Review: Dot To Dot Festival 2015 – Spoilt for Musical Choice in the Balmy Spring Sunshine

  23rd May 2015

image“I don’t like it when it’s this hot, I’d prefer it if it was a bit cooler to be honest”. These are the very first discernible words that I hear from a fellow humanoid as, five minutes before its official opening at midday, I join the procession of music fans queuing at the wristband exchange outside of the Thekla. This statement, spoken between two female fledglings stood right ahead of me, is an underwhelming one in the circumstances; it’s a beautiful late spring day and Bristol’s 10th anniversary Dot To Dot festival is all set to kick off beneath some resplendent Bank Holiday weekend sunshine. Besides, this is May in good ol’ temperate England; we’re hardly being turned to a deep summer cinder in the Arabian Peninsula.

With 127 musical acts playing on 15 stages at 10 venues throughout the city centre, it was a glorious day of live music, drinks and balmy spring weather. Here’s how it all panned out…

She Makes War – Thekla, 14:00 Hours


maxresdefaultA home town girl, She Makes War is a solo project of Bristol based multi-instrumentalist and visual artist Laura Kidd. Walking on to the floating venue’s lower deck, the always pleasant sound of the ukulele can be heard as Kidd’s dusky voice delivers a charming ditty of multi-looped harmonies. After handily teaching us the German for “My hovercraft is full of eels”, more vocal loops and mini-cymbals provide the backdrop to ‘Delete’, a song that sees Kidd provide the unique sight of walking into the audience while delivering vocals through a megaphone.

‘In Cold Blood’ is a doomy guitar driven slice of gothic rock while ‘Scared to Capsize’ seems, bearing in mind the nautical surroundings, the perfect ending to her set. The music of She Makes War has been compared to the floating indie folk of Warpaint with a tendency towards the grunge of Shirley Manson, but Kidd has proved within her 30 minute slot to be a unique artist brimming with eclectic ideas all of her own.

Sykes – Thekla, 14:30 Hours


1405365214996After a little confusion as to how to access Thekla’s upper deck bar, some apparent issues amongst band and sound technician provide a window to queue for drinks before London based indie-pop quartet Sykes begin their set. First track “Anybody Out There’ lays down the framework for the band’s sound; upbeat, keyboard driven pop, awash with shiny reverbed guitar and rapid patterings of hi-hat. ‘I’d Do It Again’ features perhaps the band’s most poppy chorus and the refrain “I’m on top of the world” is a sentiment aligning with their feel-good euphoric approach.

Lead singer Julia informs us that this is the band’s first appearance in Bristol, provides M25 traffic updates and, before the chiming guitar chords of ‘Boulders’, compares the considerable heat building up in the upper deck to that of a Mediterranean festival. The bubbling synths and echoing guitar lines of ‘Away She Goes’ closes with duelling guitars and sees the end to an enjoyable set. When the audience is asked the question “Will you have us again?” it is met with such a positive response that a second Bristol appearance for Sykes may not be too far away.

Jack & Eliza – The Louisiana, 15:41 Hours


jackeliza001After a couple of vox pops to record the thoughts of our fellow music loving brethren and the smuggling of a can of Red Stripe that ends with a dubious looking dribble of lager down the right leg of my George at Asda jeans, we head over to the ‘Louie’ to catch what we can of the 15:30-16:00 slot. A male/female duo from New York, Jack & Eliza play harmony-driven indie folk music fuelled by twin strum-along guitars. Squeezing into the packed upstairs room we catch them halfway through ‘Oh No’ and the duo’s flair for vocal harmony is immediately apparent. This is evidenced further in ‘Hold The Line’, the dynamic harmonies bringing both an end to proceedings and a feeling that they were experienced for all too brief a time.

Rhodes – O2 Academy, 16:30 Hours


DSC_0815After a slightly worryingly acceleration of alcohol intake in the early hours of the festival, it’s time for pints of delicious water as we make our way to the Academy for our old friend Rhodes. Having interviewed him earlier in the day and obviously now on first name terms we are on tenterhooks as to what our mate Dave will deliver as we sip our H20 at the O2. Now playing with a full band setup, Rhodes’ emotive brand of balladeering is fleshed out with the support of drums, bass, keyboards and effective four way harmonies. His vocal is still as commanding as ever though, this evidenced in the yearning third track ‘Raise Your Love’.

