Tuesday 7 June 2011

Festival Review - Dot To Dot 2011, Nottingham, 29/5/11: Part Two

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Dot To Dot 2011 Coverage
As promised, here is part two of our review of Dot To Dot festival from last Sunday. If you haven’t read Part One - and why wouldn’t you have? - then you’ve missed out on our accounts of the shoegazing Spotlight Kid, intense electro-rocking VETO, immense power-popping Stagecoach, seductively strumming Benjamin Francis Leftwich, frantically party-coring Dananananaykroyd and supremely riffing Joy Formidable. Oh, and Elliot getting an unexpected haircut. Read on for loads more bands, paella, tribal drumming and a heck of a lot of free MP3s.

Having just seen the epic double bill of Dananananaykroyd and The Joy Formidable, as well as Stagecoach earlier in the day, it had been a noisy, energetic and pretty draining afternoon. After piling out of the Trent Uni, it was certainly time for a bit of a break, and a bit more of an explore around Talbot Street. We wandered back over to a previously spotted paella stand, which was obviously an incredible meal. When there’s chorizo, chicken, rice AND spices all involved in food, what can go wrong? Nothing, that’s what. Soon, a crowd gathered at the top of Talbot Street near the bar, which turned out to be for a group of tribal-style drummers, who drummed up (pun 100% intended) an enthusiastic (read: drunk) audience, and resulted in the most dancing we’d seen all day. Of course, Elliot and I joined in a bit, but decided to leave it to everyone else who was doing a much better job of ‘shaking it’ than we were, and so we ventured off to the Bodega.

Tribal drumming on Talbot Street. Everyone dancing is pissed.

After the intensity of the afternoon, Alessi’s Ark provided a very welcome chilled out 30 minutes of acoustic country-tinged folk. Playing to a nicely spaced crowd, Alessi’s soothing vocals were gorgeously lulling, with lovely, simple arrangements from the backing band. Where Laura Marling has moved into more pastoral, Joni Mitchell-infused territories with I Speak Because I Can, Alessi’s Ark remain on the dreamier, more whimsical end of the “nu-folk” (an awful, but awfully convenient term) spectrum.

It’s hardly an insult to say that, partly due to knowing little of the material, few of the songs particularly grabbed me - rather they delicately washed over me, and as a result made me more intrigued to check out her studio efforts. There was nothing cluttered or complex about the set, and as an antidote to the noise and power of the rest of the day it was almost perfect.

Providing a less relaxed but equally impressive set were Oxford's well-hyped Fixers. A blending of attention-grabbing vocal harmonies, squawking electronics, samples, hip-shaking rhythms and funky basslines could see them have a strong chance at completely owning this summer. If 'Another Lost Apache', from debut EP Here Comes 2001 So Let's All Head For The Sun, doesn't immediately transport your mind to a massive lush field where you're sat with a pint of cider in one hand, a sweaty burger in the other and a straw hat on your head, then I don't know what will. Except for maybe the single 'Crystals', which clearly has "SUMMER ANTHEM" stamped all over it in big, bold capital letters.

Both tunes were obvious highlights at their Dot To Dot set, which sounded absolutely despite a few sound problems kicking in. The first half of the set showed what an accomplished, tight live performance Fixers are already capable of giving, nailing all of the vocal harmonies perfectly, and showing off considerable songwriting talent. A mixture of MGMT's prog-pop, Foals' rhythmic expertise and Everything Everything's vocal dexterity, Fixers' material is already pretty astonishing stuff - a debut album can't come soon enough. Even when the sample thingy broke, the tunes still held up as the band admirably carried on. Though not sounding as full as they should have, there was enough going on in the band to carry the songs, and the audience stayed rapt 'til the end. I would say to keep an eye on Fixers, but to be honest in a few weeks time you'll barely be able to ignore them.
Cults - Tall, skinny, with long
scraggly black hair
Photo by melimOi

Hotly-tipped RnB genre-smashers Cults had been placed in the Bodega, a small bar a little way from the rest of the venues. It’s a lovely little intimate place, and since Ben and I had stuck around for the last two acts we were right at the front for their midnight slot.

The first thing you notice about Cults is that three of their members appear to be the same person - tall and skinny with long, scraggy black hair, and tonight all wearing white shirts and skinny jeans. And of course there’s Madeline Follin, the already-iconic lead singer, whose dainty bop and expert pout must have taken hours to perfect.

