Returning once again to the great city of Manchester (on a particularly scorching sun-packed day) was multi-venue spectacular Dot to Dot Festival, and this year was to mean even more for all who attended. The organisers switched up a few fundamentals this year, mainly being the inclusion of new venues like Old Granada Studios and Albert Hall (as the decorated prime spots for the established billings). Though we took an alternative approach and spent the majority of the day in our favourite spots in the bustling Northern Quarter. But no matter where your day was spent, it was certain that music would fill the air and a strong sense of community spirit was to be felt.
Kidsmoke at The Castle Hotel
Opening The Castle Hotel stage and battling its sweltering temperatures were Kidsmoke, a four-piece from North Wales. Completing the line up for this performance was Seazoo‘s Ben Trow in on bass, providing the odd quip of humour to what in all respects was a pleasing and well received show of indie pop. Going through their back catalogue of released material, highlights were set opener ‘Cut Yourself Loose’ (a sunny feel-good ode to friendship), the melancholy ‘Waves’ and the newly released ‘See the World’. Treading between the chirpy rhythms of Circa Waves, a tinge of Morrissey’s ubiquitous dejection and the pensive expansiveness of Deerhunter, the musical intent on show from Kidsmoke is particularly refined, the strong focus on melody and lyrical draws is pertinent and leaves us satisfied.
Stereo Honey at The Castle Hotel
Probably the most exciting find to come out of the day was Stereo Honey, a fairly new formation coming out of the Capital. What the four piece bring to the stage is enigmatic but also very tangible, an alternative electronic-indie hybrid of crawling expanse and smartly-used ambience, ties to Radiohead and Glass Animals can be relevantly placed. Sprawling guitars, concise beats and textured keys work their way snaking between gorgeous vocal dynamics from the vocalist, vox pedals are used within the performance but can’t be faulted when a falsetto of such range is the by product. ‘Where No One Knows Your Name’ is one of the key highlights in a set that soars way above average.
Yonaka at AATMA
After a failed journey to Jimmy’s to watch C. Macleod‘s set (inevitably one of the cancelled shows), we took the detour and made it a positive, venturing over to the sweetly air-conditioned Aatma to see Brighton’s Yonaka. Walking headfirst into current single ‘Wouldn’t Wanna Be Ya’, we meet the ever kinetic stirring of Theresa Jarvis’ stage presence – a squall of movement erupts as suddenly as it is started. The limited stage space doesn’t limit Jarvis’ capability to stomp, riot and just generally enjoy the experience, for the times when the stage doesn’t satisfy, Jarvis takes to the floor, taking the crowd/band relationship to another level in a kind of intensified face-to-face moment (maybe a little too close for comfort for some but thoroughly enjoyed). The spontaneity of it all speaks volumes about Yonaka’s allure, live is where the magic happens, there’s no ‘us and them’ mentality, it’s a collective experience, one that should be talked about and (I’m sure) will be. ‘Salty’ is becoming a strong contender for our favourite live track for its sensational playful nature, but when it comes to the strength of Yonaka’s songwriting it is a closed contest, everything on showcase today has its own credit to celebrate (‘All In My Head’ with its tightroping dynamics, ‘Drongo’ for its austere rhythms and punishing directive, ‘Ignorance’ driving a distinct flavour).
Yellow Days at Soup Kitchen
After a year of anticipation, we finally set eyes on George Van Den Broek and his band, as unassumingly as they walk onto stage, a suitably busy Soup Kitchen greets them with a steady array of cheers. Yellow Days make no haste, rather they revel in the free form of their jam-style aesthetic and proceed in an easy-going procession of soulful tunes and startling vocal talents. The majority of the set covers all of Yellow Days’ already released material, trailing the line of teen love (‘Your Hand Holding Mine’), understanding the greater principles of living (‘People’) and escapism and retreat (‘Little Palace’). The latter, at points in its live form, gives off a feel that makes me think of Portishead, partly due to the ambient glaze of the piece but also the soft moving percussion and general mood reflected. ‘A Little While’ practises a Tame Impala bassline with a psychedelic groove, a much lighter note with a spring in its step. ‘Gap in the Clouds’ takes fancy and shows Broek’s luscious scratchy pipes in their best light. Overall it’s a particularly varied show and one to be remembered.
