To celebrate the tenth birthday of metropolitan music festival Dot To Dot, we boarded a train to Nottingham for the closing day of the festivities and proceeded to hit up Talbot Street, which had been transformed into what looked like a middle-class street party. We did this to bring you Nouse’s coverage of indie’s brightest, best and newest. We hope you appreciate this immense sacrifice.
We kicked the day off in Rock City by seeing local boys Amber Run, fronted by lead singer Joe Keogh, who resembles a cuddlier version of Kit Harrington. Opening with ‘I Found’, a song lead by strong, haunting vocals and minimal instrumental input, the scene was set for a solid performance from the up and coming quintet. They really come into their own during the anthemic ‘Noah’, a ballad packed with religious allusions and life-affirming sentiment.
The band resemble a cocktail of The Killers and Mumford & Sons, with just a dash of pop punk nostalgia. They have the potential to be palatable to the mainstream, but still maintain enough rock and roll chic to be respected as genre artists. The crowd seemed pleasantly surprised by the outstanding quality of the performance, following the release of the band’s enjoyable but slightly blasé debut album 5am, which sounds like every other indie rock record released within the last three years. Amber Run strike us as one of those acts who will either successfully carve themselves a notch in popular music culture, or fade into obscurity within a year, and it’s currently looking hazy as to which it will be. Watch this space.
Hailing from the emerald isle, next up were Dublin-born brothers Harry and Alfie, more commonly known by their surname, Hudson Taylor. The guys proved to be a band progressing from strength to strength, performing music laced with iconic acoustic trimmings, twinkly guitar lines, and infectious choruses. They began their set for an eager Nottingham crowd, with firm favourite ‘World Without You’ followed by the equally dazzling ‘Weapons’, which the crowd responded to with unanimous and immediate approval.
Perhaps the stand out moment of our Dot To Dot experience was what was to come next. Against the milieu of the passing of equal marriage in Ireland the previous day, Harry hushed the audience to make a point of acknowledging the making of history in their home nation, and to celebrate this monumental occasion, to which a much captivated crowd roared ecstatically. For the remainder of the performance, each song possessed a new-found sublime depth and poignancy. With their Peter Pan collar shirts, oversized glasses, and sprouting quiffs, you wouldn’t necessarily guess that the duo would have the capacity to move a metropolitan festival crowd so profoundly. However their repertoire, oozing sad-eyed soul juxtaposed with friendly folk inflections, stood to be our firm favourite of the day.
Swim Deep managed to be the most pleasant sensory overload we’ve experienced in a while. The crowd spent the entire 45 minute set fervently spinning and swaying, much to our amusement – nothing better than watching a collective of too-cool-for-school hipster kids form a moshpit at an indie pop gig. At one point, a man who appeared to be in his sixties got up on somebody’s shoulders, and lead singer Austin Williams was so delighted by this spectacle he stopped the show to have a can of beer passed to him through the crowd, apparently as a reward for his subversion of gender and age social norms. Cue many a chuckle from the audience. Fan favourite tracks ‘Honey’ and ‘King City’ were two standouts from the Birmingham boys, but also the only songs we’re able to actually recognise. Despite a superb atmosphere, the quality of performance from the band was somewhat underwhelming.
Austin’s screaming manically into the microphone every 5-10 minutes for no apparent reason, and flailing around like one of those airdancers they have at carwashes, eventually began to feel slightly unnecessary, and borderline egotistical. You feel the urge to go up to him, cup his face gently in your hands, and tell him that no, he’s not actually all that. The band’s enthusiasm and passion for what they’re doing is contagious, but at certain points it did seem like they were all just a bit too busy having the time of their lives to make sure they were actually putting on a decent show.
Following this atmospheric but disappointing display, the day picked up with a phenomenal show from soloist Rae Morris. The songstress strode onstage, backed up by whimsical percussion reminiscent of a ticking clock, opening her set to ‘Skin’, which also happens to be the first track on her recent debut album Unguarded. She proceeded to absolutely blow us away with her unchained vocals.
Rae appeared equally overwhelmed and delighted by the warm reception she received from the audience, simultaneously apprehensive yet at home on stage. Despite having had a lot of experience playing alongside Bombay Bicycle Club, she still seemed fairly new to going it alone. Yet, this did not inhibit her performance – she was quite clearly in her element. It is striking how superior Rae’s singing is in person compared to on a recording, with the quirks in her voice making the performance feel truly exuberant and animate. She sang with real ardour and emotion, qualities which, in comparison to her live performance, feel inexplicably lacking from her recent release. It was also refreshing to see somebody at Dot to Dot who wasn’t a white man with a guitar – no disrespect towards this demographic, but you can have too much of a good thing.
After four consecutive assaults on our senses at the Rock City venue, we headed next door to the small, neon tinted live space of Rescue Rooms’ Red Room, a downsized performance area, clad with claret-coloured fairy lights and a mural of a nude woman. We were there to catch four young lads hailing from Dundee who go by the name Model Aeroplanes. Having had the pleasure of briefly meeting the fresh-faced quartet earlier that day, we were particularly eager to see what the boys had to offer.
Brimming with confidence and flair, their set provided an intimate yet equally jovial performance, which made a refreshing change from the larger acts. With choppy percussion and spidery riffs igniting frontman Rory Fleming-Stewart’s vocals, ‘Electricity’ exhumed hints of the indie rock dalliances commonly found across Two Door Cinema Club and Vampire Weekend’s melodies. Chestnut tunes such as ‘Deep in The Pool’ and ‘Club Low’ shouted out charmingly in a whirlwind of sound, and we have no doubts that Model Aeroplanes’ surf rock vibe will put a smile on your face wider than a Cheshire cat’s. It was nice to see the show close with Rory kissing bassist Ben’s arse.
We hurried back next door to catch Nottingham born-and-bred artist Callum Burrows, better known as Saint Raymond, who closed the day in what felt like a homecoming gig. The 20 year old’s set proved to be an impressive visual spectacle – incandescent strobe lights, and oversized balloons filled with confetti bouncing about the venue took very little away from the addictive, upbeat flurry of songs with swooning synths and jangling hooks.
Callum’s most iconic moment was in response to an unrecorded and rather obscure track titled ‘Mojito Sunday’, which despite its relatively unknown status, culminated in the crowd crooning the lyrics back to him louder than he himself was singing. That being said, we felt as though the day peaked earlier, and in the wake of the previous stellar performances we had seen, Saint Raymond felt somewhat underwhelming and forgettable for a headline act.