Dot to Dot Manchester (a.k.a. the day I saw 19 bands in 12 hours)

June 6, 2010 § 2 Comments

Dot to Dot has been running since 2005, but 2010 saw it travel to Manchester for the first time. I’ve always been one to admire the line-ups of one-day festivals, forget about them, and later indulge in a great deal of self-berating as everyone talks about just how fantastic this set was, and how unmissable that performance was. So when the Dot to Dot flyer landed in my lap, I thought to myself “Not this time.” (Perhaps the abundance of spare time due to my prevailing unemployment played a big part in the decision making process, perhaps not, I’ll let you make your own minds up). Either way, a how to link in aline-up that included Wild Beasts, Blood Red Shoes and Beach House was not something I wanted to miss. So off I trotted to buy my ticket and wait for the 31st to come around…

[ Warning: This review is not the shortest. I’ve broken it down into the individual bands in case you feel you are lacking in the stamina required to make it to the end.

White HinterlandLunar YouthThe CheekThe Answering MachineDog Is DeadChapel ClubGoldheart AssemblyWashed OutLeah MasonFun.Blood Red ShoesField MusicLightsLiarsWild BeastsBeach HouseMystery JetsLos Campesinos!Yuck ]

With all the aforementioned time on my hands, and my F.O.M.O. just as intense as ever, I decided to get an early start. White Hinterland were the first band I saw, in one of my favourite rooms, the Club Academy. Having visited their MySpace only to be greeted by the description ‘Experimental / Dub / Japanese Classical Music’, I wasn’t exactly sure what to expect. The band is a two piece, and accompanied by a synth, a ukulele, and all manner of pedals, knobs and electronic buttons & devices that I could never begin to understand, they proceeded to play songs with some of the heaviest bass I’ve ever heard. Or at least the heaviest bass I’ve ever heard at 2pm. Heavy dub beats, accompanied by soaring vocals, vocals which made it hard to distinguish any words but made you sure they were about the sea, or fields, or existentialism. I actually liked the way the two elements of the music contrasted: hypnotic, distorted, floating vocals over thick, pounding beats, bleeps, and the occasional horn. If not mind-blowing then certainly interesting and relatively fresh sounding in an industry where sequencers, looping and sampling have become run of the mill. They end their set with their take on Justin Timberlake’s ‘My Love’, an interesting undertaking which although successful, was not as enjoyable as their own tracks.

Next up were Lunar Youth, who I hadn’t planned on seeing, but I found myself with a spare 30 minutes and an interest in seeing what The Deaf Institute looks like in daylight (answer: bloody small!). The music hall was by no means full (in fact there were about 30 people in the room) but Lunar Youth proceeded to give a spirited performance nonetheless. Their songs were energetic and fun, with slower numbers showing a more poignant side. However, any familiarity or proclivity I felt towards them was due to a striking similarity to the sounds of White Lies, or a number of bands in that vein. A likeable band, but not different enough to stand out.

The Cheek were next, playing in the Council Chambers (which it turns out is not an important meeting place but a small room by Academy 3). I had no idea who this band were so was surprised to be greeted by a full room of people, especially so early in the day. The band announced they had arrived in Manchester only 10 minutes ago, before proceeding to play a set that had people dancing, sweating, and thoroughly enjoying their music. Once again, nothing groundbreaking, but charismatic indie rock songs (and a quite amazing guitarist).

The Answering Machine were the first band up in Academy 2, on a stage all prepped for Mystery Jets headlining performance later on. I had been impressed by the songs on the bands MySpace, and was almost as equally so when they played them live, save for the slight air of inexperience displayed. It wasn’t that their show was sloppy; things such as mic glitches and guitar slips are to be expected when a band plays their material live. It certainly didn’t ruin the songs, simply left me with a feeling that the band will be much better in a year or so when they have more experience under their belts. (I’m not actually sure how long the band have been playing together, anyone who knows please tell me!) The music itself was dynamic, with vocals at time reminiscent of Los Campesinos!, and beats that made the crowd (containing a worryingly large group of Justin Bieber lookalikes) want to dance.

Next I headed back to the Council Chambers for Dog Is Dead, and found the room much emptier than it had been for The Cheek. Which was a shame, Dog Is Dead proved to be great. They may look like your regular ‘oh god not another hipster indie guitar band’, but they proved to be much more. Their songs were varied, ranging from loud, drum heavy moments, to more hushed moments that showcased impressive vocals, and wonderfully charming harmonies. The general vibe this band gave out was affective and endearing, and their music was extremely enjoyable. I especially enjoyed the surprise factor; I expected indie guitar songs and was presented with harmonies, a saxophone, and melodies you wanted to chant along with.

