This year’s festival season started abroad for me with the Dot 2 Dot Festival in Manchester. The festival, which has been awarded Best Metropolitan Festival, consists of roughly 200 bands on three nights in three cities. Next to Manchester (Friday) the event also took place in Bristol (Saturday) and Nottingham (Sunday). It only costs 20 pounds, for which you get a wristband that allows you to get into the 9 venues that take part in the festival, kinda like Reeperbahn Festival or First We Take Berlin in Germany. Apparently it’s a highly successful concept as there are similar festivals in England, too, for example Great Escape in Brighton and Liverpool Sound City.
A charm of Dot 2 Dot is that it offers you the possibility to get to know a lot of new artists before their big breakthrough or the first gigs of local and unsigned bands. It’s mostly an indie festival but you will also find bands of various other music genres. All in all it’s a great festival where you definitely won’t be disappointed.
The first artist I saw that day was also the first artist to play that night, Jake Mattinson. The singer-songwriter played at a pub called Thirsty Scholar in a tiny space that would only offer enough space to one person. He wasn’t a singer-songwriter of the typical kind as he had only brought his shiny electric guitar with him. His set offered a variety of songs, some sounding deep and dreamy while others were so powerful that they sounded like Kasabian songs stripped off anything but one guitar and vocals. Even though Jake Mattinson had mastered difficult picking and strumming rhythms, his voice was the most dominant thing about his music. I got startled when one of his songs sounded almost identical to Wonderwall. Nevertheless it was pleasant music but towards the end of his 30 minutes set I got more distracted by the little Alex Turner look-alike standing alone at the bar.
I stayed at the venue and after a short 15-minute break another singer-songwriter took the stage. Scott Lloyd was almost the exact opposite of Jake Mattinson. He had brought his western guitar and even a harmonica with which he played proper country songs. He was mostly ignored by the crowd and only got their full attention towards the second half of his set. The topics of his songs were mostly love-related and since I didn’t find it particularly interesting, I left the venue.
I went over to the Zombie Shack, a zombie-themed tiki cocktail bar (yes that does exist) to watch Other People’s Lives, a four-piece that played indie-rock, partly with heavily distorted guitars that buried the vocals completely. The venue was almost empty and I felt bad for the band that no one was standing up. They gave their best though and the singer made some jokes about the situation. When the guitars weren’t heavily distorted the songs were mostly built on a solid drum/bass rhythm. The band really fitted together as they all played Fender instruments and wore similar hobo shirts and jeans. The best thing was probably their last song, which was over 6 minutes long and collapsed in a brilliant, slow-built finale. If they took themselves a little more seriously, they would probably be more successful as they were skilled musicians.
I left the Zombie Shack and went to another venue, Sound Control, which has 3 floors with a stage on each one. I randomly decided to go to the Loft, where Fruit Tones were just about to start. The band was rather a disappointment. They only seemed to care about their looks (skinny as hell and long, messy hair – just like Serge of Kasabian) and couldn’t even get their sound right properly. The start of their set was delayed as the drummer had to help the clueless guitarist turning his guitar louder. When they were finally ready to start they played twice as fast as probably planned. It would have been a good song but I felt way too rushed. The only thing I liked about this band was the bass player’s lefty bass guitar. I soon left to check out what other bands were playing at Sound Control right now.
In the Sound Control Club (the basement) a band was playing in complete darkness. No lights were on and I didn’t know if that was on purpose or not.
It was definitely a good choice to come downstairs because Mina Falls were by far a better choice than Fruit Tones. The quartet was fronted by a female singer and guitarist with an impressive voice. What was just as impressive was the other guitarist, a girl too, who went absolutely crazy with her Fender Jaguar, never standing still. The drummer and bass player were men, visibly older than the girls, but they just stood in the girls’ shadows. To be honest, their music was not exactly my type, with too many Paramore and Evanescence influences. But their confidence and skill made up for it and I watched the rest of their set. It turned out that they are actually from Manchester. I kinda have the feeling that they still go to school.
Next band I had on my personal timetable were Jaws and I knew that I had to be there early but I got held up by a singer-songwriter who was playing in the Sound Control Mid on my way out.
Tor Miller from New York sang such beautiful songs that I had to stay for a while. He accompanied himself on a big keyboard. Not only his music but also his appearance was very pleasant. He had a bigger crowd that the other two bands I had just seen at Sound Control. But I couldn’t stay for more than two songs before I had to leave. Bonus points for his cute stripy socks!
Side-note: On my way to the Ritz I ran into Matt Hitt of NY band Drowners. For those who don’t know him, he is a model who felt like being in a band again and is kinda famous among tumblr-using teenage girls.
When I arrived, the Ritz Basement was already packed with people waiting for Jaws. It was way to hot and crowded for my liking and so different from the almost empty venues where I had been before. I had never seen a picture of Jaws before so I was a bis surprised when they took the stage. They seemed so young and yet they had such a big fanbase in Manchester. Already after the first seconds of the first song, the crowd was on their feet and happily bouncing and singing along to the rather relaxing song. The band reminded my a lot of Swim Deep and the fans of Swim Deep Fans. I guess that no one in that basement was over 23. Then the band asked for moshpits and moshpits they got even though it didn’t fit the calm music at all. The moshpits never died, not even when the band decided to play mostly new material. The band seemed rather unimpressed by the crowd’s reaction, though. The singer almost never blinked.
