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DOT TO DOT FESTIVAL 2011 - OUT ON THE FRINGES
:: Hurts :: Colourmusic :: Hot Horizons :: Various Cruelties :: Lanterns On The Lake :: Allie Moss :: Veto :: Frontiers :: Golden Glow ::
30 May 2011 / Various Venues / Manchester
By Cath Aubergine


Hurts at Academy 1, photographed by Victor Frankowski at www.victorfrankowski.com

May Bank Holiday Monday and Manchester's weather is doing what it does best on such occasions - unfortunate for the city's music fans, especially those who have only just dried out after Friends Of Mine. Or maybe unfortunate for the bands booked into Sound Control and Deaf Institute for this, Manchester's second Dot To Dot festival, with the wristband exchange and three Academies under one roof in the students' union and the big Academy a few seconds' walk away. Good news for GOLDEN GLOW, though, who kick things off in Academy 2 in front of what's probably one of the biggest crowds they've faced. Downstairs in the basement VETO are doing some rather tense and less-than-cheerful electro-indie with echoes of the dark funk of early 80s Factory and a singer who sounds like the young Robert Smith (ie. before he discovered squawking). Not that they're particularly retro-sounding overall; these elements blend seamlessly with modern techno-fuelled sounds - again, they benefit from a decent early-doors crowd. Who then all try and cram into Academy 3 at once, as the band due next in Academy 2 (Swimming, whom we saw supporting I Like Trains a couple of years ago and had been looking forward to catching up with - assuming of course it was the same band) have been crossed out. FRONTIERS are the beneficiaries, playing to a full hall. Traditional spec Chameleons via Interpol sweeping gloom-pop is the order of the day here: very well executed, actually ("Sound Of Confusion" - no, not a Spacemen 3 cover - would sit proudly on one of Interpol's better albums) - just still fascinates me that these sounds that were underground in the 80s and all-but forgotten in the 90s are now part of the standard fabric of indie rock. Anyway the rain's stopped - time for a wander up the road...

"Can you guess where I'm from from the accent?" asks ALLIE MOSS. Clearly not, the crowd suggestions of Orlando (at which Ms Moss visibly winces) and Alabama are not exactly close to the actual answer: "New Jersey. Big hair..." She doesn't have big hair. She does have a guitar, a male accomplice who's also got one, a decent singing voice - and little to distinguish her from 57,000 other girls with guitars singing acoustic slightly "quirky" pop that isn't actually very quirky at all. And who the hell is she, is she one of those Youtube stars or something? Ah, right, turns out she had a song on an advert (for a broadband service) which she freely admits is how she's come to be here. She's playing to a pretty full Deaf Institute, allaying our earlier fears, although when she asks if anyone's heard of her before there's not much of a response. Somehow she gets a load of people singing along at the end, albeit by a kind of cloying and rather passive-aggressive plea to do so.

Sadly it's a far emptier room which greets LANTERNS ON THE LAKE - a band of which I have no prior knowledge apart from the fact that their name sounds a bit shoegazey post-rock and they're soundchecking a violin so are probably worth hanging around for. This assumption turns out to be not a million miles from correct: a sweet-voiced girl and boy called Hazel and Adam float lush melodies across each other and the rich textures provided by their instrument-swapping (apart from the violinist) bandmates. They're reminiscent of a happier Low, or some meeting point between Spokes and Still Corners, and a rather pleasant place to drift around in for a while.

We first encountered HOT HORIZONS supporting Dutch Uncles in Salford. They were good then and tonight they're even better. They deal in a rich kind of electro-gazing pop (my first thought is Kyte, and this without any knowledge that Hot Horizons are also from Leicester: we can only being to imagine what the anti-ladrock backlash there must be like given the shadow That Other Band Beginning With K cast over ther place) that's got a wonderful grasp of light and shade and doomed romanticism. Last year's debut single "October" is the prime example of this - a story half told through a haze of melancholy.

