LIVE: Dot To Dot Festival, Manchester 26.05.17

It’s still early in the festival season, but Dot To Dot hasn’t let that stop it. Since 2005, the festival’s grown even bigger. Now in three cities, the Manchester stop-off hails 27 venues, and too many bands to count. The tragic events earlier in the week couldn’t let a city like Manc put a stop to the music, instead it came together in defiance.

Even with such a rich musical heritage, from Oasis to The Hollies, there’s still even more talent to be found and that’s why Dot To Dot is so important. It’s a chance to find your next favourite band, and even enjoy the sun while you’re at it.

The first band on our list are Crimsons. Playing two shows across the day, they’re busier than most but the intimate set at the Fred Perry shop doesn’t see them hold anything back.  It’s not just the (surprisingly cold) endless free bottles of Red Stripe that draw in the crowds, but the booming sounds of dark romanticism.

Positioned in the shop’s window, they’re probably bringing in more attention than any display Fred Perry have ever had. Hoards of passers-by pause in the street to hear the thumping beats and spiralling melodies of ‘Shy Talk’, with the shop floor being full to capacity.

They throw in a cover of ‘I Just Wanna Make Love To You’, seducing the crowd even more with frontman Sam Cartwright beckoning the crowd to move along with his struts and sashays. ‘Idle Ways’ doesn’t need an introduction as they launch into its hypnotic psych. There’s no cut in the roars of guitars, so their brooding post-punk darkness takes over the shop and surrounding area.

After they wrap up, local poet ARGH KiD takes to the mic to tell the crowds how resilient Manc is with his poem ‘(She Gives You) Just Enough’. Personifying the city as the “strongest woman I know”, the crowds can only rupture into applause agreeing “only we shall know” its strength.

A quick run over to Night & Day Café sees us there in time for Irish sweethearts Bad Sea. They bring together the best bits of country, dream pop and the 60s to make the most perfect blend of intricate, yet soothing melodies.

The summery and leisurely strums from guitarist Alan Farrell match the scorching heat outside, while frontwoman Ciara Thompson’s piercing vocals and theatrical twirls put Kate Bush to shame. Everything sounds so sweet, but not even the ruff around Thompson’s neck can distract you from the solemn lyrics in ‘Solid Air’ reminding you to “never dwell on who you are”.

From Farrell’s t-shirt prompting the audience to “Buy Bad Sea on iTunes”, or Thompson’s reassuring reminders that “We’re Bad Sea. That’s B-A-D-S-E-A. Bad Sea. Remember Bad Sea”, their charm’s unavoidable. Remember. Bad Sea.

The Northern Quarter seems like the place to be all day with Yellow Days playing just around the corner. He’s not far from the soothing tones of Bad Sea, but he brings a more soulful edge to his take on dark blues. After an introducing interlude of dreamy riffs that hark back to Mac DeMarco, he’s quick to present his backing band to the crowd gathered in front of him. The distressed promises of staying for a “A Little While’ join with the wiry synth to expose the true emotions of van den Broek.

He offers up a slick trip-hop groove in ‘Gap In The Clouds’, and fills the room with elation, rather then the previous heartbreak. Though with cheerier thoughts, the jabbing synth merges with the relentless basslines to uncover an underlying deepness to the track. The overpowering vocals continue into the woozy ‘Your Hand Holding Mine’. It’s hard not to sway in time with the lulling rhythms, and after a quick look around, it’s clear everyone else feels the same.

After his set sadly comes to an end, we’re keen to stay with the carefree, fuzzy pop in the grotty, damp but loveable basement of the Soup Kitchen. It’s not long till Peckham’s latest star Cosmo Pyke takes to the stage. Persistent shouts of “Cosmo” from the eager fans up front rally over the reverb-heavy melodies, but are no match for him. Much like Yellow Days, he evokes the sounds of King Krule and Mac DeMarco, but there’s an added uplifting freshness and the crowd love it. He’s causes such a stir, the venue soon reaches capacity, leaving the latecomers jealous of those inside.

The jazz-tinged hooks of ‘Cosmic Sunshine’ and sun-drenched beats of ‘After School Club’ start the crowd moving and chanting along. There’s little interaction as he takes a more of a get-on-and-go approach, pushing on through the songs he’s perfected. For some, this may be a turn-off with him ignoring the cries of his name or those trying to get a photo mid-set, but it matches the laidback polish his music has. He came to play the music. He played the music. He played the music well. What else could we want?!

A much-needed bite to eat leaves us ready to take on The Growlers. Set in the former Granada Studios, aka the old home of Corrie and The Chase, the excitement of being where Denise Welch and The Beast once stood could be too much for some. Their ‘beach goth’ front starts with ‘I’ll Be Around’ with its ear-worming melodies that are a far cry from their older material. For the long-time fans, this could be their worry. Would the older material fit in with the push for synth, not surf? Of course it does.

There’s no moment throughout the day where the horrific events earlier in the week were forgotten about. As the clock strikes 9:59, the whole festival turns silent in commemoration of the victims, followed by a minute of noise. However, the “we’ve been told to do a minute’s silence” muttered by Brooks Nielsen is unheard by some, and angers many. There’s little else spoken about or a reason for the silence given before they push on into their next track.

The mix of the new and old in their set can be heard, but they seem to make it work. The awkward shuffles from Nielsen work with City Club, Chinese Fountain and Hung At Heart, there’s no track left with a quick dad dance. His husky, verging on seductive, vocals, cling on through and add a little familiarity to the recent funked up releases.

From the ghoulish surf-pop riffs in ‘Going Gets Tough’ to the Strokes-influenced synth-pop in ‘City Club’, they put on a sterling effort on closing the day for everyone. Dot To Dot is all about uncovering new music, and local talent, so even for the bigger acts it’s about showing something new. The Growlers may have been around for a decade but their new material doesn’t try and be the same. If Brooks can groove along, we all can.

Becky Rogers