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At the Manchester leg of Dot to Dot Festival Gillian Fish watches some new bands before an impressive headline set from the Horrors.
Dot to Dot festival returned to the late May Bank Holiday weekend for its thirteenth consecutive year. Taking place in three city centres across the UK - Manchester, Bristol and Nottingham - it has become one of the best for unearthing new talent. The Manchester leg of Dot to Dot just happened to be taking place on the same day when one of its most famous alumni Ed Sheeran was also in the city playing a sold-out show at the Etihad Stadium, a testament to the festival's ability to pick stars of the future perhaps? Previous line-ups have also seen the likes of Florence and The Machine, The 1975 and Catfish and The Bottlemen take to the stage.
The festival features a whole host of up-and-coming artists from the UK and further afield, local bands from each city and established acts like this year’s headliners the Horrors. The weather may have been typical of Manchester with grey skies and drizzle all afternoon but it didn’t dampen the spirit of Dot to Dot revellers. The city was buzzing with music fans wandering from venue to venue or having a pit-stop pint and a chat with fellow festival goers outside.
As is the case with many metropolitan festivals Dot to Dot takes place in various venues dotted about the city centre, with many being in the Northern Quarter, Manchester’s vibrant home to an array of small bars with intimate stages; perfect for showcasing lesser known names on the line-up. This time the layout was a little more spread out than when we visited a couple of years ago meaning the wristband exchange at The Ritz was further away from the majority of other venues, everything was still in fairly easy walking distance though so it wasn’t too much to complain about.
Kicking off Dot to Dot early on at Peer Hat was Liverpool based band Generation, four young lads playing growly, energetic tales, keeping the punk rock spirit alive with both their sound and style.
The basement of Northern Quarter bar Jimmy’s was playing host to Chappaqua Wrestling, two best friends Charlie Woods and Jake May who have been performing together since their school days, originally from Brighton and now based locally, their connection to Manchester no doubt helping them to draw in an impressive crowd to a rather hot and sweaty basement. They play summery, upbeat songs with an Americana tinge, counting the Beach Boys amongst their influences. Chappaqua Wrestling are likely to follow in the footsteps of current guitar bands like the Magic Gang and the Hunna, who have garnered attention from the likes of BBC introducing and Radio One, thanks to their catchy pop-friendly sound.
Taking to the stage at Night and Day Café just around the corner from Jimmy’s were Fontaines D.C., a Dublin quintet that have appeared on many ‘ones to watch’ lists already, with good reason too if their set at Dot to Dot is anything to go by. Their frontman Grian Chatten delivering almost spoken-word poetic lyrics that were sharp and snarling in an unmistakable Dublin accent, staring intently into the crowd. Recent single ‘Chequeless Reckless’ is a punky, swaggering track that worms its way into your head while ‘Boys in the Better Land’ has a repetitive hook that has you tapping your feet. Fontaines D.C. are making powerful, raw and gritty music and are probably one of the best live bands around at the moment.
There were inevitable schedule clashes throughout the afternoon and evening, as there usually are at these sorts of festivals but sometimes it is best just to go with the flow rather than plan the day too much as you never know what you might discover. With that in mind it was off to see a small acoustic gig by another Manchester based band the Elephant Trees who played a stripped-back set in the backroom of the Gullivers pub. Singer-songwriter Martha captivated the tiny room with her raw vocals on songs ‘Monster’ and ‘Hooked’. When this band are fully plugged in they may produce bigger riffs and heavier sounds but their acoustic performance showcased sheer vocal and lyrical talent with a maturity well beyond their years.
The Albert Hall was playing host to this year’s headliners' the Horrors. The venue which used to be a Methodist chapel was full of gothic grandeur perfect for this band and their familiar intense stage show. Having released five albums in a career spanning over ten years, the Horrors are somewhat veterans of the scene by now and the venue was packed when we arrived to watch them. The music was very much at the forefront with the band barely saying a word between songs, but, however, the theatrical elements of their live show from the strobe lights to the shadowy silhouettes of all five members mostly clad in black was evidence to why they are one of our most enthralling live bands.
One of their best live songs, ‘Endless Blue’ saw the band swathed in blue lighting and dry ice as ever-captivating frontman Faris Badwan lurched towards the crowd. The set was packed with plenty of fan favourites including ‘Still Life’ which sounded just as good now as it did in 2011 as the crowd chanted along with the chorus. They closed the set with their most commercially successful track to date ‘Something to Remember Me By’ from most recent album ‘V’, which is a disco-synth pop sing-a-long that ensureds the final moments of Dot to Dot ended on a euphoric high. This was a Friday night in Manchester though and the party didn’t end there, so it was off to the Northern Quarter again and to Band on The Wall to dance the night away to a DJ set from the Horrors bassist.
Once again Dot to Dot Festival gave us an insight into emerging talent, an accomplished headline performance and the chance to explore some of the best venues on the Manchester music scene.