Dot To Dot 2011 - Bristol

With Cults, ...Trail Of Dead, Braids
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Dot To Dot has become an annual fixture in Bristol. The day-long festival takes place simultaneously across six different venues, with more than 70 bands playing. Consequently, this review is just a small cross section of all the gigs that took place on Saturday – basically everything I managed to catch while legging it around town, trying to avoid the constant pissy drizzle of rain.

Not that the weather is bothering Broken Arm Of Love – the first band on stage at The Thekla. Frontman (and Artscare label owner) David Thomas is a non-stop hurricane of energy, abandoning the stage for the entire show, preferring instead to thrust and whirl his way through a gobsmacked audience. “ This is our Cramps rip-off,” he grins before lurching into a track that does indeed channel the spirit of the psychobilly godfathers. From there they move into heavy, stoner territory, chugging out the QOTSA riffs. Local bands opening festivals aren't usually much cop, but Broken Arm are properly ace and one of the highlights of the day.

Twenty minutes later, over in The Fleece, Adam Hickman of Worcestershire rockers Zebedy Rays is shirtless and dry humping a pillar. It's a slightly queasy sight this early in the day, frankly, but he's a weirdly compelling frontman. The same can't be said for the actual music, which sounds a bit like The Kings of Leon without the tunes. The Rays aren't a bad band. Just not a very interesting one. Even the unexpected deployment of a keytar doesn't liven things up.

This move into 'meh' continues at the O2 Academy, with The Hit-Ups. The 5-piece are facing the uphill struggle of performing their high-energy dance rock to a big room that's only about a third full. Not that it stops them from tearing up and down the stage like they're headlining Glasto. There's a bit of a buzz about these guys, but it all feels a bit 2008, with echoes of Kasabian or a vaguely metal Does It Offend You, Yeah?. Not your reviewer's thing, and I wasn't won over. Soz lads.

More interesting was the news that Cults were due to perform a short warm up show at the ever excellent Rise Records. Good thing too, as their main performance was due to clash with ...And You Will Know Us By The Trail Of Dead later. Appearing with uniform long hair and shades, the band earn their name with a short set of eerie, bliss pop. 'Go Outside' is translated perfectly from the album, and there's a weird, Twin-Peaks-diner-vibe to 'The Curse'. At just four tracks there was a slight sense of, “ Oh... really?” but it was just a warm up. Go check out the album tracks online – they're super-sweet.

One of the most eagerly anticipated shows of the day is Braids at The Cooler. Their recent album was good, if not quite great, but they're causing a bit of a stir. Live, they lived up to the hype. Despite some consistent sound wobbles (a source of much irritation, going by the look of annoyance on Raphaelle Standell-Preston's face) they still managed to conjure an atmosphere that's both spectral and visceral. The gently glittering 'Glass Deers' pulses along quietly before erupting into a massive wall of sound, while 'Lemonade' is lifted, pretty much note perfectly, from the album. Truly captivating.

Due to The Anson Rooms being roughly 75 miles away from all the other venues, it would be unfair to review The Joy Formidable. We only caught three songs. Suffice to say, they rocked. And Ritzy looked lovely. And indeed glitzy. But we were there for ...And You Will Know Us By The Trail Of Dead.

Trail are a proper rock band. You can tell this because they've got a silly name and are selling reams of slightly pretentious fantasy art outside on the merch table (though Conrad, dude, your sketch of Christopher Lee is fucking ace). The sticker I was given features some sort of fairy and a fox with a laser gun...

Truth be told, I've not kept up with these guys for years. Not since Madonna, in fact. But it's a genuine pleasure to be reacquainted. There's a slight stiltedness to the first couple of tracks (no song titles, I'm afraid, laydeez and gentz, I've no idea), but by, er, the third one, they had found their groove. A very, very loud groove.

Even for people who don't worship at the church of metal, Trail are clearly astonishing. Their transcendent barrage of sound recalls Throbbing Gristle, though the two bands aren't even remotely similar. Thrilling, energetic and entirely free of the usual rock clichés, they're easily the band of the day. 24 hours later, at the time of writing this review, my ears are still ringing. So yeah, cheers lads. Thanks for that.

And then, too soon, it's time for home. A less name-packed line up than last year's event (which included Ruby Suns, Field Music, Liars and so on), but still a hugely enjoyable day. Those not bound to the ludicrous Bristol – Bath train service party on long into the night with Hyetal, Josh Osho and SBTRKT, amongst others. I envy them.

Dot To Dot continued in Nottingham on Sunday 29th, and in Manchester on Monday 30th.

Words by Will Salmon
Photos by Christina West


View an accompanying photo gallery from the Bristol Dot To Dot event HERE.

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