May 27 | Across Bristol
Photos: Jake Haseldine & Chole Hashemi
What makes Dot to Dot festival so special is its sense of community. Venues both big and small come together to celebrate one of the best things about Bristol – it’s diverse and inclusive music scene. While the festival also takes place across Manchester and Nottingham, there’s something almost magical about seeing Bristol’s bustling local scene stand alongside international acts.
This year’s headliners were Reading four-piece Sundara Karma, Nottignham’s Amber Run and The Growlers. Usually, day-long festivals can suffer from thin crowds during the early slots – especially if it’s good weather – and despite the sunshine and 4pm start time on Saturday, previous cover star Vagabon managed to pull in a massive audience.
Performing cuts from her debut album ‘Infinite Worlds’, the New Yorker proved why she’s been one of the most critically-acclaimed artists of 2017. Opening with ‘Cold Apartment’, Vagabon managed to perfectly execute both strength and vulnerability with a set that demonstrated her soaring vocals and focused, intricate melodies. New single ‘Fear & Force’ was a particular highlight but with such a short slot, Vagabon had to finish after only 5 songs. Chants of “we want more!” filled Thekla but unfortunately, there just wasn’t enough time (Vagabon has however, been announced to headline Thekla in October!).
Elsewhere, it’s not immediately obvious that Van Zeller are opening the Bierkeller. One of the festival’s break-out acts last year after reducing the main stage with their loveable brand of high-octane garage, the Bristol four-piece bounded on stage like it was much later in the day. As the four dripped with sweat in the heavy heat of the venue, they thrashed out hit after hit, breaking string and drumsticks along the way. Single ‘You Can’t Lose’ got the crowd moving, but in truth, nearly every song is a single. It’d be a shame if we didn’t see the band a lot further up the bill next year.
Lice and SWX don’t seem like a pairing you’d ever see together. The dark post-punk of the Bristol boys doesn’t seem like it’d fit SWX’s sticky nightclub vibe, but seeing the band on a much larger stage than we’re used to seeing them on was an intriguing proposition. Whilst LICE have built their name on destroying small venues with their demented mix of country-style guitars and hardcore vocals, SWX’s roomy hall gave them a chance to show how adaptable their sound is. The menacing bass filled the room from the get go, whilst none of the energy or passion seemed to get lost in the gulf between band and audience. Sure, it wasn’t quite as intimate as we’re used to seeing them, but LICE made up for this by raising their game. The sharp riffs and yelled vocals felt perfect for a venue that large, and singer Alastair’s wide-eyed stare should be one of the most memorable moments for any Dot to Dot attendee.
SWX proved to be one of the most popular venue’s throughout the day, with a line-up that was arguably one of the best over the entire city – a statement that could probably be backed up purely by Cherry Glazerr’s set. Frontwoman Clementine Creevy commands the crowd with such confidence and humour that even when she tells us to ‘shut-up’ as we applaud, you can’t help but clap louder. The (frankly ridiculous) riffs filled SWX with a transformative power that enabled even the sternest of attendees to let loose, with the band’s unfathomable energy never, ever diminishing.
They were, understandably, a tough act to follow but London’s The Big Moon were clearly up for the challenge. Releasing debut album ‘Love In The 4th Dimension’ this year, the band have hit a pivotal moment in their career after renowned festival appearances and headlining tours. “We forgot to write a set list,” confessed guitarist and vocalist Juliette Jackson, much to the delight of the audience, who whoop and shout requests. Last year’s ‘Cupid’ proved particularly popular while the moody undertones of ‘Sucker’ encompassed their fun and easy-going style.
Following The Big Moon’s stomping set were previous Bristol Live Mag cover stars, New Jersey’s Pinegrove, who only a few months ago, headlined a sold-out gig at The Fleece. SWX bustled with eager fans, wearing Pinegrove hats and t-shirts, with the band pulling one of the biggest crowds of the entire day. Opening with ‘Recycling’, the six-piece produced a perfected americana-indie that was emotive, textured and forthright. The quieter moments of the set – the break-down in ‘Size of the Moon’ or the opening of ‘Aphasia’ – were performed with a meticulous execution, while both ‘New Friends’ and ‘Old Friends’ garnered a sing-a-long of mammoth proportions. It won’t be long until Pinegrove are headlining stadiums at this point.
While most were gearing up for pints and mosh pits, The Christmas Steps played host to a headlining set from Bristol’s own Nugget. Joined on stage by Katy Haugh, the acoustic, stripped-back set served as a rare opportunity to witness Nugget in such intimate surroundings. And while it may not have been the abrasive ending that some may have wanted from their festival, Nugget’s emotive delivery and gorgeous melodies was a striking highlight in a sea of raucous electronic guitars and thwacking percussion.
What was arguably the best Dot to Dot festival yet, the team once again proved to be masters at curating a line-up of bold headliners, exciting new acts and established Bristol bands. Check out this video series from Dot to Dot below, which champions the Bristol acts that stormed the festival this year.