Congratulations! You’ve made it to the second half of our Dot to Dot coverage. Here is what we thought about the evening’s proceedings at Nottingham’s annual indoor festival.
19:15-20:00: Tom Odell – Rock City Main Hall
Tom’s set can be divided up into two halves. The crowd were very receptive to the heartfelt first half of the gig. In this first half, Tom and his backing band delivered a strong cover of The Rolling Stones’ ‘Honky Tonk Girl’ and a faultless rendition of Radio 1 favourite ‘Another Love’.
However at the halfway point in the set the atmosphere changed. Tom commanded the crowd to get moving and the excitable Rock City crowd duly obliged. A gig that had begun as an engaging masterclass in chilled alternative folk suddenly had the atmosphere of a rock gig. It is hard to say if this was for better or for worse, but it certainly led to an energetic climax.
Tom Odell seemed to reciprocate this energy and the partying for the night had definitely got started.
19:30-20:00: Little Green Cars – Rescue Rooms (Subculture Stage)
The first act I saw at this year’s Dot to Dot Festival was Little Green Cars, a Dublin band that made the longlist for BBC’s sound of 2013. It was easy to see why. As a band they performed as a very tight unit and didn’t put a foot wrong throughout their set. One could never accuse Little Green Cars of being adventurous. Their sound was very by-the-numbers, at no moment would you have failed to see what was coming; all four-four with chord progressions that have been around for decades. They were hardly dynamic performers, but onstage raucousness would not have suited the sound they were trying for. Similarly, the crowd was a docile lot, a number of older people swaying and a notable number singing along.
I personally would have great difficulty genre-fying Little Green Cars, which is indicative of their problem. Undoubtedly, they are very good at what they do, but what they do is rather lacking in substance. They seem to be rehashing a number of the ideas of the indie bands of the last ten years and it is difficult to engage with their music emotionally given its tame presentation. That said, it must be nearly impossible to dislike them and for the most part, I enjoyed their tonal centres and lack of dissonance.
20:00-20:30: London Grammar – Bodega
A few musical genres on show at Dot to Dot seem to be in vogue right now – post-punk and indie pop particularly – but few acts could claim to sound as ‘current’ as London Grammar. Having recently played the Islington Assembly Hall, the Bodega was always going to be busy for their 8pm slot. It’s no surprise the London trio are proving a hit across the country’s campuses, offering ideal music for all the things students do; relaxing first and foremost, but perfectly chilled to accompany essay writing or last-minute revision cramming.
‘Florence meets The xx’ seems a perfectly apt description; down tempo, almost trip-hop beats coincide with minimalistic guitar and the crystal clear voice of Hannah Reid. Her vocals really stand out live, straying towards the darker Lana Del Rey during opener ‘Hey Now’; a song which brings the synths of Radiohead’s ‘Everything In It’s Right Place’ and the slow drumming of Portishead into the mix. Reid introduces new single ‘Wasting My Young Years’ by saying “I don’t feel like I am anymore”. That the song no longer has the personal meaning it once might have done is surely a triumph.
20:30-21:00: Middle Class Rut – Rescue Rooms (Subculture Stage)
There is no doubt that their band name is very poor indeed. The name suggests some sneering British indie/punk band, but in reality Middle Class Rut are an alternative rock band from Sacramento. The band had two percussionists, the standard rock drummer and a person playing a series of cymbals wrapped in tin foil and an empty keg. The band initially got a muted reception for a room that was mostly empty. About halfway through the set, just as the room was beginning to fill, the drummer removed his shirt, which seemed to signal to a number of men to do likewise. The band continued to play with the hard rock intensity that they had earlier, but now they had the mosh pit that the occasion required.
What impressed me the most is that the band had a very strong personality which they were able to communicate through the intensity and energy with which they played. They genuinely seemed to be having a great time and the crowd responded very well.
