Dot To Dot Festival: Manchester

Day three means Manchester
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And so, it’s day three of the Dot To Dot Festival, and, for the bands at least, and a few hangers-on, the marathon continues. Having spoken to Mystery Jets at the beginning of the day, who were looking truly hungover, and having incredibly amounts of fun, I can confirm that it is indeed a marathon, and although this may be a show on the road, the festival spirit is indeed alive here.

Four of the venues today are inside the Student Union building of Manchester University, which thankfully makes life easier for running between gigs, but on the other hand, leaves your spoilt for choice. Anyways, first up for your humble reviewer is a quick peek at locals The Answering Machine in the big Academy 2 stage. Their combination of Strokes guitar play with Kele Okereke-style vocal delivery makes up for its lack of originality with sheer likeability.

Sprinting downstairs to catch the crest of the much hyped 'chillwave', which has lit up the blogosphere over the past year, it’s time to see Georgia’s Washed Out. I’m excited by the sounds he has created, but sad to find that his sun-drenched 80s synth atmospherics work excellently in any context other than the stage. It’s mood music, and with one man and his laptop onstage, very hard to connect with in a live situation, as he warbled incoherent, ethereal noises into a microphone.

Meanwhile, up at the officious-sound Council Chambers, female singer-songwriter Leah Mason with shades of soul and country, has the audience leaving in droves. It’s a shame, and probably a reflection on their relative sobriety, and a lack of onstage confidence on her part, rather than the quality of material. Her pop-oriented rock songs have huge commercial potential, and may yet find an audience.

A trip downstairs to the main debating hall leads to Brighton duo Blood Red Shoes, who manage to make an incredibly visceral noise for just one boy and girl. It’s a blistering combination of (very) loud/quiet dynamics, and male/female vocals, along with their understanding of infectious hooks that reminds you why recent album, ‘Fire Like This’ particularly, was so critically acclaimed.

After the aural assault of BRS, I get myself upstairs, going past a sign reading ‘Examinations In Progress’. Is that supposed to be ironic? In the humble council chambers, New York’s fun are the polar opposite of the previous act. Squeezing 6 members onto a tiny stage, their easy-going, all-American confidence, and stage musical style recalls Panic At The Disco married with the catchy, rocking hooks of a latter-day Queen. Lead singer Nate Ruess in particular charms the crowd, and perfect pop numbers like the Billy Joel-style tune ‘The Gambler’ and ELO-influenced ‘All The Pretty Girls’ makes it very easy to see how this band might move on from such tiny venues.

Meanwhile, down in the basement at Club Academy, I’m treated to the end of Sunderland’s Field Music, and their XTC-influenced art-rock is great. Liars play the same stage an hour later, are as good, albeit sounding totally different, in their arty, avante garde outlook. With their dissonant, foreboding noise, they’re bemusing, but clearly brilliant, the kind of music that reveals itself over several listens. One thing is clear though: lead singer Angus Andrews absolutely means it, embodying the spirit of rock stars passed with his Nick Cave baritone and hairy swagger.

After a very expensive pie, to remind me I’m at a festival, it’s time for Dan Sartain, another singer embodying rock'n' roll, though he does it by looking like the ghostly cousin of Johnny Depp. His rockabilly/ 50s blues shtick is not in fashion, but belongs to a kind of cool outside it, and that, paradoxically makes it cool – this is a man who clearly doesn’t care for trends. Newer numbers like ‘Atheist’s Funeral’, and ‘Ruby Carole’ reflect and retain the singer’s retro authenticity, but do leave the impression that his greatest strength, a steadfast refusal to change, is also a weakness.

Elsewhere, appropriately named Baltimore band Beach House hit the stage, accompanied by glitter-tasselled diamonds shaped boxes either side of the stage, which look strangely out of place in a cramped student club. Their dreamy, ethereal sound is beautiful, and at contrast with the raucous nature of most of today’s acts, beautiful and dreamlike music for a Summers’ day.

Today’s music has just been a prelude to the main event today, the Mystery Jets in the big Academy 2 Hall, which packs out in anticipation. There’s a sense that, now on their third album they are ready to graduate to the major league of bands that can command big venues and the star billing they have tonight. Songs from the new album 'Serotonin' are met attentively, but it’s on older material, like ‘Young Love’, and ‘Half In Love With Elizabeth’ that the band unsurprisingly are greeted with the biggest applause. Looks like the jury’s out on them, for now.

Leaving them to rock the University crowds, it’s time to head downtown to the Deaf Institute, where a small audience are gathered for Kentucky’s Wax Fang, who are giving a virtuoso display in musicianship. There’s space to breathe in here, which makes for a great relief after today’s push and shove. The trio’s electrifying, operatic style is incredibly enjoyable live, with songs like ‘World War II, pt2’ showcasing lead singer/guitarist Scott Carney’s incredibly guitar playing, recalls Brian May at his best, while drummer Kevin Ratterman reminds me of Animal from the Muppets at his percussive best, and Jacob Heustis is an equally impressive bassist.

Finally, after enjoying that unexpected muso delight, my night ends with North London’s Yuck. Formed from the embers of Cajun Dance Party, they are a glorious revival of bands such as Sonic Youth, My Bloody Valentine, Teenage Fanclub and Dinosaur Jr. The four piece delivery simple, distorted three chord pop which has caused a media stir, and in this case, the hype is absolutely justified. Songs like ‘Georgia’, ‘The Wall’, and ‘Automatic’ are joyous, innocent songs of a kind not heard since the late 80s /early 90s, and ripe for new generation, providing the perfect end to a day of great music.

Words by Abbas Ali

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