Live Review: Dot To Dot Festival 2021

After 18 months of silence, it’s been fascinating watching each limb of the music industry wake back up, piece by piece. First were the summer festivals, coming a hair’s breadth after the relaxing of lockdown, and a cathartic, joyous release for all involved. Then autumn tours, after endless postponement, finally began to take place, with venues once again selling out and bands moving from town to town. And now, city festivals – feeling like little more than a distant memory at this point – have returned, and in Nottingham, that means Dot To Dot is back. Louis Griffin reviews the experience. Nearly every venue in Nottingham is involved, with a roster of artists representing mainstays of the festival for years (Sports Team, Palace) alongside many that have made a name for themselves over lockdown (Kofi Stone, Sorry, Yard Act). It’s these that seem to attract attention most feverishly throughout the day, with venues hitting capacity for many of the most eagerly anticipated shows. First up was Do Nothing at Rock City – a hometown show for the band, and the biggest venue they’ve played in Nottingham to date. You got the sense that they felt slightly uncomfortable on Rock City’s stage, though, although perhaps it was the knowledge that they’d be playing another (not so) secret set at Bodega later that was preoccupying them. Still, tracks from their EPs Zero Dollar Bill and Glueland, both released over lockdown, were well-received at Dot To Dot’s biggest venue, with early hit Gangs resulting in a bona fide circle pit.

"A tight 25 minute set from [Sorry] felt like a mere appetiser, and you get the feeling that their return to Nottingham will be eagerly awaited"

Over to NTSU for Sorry, fresh off the release of their debut album 925. The band have been unable to tour the record in any meaningful way, and aren’t coming to Nottingham on the eventual tour they have booked for later in the year, so there was an air of fervent anticipation. After some initial sound problems, they launch into a set of grungey bangers, with the lack of crowd interaction from the stage made up for by excellent lighting. A tight 25 minute set from the band felt like a mere appetiser, and you get the feeling that their return to Nottingham will be eagerly awaited.

Over to The Bodega for the final run of bands for the day; at this point in the line-up, it was a toss-up between getting in to see headliners Sports Team at Rock City, or Walt Disco, Drug Store Romeos, and Yard Act at Bodega. Sports Team are coming back to town in November for a Rock City headline show of their own, so we headed to Bodega to catch three of 2021’s breakout acts.

Walt Disco brought gloriously proud queer pop to Bodega, complete with surging basslines and coordinated dance routines. It was hard not to grin throughout their set – not only do the band have genuine pop credibility, but they’re also obviously having the time of their lives. It was a joyous set, and really felt like a harbinger of things to come for the band. Drug Store Romeos were a change of pace after Walt Disco – from queer pop to dream pop. Indeed, it was hard not to feel that they really should have been on before the Scottish disco band. Drug Store Romeos’ set of gorgeously constructed synth ballads was hypnotic and otherworldly, but also lacked the BPM to keep the crowd, still buzzing from Walt Disco, from yawning. Still, a very competent set, featuring lead singer Sarah on flute too at one point – the only fault was the scheduling.

"The energy in the room was electric, with a real feeling that it was the place to be"

Which brings us to Yard Act, the final (billed) band at Bodega. They took the stage slightly late, but made up for it near-immediately with James Smith’s storming spoken word, and the band’s well-oiled motorik backing. The band took a confident approach to the setlist, opting to play whatever the audience shouted for the most. The energy in the room was electric, with a real feeling that it was the place to be (and indeed, a glance at the crowd outside the one-in-one-out venue told you that it was). Tracks from the band’s Dark Days EP gelled perfectly with cuts from their forthcoming debut album The Overload, and their return for a headline slot at Bodega feels keenly awaited. Do Nothing were up next, for a secret set that seemingly the entire population of Nottingham already knew about. However, by this point this reviewer was beginning to come down with the flu (shivering in a packed gig is never a good sign), and had to bow out before their victorious return to Bodega. A glance at social media tells you that stage dives were had, and by all accounts a storming set was played, but I was not there for it. All in all, Dot To Dot felt like an unofficial reopening of Nottingham’s live music scene. Gigs had been happening for a little while, but it really felt like the cutting of the red tape, and the mood in the city was euphoric as we all got back to doing what we love most. In other words, Dot To Dot 2021 was a roaring success.

Written by: Louis Griffin

Edited by: Gemma Cockrell

Featured image courtesy of Dot To Dot Festival via Facebook.