20:30-21:00: Story Books – Bodega Downstairs
It became fairly clear during their first song that if Story Books return to Dot to Dot Festival, then they’ll be playing somewhere more grand than the downstairs bar of The Bodega; a somewhat awkward room, with no raised stage and a barrier discouraging people from standing close to the action. Nonetheless, Story Books carry on and deliver an impressive set to which an increasingly busy venue adds testament
For a band who have released to date just five songs, single ‘Peregrine’ and four-track EP Too Much a Hunter, the Kent five-piece have already developed an accomplished alternative rock sound. As similar good outfits in genre – The Temper Trap being the first comparison that springs to mind – Story Books mix intensity with melody, and pessimistic emotion with the more optimistic; two guitars and a bass complementing the keyboards of Andrew Parry and calming vocals of Kristofer Harris
‘Simple Kids’ is instantly catchy, with a circling chorus and guitar lead, while from slow beginnings ‘All Those Arrows’ builds up thanks to some heavy guitar work. Their three-minute numbers have the potential to stretch to five during live performances, but if this is a sign of things to come then it can only be the beginning of Story Books’, well, story. Being on the same bill as fellow Kent/Londoners, The Rolling Stones, in July will no doubt provide the next chapter. A contender for unexpected highlight of this year’s Dot to Dot.
20:45-21:30: Dry The River – Rock City Main Hall
Dry The River have been away recording new material for a while and they returned to the stage a band eager to perform, greeted by an even more eager audience. They began with playing a few of their original most popular tracks, enthusiastically but still slightly nervously, as if they were struggling to remember quite how explosive the popularity of their debut album had been last year. The audience were engrossed and energetic from the start but it was not until their classic crowd pleaser ‘Bible Belt’ was played, that the gig’s atmosphere fully blossomed.
The set then diverged into some of the band’s new material, the general impression you got from the songs played is they are moving towards a faster, slightly less minimalist, sound. As said before, the audience were eager to hear the new Dry the River material and the songs were embraced whole-heartedly, which the band certainly looked relieved by. The show finished with the band members trying to heighten the atmosphere by turning to much heavier sounds in ‘No Rest’ and thrashing around the stage, something which has now become a defining characteristic of all Dry the River gigs.
21:00-21:30: Bipolar Sunshine – Stealth Live Room
Following the unfortunately threadbare gathering for Dancing Years, Adio Marchant, formerly of Kid British demi-fame, bought together his latest project, Bipolar Sunshine. The loud-shirted Marchant, opens the set with latest release, and the much talked about ‘Rivers’. The track is radio-friendly and a refreshing hip-hop / pop hybrid which is as impressive live as it is recorded. The set is an uplifting half an hour, away from loud-as-we-can guitars and post-punk female collectives.
After a day of beautiful sunshine, Bipolar Sunshine push their summer vibes onto all in Stealth, a very revitalising set in a long slog of a day.
21:00-21:30: Michael A Grammar – The Corner
Michael A Grammar’s debut EP Vitamin Easy was released last year to generally positive reception. The four tracks on it were loaded with ambient shoegaze moods and dream-pop vocals, cut through with angular guitar riffs that brought to mind some of the more melancholy moments from the long career of Manc lads Doves, or influential indie band Broadcast (Michael A Grammar borrow their name from a track by the Birmingham group).
Watching their set at The Corner however, you’d be forgiven for thinking you were at the wrong venue. Little of the material from the EP gets an airing including debut single ‘All Night, Afloat’. Instead, the band employs a much more hard-hitting rock edge to their sound, with both guitars at full pelt and their drummer, a dead ringer for Kurt Vile, thrashing wildly at his kit. Numbers increase throughout, from a handful of fans at the outset to a roomful by the end, as Michael A Grammar’s indie rock jams pull in passers by.
A surprising change of direction but no less enjoyable than their initial releases, which suggests an ambitious, multi-faceted debut full-length could be in the making.
21:45-22:15: Wave Machines – Rock City Main Hall
In Rock City’s basement, the leftfield, artsy, indie pop band, Wave Machines quietly slipped onto the stage, unnoticed. It only dawned on us that the set had begun a couple of tracks in, once we realized that Wave Machines were the band, not the roadies.
Due to a lack of enthused hollering, any kind of introduction or greeting from the band, and a rather bland delivery of the first couple of tracks, the atmosphere was decidedly beige. Approximately two thirds of the way through the set, we were witness to a mass exodus of fleeing spectators.
However, that’s not to say that Wave Machines’ music is terrible; they just lack an exciting stage presence. Their sound is jaunty and summery, the type of tracks you’d be unsurprised to find on an Urban Outfitters playlist. For instance, the sugary chorus of ‘I Go I Go I Go’ is infectious and will linger in your head for days afterwards while the slow, chilled bassline of ‘Keep the Lights on’ is perfect for balmy days and barbeques.
