Friday, 29 May 2015

Dot to Dot Festival 2015 - Manchester

If you follow me on Twitter you’ll probably be aware that I went to Dot to Dot Festival in Manchester last weekend. I didn’t stop tweeting about it for about a week. Apologies.

Dot to Dot is a festival that happens across Manchester, Bristol and Nottingham one weekend in May every year. The festival makes use of multiple indoor venues within each of the cities and hosts around 100 artists and bands (which makes choosing who to see quite a difficult task).

I went to Dot to Dot for the first time last year when I was living in Bristol, and knew I would have to go again. Heading back to Bristol couldn't work, as the people I stay with are right in the middle of exams, so my friend Jenny suggested going back to her hometown, Manchester. I didn’t think you could beat Bristol for great locations and quirky venues, but Manchester’s Northern Quarter is strong competition, and it’s definitely somewhere I’d go back to visit.

As an obsessive list-writer and over-organiser (a.k.a. massive loser), I made us a spreadsheet timetable of the artists and bands we wanted to see beforehand. With there being over 100 acts to choose from, clashes were inevitable, and although I spent many sleepless nights agonising over who to choose, we eventually came up with our list.

Even though the venues are reasonably close to one another, with the furthest being a 10 minute walk, we had to cut our list down further once we realised that seeing performances back to back in different venues wasn’t achievable. Seven felt like a good number though, and we were so exhausted by the end of the night!

The Griswolds - Gullivers

Once we’d exchanged our tickets for wristbands, we headed to Gullivers for the first band on our list. Gullivers is a small pub and music venue in the middle of Manchester’s Northern Quarter. The main pub area is fairly small, but space is well designed and I would happily go back there for a drink.

After we’d got a drink we had to go up a very narrow staircase (which wasn’t ideal when there were groups of people coming in and out) and into another room. The space was nothing special – just an enclosed room with a stage at one end.

I always think the first band of the day have the toughest job; the crowd were a little reluctant to get too close to the stage, asides from a few very keen (or perhaps drunk) groups who brought out some crazy dance moves.

Australian band, The Griswolds, certainly didn’t let the early slot dampen the energy of their performance. I’d only listened to them a couple of times beforehand, but their instantly catchy songs meant I recognised most of the setlist.

The band labels their style as ‘indie-rock’, and whilst their recorded sound can be gentle, with a lot of synths, their live performance had a lot more weight.

Christopher Whitehall’s lead vocals were really strong, and I loved how grounded he was and grateful for the support of the crowd. The half-an-hour slot felt really quick, so I would definitely jump at the chance to see them again in a bigger venue.

Track to check out: Mississippi

Prides – Cathedral

When I first looked at the timetable for the weekend I quite naively assumed that Cathedral was the name of a bar or club. Nope – the headliner venue was in Manchester Cathedral!

At first it felt a little weird watching a band play in a holy space. I mean, don’t you normally have to be silent?! But it was very atmospheric and the acoustics were AMAZING.

It was still light when we saw Prides, and as the crowd wasn’t that big at this point, I was worried that the band would seem a little overwhelmed by the space. I was wrong – Prides had a really strong stage presence which suited the venue well.

What I really love about Prides is that their songs aren’t repetitive or too similar, like a lot of synthpop bands. Also, their live harmonies were really tight – which I always appreciate.

A special shout-out is necessary due to the fact they had flown in from LA that morning, been awake for over 24 hours and still had ridiculous amounts of enthusiasm and interaction. Another band I would happily see again!

Track to check out: Messiah

Alfie Connor - Night & Day

Night & Day is a really cool bar in the Northern Quarter, with a small stage at one end. It had stopped serving food by the time we got there, which was a shame because we were getting hungry, but it seems like a great place to go for a couple of drinks.

I think I’m going to give Alfie Connor the status of being my find of the festival (because that’s a thing). I’m now obsessed, and can’t wait to hear more from him.

In addition to himself and guitar, there was a drummer and two backing singers, also playing synths (I think, I could be wrong). Alfie Connor is a really talented songwriter and vocalist, and he makes really intelligent use of his different vocal registers – falsetto goals right there.