To go with this distinctive look, the band produce spooky, indiefied Motown-style R&B. At least, on record they do - it was fairly difficult to tell in this instance as the sound problems that had plagued Fixers’ set once again reared their ugly heads, this time with a vengeance. For a start, Madeline’s own microphone cut out halfway through songs (much to her annoyance, it should be noted), and it took the tech people at least ten minutes to finally replace it.

Then there was the overall mixing, which mushed Cults’ soft-loud arrangements into a wall of noise - a terrible shame, and one the band appeared all too aware of. When her mic was actually working, Madeline was unfortunately slightly out-of-tune, likely because it was difficult for the audience to hear her powerful voice, let alone the singer herself.

I don’t blame Cults for any of these problems; I blame the sound guy and the rushed nature of festivals’ sound checks (anyone see The Horrors at Reading ‘09? Yikes!), but it was still a disappointment.

Next stop was SBTRKT, who I think it’s fair to say Ben and I knew very little about. The only track I’d heard before was a stunning remix of Radiohead’s ‘Everything In Its Right Place’, and sadly that was left off the set list tonight. It was fun, though - atmosopheric dubstep-influenced electronica with few distinctive songs but lots of great beats and mixing. A combination of live and electronic drumming marked the pair, who wore spooky tribal masks, as an act definitelty worth keeping an eye on in the future - all they need now is a killer single to steal the public’s imagination.

TEED (In dinosaur hoody, before he put 'the hat' on...
Photo by Victor Frankowski

The final act of the night was Totally Enormous Extinct Dinosaurs, a DJ named Orlando Higginbottom (not professionally, mind) who specialises in chilled-out electronica with brilliantly pathetic vocals over the top. As a big fan of TEED, I had been waiting the entire day for this and - well - yeah, I have to admit I was a little disappointed.

Well, some of it wasn’t exactly TEED’s fault. I’m sure he didn’t intend to place a tall, sweaty and topless man in front of me and Ben, who spent the entire gig making out with some girl. However, the soundtrack to this was the worse parts of TEED’s output, boring instrumental house/dubstep stuff with no truly great drops or rhythms.

To make things worse, Orlando has a tremendously boring voice which works perfectly within his songs but utterly drained the atmosphere. “Our other dancing girl has twisted her ankle, so it’s just Lucy on her own tonight,” he mumbles into the microphone, with the enthusiasm of a man told his nine-hour toilet-scrubbing shift has been doubled. (At one point, he stops the music altogether to moan at the sound guy that he’s getting too much feedback.) Granted, the massive hat looked even more impressive in person, but what TEED really needs as a live act is a Magnetic Man-style MC to excite the crowd - not more unexciting dancing girls.

Once we manouvered our way round towards the front, things picked up: latest single ‘Trouble’ came on! I had wondered how these songs would be performed, since it is difficult to imagine TEED singing and mixing things together at the same time. It seems he had decided to simply sing over the top of the instrumental tracks, like a very public karaoke session. Hmm.

Within the space of about ten minutes, all three of the big singles - ‘Trouble’, ‘Household Goods’, and ‘Garden’ featuring a pre-recorded Lulu - were rushed through with little to no embellishment (in fact, I’m sure they were shorter than their recorded counterparts) and fairly poor mixing.

A DJ set probably would have gone down far better with 80% of the hour’s set comprised of filler. In fact, after twelve hours of live music, we decided to call it a night before the set was even up. I do love you TEED, honestly, but that live act really does need some work.

So there's your Dot To Dot lot - massive thanks to the organisers for putting on yet another brilliant year of the festival, and thanks to all the awesome bands, especially Stagecoach (interview is coming soon!). As promised, here is our 11-track Dot To Dot Mixtape - we're not going to lie, they're all bangers. All the artists we saw were pretty damn ace, so take the time to listen to these and then support them by going to their gigs and buying their CDs!

Click the image to download the full mixtape as a .zip file!
  1. Spotlight Kid - Haunting Me
  2. VETO - You Say Yes, I Say Yes
  3. Stagecoach - We Got Tazers!
  4. Benjamin Francis Leftwich - Atlas Hands
  5. Dananananaykroyd - America Runs On Duncan
  6. The Joy Formidable - Cradle
  7. Alessi's Ark - Wire
  8. Fixers - Crystals
  9. Cults - Abducted
  10. SBTRKT - Wildfire
  11. Totally Enormous Extinct Dinosaurs - Moon Hits The Mirrorball
Already looking forward to next year's Dot To Dot Festival? Get your tickets now if you're eager, only £20 here.

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