Wave Machines left the stage in a similar manner to how they arrived, with little in the way of applause or fervor. They did however, have a bald drummer with an impressive beard. This individual was surely the highlight of the set; he sang a song and wielded his guitar like a meat cleaver. There’s always a silver lining.
22:15-23:00: The 1975 – Rock City Main Hall
With the recent success of ‘Chocolate’, it was unsurprising to see the response The 1975 got. The full extent of their support was seen when they played ‘The City’, a song with a drum beat more infectious than the sunshine spirit outside on the streets of Nottingham.
Afterwards, the band tweeted “Nottingham. That was the best show of our lives”, and from the smile on lead singer Matthew Healy’s face you could tell the band loved every second. A run of four songs at the end of the set was the pinnacle, with hit single ‘Chocolate’ coming after ‘Robbers’ then followed by ‘Sex’ and the highlight of the show ‘You’. Declaring to the crowd “Fuck it”, Healy jumped into the crowd, embracing a gig better than their recent shows at the Emirates Stadium and Radio 1’s Big Weekend.
With an album coming out in September, expect a lot more hits from this exciting new band on the block.
22:30-23:00: MØ – Rescue Rooms (Subculture Stage)
Very little is known about Karen Marie Ørsted, beyond the fact that she’s from Denmark, she sounds like Grimes and the correct pronunciation of her stage name, MØ, is comparable to the grunts of a distressed cow. Only a handful of tracks have surfaced online, and while she has promised that a full-length is on the way, her half-hour set at Rescue Rooms is all we have to go on for the time being.
Equally indebted to 1980s chart pop and modern electronica, her music is bold and punchy, but at the same time carefully crafted, imbued with layers of intricate detail. The singles ‘Maiden’ and ‘Glass’ pop up as MØ, dressed in a thin black leotard and trainers, hurls herself around to slick, synth-led hooks and glittery guitar lines. The highlight though is closing track ‘Pilgrim’, a deliciously seductive song headed by a juicy trumpet melody, staccato vocal samples and the pre-chorus rally of ‘Holler Holler Holler Holler!’ In a line-up dominated by guitar bands, MØ’s brand of retro-flavoured digi-pop is a standout in more ways than one.
22:30-23:30: Lucy Rose – Jongleurs
It is truly amazing to consider how far Lucy Rose has come since being featured on the last Bombay Bicycle Club album, A Different Kind of Fix. In such a short space of time, Rose has rocketed to mainstream success and this was reflected in the heaving crowd at Jongleurs. I arrived and fought my way to the front of the crowd in time to witness Lucy Rose take to the stage, equipped with nothing but acoustic electric guitar.
Perched comfortably on a barstool center stage and decked out all in black, her infamous gingery locks blazing, she began a set of consistently wistful, folky tunes. She worked her way through a selection of tracks from her debut album Like I Used To, released late last year. The audience was falling over tracks such as ‘Middle of the Bed’, ‘Lines’ and ‘Red Face’, ecstatically dancing to the more up-tempo tunes and swaying to the wistful melodies.
Her winsome tones were charming and pretty, landing within the same ilk as Laura Marling’s vocals on Alas I Cannot Swim. Rose’s lyrics however lack the lyrical, moody depth of Marling’s, but there is something about Lucy Rose that is down to earth and fun. A faultless vocalist, she was a delight to watch.
23:00-23:30: Findlay – Rescue Rooms (Red Room)
As an artist who has developed a reputation for intense live performances, Findlay seemed somewhat nervous at the start of the performance, probably sensing the pressure to fulfil expectations. A transition from nervous to wild was seemingly achieved by scrunching her eyes incredibly tight – if this actually was her method, it had worked by the time she was playing ‘Your Sister’ when a full stage presence had developed and she appeared to be trying to physically consume the microphone.
Performance features then varied from aggressive hand movements resembling those of a rapper to running her hands down herself more like a soul singer – not to mention shoving her head into the crowd and screaming like, well, like Findlay. ‘Off & On’ was the expected highlight of the show, the crowd building up energy as they rocked back and forth and then launching into a mad frenzy. Whilst I stood at the front, shouting back into Findlay’s face, it felt like a pretty brilliant gig – but by the end I turned to discover the room was not nearly as full as you would have expected. Perhaps those walking past at the back just heard some noise and decided to give it a miss. With a gig like that, your head’s generally absorbed in the performance, or it isn’t.
