Music Features

Dot to Dot Festival 2011

I love this time of year. I love the sense of anticipation from knowing summer's just around the corner and, in particular, that the festival season will soon be upon us once again. If you close your eyes, you can almost smell the overpriced burgers, the chemical toilets and the inevitably muddy fields. To me, Dot to Dot, which takes place in the final weekend of May, has become the ultimate precursor to a season of outdoor music. The chance to see a wide range of bands in some of the best venues in Bristol, a taste that summer's on its way.

Dot to Dot was originally held as a one-day event in Nottingham in 2005. Since then, Bristol and Manchester have been added to turn the festival into a three-day affair. The majority of bands play sets in all three cities, moving from Bristol on the Saturday to Nottingham on the Sunday and Manchester on the Bank Holiday Monday. In each city, multiple venues play host from early afternoon to the early hours of the morning, and festival-goers are able to hop from one music venue to another as they wish.

The festival primarily focuses on new music, and many of the artists that have played in previous years have gone on to achieve notable success. Mumford and Sons, The XX, Erol Alkan, Marina and the Diamonds and Jamie Woon are just some of the artists that have played Dot to Dot in the past. This year's lineup included the hotly-tipped Cults, Fixers, Is Tropical and Ed Sheeran. But it's not all about the new music; the festival also includes more well-known acts on its bill. The stellar 2011 line-up included Hurts, We Are Scientists, Guillemots and The Naked And Famous.

This was my experience of the Bristol leg of Dot to Dot 2011:

Broken Arm of Love

Kicking off proceedings in style in the fantastic boat-cum-music-venue Thekla were Broken Arm of Love, a Bristol-based band whose Myspace site amusingly describes their style as “concrete/experimental”. The lead singer spent the entire thirty-minute set in the crowd, literally bouncing off friends and colleagues, ruffling hair of various audience members and crawling between their legs. He introduced most songs with the following: “Who here likes [insert band name]? Good, 'cause this is our [insert band name] rip-off song”. It was a surreal, fun start to the day.

Allie Moss

New-Jersey singer-songwriter Allie Moss was next on stage, and a notable contrast to first act Broken Arm of Love. Playing an acoustic set to a packed-out Thekla with a ukulele player for support, Allie sang songs from her new album, Late Bloomer, to a transfixed and appreciative audience.

I managed to catch up with the delightful Allie during the day. She told me her experience in the UK had “been really, really wonderful.” She also had kind words to say about UK audiences, adding they’ve “been so sweet, and you can’t ask for anything more than that.” Allie Moss isn’t adverse to playing some of the less known parts of the country either, mentioning she’d recently “played a little village called Wendlebury in Oxfordshire. They put on a show in their village hall. This guy just emailed me, and it was really sweet and intimate… and I don’t like the word intimate – eugh! It was just so sweet.”

Wolf Gang

Next up, still at Thekla, were Wolf Gang. I last saw Wolf Gang when they performed at Dot to Dot two years ago and was blown away by them. I was surprised that success didn't follow straight away. Things seem to be picking up for them now though, with daytime radio airplay for recent single Lions in Cages and a début album on the way, produced by Dave Fridmann (who has also produced work for The Flaming Lips and MGMT). Their set at this year's Dot to Dot was infinitely more confident than when I saw them last; and they've acquired a pop edge that will make them appeal more to the mainstream.

Ed Sheeran

A quick hop over to the O2 Academy for much-hyped Ed Sheeran. Appearing onstage by himself, and with only the use of a guitar and loop machine, Ed played out to an admiring audience. His performance, however, was largely uninspiring and despite being clearly very talented, the Jason-Mraz-meets-Just-Jack style of music wasn't quite hitting the spot for me.


Next up, Memphis Industries' Colourmusic in the Cooler. Loud and powerful, their entertaining set drew in a near-full venue. Another exclusive interview for No Ripcord followed the gig, where I pressed the band on the meaning of the blank in recent album title, My _____ Is Pink.
“I think it’s just to leave it up to interpretation. It’s obviously a record about sexuality, but not maybe in the most Hustler/Playboy sense or whatever. It’s more about how sexuality drives what we do every day.” Colourmusic also had a lot of praise for their contemporaries and were keen to soak up the festival atmosphere. “We met Zebedy Rays,” they told me. “We've been on tour with them and they fucking killed their show at, like, 3 o'clock, which is really great.”

