“Is there a bar around here?” “No mate, this is a church.”
This small exchange between a security guard and a festival goer in desperate search for cider, inside Manchester’s Central Methodist Church, quite aptly sums up day one’s proceedings at Dot to Dot, which returned for its eleventh year. With an impressive headliner, an array of alternative breakout talent and a smattering of offbeat, on-trend stage fillers, a number of strengths set Dot to Dot apart from fellow metropolitan fests with bigger line-ups. One such success was the booking of indie treasures Mystery Jets who, soaring from their lush record Curve of the Earth, provided all the emotional punch and deft melodic touch you could ever hope for. Their performance, however, proved to be a diamond in the rough for a day that was marred by persisting technical difficulties across the festival’s two main venues.
The ornate Cathedral is the proud centrepiece of Dot to Dot’s Manchester leg. Basking in the springtime sun, streaks of burgundy and navy stream into the venue through the patchwork of stained glass window. It’s an impressive location to discover new music, and grandness is demanded even if the opening performance by indie novices THE HUNNA isn’t quite a match made in heaven. The quartet fill the earliest slot at the main venue – one of twenty quirky locations hosting stellar performances across the city, and one out of a number of (curiously-chosen) religious buildings taking part in Dot to Dot this year. Their scuzzy, grungy four-piece rock fails to resonate significantly but complements the line-up, as well as providing a pleasant appetiser. Fan favourite ‘She’s Casual’ and ‘You & Me’ shows flair and promise, and the foursome are destined to play their own headline tour this autumn too. Following on, the same stage is graced by much-hyped Sundara Karma. Their performance draws a sizeable crowd with ‘Flame’ and ‘Indigo Puff’ their standouts – the band offer an easily-listenable, warming set of Catfish and the Bottlemen cold cuts. Mid-way through, however, a technical difficulty results in the indie-purveyors storming off stage, only to return twenty minutes later when the issues with equipment are finally rectified. The sole improvement to this pause in proceedings is that the guitarist returns sporting some particularly untrendy sunglasses.
The calibre of musical flair is then stepped up a notch with the announcement of RAT BOY, otherwise known as Jordan Cardy. The tearaway from Essex thrives on a powerful brand of socially observant hip-hop rock, and as he paints a lyrical dissertation of suburban Britain, he wins the crowd over with ease. The electro-synths of his story-telling compositions translate impressively within the Cathedral walls, and as Jordan swaggers about the stage, the audience unanimously approve of him.
Heading to the Central Methodist Church, timekeeping only becomes an increasingly prevalent issue, and given the small windows of opportunity afforded to revellers to join the dots from venue and venue, by the time Lauren Aquilina finally steps on stage, an hour later than scheduled, she’s lost half her crowd. She expresses dismay that a cocktail of technical faults has meant that her band can’t join her, then proceeds to shower her audience in gentle apologies before introducing an impromptu setlist to reflect her current disposition. As Lauren alone hovers above the piano singing of requited love, the keyboard tones of ‘Low’ and her mesmerising vocals ricochet around the different levels of the church. With an energetic chorus encouraging ‘hey’s!’ from the audience and the infectious melody of ‘Kicks’, it becomes easy to forget that Lauren has composed an entirely new performance, relying on the acoustic resonances of a keyboard and her gorgeous voice to carry her through. The haunting, sophisticated ‘Fools’ – a pop ballad about falling in love with your bestfriend – closes her performance, by which point goosebumps are cardinal. Even when singing about tension, fear, and the apprehension of trusting new love, Lauren articulates herself with composure, and given the unfortunate circumstances, she carries herself with commendable flair and dignity.
Flashes of brilliance are pretty much synonymous with Mystery Jets’ headline performance. Their fifth album, which edges further into mainstream Americana, features heavily in the setlist. The audience are not only treated to endearing idiosyncrasies that characterise their earliest records of ten years ago, but are showered in rich texture, too. The kinetic riffs of ‘Bombay Blue’ and ‘Bubblegum’ compounded with the life-affirming joy of ‘Two Doors Down’ and indie floor-filler ‘Young Love’ has the crowd opening and closing the mosh pit with a religious air of duty. The quintet showcase their brand of mellow-indie at its very best, and they rattle though their numbers with clear relish.
As the sun dips below the metropolitan jungle, The Temper Trap should be prepping for their set back at the Methodist Church, but its only after an hour of unscheduled silence that their performance finally commences. Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ll be familiar with ‘Sweet Disposition’ – it’s a euphoric masterpiece. What you might not realise, however, is that several men hiding under hair longer than their shoulders, reeling off several regurgitations of the same song, isn’t quite as euphoric. Though the music is raucously played and deftly composed, the homogenisation of The Temper Trap’s style sees the 60-minute set teeter towards desperately dull, which is a shame given the quality of Dot to Dot’s earlier artists. Perhaps Dot to Dot will have better luck with the equipment down in Bristol and Nottingham.