So it's Dot to Dot, the annual trans-venue affair, in Bristol for the sixth time. New and up and coming bands, with a few bigger names, play across 8 venues with clashes unavoidable. This year's line-up doesn't appear as strong as previous ones, but the real of joy of the festival is discovering new and underground music, so under an ominous grey sky a plan is made.
First stop is Trinity for Bath-based brother/sister duo and self-described ''noise rock Carpenters'' The Hysterical Injury. Playing to a scattered and less than partisan crowd they nevertheless get things off to a good start with their noisy bass jams, with a mid-set pause for a slower bass-less number heavy on the effects pedal. Sadly, as the running times are already a few minutes behind schedule, the set comes to an abrupt and rather anti-climatic end at the insistence of the venue, but this is an accomplished live act well worth catching on the local circuit.
Following them is Frank 'NME's Coolest Man in Rock 'n' Roll 2007' Carter's new band Pure Love, playing only their third gig, and the first outside London. Not that you'd think it for a second.
Once you get over the odd visual juxtaposition of the inked-up Carter sandwiched between ex-Hope Conspiracy man Jim Carroll, sporting a glorious Ozzy c.1977 mane, and a bassist looking like he's walked straight out of The Stokes, Casablancas moptop and all, they are already a formidable live proposition.
Their three chord blasts light upon various US punk touchstones; at times the ragged melodic hardcore of Strike Anywhere, at others the bluesy swagger of The Bronx. On a couple of slower numbers, Carter displays a gravelly, soulful voice, bringing to mind the boozy bar-room sing-a-longs of early Dropkick Murphys, or the aforementioned Bronx's “White Guilt”.
Gallows were always an incendiary live band, and this is no different. Carter is an engaging and charismatic frontman, with a good line in patter. Taking to the crowd with his mic stand early in the set, at one point being joined by Carroll for a two man circle pit, this is far more fun than it should be possible to have at 6pm.
In need of something slower after all that rawk, I take a brief interlude for Tremolo Ghosts at the Stag and Hounds. This workmanlike, one-man, harmonica-enhanced strumming is nothing spectacular, but the ingredients are there. Owen Chambers has an interesting, high-pitched, somewhat fey voice that sets him apart from the crowd of acoustic plodders, on one chorus bringing to mind Songs:Ohia's Jason Molina. If the music develops a stronger identity he could be on to something. Kudos for covering “Born to Run” and for sporting a deerstalker in that particular pub too.
I then wander over to near-capacity Fleece for Beth Jeans Houghton and her quirky 'freak folk'. Sadly the heat and the jostling isn't particularly condusive to appreciating her nuanced, psychedelic sound. Nevertheless, her multi-layered, well-crafted songs and occasionally strident on-stage persona are a world away from the listless chart-bothering female-fronted folk of recent years. Floaty, breathy passages bringing to mind Azure Ray, jostle for position with strings, building to catchy choruses and powerful crescendos which belie Houghton's delicate voice , all backed by the toe-tapping, galloping (sorry) sounds of the Hooves of Destiny. Still very young, she is a promising talent who should be set for bigger things.
It’s at this point that the contradictory flaw of this festival rears its head, as I’m forced to choose between two closely overlapping timeslots at Trinity and the Academy. Not so bad as having to get up to the Anson Rooms as in previous years, but still not quite viable. It’s generally hard to flit between venues with ease, and the consequent breakneck chase between gigs does impair things somewhat.
Influenced by the increasing rain, to the Academy we go, for California's Wavves and their fuzzy surf rock. Though an energetic live band, their bouncy jams add nothing new to the rock canon. At times you’re reminded of obvious touchstones like Nada Surf or Fu Manchu, whilst at others the formulaic quiet-loud schtick evidences a heavy debt to Pixies. Things aren't helped by the vocals being low in the mix early on, leading to a deep, atonal effect sounding not unlike the young Kurt Cobain. Really this is the wrong setting for the band, who might work very well in a summer field somewhere, but judging by the pogo-ing down at the front I’m in the minority in being left unmoved. Still, they need to develop a stronger identity if they're to offer anything that hasn't already been done, and someone needs to pay Frank Black.
Cutting short their set half an hour in and aware that the Fleece will probably now be full, I make my way back through the sheeting rain to Trinity for Pulled Apart by Horses.
Vying with Pure Love for live band of the day and justifying the hype about their live show, I nevertheless can't help but feel their technical post-hardcore/math rock is somewhat dreary. Yelped vocals and quick-fire repetitive riffs that bring to mind Every Time I Die and The Fall of Troy, with the strut of the former in evidence. These are no bad things, just not new ones. They are a fantastic live band though, and the driving wall of noise they make is truly impressive. After reemerging for an encore, the set finishes with the front man plunging into the crowd for a finale that has the feel of a festival closer. Worth watching if you catch them at a festival, just not something I feel the need to listen to on record.
- Mike Edwards