LIVE: DOT TO TO FESTIVAL, MANCHESTER

Since Dot to Dot festival was extended to involve a Manchester leg back in 2010, it has gradually become established as one of the city’s most anticipated events of the summer. Mirroring a kind of mini version of the touring festivals that can be found in the states, a relatively sizeable roster of bands now ferry between Manchester, Bristol and the its original location of Nottingham.

This process of growth taking place pretty much every year it has taken place is testament to the palates of those who attend it, given that the lineup is still very much centred around new and up and coming acts.

Perhaps another pull factor is the slightly surprising fact that this is the first music event that has really unlocked the potential of the string of gig venues that lie just yards away from each other on Manchester’s Oxford Road.

They offer anything and everything too, from the 1,500 capacity of the Ritz, right down to the basement bars and pub venues like Zoo and the Thirsty Scholar. To start things off though, a trip to Deaf Institute proves that some of the venues can have something of a sparse atmosphere earlier in the day, as ticket holders are still filtering their way to the festival.

Although Deaf’s capacity is 250, acoustic troubadour James Bay plays to less than half of this – a scenario that could be considered as being among the perils of beginning the festivities at mid-afternoon on a Friday, when many are still struggling break free from the shackles of the office. Regardless, Bay puts his heart and soul into it, but in all honesty, the atmosphere is a bit flat.

Meanwhile at Sound Control just down the street, the pop hooks, unrivalled energy and anthemic drive of Ezra Furman proves slightly more popular – despite being subject to a last minute venue change. Thanks to the fervent support of 6Music’s Marc Riley, which accompanied his second album Day of the Dog, Furman’s standing in Manchester (and anywhere else in the UK for that matter) has enjoyed a steady, but noticeable rise in stock.

After being one of the biggest breakthrough acts of last year, London four-piece Wolf Alice are an attractive draw for many attendees. Their set is at the second largest venue in the shape of Whitworth Street’s Gorilla, but they still manage to pack it out. There’s a markedly youthful look to the audience, which makes for a feverish reaction when they hit the stage.

Better when they go heavier, the band play a broadly encompassing set that spans grunge, indie, pop and rock ‘n’ roll in a way that is no doubt seen as hugely vibrant to those basking down the front, but for those that are yet to be converted, there is a feeling that the whole thing is a little disjointed.

The Ritz too plays host to two of 2013’s biggest success stories as it brings its bill of acts to a close with the blues pop of Derbyshire duo Drenge and a headline set courtesy of Midlands indie boys Peace. The venue is well attended throughout the evening, but the fact that it finishes well before the adjacent Gorilla is enough for some to be convinced it’s necessary to make an early exit to avoid the disappointment of missing performances from Courtney Barnett and Real Estate across the road.

Barnett arrives on stage at Gorilla all smiles and proceeds to hurtle her way through a set that has pretty much everything. Her double EP release A Sea of Split Peas is full of tales of Melbourne parties, memorable nights out and flashes of love all packaged up in ball of stonking riffs, peculiar lyrics and infectious vocal delivery.

Playing as a three-piece, Barnett and her band provide one of the true highlights of the festival for those who have managed to stay up late enough, surely a far better option than the absurdity of Macaulay Culkin’s Pizza Underground, who can be found headlining back at Zoo. A shameless novelty booking.

Barnett is more than up for sticking around after her set comes to a thrilling end with trademark singles ‘History Eraser’ and ‘Avant Gardener’ – being seen right down the front for Real Estate just minutes later. Although the swashbuckling intensity is not quite at the same level, technically, Real Estate’s headline performance is a masterclass of sun-drenched harmonies and interlocking guitar parts that are encapsulating and heartwarming in equal measure.

Newer material like recent single ‘Talking Backwards’ nestles in nicely among more established tracks from their self-titled debut and its follow up Days and by the time their hour-long set comes to an end, most inside the venue have no intention of leaving. Meeting their requests, the band return for an encore that makes it feel like the sun never went down.

As thousands of revellers descend into the night, Dot to Dot is gone as soon as it arrived, hot footing its way to Somerset for the second installment. One thing is for sure though, based on the its continued success up north, the event will undoubtedly be back again next year to light up Oxford Road for a day.

Patrick Davies

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