Dot To Dot Festival 2017: Manchester Stands Tall After A Tragedy


31 Wednesday 31st May 2017

‘Okay, we’re gonna have one minute silence… Let’s see how you do, Manchester.’ It was approaching 10pm and all noise in Old Granada Studios came to a halt. A sea of characters, ageing hippies, 70s rocker-likes, a green haired reveller who looked like he’d been snorting amphetamines since the Sex Pistols swore on TV: all stood in solidarity without so much as a peep.

‘Okay… that was pretty impressive,’ regarded singer Brooks Nielsen. An eruption of cheer thundered through the crowd. The Growlers had created an atmosphere of resonating respect and joy, and, without wasting any time, dove into a set that ended a day on the brink of perfection. Well… kind of ended.

Manchester radiated heat, with scallies sweating in tracksuits and lobster-skinned middle-aged Mancs milling around Great Northern Square. This glorious - if alien - weather visited an area in the direct aftermath of a tragedy; not even a week passed since the atrocious Manchester Arena bombing, and the country’s terror threat level was still critical on the day. Walking down Peter Street at three in the afternoon, you could see armed police holding up in vans next to the half marathon exit being prepared for Sunday, not to mention a patrolling officer on every corner. Even though it was understandable why they were there, this bolstered security was a strange contrast to the excited concert-goers and sun-soaked streets.

Scottish duo, Honeyblood, crunched on the distortion with heavy 90s pop-punk nostalgia. Drummer Cat Myers’s ferocious style was as accurate in beat as it did punch constant percrusional wounds into your ears. To start the day with a band, which I have to say, did not overwhelm me on record, that swings the bat at full pelt is something of a proper way to kick off the prestigious Albert Hall.

I was told it’s the first year that Dot To Dot has used Old Granada Studios as a venue and the trek between it and Albert Hall is nothing. However, from there it's a twenty-minute haul to Northern Quarter - where most of the smaller bands are playing - which becomes nothing short of an unpleasant work-out when hot and intoxicated. There's a deep desire at any festival to stumble in on an unsigned band that might blow you away, but when your most anticipated acts are crammed into two venues a significant distance away from all of these other potential acts, you have yourself a dagger in the foot.

Though, I do say this gently because such arrangement did ignite a newfound love for Cherry Glazerr. Joining influences like Dead Weather and Sonic Youth, they manage to create a huge presence through the primary vessel of front-woman, Clementine Creevy. I wouldn’t jump to say it’s nothing you’ve ever seen, but her attention to everything from band members, to crowd, to guitar pedals, whilst executing fuzz mushed blues-riffs, under the influence of a mental sermon-like yoga trance, you were seeing something worth watching. Easily the best unanticipated band of the day.

The next decision was to either stick around in the smoking area until The Big Moon started or walk twenty minutes across town to the Northern Quarter. I knew this band had made some noise since releasing their debut album earlier this year, so it would have been irresponsible to not sit around getting rat arsed whilst waiting for them to set up at Old Granada. Standing in the smoking area, I watched confused ticket holders stand in line for what they thought was the wristband exchange. And it was. Only, the wristband centre was now, since Old Granada stage had opened, in between the venue entrance and smoking/portaloo section. “Thought you finished an hour ago,” I overheard one hi-vis warden say to another. 

“Yeah, but have you seen this mess — what they should have done was have them get wrist bands the day before.” 

The cross road between wristband wearers and ticket holders was so blurry it would take a lot less sun and booze to fully understand, but the only way to truly describe it was: relaxed discomfort. There was no pending security threat, just a curiously organised lining arrangement that perhaps an orangutan could have done a better job of planning. Nevertheless, the show must go on. And it did. The familiar lyrics of “come back for the summerrrr,” echoed in the near distance and time it was to blitz.

The Big Moon is the quintessential feel good band of 2017’s summer. Songs like their opening ‘Silent Movie Susie’ and 2016 indie belter ‘Cupid’ had the crowed swaying in harmonious glee, waiting for that chorus we’ve been listening to for nearly a year. It was on their guitar ragged tack ‘Bonfire,’ when sensations began. A wave of euphoria. Back and forth guitar. Melodious voices. Either the band had managed to encapsulate pure pleasure in music, which should garner a few Spotify streams and a nod from Jools Holland, or the MD I took earlier was having its way with me.

You could hardly say that my memory was blank between their last song and sitting in the smoking area for the next half an hour, but it seems like a waste of word count to mention. I was an envelope tucked in the office of security and happiness, but you could see the sun falling and more people gathering — it was close to approaching Headline Hour.

After getting some food, we arrived on the minute The Growlers tore into ‘I’ll Be Around’. Excitement pumped through every vein; I was seventeen again, running through the muddy Leeds Festival crowd, only this time it was the concrete warehouse of Old Granada Studios. Then we were there, LED lights dragging us in like frantic moths to some strange, sensational fire. I still look back on this moment and have some strange residual sentiment towards such an arrival.

After the one-minute silence, with a crowd so enamoured with unity and joy, The Growlers went head first into fan favourites and new material. Synth anthem ‘Vacant Lot’ was coming to an end and a feral wave of illness went through me. Hands sweating and stomach turning, it was time to make an exit. Unfortunate, maybe. Fading behind me like an alluring siren being lost into the disappearing horizon, I heard them play out their final song. 

Inside the portaloo, ironically — considering the natural smell of these shit dens — the feeling had passed. If my internal voice was trying to tell me something, I knew at that stage, it was time to leave. How I got from there to Night and Day in the Northern Quarter will forever remain a mystery. On arrival, you could sense the energy seeping through its doors as though the clammy condensation itself was a collective inebriated aura.

Mystic Braves were beginning their set, sweat was dripping from my face and the venue was packed out. The band's true seduction lied in their emulation of acid-freak 60s ambience, performed in a space which was an ideal fit. Good times lived on as revellers continued to pour through the door – including The Growlers at one point – and the feeling that the festival venues should've been closer together faded into irrelevance. In fact, any doubts were swept aside by the room's formidable vitality, a real sense of unity.

It’s in moments of retrospection when you realise how much of a success the whole day was. Speaking to people of all ages at the festival, there was a fundamental level of positivity; you knew everyone was fighting, with a two-finger salute, for a good time – strength and stability doesn’t exist in the dry mouthed slogans of politicians or spine chilling fear, it exists within the weather hardened bones of attitude that holds ground and refuses to be trodden on. Resilient till the end, with music, people and the desire for a good time at the forefront of its identity: live strong, Manchester.

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