of acts that you would have never seen before but, more importantly, and being one of the earliest events of the year, there are always a couple of acts that go stratospheric in the following months which if you missed you would be kicking yourself for doing so. Don't believe me? Last year it was Ed Sheeran, on early at the O2 Arena, Ellie Goulding played the year before and let's not forget The XX, Mumford and Sons, Metronomy ...
As mentioned in our previous reviews, Dot to Dot is a series of three consecutive one day festivals, held at multiple venues in three different cities: Bristol, Nottingham and finally Manchester. The key to enjoying the festival is either to bring bags of research into the bands and a strict and meticulously planned timetable designed to maximise your day, or to have a vague idea about who you fancy catching and just winging it. With Bristol's venues within walking distance of each other but still far enough apart to make you consider a taxi if you're in a hurry or are unfortunate enough to be at opposite ends of the map it is wise to think ahead or you'll end up missing an act. This year we lost the Anson Rooms as a venue, which will have pleased people who did not relish a long slog up Bristol's steepest hill, but three more sprouted up to take its place; Start the Bus, Stag & Hounds and Trinity. Unfortunately with the loss of the Anson Rooms went the free shuttle bus service whose demise put a number of miles of walking onto my day.
Dot to Dot 2012's headline acts were billed as The Drums and Pulled Apart By Horses, but there were a number of other notable headliners scattered across the city. The prize for the earliest appearance of a much anticipated new act goes to Pure Love who played at 5:45 on a Saturday afternoon in the Trinity (Arts Centre). If you didn't know why this was a surprise then you should know that this is the new project by ex Gallows front man Frank Carter. The timing was in context, they played before Cloud Nothings, Turbowolf and Pulled Apart By Horses, but the small crowd pointed to a combination of an early slot, a new venue, the furthest away from the centre and a general lack of awareness for the new band and its pedigree. Pure Love was exactly what you would expect from Frank, it was loud, angry, active and heavy, and how could it have been anything else? As ever he was not content to stay on the stage and took his microphone into the crowd to play the rest of the set after the first song to make this an extremely up close and personal performance. The price of this excursion, like many things at festivals, was that you missed something else and for us this was Lucy Rose, a singer songwriter who was known for working with Bombay Bicycle Club but who is now cleaving her own path. Fortunately she told me that she is playing at over 30 festivals this summer, so the odds of catching her again are very high and from the short burst that we did catch we'll be looking forward to a whole set.
Having spent a long time refusing to play their big hit used in a commercial "Let's Go Surfing" for reasons that many speculated were down to them turning their noses up at the song's success and not getting taken seriously because of it the indie pop band the Drums have returned to form and introduced the track to their set lists again. And what a good decision that was, we all want to hear the biggest hits, and nothing annoys a crowd more, especially at a festival, when they don't do it (and I can think of a few who did). The Drums were a great choice for a headline act with such a student heavy demographic - the crowds absolutely loved it, particularly as the only people left in the Academy were those there just to see them. They closed the proceedings at the Academy with "Down by the Water".
Before the event a stand out must see act for me was Random Impulse, I enjoyed researching their music and connected straight away with the track "Overload" so I was looking forward to squashing my way to the "compact and bijou" Academy 2 stage. Aside from the terrible light I was not disappointed. Random Impulse (aka Jovel Walker) is a grime rapper and rock musician who blends the two genres brilliantly and his skills as a producer and writer have left his fingerprints on many an act's track list. His grime credentials do not stretch to being a moody gangsta, thankfully, he is lively, friendly, very approachable (we saw him getting photos with fans and spent a bit of time with us for a few snaps as well), self effacing and a lot more humble than homie which creates a superb all round package. Performance wise he is a fan of the chorus singalong ("this one's called 'Overload' - guess what one word you have to sing in the chorus?") and although many of his tracks are quite hard edged he spent as long grinning as he did pumping out rifts. Random Impulse was my highlight for the day and I am looking forward to seeing him on a larger stage.
