It has now become a ritual almost to begin the UK festival season over the two May bank holiday weekends with a hive of creative new festivals championing the very best of emerging musical talent. The likes of Great Escape, Live at Leeds, Sound City and Dot to Dot have provided striking platforms to showcase the artists of the future.
Returning for its 14th year, the travelling festival visited Manchester, Bristol and Nottingham for yet another spectacular year of live music. Heading down into Nottingham for the finale of 2019’s festivities, we recall the likes of Ed Sheeran, Florence and the Machine, The 1975, Catfish and the Bottlemen, Cage the Elephant and Ellie Goulding who have graced the festival in the past, and look promisingly down the line up to see who could join them as a token of our music scene.
Kicking proceedings off were a band very much with the momentum behind them right now. West London four piece BLOXX have been a staple presence in the indie rock scene and their direct camaraderie permeated the likes of ‘You,’ ‘Novocain‘ and ‘Headspace,’ the latter of which ended their midday set in style, warming Rock City up for a big day of music.
Over at Rescue Rooms, local lad Johnny Olley was showing a building crowd just why he had been regarded one of the artists to watch out for within Nottingham. Backed by a full band, Olley’s mesmerising vocals held their own and drew crowds in despite having not released a single yet.
Whilst Soft Girls & Boys Club dazzled a Rock City crowd with the playful ‘22:22,’ Mitch James’ charming acoustic pop narrated his journey across the world, from Auckland to London via Amsterdam. Another surprise find was the eclectic Kim Churchill. Hailing from Australia, Churchill’s one-man band show was entertaining from beginning to end as he shuffled between harmonica, vocals and guitar for a stunning Led Zeppelin cover alongside his own material.
Perhaps the highlight set of the day, Sheffield troupe SHEAFS tore the roof off the Rock City main stage. A ferocious guitar driven set including the likes of instant crowd-pleasers ‘Mind Pollution,’ ‘Shock Machine‘ and ‘Get Used to It,’ the band’s driving connection with the crowd sparked passionate mosh pits and as closing track ‘This is Not a Protest‘ came to an end, the entire venue was left in collective belief that SHEAFS have the potential for great things in the coming years.
Atlanta-born Faye Webster stunned the packed upstairs of The Bodega with both her dreamy, mellow vocals and her impressive yo-yo abilities. Although her latest album, Atlanta Millionaires Club, was released only days before, much of the audience seemed already familiar with the new tracks – especially lead single ‘Kingston,’ which looks set to be the soundtrack to many a lazy summer’s day.
Over in Rescue Rooms’ intimate Red Room, Edinburgh’s Retro Video Club gave a ferocious performance for what was their first ever Nottingham show, whilst FEET’s Rescue Rooms show highlighted a band destined to be experienced live. A maelstrom of snappy nonchalance, frontman George’s commanding vocals balanced perfectly with the humorous performances given by the band’s guitarists, who crab-walked to their hearts’ content whilst donning bucket hats and flowery shirts.
Next up we headed over to Rock City to catch Dream Wife, whose last visit to Notts was to Rescue Rooms last year. Safe to say, the size upgrade didn’t daunt them in the slightest, as the punk rock trio proceeded to deliver a fiercely energetic set which combined established favourites such as the anthemic ‘Somebody’ with new material from their recent time in the studio – feminism’s never been this much fun.
One of the country’s most underrated rising bands, Swimming Girls delivered a magical set at Trent SU, blending warm melodies with glistening indie pop on the likes of ‘1 2 Many‘ whilst the surging ‘Back of Your Car‘ was a noticeable highlight.
Perhaps the best way to sum up Squid’s set at Rescue Rooms is using the words of an audience member who turned to me as we were filing out and said “God, that was intense.” Managing to make their half an hour on stage feel like a full gig, Brighton five-piece Squid are yet to release an album but (deservedly) already have a bit of a cult following thanks to their experimental guitar-driven sound, best showcased on tracks ‘Houseplants’ and ‘The Dial.’
When the initial line up for Dot to Dot was first announced one name on the bill consistently stood out. It had been years since Birmingham indie rock band Swim Deep ventured over to Nottingham and despite their lengthy absence from music, their Rock City show was a resounding success. Kicking proceedings off with ‘Francisco,’ whilst the likes of ‘Fueiho Boogie‘ and ‘One Great Song and I Could Change the World‘ showcased their later, psychedelic development. Showcasing unreleased material as well, new single ‘To Feel Good‘ highlighted a new direction in its soft, spoken word vocal delivery. However, Swim Deep connected with the crowd the most as they launched into the big hits of ‘The Sea’ and ‘Honey.’ A defiant return to Nottingham, Swim Deep are in for a big year with a new album and potential tour dates on the horizon.
The drummer and co-vocalist of Sons of an Illustrious Father, who played Rock City’s Beta room, is probably better known to most as actor Ezra Miller, who’s starred in films such as The Perks of Being a Wallflower and the Fantastic Beasts franchise. That being said, it’s less ‘Ezra Miller’s band’ and more ‘a band Ezra Miller happens to be in’ – alongside Miller, fellow members Lilah Larson and Josh Aubin demonstrated their flexibility as multi-instrumentalists with the band’s unlikely cover of The Pussycat Dolls’ ‘Don’t Cha.’
Then we were back to Rescue Rooms for the rest of the night to see what their stage had on offer, starting with local band Do Nothing. Being Notts based, a significant amount of the audience seemed to be fans or indeed mates, but that support only served to bolster the massive stage presence of lead vocalist Chris Bailey. Easily their most streamed track, ‘Handshakes’ epitomises their ability to deliver tight riffs with an air of self-assured nonchalance; a quality which made their set feel more like a headline performance than a slot at a day festival.
The venue only got busier as Yorkshire-born The Orielles took to the stage, bringing with them their unique brand of DIY, synthy alt-rock. After a brief mention of the current political climate, guitarist Henry Carlyle Wade explained their music was more about allowing people to “Escape from all that stuff” – something they no doubt achieved. Complete with percussion in the form of whistles and a cowbell, The Orielles launched themselves into tracks from last year’s debut album Silver Dollar Moment. While these were met with great enthusiasm from the audience, the band announced that D2D Nottingham was probably the last time they’d be performing fan favourite ‘Sugar Tastes Like Salt,’ as they have “About 10 new songs to show you guys.” And if the atmosphere in Rescue Rooms on Sunday night was anything to go by, this new material is likely to be very well-received.
Ending proceedings a mere thirteen hours after they began were Swedish band of misfits Viagra Boys. Hailed as one of punk’s brightest new prospects, the heavily tattooed group thrashed through their intriguing take on punk rock. Gaining one of the biggest and certainly one of the loveliest crowds of the festival, track ‘Sports‘ saw their topless frontman shouting down the microphone whilst engaging in press ups. Whilst their appeal is obvious to fans of loud guitar driven rock and messy mosh pits, the sheer duration of the day probably took an edge of excitement away from Viagra Boys’ set, and whilst we appreciated what they were trying to do, we left with a hidden sense of relief that we could go home and finally sleep.
As is the case with most festivals, the day was a resounding statement of success for emerging talent. Having ventured around the city for over thirteen hours catching a diverse range of genres and artists, it is safe to say the British music scene is bustling now more than ever. With new and exciting artists forever in constant demand, we can rest assured that the likes of Dot to Dot Festival are nurturing a generation of emerging talent.
Co-written with Daisy Carter.