After declaring his love for his new band, they are briefly dispensed with before his performing ‘Breath’, the solo spotlight still serving as the most conducive to his considerable vocal talents. The solemn earnestness in Rhodes’ music is highlighted when he describes new song ‘Close Your Eyes’ as being a testimony to his first plucking up the courage to play on stage. Final track ‘Turning Back Round’ features the lyric “I didn’t mean no harm” and, double negatives asides, its sincere mood is nicely embellished by touches of violin.

PINS – Trinity Centre, 17:45 Hours


fave 2This is where the walking begins in earnest as we make the lengthy stroll over to Trinity Centre for Manchester all-girl garage rock group PINS and the leg work proves more than worthwhile. With buoyant yelps and crisp sounding guitars, the set begins on an energetic footing that never lets up. Just two weeks away from the release of second album Wild Nights, PINS showcase new songs that bristle with a jangly charm more polished and less industrial than their earlier work. The surf guitars and catchy melody of old favourite ‘Get With Me’ sees lead singer Faith Holgate bouncing up and down while her bandmate’s animated stage manners throughout are a clear display of a band enjoying themselves.

The intoxicatingly catchy harmonies of latest single ‘Young Girls’ is further evidence of a slightly poppier approach while further new tracks induce some frenetic moshing from the crowd. Having watched PINS play The Louisiana in 2013, there is ample evidence here of a band much sharpened by a further 18 months of playing live shows; with quicker chords changes, more complex guitar work and a more natural ease of delivery, the band are now steering a tighter musical ship. Finishing with a cover of The Misfits’ ‘Hybrid Moments’ and the title track from their debut album ‘Girls Like Us’, PINS show us exactly how to fill a 30 minute slot: Nine crunchy garage rock belters, no bullshit.

Pretty Vicious – Thekla, 19:00 Hours


DSC_0849After PINS, there’s time for a quick vox pop with ubiquitous fixture of the Bristol music scene Big Jeff before skedaddling back to Thekla; however, such is his encyclopaedic knowledge of music, there is no such thing as a quick vox pop with the big man and plans for an early evening detour to a kebab shop are mercifully eschewed as we make a rapid beeline back to the boat. All aged between 16-18 years old, much hype surrounds the Merthyr Tydfil band after their signing to Virgin EMI Records after only two live appearances; they’ve even become the 197th band to glean the “next Oasis” label.

Kicking off with ‘It’s Always There’, it’s clear that Pretty Vicious play frenetic, no nonsense indie rock. ‘Black Sheep’ is swaggering rock and roll with spiralling guitar riffs and touches of wah-wah while their embracing of the guitar solo is further evidenced in the duel riffing of ‘POA’. ‘This World’s Not Enough’ contains a Stone Roses like groove while the ferocious ‘Cave Song’ features a riff that wouldn’t feel out of place on Nirvana’s Bleach. The forceful sound of Pretty Vicious seems to make the audience reluctant to get too close to the stage; this all changes with the arrival of two enthusiastic young ladies who, like a couple of coma victims being stood upright and zapped with cattle-prods, gyrate like loons as the alluringly loud and unpolished set draws to a close.

The Amazons – The Exchange, 20:30 Hours


DSC_0852During our first vox pop session outside the Thekla early in the afternoon, we quizzed a group of middle-aged folk and stumbled upon the proud mum of the drummer from Reading rock band The Amazons. Some impressive plugging on the band’s behalf (we’re told that Zane Lowe & Annie Mac have given their endorsements), combined with our naturally easily led ways, lead us to the band’s slot at The Exchange. In seemingly similar vein to Pretty Vicious, The Amazons play raucous rock music facilitated by the good old fashioned setup of two guitars, drums and bass.

Just released debut single ‘Junk Food Forever’ sounds far more boisterous in the live forum with blistering drumming and driving basslines while the chord progression of their following track bears a passing resemblance to Pink Floyd’s ‘Money’. Full of machine-gunning drums, muted riffing and impassioned vocals from towering frontman Matt Thompson, The Amazons have left nothing behind as they depart from the stage.

