Dot to Dot 2014 @ Bristol, 24/05/2014

Dot to Dot 2014As Dot to Dot 2014 launches on the city of Bristol, the heavens open and the sky falls with a resounding splash. Past hoards of partially clad teenagers heading in the direction of rival festival Love Saves the Day, we trudge through muddy embankments and grimacing street police towards the ticket gate and - hopefully - shelter. Because at least Dot to Dot operates inside venues, right?

It quickly becomes apparent that festival organisers haven’t bargained on the rain when totaling their capacity. It seems a portion of punters have been allotted the ‘between gig’ variable; something that in reality has been minimised drastically by the weather. Unfortunately this means there’s simply not enough space for every ticket holder to be accommodated within a venue at any specific time. Desperate to get out of the coastal storm currently hitting the decks of the ship, attendees have flocked to Thekla, one of the few venues letting people in at all. It’s 2pm and despite their resilient door staff, they’re operating a one-in, one-out system. This is not good.

For the first three hours we trudge from one venue to another, looking for an accessible show to watch. This isn't an ideal situation, particularly given our want to, y’know, see some live music. Mt Royal add to the chaos by rescheduling their gig at Thekla; Birdcage is full for Misty Miller; the O2 enforce a baffling filter system for their Towns gig, which has 15 year old girls queue and then swarm to the upstairs bar, before being directed back towards the main stage when the band are finally ready to play. We recheck our schedule, make some heartbreaking alterations - mainly sacrificing smaller musicians that we really wanted to see and support with a review - and head back towards Thekla for Rhodes.

In fact, we stay at Thekla for the large part of the afternoon, thanks mainly to their amazing line-up but also the threat of not being able to get into any other venue should we leave. London singer songwriter Rhodes plays an awesome set that’s marred by background noise – that’ll be the sheltering attendees who don’t actually want to be there - but nevertheless powerful and striking in its delivery. Moments later blogosphere darlings and band in the rising Southern play to a full crowd on Thekla’s top deck. They leave with a promise to perform an acoustic set later for the benefit of those who still queue outside - and there are lots of them.

It’s nice that these musicians are in demand; they deserve the attention. Unfortunately, they're not really getting it. As groups of friends chat throughout Rhodes' set, during Southern's energetic performance, weirdly several stag and hen parties prat around at the back. They're not here for the music; they don't even seem to be buying any drinks. There's not much anyone can do about that - if people want to buy a gig ticket, you can't stop them - but ultimately Dot to Dot needs to hire bigger venues or stop selling so many tickets. None of the acts listed so far are particularly high profile, but they’ve all sold out. Somewhere, a capacity expert is cupping his/her hands in absolute grief.

Five hours in, and we find ourselves waiting for our third performance of the day – that of Champs, who’ve been resigned to the same spot Southern occupied an hour previous. Expecting some warming pop melodies, what we get from the two brothers is a set that calls to mind early Simon & Garfunkel. They’ve stripped back to their most basic arrangement of two guitars, and in the process transformed their work into admirable folk ballads. A treat for fans, we can’t help but worry they’ve given new faces the wrong impression, and their (still sold out) crowd is markedly unenthralled.

Drawing a deep breath, we leave the safety of Thekla to head towards the O2 Academy, where pop minstrel Indiana is set to play half an hour of her exquisite lo-fi to a room still full of teenagers. Due to an inordinate amount of luck (or maybe it's a bad omen) there’s no queue, and we swiftly make our way towards the front of the stage for what turns out to be a substandard performance. In a live setting the Nottingham based singer songwriter lacks variety and, as her stage presence also leaves much to be desired, we use our time wisely and leave to go back to Thekla.

Glad to be on time for once, the next act on our schedule is our supreme – the artist we’ve been hedging our bets on and our must see of the weekend; one Kyla La Grange. Performing a set of entirely new songs taken from sophomore album Cut Your Teeth, the indie-rocker turned electro pop master fires out soon-to-be-classic after soon-to-be-classic. With only one “sad song” and an acoustic rendition of “Vampire Smile” thrown into the mix, despite its unfamiliarity it’s a feverishly well received set that has hearts thumping and steam lifting from the bar. Inarguably our favourite performance of the day.

Faced with quarter of an hour to get from Thekla to Trinity, Dutch courage allows us to throw caution to the wind and we begin to pound it in the direction of Old Market and Courtney Barnett, whose set we narrowly avoid missing altogether. Entering the room with a few songs left to go, it’s noticeable that the venues on the outskirts of the city centre have been less well attended that those that are easily accessible – which is inevitable but also adds to the capacity versus attendees problem. In terms of the music that omits from Barnett’s Australian gob; a cover of Billie Joel goes down particularly well, as does lead single “Avant Gardener”, but the crowd is beginning to get fuzzy and the intensity of the set only translates to raucousness.

Ducking out of exclusive proceedings for a while, we stumble back towards Roll for the Soul, and local band Hysterical Injury’s headline set. Shamefully we’ve not focused much of our attention on local bands at Dot to Dot 2014, but then again we’ve not seen many bands. With a bill that boasts mainly national and international performers, and capacity issues as discussed above, it’s hardly surprising the lesser acts have lost out. Fortunately Hysterical Injury’s half hour of slamming and whamming blasts us back to reality, and the fact that the South West has a truly blossoming live scene. People leave so utterly stunned that they randomly accost bar tenders and punters on the street to let them know how good the performance was. If Kyla hadn’t nabbed the title earlier on tonight, Hysterical Injury would be clear winners of the evening.

Our final set is blurred by alcohol, but we’re guessing that’s how Macaulay Culkin intends to be consumed. His band The Pizza Underground performs a shambolic but entertaining set to a mixed crowd. Some of the people here are clearly prepared for the madness that descends on Thekla following the midnight chime; others, confusingly, expect something more serious, or... something. They're booing, anyway. Despite the occasional heckle and calls for a mystery member dressed as David Bowie to get off the stage, the set goes down well. Everyone’s basically too pissed to care about the rain anymore and those that have stuck around do at least pay attention to the stage.

Dot to Dot 2014 has been an enjoyable experience and ultimately worthwhile thanks to the valiant efforts of those performing, but it's not been without its problems. Although organisers are careful to point out that "there may be queues" and you should "arrive early whenever possible", in 2014 that amounts to arriving several hours before the beginning of a gig. At that rate and without seriously busting a gut, you can only get a few bands in and the £22 price tag begins to look a little expensive. There are definite hiccups to address for 2015, or it quite simply won't be worth the time, effort and coppers to attend.


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