Benjamin Francis Leftwich

The Anson Rooms were introduced as a venue for Bristol Dot to Dot last year, and were retained as a venue for 2011. I'm not too sure why. Geographically, the venue is a fair distance from the others, and to get to it, you have to trek up a reasonably steep road that many festival-goers can't be bothered to endure. To give the festival organisers their due, there is a coach laid on that runs from the venue to the centre of Bristol, but it only holds a small number and isn't especially well publicised. The venue itself is a big open room and lacks the atmosphere you find in the Cooler or the Thekla.

As a consequence of these issues, the acts that appear in the venue often attract far smaller crowds than they would do if they were at, say, the O2 Academy. The hall felt almost empty for Benjamin Francis Leftwich, who attracted a crowd of no more than a couple of hundred in a venue with a capacity of five times that. Maybe it was because of this that the music came across as very cold. Disappointing, in view of the fact that BFL, as literally no-one calls him, was one of the acts I was most excited about seeing.


After a couple of let-down sets from Ed “Mraz” Sheeran and BFL, it was a pure joy to experience Braids. Live, their performance is a cocoon of sound even more enveloping and complex than it is on their excellent début album, Native Speaker (the review for which can be found here). It was not only the best set of the day, but the best set I've ever seen in the Cooler. Consequently, I was delighted that lead singer Raphaelle Strandell-Preston agreed to an interview, in which she defended the UK.
“We'd heard a lot of people saying things like “in the UK, they just treat you really nasty” and especially in London, but we've been treated so well here. The people here are so lovely and we've just been getting amazing riders that have so much fruit and we have so many cheeses!” As well as being keen on enjoying the culinary treats our fair isle has to offer, they were also more than impressed with Brighton Pier. “They [piers in the US] don’t have amusement parks, and they don't have fish-and-chip stands and cotton candy. The whole thing was very picturesque and kind of otherworldly.”

We Are Scientists

At one point, We Are Scientists were one of my favourite live bands. I went to see them shortly after their first album was released and their ability to whip the crowd into a frenzy with their upbeat pop-rock and genuinely funny onstage banter made them unlike any other band I'd seen live. Unfortunately, several years on, it's still only tracks from their first album that generate much of a response from the audience. And the quality of the audio in the venue meant it was very difficult to hear their witty comments between tracks. Disappointing.


As one of the most highly-rated up-and-coming bands on this year's lineup, I was surprised to see Cults were playing Louisiana, more of a pub than a music venue. We were half-expecting to be refused entry on the grounds the venue was too full. Not at all the case. The Louisiana was almost empty when we arrived, albeit half an hour before the band were due to perform. It wasn't until after they started that the place started to fill out. Eventually, Cults were playing to a full audience, who all seemed to be enjoying the 1960's-infused pop-rock. The band gave an electric performance; full of energy and with good, strong pop songs. Theirs is an interesting sound that, live at least, seems to suggest the hype is justified. Cults won't be playing venues this size for much longer.


Back to Thekla, and it's dance time. Or, more specifically, dubstep time. After a delayed start due to problems with his equipment, Bristol's Hyetal performed just four tracks, including two with a guest vocalist. Unfortunately, the music was too subtle and didn't do much to captivate the audience.


The sheer amount of equipment onstage for SBTRKT's set was staggering. However, no amount of equipment can cover up out-of-tune live singing and out-of-time drumming. The set was frenetic and overcomplicated, and I wasn't sorry when it was over.

Totally Enormous Extinct Dinosaurs (T.E.E.D.)

By the time T.E.E.D. was due to start his set, it was nearly 2am. Twelve hours of gigging, interviewing and trawling the streets of Bristol had left me pretty much dead on my feet and when T.E.E.D. appeared on stage in a full-body dinosaur costume, looking like a low-budget version of Deadmau5, I was very much ready to go home. But then the music started, and that all changed. After Braids, T.E.E.D. was easily the best act of the day. Energetic, evolving party dance music with heavy basslines and elements of rock and pop thrown in for good measure. T.E.E.D.'s live performance was everything Calvin Harris should be, and more.

The 2011 edition of the festival was, once again, fantastic. Well organised, with an excellent selection of bands at great venues, and all for £30 ($49, or less with an early-bird ticket). The crowds were generally in good spirits and enthusiastic, and the artists responded well to that. Overall, the quality of the performances was excellent, though marred by some minor technical difficulties.

To read full transcripts of the interviews with Allie Moss, Colourmusic and Braids, click here.