Artificial Pleasure at The Castle Hotel
As we make our way back into The Castle Hotel, just hoping and praying that the heat from earlier has somehow been eliminated, we find (of course) that the temperature has only intensified. Now feeling more like the inner bearings of a sauna, Artificial Pleasure have the ungainly task of performing in this room. But perform they do (and in elegant form, it must be said) to a full capacity crowd. Opening to the energising, emphatic groove of ‘Wound Up Tight’ (those eager eared fans will spot this from the band’s Night Engine days), it’s impossible to hide the excitement of how sharp this band sound in a live format. The whole set receives a great response from the crowd and really honours why we’re all there, in that room, at that point in time – the collective experience and the joy it brings. Before leaving the stage McDonnell reflects on the devastating events of earlier that week, in sincere and admirable earnest: “The main thing is that it doesn’t divide us, that it brings us together.” And I think that’s what we all can take from the day’s events at Dot to Dot; Manchester’s community spirit has never wavered, it has only become stronger.
Swimming Tapes at Soup Kitchen
Making their debut Manchester appearance, Swimming Tapes greet a packed crowd at the Soup Kitchen for a satisfactory show of indie dream pop. In this live setting, the band rest more in the shores of Beach Fossils than Real Estate – gauzy textures, distant vocals and jangle guitars are a huge part of their sound and make for a perfect match to the day’s warming radiance. The fact that there’s three guitars on stage only adds to the appeal, Swimming Tapes are a very melodic band, each layer of sound is necessary to paint the full picture. Though it’s a coastal sound primarily, what’s great about their live show are the specks of harsher grains that run against the sweetness and allow for a more tangible sound to emerge. ‘Set the Fire’ is one of the main highlights that boasts some fantastic guitar parts and riffs.
ISLAND at Band on the Wall
The highlight of the day has to be ISLAND‘s set, the band were in full swing when I arrived but even witnessing just a snapshot of the set was enough to swell such intense feelings. Recently signing to Frenchkiss Records in the States, it seems it has only given the four-piece more reason to up the ante, for tonight’s performance in Band on the Wall is the most victorious and thrilling I’ve seen them play. ‘All You Ever Needed Was Love’ captures the duality of their sound: the rigorous kick of Rollo Doherty’s voice is the tang in the partnership, where the rolling instrumentation is the calming of the storm, smoothly caressing launches of reverb with cooing guitars. New songs are aired too, but the main event is set ender ‘Spotless Mind’, at this point euphoria erupts; undiluted, pure joy, this is what it is to be alive. Thank you ISLAND, thank you.
Glass Caves at DIVE NQ
Returning to the DIVE NQ stage are Pontefract’s Glass Caves, always a solid band to pit your stakes on, the four-piece, joined by an additional player on synth, brought a half hour of body-shaking indie rock. They play well, it’s clear how tight they are as a unit and the close relationship they hold with their audience (often offering the occasional nod or smile to the people gracing the front edges of the crowd). The whole audience were overjoyed by the inclusion of such grandiose numbers as ‘Alive’, ‘Do You Have A Name’ and a forever favourite ‘Out of Control’, new songs like ‘Gold’ also had their chance to make a thrilling appearance. Nothing else reaches the highest point of praise like set closer ‘Swim’, with its soft building cadence and exuberant chants, it’s the perfect way to close an enjoyable day of music, and also the second performance today to receive a vote of confidence from the crowd for more.
I’ve attended Dot to Dot Festival religiously for the past few years, at first glance the 2017 edition definitely tipped its hat more towards the local scene, with the inclusion of a good half of the billing being homegrown and Manchester based. Aside from the line up, a difference could be felt this year. To me it was like a new spirit had found its rightful place at the festival, as if everyone was searching to socialise (we arrived strangers but we left feeling more like comrades). Never have I spoken to so many wonderful people at a music festival before, there was a strong sense of comradely, to acknowledge your fellow man in a respect like never before. Making the whole affair an experience, more than just a bunch of gigs in different rooms. After spending dozens of minutes stalking the streets in the hopes of reaching the next venue, the familiar backing music of city heroes Oasis seems to become a central pillar for these walks (not just the songs circling around one’s head but emanating out of opened doored bars, even once hearing a cover rendition of ‘Half the World Away’, audible from one Oldham Street bar). Manchester was at the top of its game today, relishing in prosperity and providing an outlet for everyone who needed it.
For more details on Dot to Dot Festival, visit the Website.