Dot To Dot Festival - Bristol (23/05/2009)

Allan MacLean | Thursday, 28 May 2009

Dot To Dot Festival - Bristol (23/05/2009)

The Dot To Dot Bristol leg was comprised of one day, five venues, eight stages, and more music than you could possibly digest in such a short period of time. But Dot To Dot was not about seeing every act; it's a novel idea that attempted to squeeze all the goodness of your Readings and Glastos into a single potent dose. To an extent it works, but the challenge of enduring Bristol's urban sprawl took its toll by the end of the evening.

Those that were eager to get the most out of their money by arriving early to pick up their wristbands were greeted by a cheerful group of staff that politely informed punters that the stage times had been moved around a bit. Not a big deal and hardly surprising considering the fearsome logistics of the day, but it was not the last of the amendments. Arriving at the Fleece, an unassuming and murky little venue hidden behind an alley, punters hoping to see Official Secrets Act's opening set were notified that they were no longer playing via a hastily-printed paper sign tacked onto the door of the main entrance. At the bar/boat/venue, Thekla, there was a similar story concerning the absence of their opening acts, Ulterior and Lion Club. Despite the unforeseen cancellations, the mood was upbeat and most revellers seemed happy to leisurely explore the festival route in the glorious sunshine.

Up the steep incline on Park Street at The Cooler, there an apt reward for the initial delays. New Cross noiseniks Chik Budo managed to draw the early afternoon crowd closer to the stage with every beat. Channelling the sonic rage and avant-garde inventiveness of peers like Acoustic Ladyland, it was a shame they were constrained by their strict half-hour stage slot, with such awesome talent pouring forth in every direction. The passion, imagination and ferocity of the individual instrumentalists made it difficult to focus on the group as whole, their live performance much more compelling than their admittedly great recorded output.

In the main room at the O2 Academy were the fresh-faced quintet Apples. Dilute, tame and overly reliant on 'ooooh's 'la's and 'ba-ba-ba's, their Topman advert meets Scouting For Girls styling wasn't doing much for the crowd. Even stealing the backing vocal hook from 'Use Somebody' by Kings of Leon for the single 'Reason 45' brought little excitement. Brandishing a veneer of inoffensiveness as a badge of pride, they were truly rotten to the core.

Directly after, the smaller and poorly laid out second venue in the O2 Academy played host to the Montreal-based electronic rockers Beast. Lead singer Betty Bonifassi undeniably possesses a belting singing voice, and the bravery to transform herself into a rapid-fire percussive rapper, but they remained unsatisfying to behold. Relying on a laptop cheekily obscured to the side of the drummer for their really interesting sounds, they seemed a little disingenuous. The bassist was sporting a bizarre hybrid of outlandishly-painted guitar with a small synth, apparently glued onto it, that looked much more ridiculous than the tame sounds that emerged from it. Overall, they had potential which was only infrequently realised.

Back in the main room, Orange unsignedAct winner Tommy Reilly's high-pitched voice and Scottish charm was winning the crowd over. For a young lad with so little experience of playing with his new bandmates, his confidence was made even more endearing by his humbleness. His banter with the audience was frequently rib-tickling. Remarking that he was chuffed to be playing 'a real O2 Academy, like the one on the Skins advert', he was only hindered by a dodgy mix which placed his vocal at an uncomfortably high level.

Down by the river, Thekla was playing host to The Computers. Simply refusing to be contained by the tiny slab of decking in the corner of the room masquerading as a stage, the band waded fearlessly into the crowd. Like a hardcore Ramones dressed all in white, their relentless dual guitar onslaught was warmly received and seem to fly by in an instant. Short, sweet and impressively tight.

A short trip to the Fleece to see Pulled Apart By Horses provided a slight lull in the afternoon's proceedings. They played an exuberant set which was marred by a few technical issues and would have been better suited to a venue like Thekla to force a reaction from the rather pedestrian crowd. Back at the O2 for a trio of acts, The Mission District sounded slightly out of place. Peddling a line in cheesy pop-emo, their stateside enthusiasm didn't rub off on the crowd. Deciding to do a covers medley incorporating Lady Gaga's 'Just Dance' and Kanye West's 'Love Lockdown' garnered the biggest crowd reaction, which should tell you everything you needed to know about the quality of their own tunes.

Patrick Wolf sauntered around the main stage at the O2 Academy, playing a vast range of instruments. His attempts at depth and diversity seemed to win over a fair proportion of the sizeable crowd, but the setlist was a little uninspiring. His own electric guitar playing seemed to detract from the heavyweight musos he had surrounded himself with on stage, and his art-school visual presentation seemed like a bit of smokescreen to distract from the average nature of some of his new material.

Aussie rockers The Temper Trap proved to be an unexpected surprise for the curious hordes assembled upstairs at the O2 Academy. Combining power, range, stamina, soul and sincerity they blasted through a well-constructed set which featured their 'Science Of Fear' single as a standout moment. The dedication to their craft could have been measured in the buckets of sweat they were shedding, but far from appearing nervous to the foreign crowd, they commanded the stage with impressive authority.

There was a phenomenal demand to see Ladyhawke's set, with bouncers at the O2 staggering entrances into the venue in groups of five around twenty minutes before her set. Bypassing this mania at the O2 was a significantly less fanatical crowd assembled for Vivian Girls at The Cooler. Marred by the worst sound of the day, their lo-fi punk wasn't given much space to breathe, although that may have been Vivian Girls intention all along.

Opening with 'Jump In The Pool', Friendly Fires were a perfect way to end the main stage proceedings at the O2 Academy. Plenty of fist-pumping from the audience ensued whilst frontman Ed McFarlane writhed and contorted with glee. After chiding the over-enthusiastic rock crowd for moshing rather than dancing, the dancefloor seemed to get a little more spacious and accommodating. But their willingness to move so fluidly meant a fair chunk of the crowd missed out on the encore, trying desperately to make their way down to Thekla for Little Boots. Playing pretty much every track from their eponymous debut, Friendly Fires reminded the crowd of what a stellar album it is in a live setting. Some ferocious live drumming and additional sax and trumpet proved the icing on the cake.

Despite lacking fields and grass in which to lie down and recover, Dot To Dot had all the elements that a festival should. Surprises, disappointments, the inevitable oversubscription to see certain acts and all day drinking were just some of the ways that Dot To Dot assumed the working practices of its competitors, which is a shame as it has the potential to be much more unique.

Rating: 3/5