Chapel Club next. I only managed to catch the last couple of songs, which were sung to a full Academy 3, and depressed the hell out of me. I know that Chapel Club have some big fans, but I think I’ll always feel indifferent about them. They are certainly a beguiling band; a thought that occurred to me as the lead singer wrapped his mic lead extremely tightly around his neck before writhing across the floor and smashing his guitar onto the stage. Their songs are intense and atmospheric, with vocals perhaps a little like Morrissey (something I’m always scared to say for fear of being beaten by any Morrissey fans lurking nearby), and whining guitars that evoke dark nights and troubled minds. I’m sure the fans loved this set, I however just felt a little miserable.

This was not the case with Goldheart Assembly, who left me with a sense that the world is golden and filled with truth and love. The room was at first sparsely filled, but as more people filtered in, and the band invited us closer to the stage, there was a fantastic energy amongst both band and crowd. They say they are ‘pop/alternative’, and whilst they certainly have a pop energy about them, to my ears their songs are more alternative/folk/pop/rock. Their vocals reminded me of some of the Beach Boys most up-tempo numbers, and the combination of keys, ukulele, and some lovely elecoustic guitars proved to be a winning one. A particular favourite of mine was ‘Oh Really’. A highly recommended band, check them out.

I was only able to stay for 2 songs of Washed Out’s set, and sadly they were the ones before things got really good!! All I saw was Ernest Greene bopping about as he played his more laid back, ethereal numbers. I know from other reviews that when he was joined on stage by his band, things became quite brilliant. One to catch in future…

Leah Mason…I dashed in as I passed to see what the latest girl with a guitar can do, to find the Council Chambers occupied by Leah, her band….and 6 other people. Apparently due to lack of promotion, not talent: she is quite an impressive guitarist. I would have liked to have stayed longer to see if she has the songs to back it up but it was time for…..

Blood Red Shoes. Oh wow. I have wanted to see them live for quite some time now, and they completely blew my mind. With a two piece, there’s always the fear that what happens on record won’t translate to a live show, but that is anything from the case here. Steven Ansell and Laura-Mary Carter are nothing short of incredible. Their songs are energetic and vigorous enough that even after a few bars you are fully engrossed. The crowd certainly felt the same, as a huge group of young guys successfully started a circle pit that continued for the length of the set. On paper, it all sounds quite dangerous: a rock band, a room so full security close the doors thereby preventing escape, mosh pits, flying beer & other assorted missiles. In reality, it was 45 minutes of heaven. Blood Red Shoes make fantastic alternative rock songs, at times anthemic, at times brutishly poetic, they play incredible live shows, and they are loved by their fans, rightly so. If you ever get the chance to see them live, do not hesitate to do so. Just make sure you take an abundance of energy along with you. I left Academy 2 drenched in beer, sweating profusely, with a huge smile on my face.

The energy continued as I saw Fun. Playing to a relatively tiny crowd, the band didn’t seem to care at all, and proceeded to jam as if they were playing to a sold out Apollo. Already being a fan, I was excited to see how well Fun.’s animated record played out live. Thankfully, the answer was – very well. Nate Ruess’ voice is soaring and enigmatic, and Jack Antonoff’s guitar skills were impressive and charming. They played a wonderful version of ‘The Gambler’ at the request of a few hardcore fans, and finished with a rousing rendition of ‘At Least I’m Not As Sad As I Used To Be’. There certainly wasn’t any sadness in the room during these few minutes, Ruess managing to get a level of crowd participation not usually found in audiences five times the size. Fun. are just that, funny, charming and talented. You want to like this band, and when they play such endearing songs, you can’t help but.

After Fun., I ran to catch the end of Field Music, who I think I enjoyed, but wasn’t there for long enough to get a sense of how I felt about the band. The audience was huge, and they certainly seemed to be enjoying the set. Their songs are great, indie rock at its finest, I just wished I had seen more of them. Another one to see again in the future.

I popped back in to the Council Chambers again, this time to catch a couple of songs from Lights, the Canadian electro-pop singer. She seems like a lovely lady, and she definitely has a great voice and musical ability. However, for me there’s always been a certain spark lacking. I’m not sure what it is, but I’m always waiting for the songs to kick in, for a certain something extra that never quite materializes. Again though, it’s probably just me, as she played to an almost full room of people who seemed to enjoy her songs.

Liars were next, touted by everyone as one “not to miss”. I’d only listened to their music sporadically previous to this, so I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. The Club Academy was packed to bursting, and Liars proceeded to rip their way through them. Like their music, the mood was very changeable, from heavy, thudding beats, to which the crowd throbbed and pulsed, to more dance/experimental breaks where the crowd swayed and looked a little confused. Angus Andrew is a mysterious and eccentric singer, but he certainly holds your attention. He strutted and marched across the stage, the crowd watching his every move and wondering what he would do next. For those who were already fans, this was an incredible set, for those who weren’t it was a bizarre and intense session of thoroughly individual music.