H. Hawkline – The Exchange, 21:30 Hours


DSC_0861The half an hour turn round time allows for a quick sit down and a pint of Tuborg in the very reasonably priced bar area before the excellent H Hawkline takes to the stage. During his support slot for Foxygen at the Lantern earlier this month, Cardiff born H Hawkline (real name Huw Evans) outshone the Californian psychedelic rockers with his brilliantly melodic, kooky retro folk and flair for hilariously deadpan onstage repartee. ‘Black Domino Box’ is a delightfully tuneful nugget of twisted sixties pop influence while ‘Rainy Summer’ is a fine example of crisply structured songwriting and hooky three chord choruses.

With the absence of Hawkline’s guitarist, the off-kilter, tangential guitar lines that imbue the recorded versions with their eccentricity are sadly missing; however, such is the quality of the melodies and chord progressions, the songs stand up regardless. ‘Moons In My Mirror’ and ‘Spooky Dog’ are further highlights while Hawkline’s sardonic rant about the stealing of one of his CDs and, subsequently, his ironic reversing of his argument as he laconically admits to occasional illegal downloads shows us why he is possessed of perhaps the most formidably droll in-between song patter on the live circuit. Featuring Matthew E White and Art Garfunkel circa 1965 on drums and bass respectively.

Best Coast – Trinity Centre, 22:18 Hours


DSC_0866After another jaunt back to Trinity Centre and a quick visit to the bar, we are well and truly in the midst of Saturday night inebriation as we arrive 20 minutes into Californian band Best Coast’s hour long set. With the packed show in full swing, we settle for lingering at the back of the venue as the band rifle through two minute indie pop gem ‘Crazy For You’. New track ‘So Unaware’ features the doubling up of a tasty guitar riff while we subsequently hear the title track from the band’s just released third album California Nights.

Following the formula of accessibly melodic indie pop tunes with often lovelorn lyrics, Best Coast’s songs are immediately agreeable but perhaps a little saccharine when heard in constant succession. Singer-songwriter Bethany Cosentino informs the audience that her mum is in hospital and dedicates a song to her grandma; at this moment I bump into a friend who tells me that a football induced hamstring injury has seen him shuffling around like the Elephant Man and, thus, he has gone against the Dot To Dot ethos and stayed all night at Trinity; a necessary tactic that has resulted in the good fortune of an enjoyable show by The Wytches and, as we’d heard rumblings of already, a standout performance by Spanish lo-fi rockers Hinds. Best Coast close with ‘Boyfriend’ and it’s outside to embark on what turns out to be a slightly ambitious attempt to get a couple of last coherent vox pops from the booze addled masses.

Neon Waltz – Start The Bus, 11:45pm


2014NeonWaltz_Press_020414A number of months ago, a Noel Gallagher endorsed Spotify playlist led me to the delightful sound of the Scottish band’s ‘Bare Wood Aisles’; wandering back home via the city centre, it would’ve been rude of me not to stop off for one more beer and hear the song in all its live glory. Aside from some demos and live recordings, little is known at this point about the six piece indie band but it’s a packed Start The Bus crowd that greets them as their set begins. Sounding like a more romantic version of The Coral the band play a succession of slowish, guitar and keyboard-driven indie.

Singer Jordan Shearer, sporting an impressive fringe akin to a young Bobby Gillespie, doesn’t particularly get a great response when he asks of the audience “Have you had a good day?” and looking around it appears as though the band are a mere backdrop to boozy Saturday night socialising that has now begun in earnest. With two songs remaining, ‘Bare Wood Aisles’ makes an appearance and, to the sound of the band’s final song, it’s time to end my Dot To Dot experience for another year.

On the early hours walk home, there’s always the fear that running the Park Street gauntlet of fractious drunks will result in either the sight of a punch up, a teenager being sick on his/her own legs or a girl being fingered next to some bins; this time, however, the worst I get is a young man in nightclub clobber sprinting across the road, losing his balance and toppling into a Superman dive three feet in front of me. With the echo of ‘Bare Wood Aisles’ ringing into my ears, I step over him and head home – roll on Dot to Dot 2016.

Scott Hammond

(Live Photographs By Alex Robbins)