Review: Dot To Dot Festival, Bristol (24/05/2014)

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15 hours of music across 16 venues is a challenge to be embraced, and despite the treacherous conditions outside, Bristol’s venues condoled the moistened punters with almost 150 promising artists. Predominantly focussing on indie music with hints of pop and rock thrown in for good measure, as a new music festival, Dot To Dot does neglect other genres, but what it does do, it does brilliantly.

From the music of The Elwins in vintage bijou café The Birdcage channelling Vampire Weekend with their buoyant Canadian indie-pop, to RHODES who stunned the audience with the power of his voice as it reverberated around the room, the afternoon was the calm before the metaphorical evening storm. Fyfe soothed with smooth, slightly bluesy vocals on Thekla’s top deck, while Port Isla demonstrated an upbeat sound, pitched somewhere between Mumford & Sons and Bastille.

Wonder Villains in Start The Bus

Wonder Villains in Start The Bus

One of the mid-afternoon highlights came from Northern Irish band, Wonder Villains, who bounced around a tiny, curtained corner stage while wearing huge grins in the packed-out venue of Start The Bus. Tracks like ‘Blonde’ and ‘Marshall’ showed off their unique ability to create emphatically memorable noise-pop and reaffirmed the fact that all bands which feature a keytar are amazing.

Having recently regenerated as a pink-haired popstar, as an artist who has performed at Dot To Dot multiple times before, it was intriguing to witness Kyla La Grange’s live show now that she has scrapped the folky instrumentation of her début record for a sound dominated by drum machines and synths. Her recent singles such as the Caribbean-sounding ‘The Knife’ and the sparse Jakwob-produced ‘Cut Your Teeth’ shone, while in others, her voice seemed to get lost in a flurry of backing vocals. That said, set-closer ‘I Don’t Hate You’ proved that she has at least one more belting single on her forthcoming album.

Lauren Aquilina in The Fleece

Lauren Aquilina in The Fleece

Across town, The Fleece’s flagstone floor was so sticky that it felt like the soles of shoes were going to be ripped off each time a step was taken, but the journey over to the venue for rising star Lauren Aquilina proved to be an excellent decision. “What did you say? Yeah, I did make this shit up myself” the 18-year-old retorted to a crowd member after dazzling first track ‘Sinners’. Comparisons to other young singer-songwriters like Gabrielle Aplin are justified, but Aquilina displays a song-writing talent which is unmatched by her rivals. The emotion invested in her music was visible when she fought to hold back tears in the heartbreaking track ‘Broke’, and hit impressive notes in ‘Talk To Me’. Her knack for a melody and amiable stage presence means that with her already expansive online following, it won’t be long before she is sailing towards the top of the charts.

Peace in O2 Academy Bristol

Peace in O2 Academy Bristol

Indisputably, the band many had bought tickets to Dot To Dot solely to see were the headliners Peace, who exhibited an unmistakably rock n roll presence at the O2 Academy. Strutting around the stage like Jagger, frontman Harrison Koisser had the packed venue in the palm of his hand as they went utterly ballistic for perfectly executed second track ‘Follow Me’. New track ‘Lost On Me’ didn’t get quite the same reaction, feeling a bit slow and lacking the meaningful direction of songs from their début, but funky, upbeat ‘World Pleasure’ gave reason to be excited about their sophomore record. Festival favourites like ‘Lovesick’ and ‘Wraith’ showcased their aptitude for indelible riffs and inventive melodies, and validated their position as headliner. Peace delivered an impressive performance, celebrating their vast rise to fame since they opened the festival in 2012.

Thankfully, queueing was generally kept to a minimum, unlike other metropolitan festivals like The Great Escape where if there isn’t a queue, the band probably aren’t worth seeing. Dot To Dot is geared a little differently, with the calibre of act very closely suited to the venue size. Perhaps the only downfall of this though was Thekla, Bristol’s rusting naval venue which was plagued by queues throughout the day. For this reason, any attempt at a mad dash across the city at the end of Peace to catch Wolf Alice’s set was in vain, because the capacity room wasn’t providing any solace from the torrential rain.

The Pizza Underground in Thekla

The Pizza Underground in Thekla

For those lucky enough to get into Thekla after Wolf Alice though, a delectable treat awaited in the gloriously ridiculous set from Macaulay Culkin’s Velvet Underground parody band, The Pizza Underground. Shaking a maraca alongside bandmates who played tambourines and used a pizza box as a drum, Mack was unfazed by the constant heckles of “KEVIN!”, and treated the audience to the strangest 45 minutes of their lives. Introducing each song with “This is a song about pizza,” the band played their tracks such as ‘Pizza Gal’ and ‘Take a Bite of the Wild Slice’ and told jokes on stage (Mack: “What’s the difference between a pepperoni pizza and a boner? I don’t have a pepperoni pizza right now”). The whole affair was made a whole lot more peculiar with interludes from ‘Pussy Joel’ (Billy Joel parody about cats) and ‘Kurt Cobained’ (Nirvana songs performed in the past tense). Their set was the biggest trip anyone could possibly hope to have.

Mixed reactions galore were aired in the cold darkness of a Bristol bus stop following the set, but this writer couldn’t have felt more sure. Dot To Dot festival was more than worth the £20 ticket, even if just to see Macaulay Culkin and his team of pizza-obsessed friends.

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