Images courtesy of Georgina Hurdsfield
15:30 – Café Nero
Pocket book and pen – Check.
Backup pen– Check.
Coffee – Check
Let’s do this.
On Friday May 25th – I made it my mission to dart from venue to venue – joining the dots on the Manny music map in order to bestow unto you an hour by hour account of this year’s Dot to Dot Festival. Join me on my quest, from the bizarre to the sublime, in search of the best music on offer at Dot to Dot 2018. Come wade through the pond of performance – complete with lily pads as green as Gus Dapperton’s hair. If you’re willing to seek the answers to –
“What would a guitar sound like if it were played with a shoe…?”
“Could I pull off a flame embroided leather handbag…?”
“What is Portuguese Fado?”
Then hold that thought and read on friends – you may just find answers to the questions in which you seek.
Bathed in a yellow and blue hue radiating from stage lights – Cassia kick off the day’s event. Though the skies may not have reflected the bands beaming melodies – their performance more than made up for the lack of summer sun. As Cassia launched into Come & Talk the mood of the room instantly lifted. The Caribbean style moombahton groove injected a surge of life into Manchester’s O2 Ritz – releasing the inhibitions of those still slightly apprehensive. Foot tapping turned to head bobbing. Head bobbing into swaying. And soon enough the room progressed to more ‘Carnival’ than festival. Live bongos on the kit reinforced the tone – coupled with close vocal harmonies and delicate calypso style electric guitar arpeggios. Rob Ellis (lead vocalist) gave a highly commendable performance – considering the pressure of being the opening act on the first day of the three-day festival.
I caught up with him shortly after the gig where he expressed his feelings on the performance –
“We’ve never opened at something like this before and the venue is a lot bigger than we’ve played in the past. There was hardly anyone here when we started, but it filled up so quickly! I feel like it went really well.”
Their most popular song to date with over 1 million streams on Spotify – 100 Times Over went down a treat – maintaining the energy to the end of the set. Despite a few pre-gig nerves – I feel Cassia’s joviality seemed to correlate with the crowd – a great choice for the first act. And so – the mood was set – with everyone getting down to some tropical vibes.
Lights down. An empty stage. The last murmurs trailed off into the rafters as silence swept the Ritz. Clunk – clunk – clunk – clunk – the familiar four on the cowbell initiated Gum Toe and Sole. One by one the band appeared. Gus – ever the showman – came bounding on to the stage twirling a flame-adorned black leather handbag – almost a millennial tribute to Morrissey and his daffodils. In amongst Gus’ leg kicks and two steps – the band were record perfect. A natural blend of synth pads and carefully structured lead lines gave a superb amount of body to the overall sound. The dynamics in Gus’ vocals came through immensely in their live performance – something I feel is not showcased as much in their recorded music. Utilising his soft and slightly nasal singing tone for most songs – but where necessary brash and gravelly shouting vocals as well.
I felt the ebb and flow of the set was well executed – keeping everyone on tenterhooks as to which direction they were next to follow. Gus and co presented a new song yet to be released – featuring a stronger vocal role from keyboard player Megan Rice. This collaborative approach hinted at good things to come – perhaps seeing the band looking towards more sincerity and melodicism within their music. With no introduction necessary – the band surge into their final song Just Snacking. This was met with whoops and cheers from – a crowd caught off guard and equally caught in the moment.
I arrived to this gig slightly late as hunger pangs began to creep in. With a quick chargrilled chicken sub from Greggs wolfed down in two bites I entered the Castle. As I weaved my way through to the back room – I was met with the enchanting three piece – AK Patterson. Immediately I was utterly captivated – consumed by the haunting melismatic vocals of lead singer Alex Patterson. The beautifully raw and refreshingly folk style soundscape was reinforced by guitarist Nat Reading and double bassist Alfie Weedon.
The eerie atmosphere created by the trio – felt almost an embodiment in music of being upon the precipice of a highland mountain – dusted with tips of violet heather – enshrouded in mist – in the pale light of a winter moon. The idiosyncratic vocal style of Alex was in equal part mesmerizing and melancholic – much suited to the chapel-esque setting of the Castle Hotel’s back function room. Intrigued and encapsulated – I chatted with the band to dig a little deeper into their mystical world.
