Skip to content

Review: Dot to Dot Festival 2023

A key date in any music lover’s calendar, Dot to Dot returned to Bristol for a day showcasing the very best in established and up-and-coming artists in the modern alternative scene including Alvvays and The Murder Capital.

By Jake Paterson, Co-Deputy Music Editor

Dot to Dot is a day of both excitement and endurance. On what was a swelteringly hot day in Bristol, with thousands of people out not only for the festival but also just enjoying the sun, the city was buzzing for a taste of some of the 160 artists playing across Bristol’s best venues.

The diversity of styles and genres on offer for the day, from rap, techno, indie rock to soul and rnb, ensured that everyone I met, either in venues or in queues, had an entirely different schedule for the day mapped out. This is probably the hardest game of lineup Tetris I’ve ever had to play, and my legs caved in after running between venues for ten hours, but it paid off as the breadth of artists I got to see was incredible. Here are a few of the standout performances:

Saint Joshua @ Dareshack

Opening the day with immaculate style and vibes, Saint Joshua’s blend of rnb and alt-pop had everyone at Dareshack caught in his groove within minutes. Opening with the irresistibly catchy ‘Stuck On You’, a track about unexpected desire, our own desire was caught up in his web.

After spilling his lemon water over his pedalboard, which luckily survived unharmed, he slid into a “dance number” ‘Trip.’, which took lofi beats and synths and paired it with a funk energy that was impossible to turn away from. Even as he launched into “one for my introverts”, the unreleased ‘Do You Ever Call?’ people were dancing and the venue slowly filled to bursting point as the set went on and people heard a snippet whilst walking past.

Pinkpirate @ Dockside

Taking the stage in the gorgeous sunlight was independent artist Pinkpirate, who made their name with the bedroom-produced Nowhere EP. On that project they paired sparse and delicate guitar lines with hauntingly beautiful vocals and when they performed ‘Someone’ and ‘Nowhere’ for the crowd outside Thekla you couldn’t help but feel that everyone was either captivated or near tears.

More recently, their direction has taken inspiration from the likes of The Japanese House as synth and drum-machine led tracks dialled the energy well up. Opening their set with the glitchy and infectious ‘Can We Talk About The Past Instead?’ and then gliding into ‘I Still Feel Down’ and the more indie influenced ‘Daisy’, the climax came at the end of the set with the unreleased track ‘Undone’. Thanks to it’s addictive beat I was dancing along to the devastating lyrics “I could be the one for you / But you’re busy seeing someone who uses you”; I can’t wait for it to be released into the world.

She's In Parties @ Strange Brew

Walking into an extremely busy and warm atmosphere at Strange Brew with purple lights passing out into the haze of the remaining smoke from a smoke machine, She’s In Parties had the scene set perfectly for their dreamy blend of dreampop and shoegaze; walking the line between Pale Waves and Pinkshinyultrablast. After being caught in traffic and just making it to the venue on time, they opened the set with ‘Velvet Teen’ and ‘I Follow You’ matching hypnotic vocals with delicate guitar loops.

Taking their name from a Bauhaus song, the band comfortably sit alongside the likes of NewDad and Just Mustard emerging out of Ireland. Closing their set with the opulent ‘Cherish’ and ‘Home’, they receive a rapturous applause as the songs fade back out into the smoke.

Unflirt @ Rough Trade

Taking the energy of the day to something much more intimate and tender, Unflirt’s delicate guitar driven tracks completely swooned the crowd. Interweaving bedroom-pop and more shoegaze tendencies, her sound is reminiscent of beabadoobee’s early work; of whom she is a childhood friend and has also toured with.

Effortlessly rolling through tracks like ‘Crush’ and ‘Before Dawn’ with an almost whisper-like voice, the intimate backroom in Rough Trade, with its golden fairy lights suspended from the ceiling, was transformed into a bedroom. Playing cuts off of her new EP Bitter Sweet like the addictive ‘Out of Time’, the crowd was pushed into reverie and walking back out into the sunshine after the show was like leaving the cinema after seeing a film in the middle of the day.

August Charles @ Dareshack

Embedding a soulful minimalism into his storytelling, August Charles brought immaculate vibes back to Dareshack. An expert in getting the crowd on his side, his powerful and emotional songs were stripped to their most vulnerable with just Charles and a pianist on stage. After performing an unreleased track, ‘Say My Name’, he had the crowd cheer if they thought he should put it out; they responded emphatically.

His delicate and vulnerable voice touched my soul, particularly on a track like ‘Take Me Away’, which he apologised for bringing the mood down on saying it’s one of the few songs that really puts him in his feels. To bring the crowd right back up he interspersed ‘Lately’ with the chorus of the Gorillaz song ‘Clint Eastwood’ that got everyone bouncing again. Closing out with ‘Blessed’, a song that people message him saying that they have sex to it when it’s really a song about his relationship with his mum, Charles concluded in stunning fashion.

The Murder Capital @ O2 Academy

After viscerally running through ‘Don’t Cling To Life’ in the quick soundcheck before their set, The Murder Capital announced themselves to the crowd and asking them to commit themselves completely to the chaos about to be unleashed onstage. Clad in a sweaty Lou Reed t-shirt, frontman James McGovern was electric; as the band waltzed through their more experimental tracks ‘Only Good Things’ and ‘A Thousand Lives’, he asked for the crowd to open a pit before the song ‘More is Less’ and then jumped over me in the photo pit to land on the barrier and reach into the feverish crowd in complete ecstasy.

Alternating between more directly punk tracks on their debut record When I Have Fears with the more distorted and boundary-pushing work on their new record Gigi’s Recovery, they rocked the O2 Academy to a pulp. When they came back to play ‘Don’t Cling To Life’ in full, the audience was in rapture.

Alvvays @ SWX

Headlining SWX for the festival, Alvvays returned to grace Bristol with a complete playthrough of the 14 tracks on their stunning new record Blue Rev, whilst also throwing in classics that have been in the back of every indie-kid’s mind for almost a decade. Rolling onstage with a minimalist animated background to add a visual element to their tracks, both ‘Pharmacist’ and ‘After the Earthquake’ had SWX bouncing within moments. Transitioning into dreampop classics like ‘In Undertow’ and ‘Adult Diversion’, the band were incandescent and swooned the crowd with their effortless and captivating performance.

After announcing that “it’s time to get tender” before playing ‘Not My Baby’, accompanied with visuals blurred lights moving through traffic as if you were falling asleep in the back of a car, couples and friends alike were embracing after a long and cathartic day. Clearing the air before playing new track ‘Bored In Bristol’, lead singer Molly Rankin said that they had “never been here long enough to be bored” and had “had many a great night in Thekla” before, instead just using the name because it sounded good in the verse, the crowd cheered along and bounced to its infectious riffs.

Their greatest hits ‘Archie, Marry Me’ and ‘Dreams Tonite’ were met with the same warm reaction as their newest material and deep cuts, and the band continue to be one of the most beloved indie groups on the circuit right now.

As the festival came to a close with Yard Act's headline set at the O2 Academy and DJ sets continuing into the night, I reflected on both a joyous and exciting day and can't wait for next year's instalment.

All Images: Jake Paterson | Epigram

Did you got to Dot to Dot this year?