DOT TO DOT MANCHESTER - 4/6/12
There might have been a change to the usual date due to her Majesty’s jubilee celebrations but the annual new music festival still boasts one of the best lineups around with a mix of the old and the new. And the best thing is there isn’t too far too travel to see them all, no campsites or fields to tread just the best musical talent around. Bristol and Nottingham have had their turn and now its time to hand Manchester the baton to host this music marathon.
The focus this year is on city centre hotspots unlike previous years which included the Academy Venues only the Deaf Institute still features along with Sound Control, Joshua Brooks, Zoo and the newly refurbished HMV Ritz which will be the headliner’s venue. Monday sees the likes of London synth rock maestros Clock Opera, along with Nottingham’s Indie Folkers Dog is Dead, regular contributor to Bombay Bicycle Club and fantastic talent in her own right, Lucy Rose, Leeds’ raucous Pulled Apart By Horses, Kyla La Grange, Nottingham’s, the Dylanesque Jake Bugg, Bastille, dream poppers Sunless 97 and Scotland’s premier indie-folk collective Admiral Fallow.
The transatlantic contingent this year features a heralded return for literate singer-songwriter Willy Mason, New York’s stadium synth-rockers, Hooray For Earth, who look set to be the MGMT/Naked and Famous of 2012, an exclusive performance from chillwave artist Neon Indian who is burning the midnight oil at Sound Control, Ohio’s Cloud Nothings, slacker popper Wavves and lo-fi girl duo 2:54 and Doldrums with a host of other international acts on show.
With this being Dot to Dot there’s a whole range of artists across the music spectrum with not just indie artists but urban talent including Kwes and fresh from his blinding Jools Holland appearance Chicago’s soulster Willis Earl Beal.
There are quite a few Manchester bands on show this year with the Shinies, Patterns, Milk Maid and Young British Artists play their hometown.
So quite a lot to check out in the space of a day and its all topped off with a hugely anticipated headline set from indie royalty The Drums so off we go with no time to lose, but first a quick pint.
First its off to the Ritz where Leeds band This Many Boyfriends are taking the stage, with a band having been through so many lineup changes they still don’t really have any originality about them, their Cribs aping indie pop is something that’s been heard before and frankly have heard enough of, not a particularly great start then. Fortunately there’s a good old Manchester band to redeem our ears with their swirling electronics and guitar reverb. Patterns could be Manchester’s response to My Bloody Valentine but they may have been on too early in the day to actually make their mark.
It’s off to Sound Control where Broken Hands are playing, the strange thing is with all their bluesy riffs one would think they were American but they are actually Kent-based, it seems they were brought up on a diet of Kyuss and Fugazi. The only issue with this is while they are talented musicians their music becomes a little samey and you just want them to mix it up a bit maybe with a slower groove. They are still the best so far though.
It’s a short walk to Joshua Brooks where Danish group The Rumour Said Fire is playing or are they? Having been looking forward to their whimsical indie folk, their soundcheck takes forever so by the time the band starts playing the crowd are unsure if the band have actually started their set or they are still listening to a backing track and when they do, however much they try, the music is lost in translation. It seems their music should be enjoyed in a larger capacity venue than the small surrounds of Joshua Brooks.
This acoustics problem seems to be an ongoing issue for the smaller venues in the festival as if not for Clock Opera’s adeptness at performing at Sound Control they would struggle to make an impact. As singer Guy points out Sound Control is like a second home to them having performed there quite a few times during the last year and are set to again when they tour with Maximo Park later in the week. Their twinkling synths and surging rock anthems are greeted with adoration by the present crowd. ’Once after All’ sounds heartbreakingly epic whilst ‘Belongings’ becomes an emotionally charged number live.
What makes this performance stand out, despite the fact that Clock Opera are an assured live spectacle is that after having been on a 3 day marathon of gigs Guy’s quivering falsetto struggles to reach the high notes but this actually gives the music more emotional depth rather than decreasing the quality. Their set closes with the storming ‘Lesson No7’ and its clear we are witnessing a fantastic live band, why they were in such a tiny venue when their music demands a larger space beats me?
So it’s off to the Zoo, which is a new venue for this year, where Hooray For Earth are taking to the stage. It’s clear that their stadium psych-rock demands a bigger stage than Zoo and better acoustics. Although they have an abundance of tunes including the skyscraping synth epic ‘No Love’ at their disposal and do captivate the audience, their music belongs in a larger venue as their sound comes off a little tinny. Nevertheless they look poised to join the array of New York bands MGMT et al into the limelight and deservedly so.
