In the wake of the success of the reinvigorated Camden Crawl, Nottingham’s annual Dot-To-Dot Festival – an event which embodies the same freewheeling spirit as its London equivalent – has grown into something of an oversized beast, partly to keep up with the times, and perhaps more crucially, to establish itself as the premier venue hopping event in the land.
Last year’s debut on to the scene saw a mere 20 or so bands over three venues, and was a revelation, with the likes of The Rakes, Ladytron, New Rhodes and Komakino ensuring the punters would be crawling back for more this year. And as very much expected, the overwhelming mandate from the indie constituency has been used to create an extravaganza almost double the size, now encompassing the cavernous Rock City and a bill of bands and artists more eclectic than John McCririck’s dress sense.
What else? Unlike 2005, the names with any sort of draw were spread throughout the day, and started making noise from around high noon (ish), meaning more time for overpriced beverages, cardigan-spotting and just general milling around and soaking up the atmosphere.
Rock City was the first venue on the list for many, which was little surprise given the early billing there (half three) of Brighton’s The Pipettes (****), a group of polka dot clad gals with a backing band who in all likelihood are plotting to take over the summer with their imminent LP. Such was the intent in their eyes, anyway, as they delivered a set full of two and a half minute, hand clap adorned, harmony soaked, hook laden pop numbers (see new single Pull Shapes for a prime exponent of said values) that are soon to be ubiquitous.
It was round the corner to The Rescue Rooms for Exeter bunch Thousand Natural Shocks (****), who by all accounts were true to their name, in spite of the shocks being provided not by nature but an utter barrage of guitars, drums, bass and some really, really pissed off, nasal sounding vocals. “Urgh,” you utter, haven’t we heard this all before? Probably. But the thing is, when it’s done well, it never fails to sound exciting and compelling. And why shouldn’t a band who come across like an agitated Bloc Party fronted by JJ72‘s Mark Greany be showered with praise? Certainly, their set shone as brightly as anyone’s today – a name to watch out for.
It was now 5.30pm, a time which heralded the arrival of The Victorian English Gentleman’s Club (*) onto the Rescue Rooms stage. Not that this was an event that is worth recalling, as it’s entirely possible that this three piece rattled through the same song about 10 times. And it wasn’t even a good song – bereft of any melody, hook or attention grabbing gimmick, these were some truly forgettable minutes.
In stark contrast were Aussie bunch The Morning After Girls (***) at Rock City’s Basement – who bizarrely, are a group of men and just one girl. Whatever, their shoegazing brand of dirty rock ‘n’ roll reminded much of Jesus & Mary Chain, My Bloody Valentine and early BRMC, never once forgetting that choruses are the way to success in this game. Technical problems meant a late start, however, confining their set to a mere 20 minutes. In effect what we got was a taster of a band well worth investigating further.
Across town at the 190-capacity Social, horn wielding quartet The Rumble Strips were billed for a 9pm start. There’s been a degree of hype around them lately, and with promising gig reports from all over, they were a standout name on the bill. But this unfortunately was an opinion held by quite possibly the whole of Nottingham, and with a massive queue and those dreaded words of “one in, one out” muttered by the bouncers, many (including this scribe) were left outside and disappointed. Still, with festivals of this nature, there’s always alternatives, and as such it was to be The Harrisons (***) back at the Rescue Rooms, who got the now very boozed up audience going with their short and sharp, hook-a-second numbers that reminded much of The Clash at their most accessible.
Now well into big name territory, it was back into Rock City to welcome the return of Eel Pie Island’s Mystery Jets (*****) to Nottingham, a city where they seem to have built up quite a following in recent months due to a number of appearances up here promoting their recent debut album. Indeed, their gruelling schedule has transformed them into a truly formidable proposition live, with their songs sounding bolder, bigger and better than ever. Visibly delighted to be playing this ‘great festival,’ they were head and shoulders above anyone else today – not least when bassist Kai Fish scaled the speaker stack on Alas Agnes, which saw the entire room accompany them in singing about a transvestite.
And so British Sea Power (*) closed the festival with an enchanting set. Hold on. No, they didn’t, somewhat contrary to the high expectations surrounding them. What’s happened to these guys? Two great, wildly eclectic albums in, and they seem to be utterly bored, and tonight, looked liked either they’d just undergone a lobotomy or would have sooner swallowed glass than play to the folk of this city. The songs, if you could hear them, were incredibly flat, and even Remember Me, one of their big guns, failed to shine, suffering from a lack of spark and any sort of impetus.
An off day or not, we didn’t stick around to find out, as Shy Child (****) were about to take to the stage at Stealth. Hand held synth ‘n’ drums from NYC, with not a guitar in sight, they got the entire room bouncing up and down to their high tempo, dance friendly compositions, which called to mind the pop sensibilites of LCD Soundsystem and the intensity of Death From Above 1979. All in all they were a monumental gust of fresh air after BSP’s lacklustre sounds.
Now 1.15am, Sheffield’s Bromheads Jacket (*) geared up to close proceedings at the Rescue Rooms. Recently shunted into the limelight in the wake of the success of Arctic Monkeys, they seem to be one of the bands from the steel city that those in the know are tipping for bigger and better things. However, upon hearing them, it was hard to understand just why. Cockney spoken lyrics about Asda and East Enders, followed by a crashing guitar riff was their sole trick, and a formula they failed to stray from. The novelty wore off quickly. Choruses? Melody? Are you mad?
So that was Dot-to-Dot 2006. Plenty of live music and beer, in lots of venues with lots of people. It was not quite as good as it could have been, however, and lacked two or three really big names that its London rival is usually able to muster. In any case, it’s an event that’s almost certainly here to stay, and for a place to spot up and coming bands (something it clearly prides itself on), talented or less so, this is probably as good a start as any.