This was the first time I’d sampled this roaming urban festival through Nottingham’s myriad venues. It was hot, sweaty, tiring and brilliant.
Date: May 24, 2009
Venues: Nottingham various
Usually, festival-goers spend most of their time annihilating their livers and bending their minds on weapons-grade Pear Cider in a field in Somerset. When they’re not doing that they’re bemoaning the horrid weather and the fact that their wellies have perished in the bloated streams of chemically-enhanced urine that have formed since the last downpour. How ironic, then, that Dot-to-Dot – Nottingham’s annual urban music festival – should fall on the hottest day of the year and the only moaning is directed at the fact that we’re all forced to watch music in near darkness while the sun lights up pub beer gardens outside.
But to moan about what’s happening outside when there’s so much to see inside is churlish, so at 1.45pm precisely, as the sweltering heat reaches its zenith, nu-jazz oddballs Human Hair kick off the festival in Rock City’s shady basement. It’s the start of an exhausting 15 hours of live music, played at eight venues across the city by well over 70 bands and artists.
Dot-to-Dot is Nottingham’s answer to London’s Camden Crawl, where decorated scenesters, indie kids, flamboyant fashionistas and Hockley Street Pirates don their wackiest outfits and embark on a mammoth music and intoxicants bender.
Dog Is Dead are no strangers to this shebang, coming from Nottingham themselves, and their early 2pm slot in Rock City’s main hall may not cajole all that many out of the sunlight and into the darkness but that’s their loss. DID’s saxophone-based slithery wonk-jazz is a whole load of sunny fun and the way they happily knit indie and jazz with sublime four-part harmonies is a creative masterstroke.
Over at Stealth, not only is there the peculiar Silent Disco – where DJs spin tunes which are pumped through headphones worn by revelers dancing quite literally to their own beat – there’s Official Secrets Act too, who are basically a mini-Killers with more tunes than Brandon Flowers could muster on Day and Age.
From there it’s a short walk to the Trent campus where there are two rooms – the main hall and the bar upstairs. The latter is where Wakefield’s Matt Abbott, aka Skint & Demoralized, plays to only a handful of punters. Possibly the missing link between punk and poetry, particularly on the brilliantly observed bigot-bashing spoken word rant of BNP: Nazis On The Doorstep, he is a young man with plenty to grumble about.
Just as he ends with another scathing lament, downstairs there’s a right old racket going on. New York’s The Pains Of Being Pure At Heart are as bad for your ears as they are for my word count and their post-shoegazing is cut through with shards of noise and squalling guitars.
Equally loud and brutal – but in a good way – are Colourmusic over at the Bodega Social. Billed as “Oklahoma sex rock” these oddball noiseniks are led by a guy who resembles King Neptune. Dressed only in white they’re just about visible through a fug of barbecue smoke to lavish us with their thunderous deft-metal.
Next up are old shoe-gazing stalwarts My Vitriol who are incredibly loud. A torrent of bludgeoning noise escapes the stage and thrusts itself upon the crowd. It’s uncomfortable yet mesmerizing, as if being tortured by a divine messenger.
Talking of unearthly beings there’s a strange polka-dotted pixie causing a stir at Rock City. An angelic crop of peroxide hair flops in his eyes as pop’s crown prince Patrick Wolf emerges like a ghostly apparition flanked by his band of merry violin-toting deviants, armed to the back-teeth with avant-pop ditties and Flemish gypsy folk (probably). He’s a musical chameleon, constantly changing the theme of the performance, recklessly charging into the crowd wearing little more than a tramp’s vest one minute, genially tinkering on the ivories the next.
He’s in stark contrast to what’s occurring downstairs in the basement, where Baddies’ arch commuter-punk is a sobering sight. Their forte is sub-three minute volleys of punk and their songs are like Green Day demos left over from the Dookie sessions.
Back upstairs and the biggest crowd of the day so far is building for Ladyhawke’s ritzy, glitzy synth-pop. It’s bright, ebullient stuff, but her vocals could benefit from a tad more volume. Nevertheless, the hits are sparkling pearls, none more so than the blissful Paris Is Burning and the effervescent show-stopper My Delirium, which gets the whole place jumping.
Descending again it’s Dinosaur Pile-Up in the basement – the chalk to Ladyhawke’s cheese. With crunching guitars, quiet/loud/quiet/very loud dynamics, they’re advocates of Weezer’s dumb-rock heritage.
Bringing the sexy back are St Albans’ funk soul brothers Friendly Fires. It’s physically impossible not to move to their fun-time grooves, their swinging party pop and freaky disco soul. Literally everyone is throwing shapes, including lead singer Ed whose snake-hipped movements ensure girls want him and boys want to be him. Skeleton Boy, Jump In The Pool and Paris are all slinky triumphs.
Elsewhere the disparate sound of incendiary post-punk can just be heard emanating from the basement. It’s the work of Future of the Left, founders of the Cardiff punk scene and remnants of seminal Welsh punk titans Mclusky and Jarcrew. They not only supply a raucous alternative to the funk upstairs but their intermittent comedy is welcome also.
There’s nothing remotely funny about Crystal Antlers over at Stealth though. They seem to be here to denounce the party spirit with their jarring, apocalyptic doom-rock. They’d be the perfect band to play at the party at the end of the world, not as the warm-up to Stealth’s all-night disco frenzy. Needless to say their set gets a muted response and everyone hastily makes for the exit and heads towards the Rescue Rooms where Little Boots is about to shake her derriere.
Through a thick mist she appears attached to a Unicorn balloon and rewards the packed audience – seriously, you couldn’t slip a credit card through the gaps between people – with her exhilaratingly squelchy Italo-disco and glitchy future-pop. It’s a tonic to invigorate the now heavily intoxicated crowd. Her promiscuous new single New In Town tilts the crowd one way and then the next and Stuck on Repeat jerks like a massive electro wildebeest riddled with an infestation of beeps and bleeps.
Into the night various DJs coax out all manner of sounds, from electro-funk to Martian jazz, but before you can say “Quick, Annie Mac is playing La Roux”, the non-stop musical travelling circus is over for another year. And by 5.30am the sun is out again…