Live Report: Dot To Dot, Bristol 2023

A sonic feast in the South West sun…

Returning for its 17th year, Dot To Dot festival harnessed Bristol’s acclaimed venues, dives, and tastemaking spaces for a glorious day of music and sunshine. With local talent rubbing shoulders with indie titans, the day promised something for everyone across the eighteen stages on offer. With factor 50 splashed on, Clash started the day with SOFY, whose mesh of Generation Z vibes and Lily Allen-esque observational songwriting proved a hit with all. Being anchored with one of the day’s earliest sets did nothing to stop the band from quickly building a large crowd and charming all present. With pop hooks for days and the kind of lyrics that can’t help but get you smiling, the only way is up for this Leicestershire-raised lass. 

After some time navigating Thekla’s hull for a no-show, refreshment was grabbed at The Louisiana, during which a local outfit dropped the most audacious reworking of Metallica’s ‘Enter Sandman’ we’ve ever heard. It was then off to catch some ray’s on the rooftop of Mr. Wolf’s, where Bristol artist Sarah Anne Ree’s folk stylings matched the setting perfectly—a much-appreciated reminder of British summer’s charm.

Going for a complete 180, The Fleece was Clash’s next stop, where buzz band Divorce performed to a sold-out crowd in the venue’s notoriously dark and sticky atmosphere. With only a handful of songs currently out, the band has already made quite the impression on the 6music crowd, and it’s easy to see why. Meshing elements of alt-country, indie, and straight rock, the quartet’s kinetic energy and unpredictability is an intoxicating mix on record and live. We can’t wait to see what they do with their debut.

With queues into Strange Brew proving too powerful to best, The Lanes were frequented, Bristol’s music lovers huddled in the beer garden trying to decide which of the day’s clashing headliners they were going to attend – dream poppers Alvvays or homegrown outfit Yard Act. With the newly refurbished SWX packed from wall to wall, 1,800 jangle lovers were treated to a mix of classic Alvvays numbers and a good few numbers from last year’s stellar ‘Blue Rev.’ ‘In Undertow’ went down particularly well, as did ‘Bored in Bristol,’ front person Molly Rankin apologising for the name. Judging from the reaction of the crowd, no offense taken, Molly.

Deciding to risk it, Clash dashed ten minutes over town to see if one could sneak into The O2 to catch Yard Act, and boy, are we glad we did. With singer Ryan Needham dryly promising ‘only the hits’ for the last thirty minutes, the band tore through ‘Pour Another,’ ‘Payday, ‘100% Endurance,’ ‘The Overload,’ and ‘The Trapper’s Pelts.’ Sweat flying and crowd bouncing, Yard Act once more proved why they are worth all the hype. A mixture of stinging critiques of modern England balanced with a genuine love for live music, the fans, and the city they were playing made for a grand finale to the day.

For us, Dot To Dot proved a massive success. No mere celebration of emerging talent and cult heroes, it showcased what fantastic musical eco-culture Bristol has and treasures. In a time when these kinds of venues are at more risk than ever, be it living crises or greedy developers, a festival like this reminds us to appreciate what’s on our doorstep. Important music doesn’t emerge from soulless stadiums. It’s grown in the shadows as fantastical followers scream on. Bring on next year. 

Words: Sam Walker-Smart

Join the Clash mailing list for up to the minute music, fashion and film news.