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Dot to Dot Festival 2023 review – A very busy Sunday of great new music

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Featured image: Pete Taylor


Nottingham, – the land of Robin Hood, Premier League Nottingham Forest, and my family home. Dot to Dot festival kills two birds with one stone. I’m here for the music of course, and there’s a lot of it. 

Over 160 acts across 20 different stages, were squeezed into one temperate Sunday (good thing I can just about remember my way around). These “all dayer” “intercity” type music festivals offer a payoff: – you’ll be running off your feet trying to catch every band you wanted to see, but you’re not sleeping in a tent next to a chemical toilet.


Divorce

First up for me was Divorce, a relatively new group from these parts. The current Nottingham ‘scene’ continues to breed critical successes, with the band’s Get Mean EP released at the back end of last year marking them yet another band to watch out for coming out of the city (all of whom seem to have the same drummer, too).

Their music is for the most part more country-tinged and laid-back than that of their contemporaries, with a clear influence from artists such as The War on Drugs and Kurt Vile as well as subtler echoes of 80s Springsteen. At times they veer a little into the territory of that guy out of Alan Partridge that loves America, but nonetheless a band I see being billed higher and higher on festival line-ups to come.


Opus Kink

Painfully well-dressed or not really dressed at all, Opus Kink are next up. They released their fantastic second EP, My Eyes, Brother! not a fortnight ago, but on stage is where the sextet is at their best.

Sex, drugs and rock and roll was not an adage written for 3.15p.m., but they’re not all tempered by the early billing. The band’s infectious brand of horn-fueled, neo-noir punk successfully transports us at different times from Rock City, a venue that  has hosted names such as the Lluminaries, KSI and Hanson, to a dive bar in a Scorsese film, caveman jazz clubs, and an orgy in the trenches.

‘I Love You, Baby’ is decidedly more primitive and carnal than the Sinatra staple of the same name, ‘The Unrepentant Soldier’ describes a gruesome act of self-love, and ‘St. Paul of the Tarantulas’ rewards us with the unique experience of mosh pits to the ‘Tarantella Napoletana’.

It’s barely school letting out time, but Opus Kink delivers something that isn’t recaptured all day or indeed all night.


Heartworms

Heartworms is the band-backed project of Jojo Orme and one of the newest off the ‘do-no-wrong’ Speedy Wunderground production line. And they do no wrong per se but suffer from following the intensity of Opus Kink with slightly more conventional alt rock. There are moments of intrigue, not least the explosive bursts of screaming that punctuate some of the songs, and the cold stab of gothic  guitars. A little unfairly, the size of the crowd has shrunken down by more than half in search of fresh air (the lovely weather is taking its toll), which leaves the performance feeling a little flat.

There’s a theremin on stage too, but theremins are like vaping – expensive, not as satisfying as using the proper instruments, and annoying for everyone else if you insist on using it at the bus stop.


Fat Dog

The mysterious Fat Dog fans out across the long stage at The Level. Each member is dressed to varying degrees like an Australian. A guitar string pings off, the bass player learns the value of investing in strap locks, and one of the amps temporarily sputters out- all in the first minute. Frankly, these days I’m boring enough to pick up on that sort of stuff;  – it doesn’t seem like anyone else notices, or even cares.

The premise feels silly to type, but it works so well. A rock band that inexplicably segues into donk at some point in every song. They’re made for a live setting, with 10 minute subwoofer-ska tracks about slugs and a twisted evangelical preacher frontman dressed like a big game hunter. It’s difficult to do justice in writing. You should probably just go and watch them.

For a band without a second of recorded music and only a couple of live videos on YouTube, Fat Dog managed to draw the crowds. Their live performances are an increasingly poorly kept secret and a testament to the extant value of word-of-mouth promotions. Build it, and they will come, each certain they’re the only person cool enough to know.


The Murder Capital

As soon as the ringing strums of ‘Don’t Cling to Life’ begin to echo around the venue, the crowd is  enraptured. The Murder Capital are a band on the cusp of greatness, filling out Rock City with another step on that ladder.

Aside from all the obvious and easy fanfare that I could interpolate – the poetry, the dynamics, the atmosphere – the Dublin five piece The Murder Capital is just ridiculously tight. Musical discipline that rock n roll dictators like James Brown and Mark E. Smith dreamt of.  Not to suggest that the group is in any way playing it safe. ‘Green & Blue’, for example, is deceptively complicated yet performed with  masterful ease.

The Murder Capital. Photography: Pete Taylor

They’re at their best on ‘Ethel’ though, a song so brilliantly simple you’re continually surprised no one had bothered to write it before. It’s a rewarding listen from a new album full of rewarding listens in Gigi’s Recovery, but you can tell that they know it’s an entirely different beast played live, the lowkey instrumentation of the record making way for a worming and cyclical guitar buzzsaw lament on love and fatherhood. 

There are moments wherein it’s evident that the room might benefit from a dynamic shift from the mostly no holds barred sonic and emotional assault. The album gave this respite, but here, live, it’s all turned up to 11. A few times, songs fade into others almost too seamlessly, and you can’t catch your  breath. Maybe I’m just getting old, or persisting with wearing a black hoodie on a day like today and suffering the consequences.

It’s a performance deserving of top billing at Rock City, proving the band to be more than capable of making the step up to venues this size in their own right.


Alvvays

Canadian group Alvvays brought their agreeable brand of hazy indie pop to proceedings with a late evening performance at The Level. A pleasant alternative to Yard Act, with whom they co-headlined, for which the less said, the better. Highlights of the 20+ song set include openers ‘Pharmacist’ and ‘Tom Verlaine’, from last year’s album Blue Rev, as well as the wildly popular ‘Archie, Marry Me’ and ‘Dreams Tonite’, both of which sparked lighters in the air. I dare not use the word ‘vibe,’ but the atmosphere in the venue was the most friendly and joyful of the day. Nice music watched by nice people, and a fitting end to it all.

Alvvays. Photography: Pete Taylor

About the author / 

Miles Cooke

Miles Cooke is a MA Multimedia Journalism student at MMU and a music journalist.

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