Day one of the multi city festival
Dot To Dot Festival: Bristol

Dot To Dot’s sixth year kicked off in Bristol yesterday, with the usual mix of biggish names, and smaller up-and-comers. Taking place simultaneously across eight different venues around the city, it’s impossible to see everyone. Still, that didn’t stop your intrepid reporter from strapping on the Converse and hoofing it about from place-to-place, trying to cram in as much as possible.

First up, and it’s Grandaddy! Wait… what? In fact, it was local boys Countryside, though with their artfully shitty synths, heavy guitar and be-capped singer, the resemblance was startling. That’s no bad thing, and indeed, the crowd were soon lapping it up. Singer Stephen’s voice is eerily high, giving the impression of a lost little girl singing amidst the machines. On a grey day, in the industrial gloom of The Thekla, Countryside were a welcome ray of summer sunshine.

“A melancholy mix of Nick Cave melodrama, Shadows twang and Roy Orbison croon,” is how An Axe describe themselves on their MySpace page. It’s an apt description. Playing The Cooler on Park Street, this doomy, deathly four piece herald their arrival with a tolling bell. The guitarist – who looks not unlike Jimi Tenor – sports a Godspeed You! Black Emperor tattoo, which perhaps explains the blasted landscapes they effortlessly conjure up. Hardly a band to get the party started, they are, however, a good one.

Besides, if you were looking to dance, Fol Chen were next, bringing their sonic riot in matching red jump suits. They’re an undeniably tight band, and the suddenly huge crowd were definitely up for it… but this reviewer was bored. Perhaps it was the heat, or the fact that everyone seemed to be talking, but something wasn’t right. A shame.

Never mind, eh? Here come Wax Fang, armed with a theremin. With only a short set, the three-piece do what any self-respecting band with a theremin would do: they go big and loud and ultra-prog. And you know what? It works. They play maybe four songs, each roughly a year long, but with mesmerising intensity. Singer Scott Carney does a second solo let, later in the day, at the marvellous Rise Records and it’s… not so hot. It’s an OK acoustic set, but pales in comparison to the epic performance the band put on here.

One more act to see in The Cooler, before hiking up the hill to The Ansom Rooms for Field Music. Ruby Suns’ recent album 'Fight Softly' is pretty damn good, and the improbably named Ryan McPhun is clearly a versatile talent. Still, the moment where, draped in garlands of flowers, the band transformed this dingy venue into the world’s smallest carnival was a huge surprise. With shades of Animal Collective and Vampire Weekend, the mixture of electronics and tropical rhythms had everyone dancing, despite a few technical difficulties, which persisted throughout the show. The Suns already have a cult following. On this basis, crossover success is surely close at hand.

And so to Field Music. The Sunderland four-piece are up against it from the start, playing in the sucking void of The Ansom Rooms to a crowd that fills up maybe a third of the space at best. They’re a good band who play nice songs well, but sandwiched between The Ruby Suns and Liars, it did feel a little incongruous – as if someone had stuck on a Travis album, when you’d been listening to Sunn O))). The fans enjoyed it, and that’s good. Me? I found myself drifting off a little. But hey – go buy 'The Week That Was' album. It’s brilliant.

A couple of years back, Liars were just another cult act – albeit one with celeb fans and two bona-fide classic albums to their name. Now, in the wake of 'Sisterworld', it’s surely clear to everyone that they’re America’s best rock band. Hype? Perhaps, but it’s a rare band that can convey such a ferocious intelligence, a playful sense of humour, an awkward sexiness – and still rock like a bastard. Most of Sisterworld gets a run-through, plus some old favourites – including a rare outing for ‘Loose Nuts On The Velodrome’ from their debut. Angus Andrew prowls the stage, thrusting and screaming like a demonically possessed Mick Jagger. He reveals that recent single 'Scissor' was written in Bristol, drawing cheers from the crowd, and then proceeds to twitch towards us like Sadako crawling out of the telly in The Ring. Terrifying, sexy and funny – he’s a proper rock star, and Liars are a genuinely world-class band.

Finally, the journey ends, back where it started at The Thekla. Warp-signee Lonelady has had a lot of buzz recently for her post-punk funk. After Liars it was bound to be disappointing, but she puts on a good show, getting the crowd moving without actually speaking. It was, perhaps, a little too arch and humourless for my taste. She could have cracked a smile. But it’s hard to argue when surrounded by hundreds of people dancing and clearly having a ball.

So, one expected hit with Liars. Two unforeseen treats in the form of Ruby Suns and Wax Fang’s full-band set, and only a few grumbles. Dot To Dot continues today in Nottingham, and tomorrow in Manchester – and if you’re in the area, you really should check it out.

Words by Will Salmon


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