Festival Frolics: Dot to Dot Bristol, 2011.

As evidenced by the above bastardisation of the official 2011 branding for this year's edition of Britain's best tripartite estival bash, Dot to Dot, no other festival is quite so nominally aligned with what we've come to know as Dots & Dashes. However it's not merely our kindred monikers that ally our existences, for much music about which we've waxed lyrical of late came to Bristol, Nottingham and Manchester last weekend. Big buck indie stalwarts tussled with neonatal synth pop and ambient neophytes for the fuse-like attention spans of flippant wanderers stumbling about Bristol city centre and beyond, as the hull of Thekla was rocked and rolled from around five.
If the venue is ordinarily something of a ghost ship prior to the witching hour, Saturday 28th May 2011 is anything but an ordinary day in the South West calendar, Stockholm's Niki & The Dove are congenitally bewitching, and the barge is heaving. Cowering around a central microphone Malin Dahlström and Gustaf Karlöf, accompanied by live drummer Magnus (in shimmering blue tracksuit, naturally) puff away on ceramic bird whistles, before daunting synths strike up potent ominousness. With one eye cloaked in flaxen glitter, Malin commands fixation, compulsion as she intermittently howls, almost incapable of concealing her jollity, unable to harness the unabashed rapture induced by a devastating careen through the prowling basslines of The Fox.
Duelling drums and warped recorder solos ensue, as a particularly eu(rovision)phoric Mother Protect sees Dahlström rattle strings of nuts probably scavenged in the deep, dark heart of Scandinavian woodland and nimbly yowl atop tribal plinks and synthetic steel pans. The Cindi Lauper-like balladry of The Beach sees the duo slump back into more conventional realms of retrospect, before the rousing denouement of Dj, Ease My Mind is criminally cut short by the overlords of the soundboard, as the plug is unapologetically pulled two minutes from climax, leaving in its wake a swirling vortex of chagrin. As if any further incitement were needed to prompt return to this eerie forest of aural ethereality, a forest best revelling, reeling and writhing in the mudded earth of. Situated within the leafy ether of Clifton, Cults enthral a swarming Rise Records with their loved up and lucked out boyfriend-girlfriend indie pop empathy, the xylophonic subculture smash hit Go Outside proving suitably sensational amidst reduced price David Shrigley almanacs and Radiohead 12" reissues.
South London duo Alpines lurch through a similarly dimly lit synth timberland to their Scandinavian predecessors on the tranquil seas of the Floating Harbour, although as befitting their sparse melodrama, the venue that in recent history was rammed to the rafters is now equally sparsely populated. Catherine Pockson, adorned in earrings that look as though they may droop to the sticky stage floor below, taking an ear or two with them, and keyboardist-cum-guitarist-cum-initiator Bob Matthews unfortunately are found lacking in intrigue, oomph and volume (despite being backed up by reverb-laden live drums), even the electropop supremacy of Drive diluted, drained and burnt-out. From gelid, noirish Clare Maguire-evocative wane to effervescent waxing, Montréal's Braids (interview) overfill The Cooler, their pedal-triggered ecstasy spilling out into Park Street daylight. At times sounding like a reawakening in welkin realm beside Bradford Cox (Glass Deers), at others like Feels-era Animal Collective entangled in Fleet Fox facial hair, filtered through Dirty Projector (Native Speaker), they're a truly absorbing proposition. Same Mum beguiles, as does timorous lead vocalist Raphaelle Standell-Preston, whilst a vehemently percussive Lemonade boils over into hazy bliss. However a perhaps overearnest artistic integrity and element of attitudinal rancour bubbles beneath the equable exterior, tarnishing a set that may otherwise have sailed away in splendour with Dahlström, Karlöf and the ever-absent doves.
And so for one last hike to Clifton and to Queen's Road where The Joy Formidable (interview) are to notch up another dot on the gig tally. So relentless have their touring habits been of late that were they actually, physically, to dot every venue they've played over the past few years, the UK at least would be almost entirely blacked out on even the most enormous atlas. They're scheduled to rally through forty-five minutes of brutal bass/kickdrum corporal ravaging, although given that the contents of debut LP The Big Roar, in the live setting, are mutated into planet-shuddering hunks of superlative, transformed into elongated epiphanies, every slab sounding like the end of their set, the end of your eardrums and the end of our universe, ticks and tocks disappear in much feedback-soaked outro, the number of tracks aired diminished. Yet with an arsenal of I Don't Want To See You Like This, A Heavy Abacus and joyous closer Whirring ready and waiting to be fired off at the thrash of a Stratocaster, they're never not gunning on all cylinders. Ritzy Bryan stalks, scowls and hurtles, hurling herself about the place, bounding off pillars of clamour that flank her in beau Rhydian Dafydd and boisterous Matt Thomas as the Mold-via-Brixton trio carve open the once-gunged PA system. Austere now holds a nostalgia all of its own in place of one merely evocative of all things Mansun, reincarnated in drastic exhilaration although Buoy is something of an anticlimactic lull. Cataclysmic takes on both The Greatest Light Is The Greatest Shade and Cradle however slay any disaffections, as both Ritzy et al., and Dot to Dot, again pinpoint coordinates to a resounding A-OK.