Dot to Dot 2010

My second taste of this roaming cavalcade of music throughout Nottingham still excites…

Date: 30 May, 2010

Venues: Various (see below)

What separates this shebang from the rest of the beer-sponsored, corporate behemoths is its format – a 5-venue, 8-roomed walking party, hosting countless bands and artists spanning an enormous array of genres in a boozy but friendly bank holiday atmosphere.

Ellie Goulding and Zane Lowe play top billing to pull in the punters, but it’s not about the big-hitters, or the zeitgeist-friendly chart-humpers. No, Dot-to-Dot is all about the underdogs; the yet-to-be-discovered pearls; the excellent bands tucked away in Stealth’s poky downstairs bar, and those bands with funny names like Ocean Bottom Nightmare.

That particular odd-monikered band are tasked with getting the party started at the ridiculous time of 1.30 in the afternoon.

A few hardy earlybirds have assembled to see what all the racket is. And what a racket. In fact, their hardcore punk seems out of place mid-afternoon, and their perplexing time-signatures, crashing cymbals and gut-wrenching yelps threaten to dislodge the mortar from the walls of Rock City’s basement. It’s the most ferocious of starts, and by the time they finish their set at 2 o’clock, the festival is in motion, and Nottingham’s music venues and surrounding streets are awash with trendy students, decorated fashionistas and colourful scenesters.

The beauty of the festival is its nomadic nature and eclectic mix of music. If you don’t like what’s going off in one room, you can wander off and find a more suitable alternative in another.

For example, in the main Rock City room you can enjoy some synth-led euphoric sounds courtesy of Morning Parade, or, back downstairs again, there’s some classic 90s-aping indie from Stoke’s New Education; the former brimming with melodrama, the latter mixing Oasis’s laddish DNA with their own to sound like The Courteeners covering The Twang.

Neither of those your cup of tea? Fear not, because The Crookes will make you unable to control your derriere from shimmying and shaking with some vintage 50s beat-pop, some exquisite surf guitar and an audacious quivering vocal as you’re whisked off to a bygone era. Dot-to-Dot just loves dealing with diversity.

Moving on, Nijmegen’s De Staat (that’s in the Netherlands, geography fans) rattle the bones of the packed Stealth with their pulsating blues-rock, while down the road Small Black make the Uni’s upstairs bar sound like the Hycienda with their trippy vibes and atmospheric grooves before the doom sets in down in the main Uni room with Chapel Club.

They’re a morbid lot alright. They’re like White Lies attending the funeral of their pet Labrador, and as cheery as a wet weekend in Skegness. But, with a sackful of dark, brooding tunes and a murderous vocal from Lewis Bowman that’s deeper than a BP salvaging mission, it’s epic and compelling stuff.

Also quite brilliant are boy-girl twosome Blood Red Shoes, who have drawn the biggest crowd of the day so far at Rock City. Their set fizzes with sex and kinetic energy as they storm through half an hour of top class post-punk. They don’t know this yet but they are, without doubt, the best band of the day.

Although New Yorkers Fun walk away with the award for the most camp band of the day. The contrast from upstairs to downstairs again is huge, as their enchanting part cabaret, part Scissor Sisters tribute act swirls into momentum. They are, as their name suggests, fun – unadulterated, shameless and playful fun.

Wild Beasts, on the other hand, are not fun. There are no jazz hands or over zealous hand-clapping here thank you very much. This is serious, and if you don’t like it, you can leave. Which, sadly, many do.

Perhaps it’s their haunting, atmospheric dream-pop that confuses so much. Or their alienating post-rock. Or singer Hayden Thorpe’s lascivious high-pitched howl. Or their austere mood swings. Who knows? But whatever it is, it’s an acquired taste too rich for many, and those confused teenagers patiently awaiting Ellie Goulding’s appearance look they’ve been zapped of all life by Wild Beasts’ alarming oddness.

But Ellie soon gets hands waving and bums jiggling again. It’s incredible how far this girl has come off the back of one hit single. Her every word is met with the kind of furore usually reserved for returning World Cup-winning captains.

But this polite, unassuming Hereford-born girl next door ticks many boxes. She sings, she plays guitar, she hits a big drum, she’s attractive and she’s got chart appeal. Girls imagine her as their best friend while boys…well, boys imagine her in far more different scenarios one would assume, right lads?

Her ‘folktronica’ is engaging and entertaining, but of course, it’s the shimmering pop gem of Starry Eyed which gets the biggest response, and when it’s over, there’s a sense that many people’s zenith has been reached, and the highlight of their day has now passed.

But this rolling cavalcade of music doesn’t stop at 9.30pm just because some lass has sung a song off of the radio. Hell no, there are plenty of other bands capable of creating a highlight.

Mystery Jets bash out their odd-pop at Rock City; Los Campesinos! manage to overcome mic problems and concoct a charming display of twee-pop through a cloud of purple and pink balloons; Daisy Dares You somewhat incongruously plays to an intrigued lot at the Uni; The Eighties Matchbox B-Line Disaster make one hell of a din with their psychobilly shenanigans back at The Basement, and then, when the soles of your feet are begging you to just bloody well stop, a whole stack of DJs – including Zane Lowe – are on hand to fuel the diehard’s party into the early hours.

That’s the amazing thing about Dot-to-Dot. So diverse is its spectrum, so expansive its reach, there are highlights everywhere. And finding them is as easy as joining dots to dots.

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