23:30-00:15: Bo Ningen – Rescue Rooms (Subculture Stage)
I was very surprised to hear Bo Ningen were playing Dot to Dot Festival this year. A Japanese band who combine elements of noise and psychedelic rock stuck out like a sore thumb on the bill. The band comprises of four very thin men, who seem to be at least fifty per cent hair. Bo Ningen have built a reputation for having a stellar live show, and after this evening it is straightforward to see why their shows are held in such high regard. Their sound seems to be composed from a very solid krautrock base, driven forward by a muscular engine room of drums and bass. The guitarists take turns in performing rhythmic duties and mind-bending noise. This was all topped off with the alto vocals, alternately shout and sung, but entirely in Japanese, in dizzying meters.
The highlight of the performance was the finale, based around a very straightforward linear riff interspersed with jagged noises and shred that lasted for almost twenty minutes. The show culminated with the bassist throwing his instrument to the ground and dancing for the crowd while the guitarist beside him threw his guitar round his head by its neck. It is difficult to imagine seeing anything as exciting, strange or as thoroughly enjoyable as Bo Ningen live. A truly extraordinary performance in its most literal sense.
23:15-00:00: Chapel Club – Rock City Basement
A lot of the large crowd in Rock City’s basement had arrived expecting the post-punk sounds of Chapel Club’s debut LP Palace. They may have therefore been surprised when Chapel Club started with a couple of synth-heavy songs from their new album. However, once the crowd were over the initial shock of this new sound, they seemed very engaged by this new direction that we were lucky enough to be amongst the first to witness.
However, Chapel Club did not just sample from their new album. The highlight of their set was undoubtedly when they followed ‘Surfacing’, from their first album with ‘Shy’ from their new album. There is therefore little doubt that Chapel Club’s new more synth driven material is very exciting, however this music is at its best when it is interspersed with the post-punk sounds of Palace.
Chapel Club closed their set with the title track of their new album: ‘Good Together’, which is a ten minute sprawling synth epic. Chapel Club may not have delivered the post-punk set several people expected. However, Good Together is clearly a bold step forward and a very exciting album that the Dot to Dot crowd were lucky enough to be the first to enjoy songs from.
01:00-01:30: Wolf Alice – The Bodega
For all those that had managed to remain awake, there was an exceptional late night set from Wolf Alice. Being very firmly placed in the 1990s revival bracket, Wolf Alice are one of the few that might break these shackles and move onto something completely of their own.
Wolf Alice used to be a twee-folk band, before turning their amps up and coating their songs in thrilling distortion and feedback. Their folky beginnings still show through at times, with lead singer Ellie Rowsell’s vocals closer to Laura Marling than Kim Deal. However, this is grunge-folk with a lot more grunge than folk – the guitar lines in ‘Fluffy’ could quite easily have been an outtake from Pixies’ Doolittle.
By the end of Wolf Alice’s set, the Bodega crowd was a sweaty mess. There were moshpits, crowdsurfers and a lot of ringing ears, making Wolf Alice one of the most exciting bands of the day.
2:30-3:00: Blue Hawaii – Stealth Live Rooms
I wanted to go and see Blue Hawaii, they were one of the main attractions of the festival for me. Originally scheduled for the headline slot at the Red Room, they had to be rescheduled to the penultimate act on at Stealth Live Rooms at 2:30 am (a full hour after Wolf Alice finished, my original last act of the night). This would mean staying at the festival until 3:00, which I was ok with because Blue Hawaii were one of the best acts playing at the festival.
The rescheduling kept me buoyant throughout the day, having listened to their debut release, Untogether out on Arbutus Records, as part of my background listening for the festival their blend of ambient textures with jittery sample centric electronica caught my ear. Lead singer Raph Standell-Preston is also lead singer for Art Rock outfit Braids, who were a personal highlight at 2011’s Dot to Dot.
So having seen Wolf Alice, getting another drink at Bodega and some food along the way, myself and a friend arrived at 2:15 only to be told we weren’t allowed into Stealth. This is what the bouncer said (bear in mind he had an East Midlands accent):
So, sorry Blue Hawaii, I can’t review your show because Jabba the Hutt wouldn’t let me.
You can read our review of the afternoon’s coverage here.
Liam Coleman, Ben James, Adam Keyworth, Alex Neely, Dan Jones, Ian Fillingham, Helena Murphy, Jack Dixon, Fran Ozanne & Robert Smith