Dot To Dot | Bristol
Photos: Molly Davies
25th September 2021 - Dot To Dot Fest Bristol
2021’s Dot to Dot Festival already seems like a distant memory of summer showers, where everyone seemed to be celebrating the end of warmth and the turning of the seasons. It was the sort of day where you wear sunglasses but are kept dry by a trusted umbrella.
Spread across the various venues of Bristol city centre, first on my list to see were Essex-based newcomers Anorak Patch. People streamed out of Rough Trade in a snakelike queue, all eager to catch a glimpse of the much talked about teenagers. Ducking through the door, I managed to get a meagre two rows forward from the back wall before realising everyone was packed in tighter than sardines. Filling the room with a reverberating noise rock presence, from the first track it became clear the hype was well-deserved.
Off the back of lockdown, the claustrophobic back room of Rough Trade soon became less welcoming the longer I stood shoulder to shoulder with strangers. This would become a pattern throughout the day and into the night with this year’s Dot to Dot being completely sold out. I rushed over to Thekla, eager to catch Deep Tan - an act I’d had on my radar for a while. Deep Tan took to the stage in the upper realms of Thekla in a uniform of tank tops. The room was packed and the atmosphere abuzz with eager chatter as the band soundchecked. Cool and unwavering, their sound was delectable with a mix of melodic basslines, deep, hypnotic vocals, and steady drums spattered with precise hi-hat rhythms and confident bass drum kicks. The drums slide out of place. “Can we just get you guys to do a clap or something?” says singer Wafah. The crowd responded with a chorus of claps and cheers.
I was told that to properly experience Dot To Dot Festival, you had to be tactical and decisive. The best approach, I’d been informed, was to choose a venue where you liked most of the acts and then stay there. I did not follow this advice. After all, if I had, I would have missed out on one of the most exciting sets of the day - Black Honey. Black Honey are not new to Dot To Dot having played the festival time and time again since their formation and as such it’s an all-dayer close to their hearts. Their set on the main stage at the O2 Academy was, to put it simply, absolutely mesmerising. These are musicians that are in it for the long haul. At one point lead singer Izzy Phillips leaves the stage for the embrace of the crowd. The performance is electric.
Following the death of their Booking Agent Steve Strange the day before, it was clear that the band had strived to keep it together and play the festival even in the face of a massive loss. “It’s really emotional.” Says Phillips, her expression sombre. “Steve would have been so proud today. I just wish he was here to see it. I feel honoured that people show up for our shows and want to see everything that we do and have been supporting us since the beginning. I think it’s important in these situations to be real and not just put on a brave face. This is my reality. This is how it is. He’s rock and roll history but to us he’s so much more.” We hug goodbye, and I move out the way as a wave of fans flood in to fill my space in front of the merch stand.
Next on my list to catch is Billie Marten at the Bristol Beacon. Like every other music venue in the city, it is packed to the rafters with onlookers circling up from the stage and around the staircases that line the walls of the Bristol Beacon foyer. Billie Marten is magical. Almost a living myth, you could imagine her plucked from an ancient folk tale warning of the dangerous beauty of a siren's song. Her voice is as clear and lilting as it is in recordings, her stage presence gentle yet confident. I’m entranced... but interrupted by a boy who offers to buy me a whiskey and coke. His card declines. I foot the bill and £10 lighter the spell is broken. Against the clock I run back to Rough Trade. It’s time to see the grannies.
As always Rough Trade has turned into a sweatbox. The black walls eat up all the light from the stage. It’s like stepping into a volcanic cavern. I ungracefully squeeze my way to the front and perch on the side of the stage. The trio that is Grandmas House glisten with sweat, their faces contorted as they create a cacophony of noise. It’s clear that after 3 years of playing shows in Bristol, the group have honed their skills to a fine art. At ease on stage, they crash through their set of energetic and thumping tracks about pasties and women, about being the Devil or a King. When their set finishes, the festival is over for Rough Trade. Realising that Dot to Dot is drawing to an end I can’t help but feel like a madman chasing sand in an hourglass. With excited fervour I make my way out of the now-dark Rough Trade and run back to O2 Academy to swap one sweat box for the next and to see a band I have been waiting since 2019 to see again: Walt Disco.
At the top of the O2 Academy, people are losing their minds. Walt Disco are as much a theatrical experience as they are a band, with costumes that dazzle and eye shadow looks to die for. The room is fizzing with excitement, the entire crowd moving at the command of James Power - the glam rock frontman of your wildest 80s fever dreams. I never even catch a glimpse of the rest of the band, instead all eyes are drawn to Power, towering above the crowd, climbing towards the rooftop. There are so many people, so many limbs, so many crushed plastic cups and a myriad of lost belongings strewn across the floor. The entire crowd leaps in time to the music and yells along ‘Hey Boy (You’re One Of Us)’ like it’s a hail Mary for all that is queer and good in the world. To stay silent would be blasphemy.
As the day wound down, I’m left with the impression that there’s some incredible talent clustered in Bristol this evening - and that’s not just the artists. Dot To Dot’s curators clearly have an incredible ear for new music, and they know how to utilise the best spaces in the city. But, with heavy feet, I can’t help but reflect on how hectic the last 12 hours have felt. Every venue from The Lanes to Rough Trade to Thekla was absolutely packed, and it seems that the advice I was given was spot on as although the venues are close together, changing between them to catch acts is a hassle and you’re probably better off sticking to one of two venues for the entire day rather than chopping and changing. Pulling off an event like this is no easy feat, and with such a high calibre of acts, it’s near-impossible not to surrender to the urge of venue-dashing. For a one day event, it's brilliant value for money, but don’t try to see every single act that’s playing or you’ll be at risk of missing out on the best bits and instead spending more time running up and down the streets of Bristol than dancing along to some of the UK’s most incredible rising stars.
Dot To Dot Fest on Instagram here & catch you at Dot To Dot 2022!