After Jaws had finished their set I went upstairs into the main concert hall of The Ritz. It was really huge. I bought myself a cider and sat down on of the barstools that were placed conveniently at the sides because I knew what was still to come and that I should take every chance of resting I could get. I had a really good view on the stage when The Heartbreaks started. The fivepiece with their charismatic singer totally looked like they belonged on such a big stage. Everything about their performance and music looked professional and in place. If you weren’t paying attention you could amost believe that someone had simply put The Horrors on that stage. Almost everyone in the band had black hair and wore extravagant clothing which really fitted their style. Their music was surprisingly poppy, I wouldn’t be surprised if they landed a big radio hit soon with their new album coming out soon.
I stayed at The Ritz but got up and stood closer to the stage to catch The Midnight Beast. The crazy rap-parody-fun trio were definitely one of my most anticipated acts of the festival and they totally lived up to my expectations. When their intro began the girls in the crowd started screaming. The three guys entered the stage in coloured tracksuits and masks covering their faces. They were accompanied by two people in a bunny and a dog costume. They put on a big show and the energy never died. The background dancers went and came back again multiple times wearing different outfits every time. The only time The Midnight Beast actually slowed down was for their song “Friends for never”, for which Stefan played the piano. They played almost all their hits including “Lez Be Friends”, “Booty Call”, “Just Another Boyband” and their break-through hit “Tik Tok”, a parody of the song with the same title by Kesha. The band managed to transform their funny music videos into a very entertaining live show.
After The Midnight Beast had finished it was my time to change venues again to see London quartet LSA, who were playing at Zombie Shack. Luckily the venue wasn’t as empty as it had been a few hours ago when I had watched Other People’s Lives there. LSA, short for Love Stays Alive, entered the stage a few minutes too late and opened their set with the just released song “Keep It Alive”. The band also suffered from the bad lightning on the stage as you could only see the guitarist and the frontman. They also played their debut singe “More or less equal” and its b-side “No good man”, which gave me a nostalgic summer feeling. Some songs were more upbeat and direct while others were dreamy and full of feelings. Unfortunately the band only played six songs in total, which didn’t fill their 30-minutes set. Except for the few polite “Thank you”s the band didn’t interact with the crowd. They only cracked up once when someone in the crowd said the their drummer looked like Jesus. I’m looking forward to hearing more from this band soon.
Then it was time for me to go back to The Ritz to catch Drenge, one of the headliners of this festival. There was already a big crowd waiting for the band and they went crazy when the twopiece (just a drummer and singing guitarist) started. Mosh pits started immediately and didn’t calm down during their 45-minute set, it was really wild. The band totally deserved this kind of reaction as their dirty and fast rock music was just perfect for moshing and dancing. They even got a handful of crowdsurfers, much to the dislike of the venue staff. One of the highlights of their set was definitely their song “Fuckabout”. Just like The Black Keys this band lives off their brilliant music alone and don’t need to put on a show.
After Drenge it was time for the real headliner Peace. They have a crazy career behind them, having played at Dot 2 Dot just two years ago as one of the smaller bands. Even though I thought it would be impossible they had an even bigger crowd than Drenge and even more screaming fans. Not being up to date with the latest fashion in the NME world I was surprised at frontman Harrison Koisser’s orange hair. Peace opened with “Money”, the first single off their upcoming second album and that song is already one of my favourites. The next song they played was “Follow Baby” before they calmed down with “Higher Than The Sun” and “California Daze”. The crowd really celebrated their headliner and sang and danced along.
I would have loved to stay for their whole set but I’ve also wanted to catch a bit of Darlia, who played at the Zoo. Unlike the other venues I had been to, the Zoo was more than a 5-minute walk away. On my way there I bumped into the guys from LSA and they decided to accompany me because they had played together with Darlia before. The Zoo venue looks kinda like a barn and since the headliner was still playing there were only a few people there. Given these circumstances it looked weird that the drummer was playing shirtless. Darlia were the most “hardcore” band I saw that night. The played non-political punk. The last songs they played were “Napalm” and “Queen of hearts”.
After their set I had an hour to kill before The Pizza Underground would play at the same venue. So I decided to spend that time with LSA at the Zoo Pub. When I returned the venue was packed and I could barely see the stage. The band around former child actor Macaulay Culkin (“Home Alone”) played mostly covers of The Velvet Underground songs, replacing the important lyrics with words like “pizza”, “slice” or “cheese”. In between of the songs they talked so much that they spent more time talking than actually performing songs. The band also played a cover of “Smells like Teen Spirit” and “We didn’t start the fire”. One of the vocalists played the Pizza Box as a percussion instrument. While most of the crowd got that the band was just one big joke, some people were deeply confused. Behind the the band hung a big screen which showed a slide-show of pizza slices.
Sometimes the experience seemed just unreal, like a trip.
My last band for the night (the 15th!) were Drowners from New York. They played 01:30 AM at Sound Control Mid and everyone who still had enough energy was there as they were one of the last bands to play that night. The band, fronted by model Matt Hitt (whom I’d met earlier that day), played mostly to young people who celebrated them like superstars. The whole band was clad in all black and leather jackets, putting on a show, posing with their guitars. The second to last song they played was their hit “Long hair”, which is also the only song of theirs I know. The band was entertaining but only in a superficial way.
After that I was completely exhausted after being on my feet for more than 13 hours. I said goodbye to the lovely guys from LSA and took a cab back to my hostel, still flashed by this amazing night. I got to discover new artists of very different genres and see some of my favourites that night for just 20 pounds. I can surely say that this festival was definitely worth its money!