In the bands infancy stages Alex explained to me that –
“Me and Alfie met in Brighton and we grew up playing folk music in pubs. Nat lives in London and we’ve been playing together for two or three years now.”
Interested in the band’s influences – I asked them how they developed their sound –
“We all listen to a lot of jazz but the main influence of our music stems from Portuguese Fado.”
(Fado 101) ‘Portuguese Fado’ is a traditional style of music derived from small taverns and alleyways – born of life – hardships and passion. It quickly became synonymous with the country in the early 1800’s. It is characterised by portraying raw emotion through music and has a basic style of instrumentation. Often the elements in a traditional sense are a guitar, lute, double bass or cello and a vocalist.
The interview broke for a second as a crate of Redstripe was delivered to the band. Definitely worth the 7-hour drive up from London.
In terms of future endeavors – AK Patterson certainly have a lot on their plate.
“We’re currently working with Charlie Andrew who is Alt -J and Marika Hackman’s producer… we supported Alt-J earlier in the year which was a game changer for us.”
They are currently working on their E.P. due for release in July – posting a track each month until the official launch.
And with that – I was on the move – running back across town to our next location.
Through the back alleys of Northern Quarter – behind a hidden curtain – I found them. Well-adjusted to their newfound Kosmonaut dungeon – swirling indie quickly erupted into course guitar lead riffs with harsh vocal’s to suit. Despite the crowd being slightly tentative at first (standing around 6 feet away from the stage) this was quickly rectified by lead guitarist ‘Darryl’ – jumping off stage and taking them by the hand – welcoming them into the fold of adrenaline-fuelled jangle and jive. With the crowd feeding off Cavanas energy – they lurched into a more prog number – ever evolving – adding layer after layer. This created huge swells and crescendos in their music – showcasing Cavana’s dynamic range and clear compositional capabilities. It was sweaty and stinky in all the best ways. Bravado in bucket loads kept the music in motion as one song flowed to the next. One song that caught my attention was announced by lead singer ‘Rich’ simply as –
“This song is about metamorphosis.”
Their affiliation with the Scruff of The Neck artist development company is sure to see them propelled towards big things in the future – but the music speaks for itself – rather more roars for itself. Cavana’s grit within their music is in stark contrast with some of the more delicate indie licks and melodies. However – the two combined makes for an extremely entertaining arrangement. In the Kosmonaut cave – Cavana kicked it.
“Oh peach pit where’d the hours go…?”
Where indeed. Cast your mind back to awkward teens – high school drama – and young love. The ‘Misunderstood Teen’ vibe is where we find ourselves with Peach Pit – and they execute it perfectly. Its grungy but coy – a naive Nirvana. Illuminated by a bluish-purple haze – a packed out venue at Gorilla was more than ready to reminisce on solemn summers gone by. With such a 90’s grunge kid reborn aesthetic – one could assume that the live show would be as visually entertaining as 45 minutes of shoegaze. This was far from the truth – amidst the chorus of Seventeen an unexpected mosh pit broke out. All the bittersweet nostalgia seemed to stir something in the crowd – maybe the catalyst for the intense energy that followed for the remainder of the show.
During the heavier chorus’ – lead singer Neil Smith seemed to shift into a trance-like state – shimmying his way around the stage – reminiscent of a young Ian Curtis. Sophisticated lead lines and riffs took inspiration from Hendrix like double stops combined with staccato arpeggios. Melancholic memories are not all this band has to offer. I feel the relatability within their lyricism is what correlates so strongly with their audiences all over the world – and why at their live performances people’s inhibitions are so greatly lifted.
Peach Pit – although immensely talented – are by no means musically ground-breaking – however they capture a feeling and bring gratification to those seeking a window into youth and whatever that entails. The performance as a whole – for me was best summed up by one individual. I probably counted about 20-30 people at any one time with their phones out recording the performance. Nothing unusual there in this generation. One man at the back however – pretty much solidly throughout the show – remained – lighter in handheld firmly to the sky.
I doff my cap to you sir.
