Believe it or not, the hectic hubbub of an all-day festival is a nightmare for some. With the myriad of options to make, spending an eternity spent trapsing from stage to stage and having to brace yourself for intermittent barrages of noise, certain people might try and argue that there isn’t a worse way to spend every waking second of a day. However, for the few thousand or so people at Dot to Dot Bristol, that couldn’t be a more perfect description of heaven. Returning for its fifteenth year in the city, the festival promised so much from its delectable line-up, and boy did it deliver.
If you insist on living by the motto of starting your day right, there was probably no better place to be kicking off proceedings other than at iconic Bristol venue The Louisiana with a healthy dose of Hamburger. With many still bleary-eyed and clutching their midday pints in an effort to wake up, it was hard to not be enamoured by this local sextet specialising in emo-tinged indie. Whether it was in each heartfelt reach for a chord change or the harmonies that underpinned Fearghall Kilkenny’s extreme falsetto, it was hard to experience Hamburger without feeling little explosions of warmth rush through you. Any fans of acts such as Garden Centre or Trust Fund will find much to appreciate in the DIY aesthetic of the band, and it felt somewhat fitting that we were treated to this in what is essentially the venue’s glorified living room.
It’s a hard task to be the first act on a big stage, but being as cool as Damefrisør probably helps settle any nerves. Maintaining the bombast that they’ve become known for displaying in more intimate venues, they stepped up to the plate at the O2 Academy to produce a gripping half hour of propulsive post-punk. There’s a solemn feeling in their sound, but that doesn’t mean that sudden bursts of euphoria aren’t able to trickle through in the way of soaring guitar lines. The repeating mantra of “I am perfect” in the sample that runs through single ‘2-HEH-V’ demonstrates the level of belief that Damefrisør have in themselves, and if they keep performing with this level of confidence, there’s not really much that should realistically stop them from embodying that perfection.
Returning to The Louisiana, now drenched by the unforgiving heat, Manchester’s Loose Articles were next on the agenda. Sadly down a member, the trio that made the trip down were still firing on all cylinders and with them they seemingly brought a sense of freewheeling fun that the audience lapped up. From lamenting public transport on ‘I Hate Buses’ to yelling about football-mad crisp-shagger Gary Lineker on ‘Kick Like a Girl’, it’s clear that silliness is a key selling point behind the band’s ethos, but the untameable energy that they bring with it takes that to a level where it’s hard to leave the room without a beaming grin on your face.
While Loose Articles’ energy might be untameable, it certainly isn’t unmatchable, and after a short journey back downstairs, Saloon Dion set about proving that they too can create raucous fun. Bounding around from the outset, their brand of high energy punk was the perfect way to entice the stragglers who hadn’t quite mustered up the strength to go all in. Showcasing some of their recent singles plus a slew of new unreleased material, it’s evident why they’ve continued to garner high praise for their live show and why there’s an immense buzz about them. An easy dismissal of them would be to see it all as loutish bravado, but behind the bare chests and leaping off amps, at the core of Saloon Dion is a tongue in cheek sense of humour and a canny knack for packing a punch in their songcraft. The smirks gained from upstairs are still firmly intact, and with good reason.
It’s hard to tell whether Jockstrap’s placement here represents a dreamy palate cleanser or a headfirst dive into a cerebral stew of genres, because frankly they do it all. Flitting from dramatic string-laden showtunes to thumping electronic beats – often there and back again in the space of a single song – the London duo create a spellbinding spectacle regardless of what form they choose to take. The set’s undoubted highlights came in form of the luscious ‘Concrete Over Water’ and the jarringly weird club banger ‘50/50’, but that’s not to say that the rest of the set wasn’t brimming with moments of wonder. Whatever direction their forthcoming debut album might take them in, Georgia Ellery and Taylor Skye certainly aren’t going to be shying away from taking their compositions to mindbending places.
Those who packed out Bristol Beacon for Jockstrap’s set may have heard mutterings about the next act being worth staying for, and if you were lucky enough to receive this hot tip and follow through on it, then congratulations. Without doubt, Mandy, Indiana stole the show with an unforgettably charged performance and walls of wailing guitars, leaving most jaws dragging on the floor by the end. It was clear from the opening passages of primal noise and menacing bass synths that they weren’t going to mess around; the writhing around on the auditorium floor whilst howling in French that came afterwards cemented that. Vocalist Valentine Caulfield is as much the lynchpin that holds everything together as she is the catalyst for tearing everything to shreds in an instant, and it’s this dynamism that made their set the talking point for many at the festival.
Unsure of how I would be able to follow a set like Mandy, Indiana’s, I opted to head to the Lanes for something more familiar and comforting in the form of Langkamer. A perennial favourite of mine and the local circuit alike, their self-styled ‘West Country’ was a blast – for the short period of time that it lasted. Sadly intermitted due to technical issues, it seemed that they were on top form and intent on playing their set at breakneck speed. When all was fixed, they were at least kind enough to serve up a rowdy rendition of ‘The Ugliest Man in Bristol’, a reminder of what Langkamer are capable of when not marred by faults outside of their control. Short and sweet it may have been, but enough to spark unbridled joy at its peak.
A brisk walk back to Thekla was in order after this; firstly to inhale as much food as humanly possible and then to witness the delights of KEG. This bizarre Brighton septet were an unusual spectacle in as much as being crammed onto the venue’s harbourside stage, but just as riveting a listen. There’s a certain art-rock sensibility to what they do, with disjointed guitars and honking brass, but also a serious knack for writing hooks with potential for big-time success. It’s become less weird to see ‘out-there’ indie bands achieve a moment in the spotlight over the past few years, and if there’s any within the current crop that are bubbling under that have in them to make it there, KEG might be a solid bet. Let’s face it; we’d all love to see a hit featuring a conch shell solo, wouldn’t we?
It’s testament to how well curated this edition of Dot to Dot was that they can afford to book headline acts as enticing as Squid or Ghetts, and that missing either never felt like a disappointment. However, as the day had been slowly building towards finishing with a gigantic party, then there wasn’t really many other options but to close proceedings with Fake Turins. A slimline nine-piece on this occasion (usually there’s eleven), the group presented a slick disco-punk finale to remember, sounding something like the lovechild of Talking Heads and Average White Band. The grooves left an indelible impression on those in attendance, and felt as though they could have realistically gone on all night, but after all we had to see things come to an end, and this might have been the best way to do things.
Considering they had only just recovered from their 2021 edition last September, it was remarkable to see such range and excellence on show from Dot to Dot, underlining exactly why it has become such a staple of the festival-goer’s calendar year. Roll on May 2023 (and every May forever after).
Words & Photos: Reuben Cross
Check out Dot to Dot’s website for more information here and listen to the official playlist below.