He gave a captivatingly intense performance and you could really feel the emotion being drawn out in each song, but it was quite an inward performance. This really suited the venue, so I’d be interested to see if this changed in a bigger space with a larger crowd.

Anyway if you go and listen to anyone from this post, make it Alfie Connor. I’m excited for more!

Track to check out: Strangers

Swim Deep - Cathedral

After a quick stop at Starbucks for a panini (I’m not sure we did the whole festival thing quite right), we were back to the Cathedral for Swim Deep.

Despite having liked what we heard on Spotify, we weren’t so sure about Swim Deep in person. We both agreed that they sounded pretty different live. Swim Deep are supposedly an indie-pop band, although their live sound was a lot heavier, as well as emphasising more of the acid house vibes they have going on. I actually kind of enjoy the acid house tones in their music, but a lot of the live performance relied on droning and effects that undermined the musical quality of their songs. Towards the beginning the vocals were a little pitchy too.

I don’t think it helped that there wasn’t much interaction with the crowd, as lead singer, Austin Williams, was extremely spaced-out for the whole performance. They were high on something, and I don’t think it was just life.

Having said that, they did have one of the most enthusiastic groups of mosh-pitters of the night, so I maybe I’m just missing something…

Track to check out: King City

RHODES - The Ruby Lounge

The Ruby Lounge is an underground live music venue and club, and it was the biggest we went to after the Cathedral. Although the space around the stage and bar was ideal for a gig, the rest of the empty space seemed a little odd, but I could see how it works as a club.

I know I said Alfie Connor is the one to listen to after reading this post, but that was because I was assuming you already know RHODES. If you don’t, you have been missing out. Big time.

I first fell in love with discovered RHODES last year at Dot to Dot, so this was our first anniversary the perfect opportunity to watch him perform again. Okay, I’ll stop now.

The set started about half an hour late, because RHODES and his band had been stuck in traffic, and weren’t even sure they were going to make it. This meant that things were a bit manic on stage with sound checks and people running on and off throwing wires everywhere.

Amazingly, this didn’t affect RHODES’ performance at all. He was so collected and in control, both physically and vocally. RHODES has such a gift for writing beautiful songs, and I can never fault his raw and intimate vocal performances.

Track to check out: ALL OF THEM (or Your Soul)

Saint Raymond – Cathedral

Saint Raymond was headlining the festival and we were pretty excited as I’d seen him support Ed Sheeran and Jenny had seen him at Barn on the Farm, so our preparations for the day revolved around his set.

The Cathedral was even better once it was dark, although the facilities weren’t coping well with the volume of people (I won’t go into detail about the toilet situation #tmi).

Saint Raymond’s performance was definitely the best of the festival, mostly down to the fact that his infectious energy and excitement rubbed off so well on the crowd. It’s so nice to watch a performer who is so evidently happy and overwhelmed by the support of the crowd. It’s moments like this that the whole room starts to share the performance buzz.

Not only is Saint Raymond a great performer and talented singer-songwriter, but his audience-interaction is spot on. I will be seeing him again without a doubt, and as I said in my Now Playing/ Wishlist post, I’m really excited for his upcoming album.

Track to check out: Young Blood

Josef Salvat –  The Ruby Lounge

The Ruby Lounge was still running behind schedule, and having been up since 5am I was starting to flag, but Josef Salvat was well worth the wait. We had a few artists and bands down as possibilities for after Saint Raymond, but following a slightly dodgy visit to venue, Kraak, and RHODES having mentioned Josef Salvat, we settled on a return to the Ruby Lounge.

Josef Salvat was an impressive performer and his strong vocals were supported by full band. He also performed one song without the band, which really showed off his soulful and rich tones.

Track to check out: Every Night

There were so many other artists and bands I would have liked to see, but the two I was really gutted to miss were Laurel and Nothing but Thieves. Once again, I had such an amazing Dot to Dot experience – maybe next year I’ll have to try out Nottingham?!

I also tried Uber for the first time, and loved it. It feels like such a safe and reliable way to get home, and the ease of not needing cash is ideal. If you want to try it out, you can get £20 of your first ride with the code laurac3765ue.

Have you been to Dot to Dot before? I’d love to know what you think of some of the bands/artists I saw!


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