Words by Ali Lewsley
Photos by Laura Patterson
Dot to Dot has gone from strength to strength since it's modest beginnings in 2005. The festival has grown from being based at Rock City and the Rescue Rooms to venues across Nottingham, Bristol and Manchester. For those who still aren’t in the loop, Dot to Dot uses the South by South West festival format. Rather than watching bands in a big field on a stage miles away, Dot to Dot puts on gigs in small venues across the city at the same time. This year’s festival has 8 live stages and a DJ room. The focus is still Rock City and the Rescue Rooms but Dot to Dot now pulls in music at The Bodega, Jongleurs and Stealth. Happening when it does, Dot to Dot this year is a welcome distraction from the Jubilee nonsense and has managed to avoid bunting and nostalgia, in its bid to push new unsigned and upcoming talent.
I first realised the scale of the task in hand when I was having lunch with Laura the photographer from The 405, trying to work out what bands and what order we should see people. It was obvious we were only going to get a small percentage of the 90 or so acts on today. We also discovered the first clash of the day: Jake Bugg was on the Main Stage at Rock City at the same time as Turbowolf in Jongleurs. It was also now that I discovered the sole of my right trainer had split, making an indoor festival seem a much more sensible idea than risking trench foot in a rainy field somewhere.
Parks open the line up on the Main Stage at Rock City; they’re a local band with a polished sound that mixes American style polished guitar bands like Band of Horses with folksy harmonies. The songs although clearly technically good feel a bit stop-start as the music inevitably pauses for some Fleet Foxes style harmonising.
We caught A Night Underwater next on the Rock City Basement Stage. If, as the singer claims, it’s their first gig, then they’re an impressive package. Their album was recorded over a 2 year period in a front room in Loughborough but you wouldn’t know it. It’s a classy, complex sound with intelligent and thoughtful lyrics. It’s difficult to compare to other bands around, certainly other bands playing today. The guitar and piano are off kilter and sound as much like Kurt Weil as any rock band. We only stayed to watch A Night Underwater because it was raining outside. And that’s part of the joy of Dot to Dot, finding surprising new music by accident. They were pretty much the highlight of the day for me.
Rock City was starting to fill up by 4, as Lucy Rose took the stage. She’s sung with indie folk band Bombay Bicycle Club in the past. Her mix of breathy vocals and sweet folky songs was nice enough but left me wishing that the guitarist owned a fuzz box by the end of her set. At her best she sounded like a quirky Laurel Canyon songstress, mixing intricate guitar picking and soul bass lines and her genuinely sweet sounding voice in a way that Beth Orton did on her debut album. It’s a risky strategy that had her veering worryingly close to the middle of the road at times.
The Petebox is a local lad who is clearly chuffed to be back on home turf. He’s got a difficult style to describe. Petebox must have started out as a human beat box but by adding some technology not around in the 80’s, he samples and loops his self-generated sounds to produce something complex and interesting. It could all feel like a gimmick, except what he does is genuinely innovative. Each track starts with a simple sound that is sampled and looped to create a textured backdrop of sounds and rhythms. It’s hard to imagine the Rock Steady Crew beat boxing a drum and bass track in mid-80’s NYC. Petebox mixes his own stuff with some slightly off kilter covers; he throws in Sweet Dreams by Eurythmics, Kids by MGMT and as a set closer “Where Is My Mind?” by The Pixies from their superb Surfer Rosa album. It’s about the last thing I was expecting, despite his Sonic Youth tee shirt.
Jake Bugg is the act I most wanted to see on the Main Stage. He’s such a local celebrity that the dance floor is about half full watching him sound check. There’s clearly a feeling he’s about to break into the next and he’s got both the Observer and Jools Holland’s seal of approval. In a similar way to Shane McGowan and Richard Hawley, Jake Bugg takes an older style of music and makes it relevant and contemporary, in his case 60’s folk music. He lists his influences as Oasis, Bob Dylan and Donovan. You can see and hear all of them but somehow his music adds up to more than the sum of these parts. His style is spikier than both. You get the feeling that whatever style of music he chose to play Jake Bugg would make it intelligent and challenging. Jake is another local boy who I really hope is destined for bigger things, his music has already been used in a beer advert. Trouble Town is a fantastic piece of work and sums up his home town Clifton. His debut album is due to be released in the autumn of 2012.
Sadly Rock City was almost at capacity for Jake’s gig. I’ve seen loads of bands at Rock City through the years and before Jake Bugg have never struggled to hear the singer over the audience chatting. It was getting bad during Lucy Rose. I would particularly like the thank the 6 foot tall bloke who pushed his way in front of me with his mates, only to spend the whole gig fucking around with his iPhone. Wonder what his Facebook Status was “Ruining gig for a short bloke behind me PMSL”. I don’t want to return to the bad old days of watching virtuoso musicians in near silence, or treating songwriters with that phony reverence reserved for 60’s wash outs like Bob Dylan or Van Morrison but there’s a basic level of manners that suggests you should at least listen to an act that’s putting their work out there for you. I guess that’s the downside of an indoor festival like Dot 2 Dot. If you’re in a field with a lot of bands on, you can walk away from the stage for the acts you’re not interested in. You can’t in a club. Judging by the look on his face and the way he threw his pick on the floor at the end of the gig, Jake Bugg is on the same page as me about this.
We bailed on Rock City and braved the rain in holey trainers to head to the Bodega for the sublime Nina Smith. She’s another local singer with a big local following. The audience is a bit older and thankfully aren’t chatting through her soul tinged folk set. The bass player from Parks, first band on this afternoon is back in evidence, and looks a little tired and emotional. Nina pulled off one of the stand out performances of the day, a cover of REM’s delicate Everybody Hurts that she managed to turn into a Stax soul stomp.
Apparently she is due to record it over the next few weeks with a full choir. It could and probably will sound amazing.
So I could satisfy my search for some rock music we caught the last 2 bands at Jongleurs. Wavves from San Diego churn out a mix of hard rock and surf core. Tonight has none of the chemically inspired chaos that saw the band come to blows at a European rock festival a couple of years back. They play sharp and tight with more than a small nod towards the MC5, the bass player even has a look of the late great Rob Tyner.
The headliner at Jongleurs is Leeds latest favourite sons Pulled Apart By Horses. PABH formed in 2007 in and slotted into the developing punk and rock scene developing around their rehearsal rooms in the Packhorse. Aside from the rumour that singer Tom Hudson shares a vocal trick or two with Steve Tyler, a fact they are happy to acknowledge by a quick burst of Janie’s got a gun, the band live up to the experimental post grunge tag. Having been invited to tour with both Muse and Biffy Clyro, it feels like they won’t be playing venues as small as this for much longer. No one was injured at this gig, which makes a bit of a change for PABH. Plugging tracks from their latest album Tough Love, a record store day 12” called Live at Leeds (I’ve heard that title somewhere before) as well as last year’s re-release of the brilliantly named single, I punched a lion in the throat, PABH are beginning to build up a back catalogue of impressive stuff.
The music carried on at the smaller venues into the early hours of the morning. Sadly age and the last bus home meant we called it a day after Pulled Apart By Horses. Dot to Dot feels like an established part of the festival calendar and has carved out a bit of a niche by focusing on less well known bands and local talent. Now that some of the bigger festivals seem to have developed a band booking policy that is decidedly risk averse, events like Dot to Dot are all the more important for new quality music.