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jacobainsworth
6th June 2023

Festival Review: Dot to Dot 2023, Nottingham, 27/05/23

Dot To Dot festival returns to Nottingham city centre, boasting the likes of Lip Filler, Yard Act, and Alvvays.
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Festival Review: Dot to Dot 2023, Nottingham, 27/05/23
Credit: @david_jh_photography

Dot to Dot 2023 truly delivers. When it comes to atmosphere, variety of acts and value for money, you’d be hard-pressed to find a more satisfying, exhilarating and memorable day of live music than at Dot to Dot in Nottingham…

At just £25 a ticket, boasting 160+ artists and championing over 20 of Nottingham’s finest independent venues, a day out in the Midlands has never been so impressive. The day acts as many things: a showcase of established indie mainstays, a commercial leg-up for yet-to-be-mainstays, a celebration of Nottingham’s humble, yet energetic local scene, as well as a good-ol’-fashioned, indie-rock-soundtracked, beery party. From the moment I get off the train at Nottingham Station, to the drunken, hazy 3AM pinnacle of Yard Act’s DJ set in The Rescue Rooms, Dot to Dot 2023 delivered on all bases.

Dot to Dot by @David_jh_photography

When discussions of the great music cities arise, Nottingham is rarely, if ever, mentioned. It’s a relatively small, often overlooked, city, situated in the East Midlands – not quite Northern, not quite Southern, either. As someone from Lincoln, however, I’ve often thought of Nottingham as our older sister city: bigger, busier, cooler. A wonderful thing about Dot to Dot 2023 is that it positions Nottingham in the spotlight: the day is as much a celebration of the city, as it is of the artists: a rare occasion of Midlands pride.

Whilst scurrying around Nottingham city centre, it becomes apparent that it is the perfect playground for an inter-venue festival. It’s small enough to easily navigate, allowing efficient access to whichever music act takes your fancy, but also big enough to get lost in (albeit figuratively, not literally). I spend the day weaving in and out of alleys crawling with independent venues, cafes, restaurants and shops. The space in-between acts is just as much fun as the acts themselves – unlike your typical festival, you don’t need to take out a mortgage when buying a pint to whet the whistle, or a quick snack to sustain your energy. The inviting doors of an independent bar (or, let’s be honest, the safe haven of a Wetherspoons), is always a moment away. Dot to Dot feels designed for a city like Nottingham: bursting with life and vigour, yet simultaneously contained and down-to-earth, the festival displays the East Midlands city as the perfect breeding ground for new indie acts. The atmosphere throughout the day is one of optimism, excitement and a healthy dose of hedonism… and we haven’t even discussed the acts yet.

Dot to Dot by @David_jh_photography

A stand-out of the countless aspiring acts on display at Dot to Dot 2023 is the local University of Nottingham collective Dura Mater. Collective is the right term for Dura Mater: they stand on stage in a long, coiling string of figures and instruments – echoing Talking Heads circa 1980, or 1983. Bass lines pop, guitar hooks fester, percussion patterns shiver, keyboard textures oscillate… Dura Mater really are the sensory overload you’d expect from such a mixed group of musicians. Their frenetic, barbed grooving, owing equally to Talking Heads as it does to Frank Zappa, Kraut-rock, Brian Eno and Wire, is met with open arms. What could easily be dismissed as art-school fodder clearly rings true with the group’s audience, a sign that this band is very likely to continue to flourish. Their sound is not the only varied aspect of the group, either – I don’t think I’ve ever seen a band vary in height so much.

After watching Dura Mater’s set, I meet with London-based five-piece Lip Filler for an interview. They greet me with friendly smiles and an ambitious glint in their eyes, rejuvenated after a successful show in Bristol the night before. I sip a Peroni whilst making conversation with the band – we discuss everything from the London music scene to advertising strategies… from Radiohead albums to fridge magnets. Their conversation is just as entertaining as their music. Lip Filler are a cheery, vaguely chaotic, motley crew of passionate musicians (and not a bad bunch to have a pint with).

George Tucker of Lip Filler by Jacob Ainsworth

Lip Filler’s live set is a raucous party: bass player Theo Pasmore leads the soundscape with commanding, elastic bass lines, guitarist Jude Scholefield contorts his face as if he was attempting to beat the final level of Guitar Hero, and drummer Nate Wicks holds it all together with his indie-meets-hip-hop rhythms. The Black Cherry Lounge audience mosh along with unencumbered joy: even as a half-pint of cider flies into my eye, I still exit the pit with a smile.