VARIOUS CRUELTIES meanwhile are another band hitherto unknown to me: my feats of venue-hopping have been well documented here (In The City; Live At Leeds; Sounds From The Other City) but it can be just as enjoyable to not chase around all day after bands you know you like and instead hang around one venue and see what it throws at you. (Also I woke up in Barcelona this morning after five days of Primavera Sound and I have a comfy seat here...) And what's thrown at me here is a hybrid of indie and Motown I wouldn't normally touch with yours, but they're so tight and so together that certainly as a live band they're alright. The soul sound comes as much from the tone of Liam's O’Donnell’s voice as the music (although there's certainly beats you could stomp to) and to be honest it's always good to see a young guitar band pulling in some different influences, even if the words "Style Council" keep threatening to pop out onto the page. Whoops, there they go.

There are just ten people standing in the venue (and another twenty or so sat at the back) when COLOURMUSIC take to the stage after a few technical delays. Mind you, closer than half way forward could seriously fuck your ears up - these four men from the somewhat unusually diverse homelands of Oklahoma and Yorkshire (!) are as loud as they are (mostly) hairy, and reverbed to within an inch of their lives. A heady, heavy, distortion-riddled psychedelic swamp with drums from the pit of hell and the singer's wildman howls they're a wonderful contrast to everything that's gone before.

Ten minutes later I'm in Academy 1, stunned at the lack of queue for HURTS - in fact the main obstacle to my entry was the tide of punters leaving after Darwin Deez (which at least reassured me the horrible little twerp had gone before I got there). I guess a few months is a long time in the fickle world of pop and I've heard various reports that their last headline gig here wasn't a patch on the incredible Ritz show in October. We'll see. It's filled up a little by the time they come on, anyway.

Spotlights like searchlights sweep the stage as the debonair duo and their expanded group of players - still including scary waxwork man backing vocalist, and now with added violinist - all march on, heads bowed, in dark suits like they're going to a funeral. And this is one of the many anachronism that comprise Hurts: a pop act (and a successful one at that) with ideas that could be referred to as above their station were they not always so exquisitely executed. A Mancunian band who (unlike many of our current rising stars) identify themselves proudly as such, whilst operating about as far from both the Factory and lad-rock axes as it's possible to be. "Eww, they're dead serious aren't they?" says a girl near me to her boyfriend; she was possibly expecting something a bit more boy-band like. Because a lot of their songs are, or at least could be - if they didn't choose to stuff them full of semi-orchestral pomp. "Silver" sounds massive; "Wonderful Life" rises above its rather cringe-inducing lyrics in a way it really doesn't on record; "Evelyn" sees Theo thrashing his mic stand into the drumkit, intense as fuck; "Verona" is just ridiculous, but in a really good way. Say what you like about them but these boys have a unique talent for making what's basically a reordered run-through of their sole album sound like a huge Greatest Hits set - even chucking in a cover (Kylie's "Confide In Me") for good measure.

We're not sure how many tickets were actually sold for this event, but with Academy 1 probably as big capacity-wise as the other five put together it would have been unrealistic to sell it out, especially as the music here did not start until 5pm or so - and people are already making breaks to ensure entry into Deaf Institute and Sound Control which are both open for some hours after the Academies close. The band must be able to see as well as we can that the venue is by now barely a quarter full, but this doesn't stop them giving their all right to the curfew: after a suitably swelling "Stay" the backing musicians stand like statues, staring out at us as if waiting for the duo to bring them back to life (this is brilliant) before flowers are tossed into the front rows for a final "Better than Love". Nobody was sure what to make of them at first, but it seems Hurts are now cementing their position as heirs to the almighty Pet Shop Boys. Who incidentally are playing at Eastlands this week, but I won't be there as I neither want nor have the money to see the terminally dull grown-up Take That they're supporting. Who needs them? Manchester's grown its own.

Manchester has also, of course, never been exactly short of homegrown live music experiences and it was questioned variously last year whether we actually needed the Dot To Dot import. This year however with In The City looking increasingly like taking a year out (although there has been no official word yet either way) and some of the lower-grade events falling by the wayside, it's great to have a chance to watch bands for 12 hours. It seems quite a long time since we were pounding the streets of Salford for Sounds From The Other City: May is officially the new October.


Resources:
Colourmusic
Various Cruelties
Hot Horizons
Lanterns On The Lake
Allie Moss

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