At this point in the day my legs were beginning to ache – so I sought refuge on the balcony of The Albert Hall – observing from a distance. Pale Waves – performance point. Although lead singer Heather Baron-Gracie’s on stage dancing reminded me of a wooden push puppet (Google it) – their audience seemed to enjoy this aspect of the show. The blend of 80’s inspired synth-pop melodies coupled with simplistic indie licks made for easy listening. The aesthetic of Urban Outfitter clad teen romantics is a straightforward concept to grasp.
About halfway through the set – Baron-Gracie set the crowd up for a treat by saying –
“This next ones a bit Emo…”
Personally – I failed to see the ‘Emo’ attitude that is associated with Pale Waves at all. While the overall performance was good – I struggled to separate one song from the next. Baron-Gracie’s waify vocals grew old very quickly and I felt lacked the kind of depth or earnestness needed. There was little melodic progression within the songs themselves either, seeming to center around a certain idea and which was then repeated throughout the songs.
Based on style and performance I wanted to like Pale Waves – but for me musically they just don’t cut it. I may be missing the point or possibly I’m of a slightly different demographic to the average teenie bopper – but I appreciate them not holding back and putting on a show that was well received by their audience.
Unfortunately missing the start of their show – Bad Sounds were definitely a good shout. Totally unprepared for the show I was about to witness. For two brothers – their on stage looks could not have been more different. Callum Merrett dressed in a lavish – bright orange boiler suit adorned with the Bad Sounds logo – blonde died mop top – black old skool vans. A look. The other more subdued brother (or so I thought) was in a plain white T and beige chinos. This juxtaposition in style however was by no means an indication of stage persona. When the two were playing together pandemonium erupted.
Although the grooves lent themselves to all things funky – in the build-up and drops – there seemed to be limbs and bodies flying around the stage. On each other’s backs – playing each other’s instruments -in a sort twisted rendition of the pottery scene from Ghost – Ewan also attempted a riff by playing with his shoes on the leads guitar from three feet away. Not a bad effort. Sounded terrible mind. Although maybe even a bit hectic at times – the crowd were eating it up. Millennial punks maybe? Or just laddish louts up for a bit of rough and tumble? At this stage – I’m not entirely sure – but musically there was a lot going on. Littered with samples – synths and falsetto – it was hard to keep up with the action. Over the top of this cacophony was Ewan’s deadpan – Jamie T style – spoken word sections. An erratic and energetic combination.
It is worth mentioning that throughout the entirety of Bad Sound’s set – Lead guitarist ‘Charlie’ was being hounded by a fan to play on their next song. This was back and forth until the second to last song where Callum exclaimed –
“Give him your guitar Charlie – don’t be a dick.”
Reluctantly – said fan was brought on stage – and decided to play an extremely wobbly rendition of the intro to This Charming Man.
Good sports for giving him a go through. With fan now suitably embarrassed but content with his 2 minutes of fame – the band played on and concluded their set.
Sax appeal. Pure – unadulterated – sax appeal. Jazz lullabies to make you swoon. I feel if King Krule somehow became addicted to throat sweets and simultaneously discovered meditation – this is what he would sound like. Wonky guitar tones over plush synth pads combined in perfect harmony. Hip-hop influenced beats – played both on sample pads and live kit built into tremendous textures with the rest of the band. Delicately tight bass groves alongside kaleidoscopically dreamy guitar melodies. There was a lot of focus on the use of guitar effects pedals further enhancing the overall soundscape –an instrument in itself. The saxophonist moved across to the keyboard showcasing the band’s multi-instrumental talents. The change of pace and undulation within the music kept people wanting more – constantly trying to predict how each track would evolve.
Considering I’d just left the bedlam of Bad Sounds – this came as a refreshingly woozy transition. Although there were a few somewhat questionable guitar solos – I suppose it’s excusable in the name of jazz. The facial expressions of lead singer and guitarist Jacob Allen conveyed pure attitude and emotion – his neck decorated with the chain of a proper cockney geezer. Just when I thought I had them sussed – sub heavy bass powers through shaking the room – more common with ‘Dub’ music. And amongst the dark atmosphere the sax cut through like a croaking knife. These guys have more layers than the royal wedding cake.
