This year Dot to Dot found itself nestled in the bunting draped bosom of the Jubilee weekend. Thankfully the team behind the event had assembled the usual line-up of upcoming artists across the festival’s three locations in Bristol, Nottingham and Manchester.
An ominously overcast day heralded our arrival at Thekla, the traditional centre of the day’s proceedings, as we launched into the Bristol leg of the festival. Archimedes kicked things off downstairs with a set that was both tight and exciting, testament to their relentless touring since they formed in 2009.
We’d heard a lot about Peace prior to the festival so hung around to catch their set. Alarms were raised when the lead singer emerged with a Native American dream catcher hung from his guitar. Sadly they failed to impress, although if my eyes had been closed it would probably have been a better set. Catchy riffs in places did not make up for an unoriginal sound and uninspiring lyrics. Disappointing.
We moved off to the O2 Academy’s top bar to catch The Night, a female-fronted outfit which tried to blend Fleetwood Mac vocals with syrupy lyrics. The six-piece band was crowded onto a small stage, complete with harpist, but given the tight confines turned out an entrancing set.
Next up was Bastille in the main Academy. Hailing from South London and led by the hyperactive Dan Smith, Bastille’s blend of flowing melodies and heart-pumping energy infected the crowd from the outset. Smith rarely stood still and spent much of the performance finding bits of stage equipment to clamber onto. When not mounting monitors, Smith was supported by a talented group of musicians, including one of the most exciting drummers I’ve seen in a while.
Conscious of our need to check out some other venues, we ran to the Louisiana, Bristol’s premier pub venue. Heading upstairs we stumbled onto Josh Kumra’s moment on stage, and sadly wished we hadn’t. Showing all the originality of the British bank holiday weather, Kumra’s throaty, surfer-esque overtones reeked of too many Jack Johnson gigs and time spent on Cornish beaches as a teenager. Thankfully we headed downstairs to catch the stand-out The Mayans. Considering their rhythm guitarist was filling in for their drummer, effectively rendering them a three piece for the gig, I was bowled over. Crashing guitars, deep and funky bass, and vocal arrangements well beyond their years left us literally spellbound.
We braved the rain for a quick trip over to legendary Bristolian venue The Fleece to catch the excellently named Beth Jeans Houghton & The Hooves of Destiny. This Geordie songstress’ near angelic voice was supported by a medley of keyboards, percussion and guitars that at times hinged on foot-stamping glam rock. Managing to whip the crowd into a chanting frenzy early on, the comparisons with peer artists such as Laura Marling seem less apparent than previously.
Headline acts at this year’s event included the excellent Willy Mason, the noisy Pulled Apart By Horses, and ultra-hip The Drums. Anecdotal reports from the gigs suggest each performed with their usual brilliance, and certainly represented a coup for the festival organisers. Due to a variety of factors (not least the torrential rain) we made our final stop the Thekla where we witnessed the uber-cool The Internet, led by DJ Syd the Kyd and Matt Martians. This hip hop act managed to impregnate most of their set with an addictive soulful vibe while Syd was at her usual entrancing best. The wet crowd, fuelled by tiredness and cider by most accounts, responded to the group as they had done throughout the day – enthusiastically, positively and above all, loudly.
Image: Victor Frankowski