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Festival Preview: Dot-to-Dot

Regional cities showcase new bands, in annual festival across many venues

Written by Ian Steadman

Now in its sixth year, the annual Dot-to-Dot Festival has evolved from a small one-day festival similar to London’s Camden Crawl into a sprawling beast that takes over three British cities at the end of every May. Headlined this year by the Mystery Jets and Ellie Goulding, it’s become something of a rite of passage for many bands trying to break the UK’s music scene – charting the rise up and fall down the lineups from year to year is as good a barometer as any for assessing the success of recent indie bands, and many a time I’ve seen a group go from playing an empty venue at the festival only to come back to the same venue a month later for the same band’s first headlining tour and, on the back of hype, the place will be bulging. In many ways it’s similar to festivals like Brighton’s Great Escape, which showcase new bands as much as put on ones that have existing fanbases.

The festival is the pet project of DHP, the long-established gig promoter from Nottingham. As well as promoting tours they found themselves, in the early years of the last decade, in the position of owning all of the city’s main live music venues (meaning, in order of size from smallest to biggest, the Bodega, Rescue Rooms, Stealth, and the venerable Rock City). Using their monopoly they established the first Dot-to-Dot in 2005, with the event, staged across all their venues plus the large Students’ Union of Nottingham Trent University, proving a massive success with headliners like Ladytron and Radio 4. The size and prestige of the festival rapidly expanded – the next year saw headlining sets from British Sea Power and Buck 65 (notably, 2008′s headliner Get Cape. Wear Cape. Fly. was present at the very bottom of the lineup), and an increase in capacity.

After DHP purchased Bristol’s Thekla venue they expanded the festival to the city in 2007, with the entire festival taking place on one day and then shifting over to the other city on the next. 2008 had the festival spread out over the whole weekend, with the lineups swapping between the cities over the weekend. Whilst widely seen as a huge success by attendees (it’s got something of a legendary reputation amongst people lucky enough to have been there, that year), the sheer size and ambition of the thing meant that DHP had to drop the idea for 2009, returning to two cities with one day each. This year’s innovation, however, sees the festival spread out to three cities with one day each, with Manchester joining the fun. Will it cause organisational meltdown? Born Ruffians‘ 2009 set was cut short by their getting stuck on the motorway on the way back from Bristol, and I know they weren’t the only ones, but knowing that not every band is guaranteed to show up somehow makes the thing more interesting, not less.

Last year’s lineup was heavily focused on the burgeoning no-wave revival (shitgaze, if you will), with bands like Vivian Girls and Crystal Stilts gathering most of the crowds. This year’ selection avoids any such thematic bunching – Los Campesinos! take their place on the posters alongside Beach House, whilst there’s also a rare chance to catch the legendary Liars live.

Top tips for smaller bands to look out for, though: O.Children (whom we interviewed not long ago), Yuck (whom I saw live and thought were AWESOME), Team Ghost (like M83, but more so), Washed Out, and Goldheart Assembly. It’s never failed to be fun day in the sun (or rain), and chances are you’ll be returning to the same venues later in the year to see some of the same bands play to much larger audiences once everyone else catches up.


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