Back to the Ritz where Nottingham’s Dog is Dead is playing, having checked them out at In the City couple of years ago one of the small venues, I felt they were a little like Mystery Jets but they were a little haphazard. With a bigger stage and some fantastic songs they have become a much tighter unit and are still like Mystery Jets but when they were actually were carefree. Crowd favourite ‘A Motel’ is a joyous upbeat number with its rebellious lyrics ‘we are young and we love it’ and jazzy accompaniment and even when they break mid-song to sing happy birthday to frontman Rob for which of course the crowd join in they easily manage to resume. If your looking for a band for the people then Dog is Dead are looking like that band and with a newfound confidence in their music they look set to achieve great things.
Next to come on the Ritz stage are Summer Camp however disappointingly we are informed that they have pulled out due to illness as have Neon Indian who was scheduled for later on, which means that I will have to go in search of another artist for night listening. In their place are Bastille and the Resident DJ’s but this doesn’t stop the crowd from disappearing.
They all seem to be coming to a packed Deaf Institute where new female singer songwriter Kyla La Grange is playing. Having already pointed her out as one to watch previously, it seems that whilst evidently having great songs in her arsenal she is captivating live. Her muscular backing and strong vocals belay her tiny frame. She is a great talent with the ability to switch from booming vocal for the epic dark number; ‘Been Better’ to sultry for the sinister tones of ‘Vampire Smile’ to sweet for ‘Heavy Stone’ which is heart-wrenchingly beautiful in which she almost becomes overcome by its emotional weight. She interjects throughout that she hasn’t played the Deaf Institute and shyly says she forgot to mention she has an album out. The strange thing is that she still doesn’t realise how good she is and she should in no time at all join the likes of Florence into major venues.
Proceeding Kyla is Admiral Fallow who are heading up the new Scotland brand of emotionally charged indie-folk. They have an assured live presence with songs that slowly build up into a more widescreen sound pouring with emotion. Whilst they could be compared to Mumford their brand of folk seems to have a more grounded feel rather than American, which gives it a rawer feel. Within a small venue their sound still translates live with the crowd as they encourage a mass sing-along. They possess the unique ability to start folky that gradually become all out swaggering rockabilly numbers but then to strip their songs back to sound emotionally honest. One of the best live bands of the festival hands down and should only go from strength to strength.
With the Ritz gradually reaching its full capacity, headliner The Drums are taking the stage. From initially being a lo-fi band their music has been fleshed out to a fuller sound, which doesn’t seem to stand out. It’s only when they return to the highs of classics ‘Lets Go Surfing’ and ‘Forever and Ever Amen’ that the original spark is ignited again and the crowd is only too willing to sing the lyrics back to the band. If they went back to their minimalist origins they might become a great band again.
Of course with this being an all-dayer there’s a few more acts to go, its back to Sound Control to enter the weird psychedelic and slightly disturbed mind of Canada’s Doldrums. Greeting the crowd with ‘Welcome to Canada Motherf***ers’ people are too out of their heads to resist his dizzying mix of chopped up beats and psychedelic rock .He jumps into the crowd while his bandmate swings from the ceiling, mentioning he’s been banned from America now, I wonder why? Doldrums is a cocky live presence but seems to have the crowd entranced leaving some of us with slightly sore heads in his wake.
Maybe some soothing electronica can remedy this, so it’s the short trip upstairs to the Sound Control live lounge where London synth pop trio Sunless 97 are taking to the stage. Whilst they start with surging electro which again still has that tinny sound to it due to the acoustics they gradually move into swirling electronica complete with sweet boy girl vocals and jazzy flourishes and its soon clear why there is so much hype about them in the first place.
My final port of call is downstairs in Sound Control where the multi talented artist/producer Lewisham’s
Kwes is taking the stage. Having worked on albums with Roots Manuva and remixed the XX, Kwes has a downbeat electronic sound with soulful vocals not unlike Kele of Bloc Party.
He resembles more of like a Ghost Poet type of artist preferring to slowly build his electronic textures around his vocals and his new single ‘Bashful’ benefits from this minimalist backing, packing an emotional punch. He motions the crowd to come closer due to him having singing trouble, although its not clear why when he has an extremely talented musician. Kwes definitely proves tonight that he is an artist in his own right.
So that’s a wrap for Dot to Dot for 2012 in a year when there were acoustic problems overlong soundchecks and a couple of high profile cancellations there were still some outstanding performances that showed why the music scene is still producing a wealth of great new talent. See you in 2013 for more music mayhem!