Wild Beasts took to the Academy 2 stage to be greeted by a huge and anticipatory audience. They did not disappoint, showing us all why they hold such a respected and esteemed place in the musical community, something that may sound unusual when they open with a song contain the lyrics “this is a bootycall, my boot up your arsehole”. Only they can take these words and turn them into a wash of melancholic beauty. At times ethereal, at times sombre and stirring, this is a beautiful set from a band whose music manages to both impress and move you. Their musicianship is impressive and flawless as they play through other tracks such as ‘Two Dancers (i)’, ‘Two Dancers (ii)’, and ‘The Devil’s Crayon’. ‘All The Kings Men’ brings the loudest cheer from the crowd, and shows that Wild Beasts produce catchy songs that provoke anthemic sing-alongs (or rather howl-alongs) as well as numbers that have the crowd swaying and contemplating the complexities of Northern life.

On stage banter throughout the day was kept to a minimum, with artists well aware of time restraints. However, many of them took the time to question who everyone was most excited to see. The response, and resulting agreement from artists, was usually found in “Beach House“. Anyone not planning on seeing the duo probably had their minds changed for them by the numerous bands who toted them as ‘incredible’ and ‘unbelievable’. Whether these claims came from experience of past performances, or simply a response to their recently released record ‘Teen Dream’, it didn’t really matter: people took note and crammed into the Club Academy. The stage was striking before even a note was played: sparkling octahedrons (that’s a 3D it) suspended at various points over the stage. When the music did start, it was less of a hard-hitting amazement, and more of a hypnotic delight. They held the crowd rapt and absorbed as they played through songs both new and old (with newer ones being more warmly received). Having said that, their hold over their audience was more a lulling sense of immersion than a can’t-bear-to-tear-my-eyes-away factor. My worry had been that their music is incredible on record, but doesn’t hold the same kind of power in a live venue. This proved to be somewhat true. The band played superbly, chose a setlist that allowed for variety as well as crowd pleasing (especially during closer ‘Zebra’), but was ultimately forgettable, simply due to the trance-like nature of it all. A surprising, but perhaps inevitable, fact which meant the crowd left content but not exhilarated.

Mystery Jets, although headliners, had not been on my list of bands to see. I’ve always felt something of an indifference towards the band. They are good musicians, they make appealing, memorable, and certainly popular songs, but I’ve never felt any particular sense of fascination towards them. I squeezed my way into Academy 2 for a couple of songs so my review goes something like this – the crowd was HUGE, the songs were enjoyable, their fans were probably amazed by their brilliance.

I was however, quite excited to see Los Campesinos! Having seen them a couple of years back at Leeds Festival, I knew how exhilarating their shows can be. Dot to Dot was no different; from the moment they hit the stage the band had the crowd moving energetically and vigorously. Much of this energy was found in the younger members of the crowd (a fact the band acknowledged as they thanked Dot to Dot Manchester for having more sense than its Bristol and Nottingham counterparts in making their show 14+ rather than 18+). Not to say that the older members weren’t having a blast too, songs both old and new were received appreciatively by all members of the increasingly sweaty audience. ‘You! Me! Dancing!’ received a remarkably loud response, as expected and deserved. For me, these couple of minutes expressed everything that Los Campesinos! are about. They have always been the chanting, animated voice of a youth who like music, dancing, and fun. There is no way not to have a good time at a LC! show. The energy flows from band to crowd and back, and everyone is swept up in its path. A vibrant and pulsating set from a band whose music is at its finest live.

Last on my incredibly long list (I was honestly surprised I had made it this far) was Yuck, a London band whose name I had heard mentioned in various places by various people. Their line-up includes two members of the now defunct (and much loved by me) Cajun Dance Party, a female bassist from Hiroshima, and a drummer from New Jersey. I had heard none of their music prior to this late night gig at the Deaf Institute, so I wasn’t sure what to expect. The specifics of their set are quite hazy; it was midnight, I’d consumed quite a few ciders, and they were my nineteenth band of the day. NINETEENTH. However, I do remember thinking that their songs were quite bloody brilliant. They have a very early 90s sound to them but still manage to sound fresh, their songs lulling you into a sense of friendliness and contentment. The band members themselves seemed so friendly and warm that after the gig I found myself wanting to sit down and enjoy a nice chat and a pot of tea with them (I didn’t actually attempt this). They are still in the very early stages of their career, but I’m interested to see how things pan out for them. The ample crowd at the Deaf Institute certainly enjoyed their music, hopefully this is a sign of things to come.

This wasn’t the end of Dot to Dot, DJs such as Doorly and Zane Lowe took things into the early hours, but for me the day was over. With legs resembling the consistency of not-so-firm jelly, and a spinal column half the size it had been 12 hours ago, I made my way home, happy with the way Dot to Dot had panned out, satisfied with the quality of music I had seen, and more than a little deafened. Roll on Dot to Dot 2011.


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