Ryan Keen is another emerging singer songwriter who appeared shoeless (though with socks still on, in a very British way) and played his acoustic guitar traditionally and using the percussive style of acts like Newton Faulkner and Ed Sheeran. Unusually he encouraged the crowd to go silent so that he could unplug his guitar and go completely mic free for one track - I don't know how this was for people at the back, but it was hard to hear the singing, but great to hear the guitar like that. My highlight was when he covered "All These Things That I've Done" by the Killers and tried to split the room into two halves to sing complimentary parts to the chorus (*cough* Ed Sheeran). It wasn't that it was a failure, but it's hard to split a crowd in a room 15 feet wide. Best leave that for a larger crowd, Ryan, I'm sure it's just a matter of time.
I was looking forward to seeing O Children, but felt that I didn't get them at their best. I'm not sure whether it was me, the venue, the weather or the current phase of the moon, but it didn't grab me like I had expected when I first heard Tobias' vocals on "Ruins". I'll give them another try later.
Last time we caught Dog is Dead was in 2010 when they were crammed into the Academy 2 stage so it was nice to see their progression onto the main stage - a fact they shared with the audience. Their following is growing well - will they be this year's dark horse?
A particular favourite hip hop act of mine, Odd Future, or OFWGKTA or whichever version you choose to use, has many spin off and related acts, which isn't surprising considering their collective nature, so the inclusion of The Internet (the band, not the Tim Berners Lee invention) was of great interest. DJ Syd the Kyd and Matt Martians are the driving force behind this hip hop soul act, but unfortunately for me it was more soul than hip hop. Syd is charismatic and enigmatic and has a surprisingly smooth voice for someone who is normally spinning discs at the back of the stage during Odd Future sets. She is effortlessly cool and it is hard to take your eyes off her whether she is singing, swaying, or taking some time out sitting on the floor but if you are expecting anything like Odd Future you will be in for a shock as it's all about the Hammond Organ, vocal riffs and soul with not a rap in earshot. If that's your bag then I would recommend it. A rare thing happened before the set started, the band set up and went to begin 20 minutes early, and they were quite happy to do so until told otherwise, Syd's face when she realised they couldn't get cracking was a picture of startled amazement that will stay with me for some time. Welcome to the UK.
The evening saw a deluge of rain that washed away all but the most drunken enthusiasm of people walking between venues. The irony of battling through heavy rain only to end up on the river in a boat (the Thekla) was not lost on me. By 1am I was cold, damp to the core and dreaming not of rock and roll, but tea and comfort so it was testament to the character of Friends that within a minute of their set starting I had already forgotten all of my numerous woes. Bright, lively, energetic and effortlessly cool, this Brooklyn band just came out and had a boat load of fun, and it's that sort of attitude that is contagious. Lead singer Samantha Urbani was driving the proceedings, she gyrated and danced her way through the set on the stage and in the crowd and was delighted with the prospect of performing on a boat "where there are no laws and no rules". Maybe in Brooklyn, but in Bristol the are a little less forgiving just because you are on a boat so I hope they didn't test their theory.
Other acts: mention has to go to Jake Bugg who entertained a very packed Fleece, Seasfire, Peace and a particularly eccentric performance from Willis Earl Beal who demonstrated why the police remove your belt before you get put into a cell. I have no idea what he was up to, but if anyone from the other Dot to Dots get to see him and can explain, please email me. If we hadn't just seen them or had more time we would have also recommended you saw Willy Mason, Admiral Fallow, Pond, Clock Opera, Rae Morris, Bastille and Wavves. You can't see them all!
Once again Dot to Dot delivered exactly what it promised, a huge range of new and emerging talent. It's festivals like Dot to Dot that ensure that there is a constant stream of music into our lives and that remind us just how good a feeling it is when you discover a brand new band. There is no way to guarantee which acts will become the hot thing for this year, or whether none of them will be, but suffice it to say that there is no better way to see a whole host of new music than by taking a day at any of the Dot to Dot Festivals. Who knows, you might be one of those annoying people who always chip in with "Oh, them, I saw them years ago in a tiny venue at the Bristol Dot to Dot" when you proudly announce that you have personally discovered a brand new act.
If you are a registered member of Safeconcerts you can submit your article or reviews. You will need to be logged in, and your article will not show until it has been approved.