26th May | Multi-Venue
Photos: Jessica Bartolini
For the twelfth year in a row, Dot to Dot once again exceeded expectations with a vibrant day of new music discovery. A real annual highlight for Bristolian music junkies, this festival puts the spotlight on up-and-coming artists who could otherwise pass under the radar. Spanning across fourteen of the city’s most popular music venues and drinking holes, it was a day filled with discoveries of both music and cool new places to spend a Saturday night.
With a line-up very much tailored to risers rather than big names, this year’s programme was headlined by English rockers, The Horrors, Dublin’s own soul-searching singer/songwriter, Dermot Kennedy and the ever-cool alt-rock chick, Marika Hackman, making for a real celebration of British and Irish talent. International acts also distinguished themselves.
Kicking the celebrations off at O2 Academy were American rock trio, Turnover. Since forming in Virginia Beach in 2009, these guys have released three albums, along with a handful of EPs and singles. Playing several tracks from their latest album, Good Nature, the band provided a royally chilled-out set to start the night with.
Their newer, subdued sound was evident in the performance of their latest tracks, leaving a little to be desired in comparison with the more upbeat pop-punk vibe of their debut release, Magnolia. However, with a slot as short as thirty minutes, it’s understandable that they can only fit in so much. Making a successful introduction to Bristol nonetheless, this band is perfect for those chilled-out summer evenings which will soon be upon us.
Next to grace the O2 stage was Lincolnshire lad, Ady Suleiman, an act about whom I’d been excited ever since hearing his latest single on the Dot to Dot playlist, kicking myself for not discovering him sooner. Having just released a debut album that has been more than three years in the making, after leaving an ill-fitting label back last year, Suleiman is one to watch in the next twelve months for sure.
Opening with the matter-of-fact single, ‘I Remember,’ anybody in the room who hadn’t already heard what this guy could do was soon paying attention to his irresistibly husky vocals. His soul-dripped voice was the perfect match for his honest, anecdotal lyrics, as could be heard in the heartfelt ‘So Lost,’ which spoke of his struggle with mental health. Suleiman’s soul-funk-filled album is one you’ll be spinning on repeat as soon as you hear it: these songs are seriously addictive.
Hopping on over to The Island, which has got to be the most Bristol venue of the lot – a former police station turned art space, was not a choice I’ll regret. Clambering down into the mysterious maze-like venue, feeling a bit like we were walking into a world we’d never escape, with graffiti-coated walls and arrows pointing to the station’s formerly functional cells was a whole new festival experience. The relief I felt when we finally found the music-filled room in the bowels of the space was almost laughable.
But any feelings of apprehension were soon washed away by the disco-funk sound of Mancunian four-piece, No Hot Ashes. From the moment the intro to ‘Goose’ played, they had me wondering what they’re putting in the water up in Stockport. How can one town produce so much talent?
Regardless of their Mancunian predecessors, the boys have really come into their own with a sound which stands out from the crowd. It hasn’t gone unnoticed. The basement room was packed out, so much so that not even a glimpse of the band could be seen; that’s how many bodies there were dancing to their alluring funk jams, and rightly so. It was a *literal* underground music treasure to find.
Across the road, filling the upstairs of SWX with all the alternative pop vibes you could hope for, was Australian singer-songwriter Jack River, another lucky find. Her laid-back electro-pop set was endearing, and her delight at the fans who sang and danced along was as charming as her friendly nature. Her new album drops next month and is bound to impress. Later, closing this stage, was another talented Aussie – The Kite String Tangle, a solo project of electronic artist and producer Danny Harley.
Downstairs came the moody rock sensation that is Marika Hackman, with a stand-out performance. From the offset, this babe oozed coolness, with the most compelling air of nonchalance, rivalling the aloofness of some of the best modern alt-rock characters out there. Making everyone rock out to the max with her heavy guitar riffs and lyrics brimming with adolescent angst, Hackman had the crowd in the palm of her hand and couldn’t care less.
Man, she’s cool. Playing a handful of numbers from her 2017 release I’m Not Your Man, from the bluntly written ‘My Lover Cindy’ to fiery track ‘Time’s Been Reckless,’ it’s clear she’s been heavily influenced by the darker side of the English-folk scene. Judging by how hard she rocked out on stage, she loves and revels in this genre. Her brooding rendition of ‘Blahblahblah’ closed the set, showcasing the seductively melancholic sense of her music.
A stark difference from the act who came before, unassuming songwriter, Dermot Kennedy closed the show with his musical stories of heartbreak. Delivering each lyric with that rich, gritty kind of voice which resonates with pain and intensity, Kennedy was courteous, providing each song with a story about how the lyrics came about, which all his fans eagerly lapped up. It was a heart-warming way to end the night.
All in all, this was another unforgettable year at Dot to Dot which didn’t disappoint, successfully restocking my Spotify playlists with new loves for the months to come.