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If it’s the beginning of July then it must be time for the travelling Dot to Dot Festival to roll into Manchester after dates in Nottingham and Bristol. Now a firmly embedded date in the gig calendar, this well attended event is one that’s keenly anticipated and looked forward to.  Unfortunately this year Dot to Dot has to share the day with another music festival ‘Eurocultured’ taking place in the centre of the city, as well as the jubilee.

Like Liverpool Sound City and Live, the basic idea is to appropriate some of Manchester’s regular gig venues and have a selection of bands play in each of them for the duration of the day. It’s a cool idea but not without its pitfalls. The main one is having to work out, not which bands you want to see, but more which bands you’ll have to miss because it’s impossible to get to see everything on offer.  

There seems to have been a major shake-up of the venues employed to showcase the bands for 2012. It’s a fond adieu to the four Academy stages that have been the host to Dot to Dot for the last few years and a warm hello to the recently refurbished HMV Ritz which acts as the hub of the festival. And it’s here we see our first band of the day, the indietastic This many Boyfriends. I don’t know if these lads have played on a stage a big as the Ritz, but if not, they rise to the occasion and zip through a snappy set of tunes which gets the day off to a pleasing start. After This Many Boyfriends draw their performance to a close we head out the door and take a stroll under the grey Manchester sky to the Deaf Institute to take a peek at the rather unimaginatively named, The Night. Fortunately the name of this band of clean cut young people folk is the only thing that’s a bit staid because they possess a rather beautiful collection of Fleetwood Mac styled songs that are soothing to the ear as the band are pleasing to the eye.  They’re a world away from the indieisms of This Many Boyfriends but no less enjoyable.    

Next pick is Last Dinosaurs, who put on a cracking show at Liverpool Sound City a few weeks ago. Today however they play downstairs at Joshua Brooks, a put that’s a student stronghold. I still like them but I thought they deserved a bigger stage, or at least bigger that the small one they find themselves playing on today. The truth is we only manage to catch the first few songs of their set before we dash back to the Ritz to see Bastille. I’m not sure about these. Sure the large crowd that have turned up to cheer Bastille on are enthusiastic but tend to find groups like this much as much. I do know there’s no accounting for taste but unfortunately Bastille isn’t mine.

One band that is we see playing on the top floor of Sound control, and they are the absolutely sublime 2:54. With their debut album ready to be released soon, this band really is at the top of its game, and there’s a real buzz about them. For some reason the powers that be at Sound Control think what a show under their jurisdiction needs is dry-ice, a lot of dry-ice. Then a lot more, and then a lot more after that just to be on the safe side. In fact it was difficult to know if the band had come on stage but things returned to some kind of normalcy once thick cloud of smoke had subsided. This left the band to sweep majestically through songs that will become the soundtrack to your summer. No shit. 2:54 are really something special and you should make every effort to hear their stuff.   

With 2:54’s wonderful ‘Creeping’ echoing in my head we traipse back to the Ritz for the somewhat gentler sounds of Lucy Rose. Part of me is thinking that Lucy’s music would’ve worked better in a more intimate environment than the Ritz. It’s kind of an odd gear change to go from heavy distorted electric rock to quiet acoustic folk and I struggle with it so-much-so that I probably enjoy Lucy Rose’s set less than I should do, but what I do hear make want to turn up next time she plays her own show in Manchester.

Okay it’s at this point we get tired of walking and decide to make camp in Joshua Brooks and watch the bands that play. First up is dirty rockers Two Wounded Birds who have steadily built up a reputation on putting on a great show. Like Lucy Rose they also go on my list of bands that I have to see again. O Children are next. This is a band that seems to exist on the periphery, always there but never seem to go anywhere. I like their doomy take on all things Joy Division and Factory, and it’s deftly done with real conviction, but I’m not sure if there’s many like me. However I’ve been wrong before and with O Children I hope I am again. Three piece Dirty Goods follow next and are a revelation. The singer stroke guitarist looks like something straight out of Pretty Green, but they actually play disco of the dirtiest kind. These are new to me and that’s the strength of Festivals of this nature in that you can uncover real nuggets of gold by pure chance, and Dirty Goods are band that really shone for me.

The last band we see at J Brooks are American trio The Hundred In The Hands. They have a great pedigree and some impressive tunes but the Dot To Dot organisers have put this band on stage way too small for them, and it mars the performance somewhat because their sound is huge and need more space to breathe properly. Shame really because The Hundred in the Hands were one of the bands I was looking forward to seeing.     

Finally we retrace our steps back to the Ritz I’m sure to many The Drums are the best thing since sliced white bread, but to me they’re just a genetically modified concoction of every indie band you’ve ever heard. And while it’s true that the crowd go wild from the moment Jonathan Pierce and co step on the stage, I just can’t see what all the fuss is about.

Was it all worth it? On the whole it’s yes. I would have paid the money just to have seen 2:54 alone, and the discovering a new favourite band like Dirty Goods is always worth something. Not a classic Dot to Dot, but a very good day nevertheless, and I have no reason not to purchase a ticket for next year’s event.

Review and photos by Phil King