Photo: Mystery Jets
Credit: Wunmi Onibudo
Note to self: don’t turn up to a festival without a phone. Luckily, we went old-school and devised the perfect, foolproof itinerary which included a map with annotations that resembled a military siege on Bristol’s finest venues, which wasn’t too far from the truth. So after the mandatory boozy frolicking along the harbour, we collected our wristbands at Thekla and let the musical onslaught commence.
First stop was the The Sherlocks at The Fleece, a spritely Sheffield band I’d been following all year. It was a vigorous, airtight performance, albeit wasted on the lacklustre crowd which nevertheless was dotted with a handful of avid fans that eventually found each other during Heart of Gold (I was one, admittedly). Next we joined the cross-city trek to The Temper Trap at SWX, an act which I was sceptical about but just had to see. As a side note, the atmosphere in this city festival is pretty hard to beat; moving feasts of like-minded new music fans running to see the same bands, and if not, making naive unrealistic promises to bump into each other at a later band’s moshpit – it was adorable.
After beating the rush only by the skin of our VIP passes (thanks, D2D), The Temper Trap revealed themselves as the biggest surprise of the festival. Singer Dougy’s ethereal voice is better than on record and one that complimented the delicate texture of their songs. How I love to be proven wrong, especially when it sounds this angelic. One look at the crowd and you got the feeling that this was a band that mattered a lot to certain people, and that these 20 somethings had their perplexing adolescence soundtracked by their debut album. Sweet Disposition ended the set in soaring catharsis and the frontman did his long hair and white skinny jeans justice by surfing the crowd after being swallowed by it.
Finally, we swarmed to headliners Mystery Jets, the short sprint from SWX to O2 Academy being made all the more enjoyable by people running and singing Two Doors Down (again, guilty). Thankfully, it was the gig everyone wanted: a perfect infusion of MJ circa 2008 and their spectacular galactic sprawl of a new album, Curve Of The Earth. This was queued and segued back and forth by erratic calls such as “who liked the noughties?!” and “who listened to our new album?!”, the latter of which, were it any other band and any other album, would have been met with shrugs as opposed to the manic screaming they received.
Songs like Half In Love With Elizabeth got the crowd going early, before delving into new songs like Midnight’s Mirror and Blood Red Balloon before picking up the pace again with lead single Bubblegum – which received a surprisingly loving reaction and was remarkably good live. This paved the way for the climactic one-two punch of Young Love and Two Doors Down, which most likely would prove to be the happiest, most naively romantic seven minutes of the festival, leaving everyone panting at the bar begging for water.
After that, I had to drag my mate (he was adamant nothing in the world could beat the Mystery Jet’s performance) down to Thekla for one last nightcap of live new music – Formation. After overcoming a million technical difficulties and the fact that Spring King had kicked the shit out of the kickdrum, Formation were the drug-induced injection of energy that was needed at 1AM (not even kidding, the opening song had the refrain “Drugs! Drugs! Everybody is on drugs!”).
From the first song, it was on and shirts didn’t last past the third. The part-rave party pit/part-samba circle of the ground floor of this boat-turned-venue became a pool of sweat into which the frontman would repeatedly dive, cowbell and all (“more cowbell!” shouts were unavoidable). If the irresistible baseline of Hangin’ brought the flavour (which sported an afrobeat buildup so sassy it would make Friendly Fires blush), then the incessant beat of Back Then brought the ferocity, which culminated in the drummer smashing the cymbals with his head; it was that good. Lastly the final mantra of Young Ones curiously revealed the tattooed frontman as in fact a lovable, life-affirming agony aunt, which is a sweet ending for a gig that was equal parts savage and euphoric.
This was my first outing to Bristol for Dot To Dot and it certainly won’t be the last. The fact that we have world class artists along with new undiscovered talent virtually at Exeter’s doorstep every year should be enough to convince the most musically aloof cynic. If not for that, then do it for the beatboxer next to the Hippodrome, who was so unfathomably dope.