Verity Hughes of Lip Filler by Jacob Ainsworth

Singer/keyboardist George Tucker pogos across stage, every bit intent on moshing with his audience as he is actually playing his synth parts. He launders across the front row to the infuriatingly catchy ‘Susie’, curtained hair swaying like a young Shaun Ryder, trying not to knock over the ironing board which the band use as their keyboard-balancing surface. Amidst the chaos, this attempt dramatically fails, only injecting the performance with a greater sense of unpredictable, DIY charm. Even though Lip Filler contest taking influence from Jamie T, their music nether the less takes on the same giddy, playful, genre-blending quality that sounded so good on seminal 00’s records such as Panic Prevention or Kings & Queens. Mix this with the melodic, yet subtly angular live presence of The Magic Gang and you have Lip Filler: a band that’s bound to continue to make their way up the indie circuit… ironing boards and all.

A review of Dot to Dot 2023 wouldn’t be complete without praise for the boisterously buoyant set from post-punk revivalists Yard Act. As soon as the wiry, mechanical disco of ‘Fixer Upper’ starts, Rock City’s floor is alive with bobbing heads and squirming limbs – each jump marked with a noticeable friction from the gum-covered, beer-stained floor of the infamous infrastructure of “Rock Sticky”. Frontman James Smith leads the sonic squabble with a wardrobe borrowed from David Tennant’s Doctor Who, and lacerating Northern wit.

Headlining Dot to Dot 2023, Yard Act assert themselves as one of the best live acts around, their set a whirlwind of LCD Soundsystem-esque bass-led repetition, scratchy Gang of Four guitars, and left-wing illumination. Like a Marxist magician, Smith distributes money along Rock City’s front-row…lucky punters becoming all the more invested in the music knowing that they’re one or two pints up than they were at the start of the show.

Yard Act by Henry Appleyard

Traversing through the trenches of Yard Act fans old and new, I tumble out into the Nottingham evening air, on my way to catch Toronto’s finest, Alvvays at The Level. Interestingly, Alvvays’ Dot to Dot 2023 set is one of two halves. The first half acts as a dreamlike, lucid live experience: the audience, albeit relatively unmoving, soaks up the band’s jangly iridescence, as well as the occasional surge of cathartic distortion. Sounds of My Bloody Valentine, Lush and The Jesus and Mary Chain are conjured up in the band’s trance-like arpeggios and synth washes. Guitarist Alec O’Hanley, frequently indulging in his own brand of swampy, soapy feedback antics, is clearly a guitarist who’s spent many years attempting to emulate the sound of ‘How Soon Is Now?’ – and it pays off. It is in this first part of the set that Alvvays demonstrate their ability at delicately crafting and maintaining an intimate, moving atmosphere – all the while putting the literal shoe gazing into the shoe gaze genre.

Alvvays by Jacob Ainsworth

In the set’s latter half, front-woman Molly Rankin leads the band into an early inclusion of flagship-single ‘Archie, Marry Me’. Her quirky ditty of young love, marital pressures, seaside sailing and student loans is greeted with an eruption of movement, as if, like a dormant somnambulist, the eyes of the crowd have cracked open from a long slumber. From this point on, the show becomes an electrified celebration of the band’s comeback record, Blue Rev – an album which boasts the biggest stylistic and emotional range of material the group has yet to offer.

Kari MacLellan of Alvvays by Jacob Ainsworth

This is a record that has clearly wormed its way into the psyche of the indie rock scene, easily standing up to the group’s revered past material, and prompting an outrageous passion that simply wasn’t quite there when the group first showcased the same material a few weeks before the record’s release (read the review of said show here). Blue Rev single ‘Easy On Your Own?’, the conclusion to Alvvays’ set, is a significant, life-affirming highlight. It is interesting that it is the one new song which poses a question that audiences have embraced the most – when Rankin asks, ‘does it get easy on your own?’, the audience’s palpable warmth towards the song seems to be a resounding ‘yes, it does’. As a long-time follower of the band, this moment of artist-audience discourse felt unexpectedly transcendent. One of the most endearing and overlooked acts of the past decade, Alvvays are undoubtedly the highlight of Dot to Dot 2023.

The day’s excitement carries on into the night, culminating in a DJ set delivered by Yard Act. Crowds dance along to the stuttering groove of ‘This Must Be The Place (Naive Melody)’: a wholesome ending to the hustle and bustle of the festival. To use The Stone Roses’ eponymous debut LP for the sake of illustrating my point – if Alvvays’ set is ‘This Is The One’, then Yard Act’s eclectic mixing is I Am The Resurrection: a final surge of energy, one last unifying shuffle, a true Hollywood ending-credits feeling. “Home… is where I want to be, but I guess I’m already there…”

To cut it short, Dot to Dot 2023 is simply wonderful. Here’s to another year of celebrating all the best in independent music, venues and city culture.

Jacob Ainsworth

Jacob Ainsworth

20, he/him, UoM, Film Studies & English Literature. deputy music editor, writer, musician, illustrator and full-time Jarvis Cocker enthusiast

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