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The View From Far Out: Dot to Dot Manchester

Celebrating it’s ten year anniversary, Dot to Dot festival has become somewhat of an institution, partnering local buzz bands with a few more established acts to draw in the crowds. From humble beginnings, the multi venue festival’s Manchester arm has grown to take over the entire Northern Quarter and more – a 14+ age policy ensuring the attendance of hordes of NME worshippers to a line-up their very inclusion dictates.

A band carrying the name OLA feels like a fitting way to begin proceedings. The grossly underrated two-piece fuse intricate drum patterns with a Buckley-esque falsetto to devastating effect. At times beautifully warming, the duo possess an ability to climb ethereal heights before dropping into territories a little more sinister. A few of their tracks tread closely to clean cut pop chorus’ tonight, yet at each moment of resolution, the pair take a turn to the left, consistently twisting the anticipation of the audience. The sound doesn’t necessarily play in their favour, as low end bass seems to overthrow high pitched samples and that soaring vocal. Overall though, they once again lay claim to being up there with the very best of Manchester’s double acts – It’ll be interesting to see just how far they can go.

We wander down to the Roadhouse for what is meant to be an entirely different experience in newcomers FLESH. The imminent disappearance of the venue holds as much pull to check them out as the band do themselves, however one last storming set looks to be a wish too far. The band aren’t here and the lack of people waiting signals a no-show, making the newly purchased pints more problematic than they deserve. There’s not much in the way of explanation coming from anywhere, so we dash off to find a replacement.

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As word travels of an apparent shoe-in round at Gullivers for FLESH, we make our way towards Hinds at the Central Methodist Hall. Supposedly as surprising to the promotors as it is to us, the venue is an alcohol free zone. There’s no bar, not even so much as a lemonade stand… an idea surely lost on the later Fat White Family slot. It’s the driest of riverbeds, save for the smuggled bottles of gin squashed down primark skinny jeans. This partners with the light to feel a tad early for Hinds the previously known ‘Deers’, a name change seemingly weak in communication as the crowd feels a little underwhelming. They get off to a good start with ‘Bamboo’, but all in all the set fails to live up to expectations. There’s energy – for sure – and a whole load of Spanish charisma, but it all feels a tad insincere. I hear someone mutter they’re a ‘Castilian spice girls’ – a whole lot unfair, but top marks for effort.

The remainder of the line-up for this stage threatens to steal the entire festival crowd. The Wytches, then Fat Whites, followed by Best Coast, Menace Beach and Horsebeach respectively. The sneaky booze solution threatens to derail this somewhat. Wytches are first up though, and after exceeding all forecasts last time we saw them, we were expecting big things. The uncompromisingly dark tones of Gravedweller once saw us imagining a Carrie themed high school disco, complete with bleeding skulls and paranormal activity, and this slot couldn’t be closer to that scene. Somewhere between the swelling moshpit and the countless Braziers strewn on stage lies a twist in our perception.

The band felt – looked – much younger than before, the ‘The’ in their name feeling more obvious than ever. They were good, no doubt, but not as good as before. The bass was still towering, the frontman stance every inch Cobain, yet the atmosphere made it all feel a bit strange. By the time a young girl, not a day older than twelve, fell out of the throb and into the security guard, it verged on comical. Unfortunately, this just wasn’t going to be the show stealer we’d imagined.

Next up were Fat White Family. Much has been said about the London troupe – Are they for real? Are they actually real? Are they ill? Do they have teeth? I can confirm, on this evidence, they are everything they say they are and more.

Sure, it’s nothing new… the music is verse/hook/singalong chorus at the best of times, frontman Lias’ moves looking straight to Iggy Pop’s career for inspiration, but fuck me, are they fun. It’s scuzzy, and dirty, and authentically gross, and that’s what makes it work. Just before they come on stage, we walk paul the integral Saul, who seems to growl towards the stairs at the monotony of his day’s proceedings.

They’re not putting this on – they’re pissed off, and bored, and taking the piss, and getting somewhere with it. As they sprint through ‘Auto Neutron’ and ‘I am Mark E Smith’, you realise they are light years ahead of all else on the bill. The mosh pit scowls, all of our group give in. Without innovating, they give the crowd something to believe in, and it’s complete cross-generational pull ensures it is the idea, and the attitude, that sends their message home. They couldn’t give a fuck about the no alcohol rule, they’ll squirm and twitch their way through anything. Entire festival ticket price justified – The Fat Whites make it all worthwhile.

I have to admit, by this time, I’ve taken advantage of said skinny jean gin trick, and that last set has rendered me a sweaty, grudge (film) resembling mess. I want Best Coast next, I really do, but I don’t think they’re gonna want me. I bow out, looking for something close to a normal pint. By the time I get back I witness the final throws of Menace Beach. I’ve lost an hour somewhere, or maybe a day. Maybe I’m in Bristol now? Everyone seems to be drinking freely. The band are exactly what you’d expect. Part Hookworms, part unconventional take on shoegaze, way less complex than you’d imagine, and great. I’m waking up from a haze, and I wish I’d woken up earlier.

The last set of the day comes from Manchester favourites Horsebeach. They’ve got the graveyard shift, 1.30am to be precise, and by god does it show. Compared to the size of the crowds that have previously taken their places, the no-booze ruling seems to have really taken its toll this late on in proceedings. There’s maybe 50-odd people here, smattered around the spacious hall, many sitting down on the dampened floor. At first appearing a little ill at ease from the scale of the task in front of them, Horsebeach grow into their set as a few more arrive. It’s pretty delightful stuff, warm and yellowish, but it really does feel like the last band of the night. Pre-sunset evening set, on an outdoor stage, shrouded in the moment between hangover and resurrection… that’d work, but last one of the night, I’m not so sure. They do all they can, and they don’t put a foot wrong, but you can’t imagine them coming offstage and feeling upbeat.

There’s one final dash to the Roadhouse to see Man Made, but it doesn’t do much good and everyone seems a bit past it. It’s a long night, and one that certainly peaked with that nightmarish motley crue. From then on, everything was going to seem a bit half-arsed. Dot to Dot is a good inner city festival, and it clearly has a talent for producing a line-up that offers very separate routes to take. That said, those routes feel almost prescribed, and there’s little in the way of temptation once you’ve chosen which way to go. The line-up felt slightly less risky than years previous, but solid nonetheless. Upon reflection, it’s the mix of one local band and a fast rising juggernaut that do most to impress, and it’s this mix that the festival craves to continue their success.

Mike Emerson