I decided to leave a little early – Soup Kitchen becomes a strange and mysterious place – especially towards the closing hours of a day festival. And up next were The Horrors, just starting back over at The Albert Hall…
It took me a little time to readjust from the soothing sounds of Puma Blue to The Horrors slightly different approach to music. Now I’m not particularly a man of large stature. But these guys are huge. Each one standing taller than the next. The gothic string beans in skinny jeans made for an interesting visual. I went in expecting the post-punk Horrors of old – but I was presented with something entirely different. Their performance was extremely synth heavy for the most part. Maybe they have developed their sound somewhat from 2007.
Farris Badwan (lead singer) gave a very static performance and seemed more interested in playing with the mic cable than actually singing. Occasionally stumbling about stage when there were heavier parts of the songs but near impossible to see due to the incessant strobe lights. Anyone with epileptic tendencies – look away now. I had dots in my eyes for a good day after – I could barely see to write.
They made a big sound but throughout their set there was hardly any melodic progression. With every song came extended intros – outros – chorus’ – which very soon I grew tired of. I was finding it hard to get excited about what I was seeing before me. I did notice the percussionist feebly shaking a tambourine – a tambourine that there was absolutely no chance of hearing over the din of droning synths and bass guitar.
A lot of bellowing from the crowd erupted around me – although good or bad I couldn’t tell. The odd track did seem to hit home however – and when they got it right I began to understand the appeal. That first ‘boy in a band crush’ the ‘arrogant front man’ aesthetic – the band that you know your parents are completely opposed too. Possibly it was circumstantial to do with technical difficulties with the sound in the Albert Hall – not uncommon in that venue. But for me they just didn’t seem to deliver what I was expecting. However – I’ll remember to bring sunglasses for their next gig.
23:15 – Me – Burger King
As I didn’t fancy contending with the swathes of people spilling out of maccie’s automatic doors – I took my chance with the king of burgers. Grabbed a bacon double cheese XL – PowerAde (weird choice I know) – and fries. As I sat contemplating – and stuffing my face – I reflected on the sheer volume of bands I had seen so far that day. Such a vast array of different genres and styles – and how lucky we are as a generation to be able to be exposed to – and indulge any kind of music we wish.
Not sure what that burger did to me – but I took my philosophical hat off – put on my journo hat – because I had one band left to see.
Arriving at Gullivers – I realised everyone was of the same train of thought and decided to pop over and see the last band of the day. The place was packed out. I shuffled my way over to the fire escape – my notepad just lit enough by the green and white sign. The music began.
The Aussie entourage came marching from the flanks onto the stage wearing clear plastic Hannibal Lecter-esque face masks. A descending sub bass oscillator sweep established the scene – and then tribal drums. It was a hard house/ hip hop fusion that took the audience by storm. So much energy straight out of the box. These ladies were not messing around and the whole room was jumping. Haiku Hands were here to lift the maroon rooves off Guillvers top room. With Egyptian themes and African tribal percussion, I wasn’t sure what to call it – but I was enjoying it. They were definitely not short of props – as a megaphone appeared shouting to the audience
“You seem a little uptight.”
Of which they did not for long. The sheer stamina of Haiku Hands was something to behold. The choreography was intense and relentless– yet they maintained the already established energy throughout. The dress code seemed to be all American sports jerseys apart from one which was the entirety of a cat’s face. Although the routines were choreographed – they were not rigid which I thought was a good feature. I felt this allowed for a very human element in almost an ‘all dance – all party’ vibe.
Their singing style was a combination of spoken word and what I’d imagine live performed samples would be. To really drive home the party aesthetic- the band set off streamers into the crowd which by the looks of everyone bopping along – had the desired effect.
Who knew shouting –
“You could be my bad bitch!”
could be so entertaining…?
Half an hour of high-octane party madness seemed a truly fitting end to the day – and with the crowd absolutely erupting for the Australian Trio – I cheered – clapped and called it a night.
00:00 – Homeward Bound
Dot to Dot 2018 exceeded my expectations and then some. A journey for all the senses. With my legs unable to support me anymore – and my hand lousy with cramp – Mainline 7’s take me home. See you next year Dot to Dot – It’s been a blast.
You can view more images from the band’s in our full photo album here.