– VARIOUS VENUES, MANCHESTER –
Manchester is host to a different kind of marathon tonight although it has similar traits to that of a running marathon; it will be extensive, exhausting, and sweaty. It will raise our heartbeats, make us search out water at some point, we’ll probably get lost, and eventually we’ll be stumbling towards the finish line not knowing when we started or why we were here in the first place. The first night of the tri-city festival Dot to Dot begins.
Our first jaunt is to the Soup Kitchen, one of the twenty inner city venues playing host tonight, to catch west coast surfer dudes Day Wave. Despite their initial feel of Californian freewheelers, they mature to woo the crowd with a delightful New Order cover. They fit into the catalogues of noughties guitar indie with singer and band ringleader Jackson Phillips sounding like Julian Casablancas fronting The National. Pigeon-holing aside, they’re a great and experienced live band and the jam-packed crowd are mad for them. I’m a little sad to leave before they finish, but this will be the first of many early exits, there’s far too much to see and I have to get to somewhere called Texture in two minutes.
Just around the corner I find what is essentially a small club that I didn’t know existed until now. We’re a little late and my next focus is already performing – the wonderful Jones. London based Jones first came to my attention with an amazing acoustic performance on Later… with Jools Holland, last year. Tonight she is backed by a three piece band dressed all in black. Her delicate and slender figure is a disguise for the enormous and piercing voice that she possesses. Songs like ‘Hoops’ portray a deep soulful sound with a contemporary pop backing of synths and guitars similar to that of The xx and ‘Indulge’ the inviting song that she performed on Later… tonight leaps to a new level with the band’s performance and not least of all her stellar vocals. Her talent is far too big for this room and the modest crowd – Jones is deserving of bigger and better things – a real one to watch for 2017.
A hop and skip over to Gullivers, which is actually a double venue tonight with some acoustic performances downstairs. There’s no-one playing as we pass the acoustic room so we traipse upstairs to where Mt. Wolf are still line checking. I caught these guys last year when they supported Whyte Horses and tonight, as they were last year, they’re an absolute delight. Powerful, clear-cut vocals are the forefront – lots of reverb, yes, but a strength and sincerity that’s too beautiful to dismiss. Their dark, electronic sound is balanced well with a folky element of acoustic guitar that initially I wasn’t sure worked but hearing the whole package makes you realise their sound is actually quite unique and strives for something that is a purely evocative sound. But it’s not schmaltzy either; the song ‘Hamburg’ combines all these elements and the result is an enormous wall of synthetic and organic sound. Glorious.
Having ducked out for some fresh air, I can hear the band I’m about to see next, half way down the street in fact. Shaking the walls of Koffee Pot are The Slovaks. They describe themselves as ‘Manc garage rock’ and they are every bit – raw and energetic – they look like they could have just started playing in the café not knowing there was a festival on. It’s OK, I’m sure they’re on the bill…right? I don’t catch the names of the songs only that “This next one will make your testicles shake”. Correct. They remind me of Metz, I like Metz.
On heavy suggestion we run back to catch Northeast Party House who are already in full swing of dark, brooding electro beats and a shitload of cow-bell – two cow-bells! Somehow even two doesn’t seem enough. Sounding like Aussies out of Madchester or Mozzies and we dub them, they fall somewhere between The Happy Mondays and Bloc Party. Songs that are made to dance to – student anthems – their name originates from one of the members throwing a two-week house party whilst their parents were away. They are, as this anecdote suggests, relentless.
I can sense this marathon is starting to take its toll, my knees begin to tremble but it’s just a wall. We press on into the night though the lights start to trail and ability for memory seems to evaporate. I do remember someone shouting “Fuck the Mystery Jets!” though.
Welsh outfit Estrons are all female screams and guitar revelations. I remember who The Temper Trap is when they play ‘Sweet Disposition’ which still sounds amazing, though some of the younger crowd don’t get it. Manchester post-punkers Spring King bring about the start of the final mile of the marathon with fun, frantic, nervous energy – they’re all bouncing pianos and contagious vocals.
Whilst that’s it for us, most of the bands will carry on the fun through Saturday’s hangovers in Bristol and then finish in Nottingham on Sunday, where this festival all began in 2005 across just three venues.
In true marathon style we collapse on the finish line riding a high wave of emotion, aching, pain, relief, bliss, regret and happiness, only to eventually rise like the Phoenixes we are with the bug and hungry for more. Next year’s training begins tomorrow, but probably on the sofa with headphones on.