Live Review

Dot To Dot 2010, Manchester

As close to perfection as one could reasonably expect for £25.

After years of the north being a particularly bleak place in terms of festivals (amongst other things), there has been a recent bloom in the amount of events being held past the Watford gap. Manchester’s free D’percussion festival may have died long ago, but there’s been no shortage of events willing to take its place, with May’s second bank holiday weekend seeing the city play host to three separate festivals.

Of course, there’s only so many lager fuelled teenagers that a city can stomach, and something has to give. Up against the more established rivals of Hungry Pigeon and Eurocultured, it’s unsurprising that Dot to Dot, in it’s inaugural year in the city, was the one to feel the competition most heavily, with the timetable being the first to shown the strain – a lack of ticket sales meaning each stage gets downgraded. For all the teething problems, it’s fair to say that the line-up itself is as close to perfection as one could reasonably expect for £25. The Mystery Jets’ banner looms large over each act that plays the main stage all day, and they receive a roar that befits such a build up when they finally take to the stage, whilst downstairs in the basement, throngs of exitable teens sing along every word to Los Campesinos! set.

The weather’s indecision seems apt considering the start to the day, a mixture of stifling heat, dark clouds and the occasional weak spit of rain being mirrored on stage by an untypically weak performance by Chapel Club. Behind the scenes, you can almost hear the wheels clicking into motion, pushing them further towards the big time – with fliers for the band being handed out outside the venue – but on stage it doesn’t really work. On record, the comparisons to White Lies are unfair, but on this performance they’re just as insipid and uninspired, getting lost within their own downbeat drone, a sadness compounded when news of The Answering Machine’s rousing hometown set filters through from upstairs.

The decision to stay in the lifeless basement feels even more ill advised when the ultra hyped Washed Out takes to the stage to stage with what feels like a DJ set. Elsewhere, Blood Red Shoes are inspiring already tipsy underage kids to throw their beer around like it’s a headline gig at Glastonbury, but there’s little onstage to inspire similar until Ernest Greene invites Small Black to join him. To amplify the Jekyll and Hyde feel to the set, the heads that were bobbing at the start are now swaying and arms are held aloft, an energy seemingly passed onto Greene himself, who suddenly takes the role of charismatic frontman, inviting the crowd to sing-along to the ‘da da da da’ chorus of ‘New Theory’. His hazy, Balearic beats might sound like they’d be more at home in a lovely field, but a humid room with a sticky floor is more than enough for now.

Being situated on one of the busiest bus routes in Europe means that getting between venues is a speedy affair, so Peggy Sue can be enjoyed in the glorious sun through Deaf Institute’s skylight. The first real sign of any under sale, a sparse crowd lap up the towering harmonies and vocal interplay with new material being showcased amongst favourites from recently released ‘Phantoms & Other Fossils’. The Ruby Suns follow up, their warped, psychedelic sound perfectly suited to the hustle of a long day, brightening up the arena with their neon noise. Witty and engaging, they get the increasingly woozy feet of the crowd moving in time with their experimental pop beats.

As night descended, so did the bigger names and, indeed, the bigger crowds. At a festival where Zane Lowe is given top billing, it’s fair to say that Liars probably deserved more than being third headliners on the second stage, but the quirks of scheduling mean that, with very little competition, there’s a full house for their set. Even getting a view is difficult, and balancing on a step towards the back of the room, it’s difficult to appreciate the band in all their glory. As people drift off – their views obscured by the tall, the hat wearers and the supporting pillars – the band warm up and the brutality that lay at the core of their sound finally comes to the fore, with the dark gloom that hovers over their best work brilliantly apt in a dingy, awkward room. ‘Plaster Casts of Everything’ is a highlight, getting the crowd moving in all its fist pumping, tribal chanting glory - a suitable high to end the set on.

The trek to another stage seems futile given that it’s exactly the same faces and same problems – another case of there being nobody on other stages means that it’s similarly packed for Wild Beasts at Academy 2. Last year’s two Dancers was towards the top of pretty much every decent end of year list around, and it translates into live performance devastatingly well. Despite the rising temperature of being packed in a windowless room, they manage to overcome to admittedly clammy conditions to put on a show befitting of the hype, which seems to have paid off in spades. Each track is greeted with a hearty cheer, and the energy is fed back into the room with their splendidly awkward falsetto vocals and metronome percussion. If they can make a similar ground with their next effort, there are going to be small arenas around the UK playing host to some of the best performances around in 2011.

It’s back downstairs again for Beach House – referred to by passing attendants as ‘Beach Huts’ – who put on a show that reflects on the more haunting aspects of their sound. In a set heavy on material from their recent effort ‘Teen Dream’, they fill the cavernous room with eerie dream pop, backed by their own rotating silver diamonds. On stage only singer Victoria Legrand is visible, looming over proceedings like a ghost, orchestrating the icy sound with her wonderfully husky voice. Meanwhile, Egyptian Hip Hop were busy destroying the myth that they’re simply a haircut band by putting on a storming show complete with a drummer playing with a bag over his head - brilliant as ever.

Upstairs, Mystery Jets may be halfway through a mammoth set, but it’s Los Campesinos! that draw in the fanatics, with each and every word shouted back at them with a religious zeal and fervour – mirroring the fanboy aspects that the band had to their sound at the start of their career. But it seems that, whilst they may not draw in the larger audiences, the band have been busy building a loyal fanbase. It’s still the classics that get the crowd most excited, with You! Me! Dancing! only getting better with age, but it’s great to see that their less poppy efforts are not going unnoticed. True to form, the band finish with ‘Sweet Dreams, Sweet Cheeks’, a euphoric, anthemic end to a day that, despite it’s many flaws, is a brilliant building block for one the UK’s great touring festivals to get a foothold in the rainy city. 2011 presale tickets are already available, and if this year’s edition is anything to go by, it’d be ridiculous if the city of Manchester showed such a degree of apathy in 12 months time.

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