In a year that has seen many festivals fall by the wayside Dot-To-Dot has stood by its strengths in 2012. The one day festival, now it its eighth year, is again held in Bristol, Nottingham and Manchester, with a highly varied line-up that makes up for in ambition what it lacks in identity. As has become typical it is marqueed by a mid-level touring band (The Drums) backed by several long-time up-and-coming acts (Pulled Apart By Horses & Wavves), but where D2D proves more than value for money, at a paltry £20, is on its' undercard..
Where last years festival had a focus on the electronic here there seems to be a retreat to the acoustic. Hopefully not bringing on a full-blown nu-acoustic revival, the brow-beaten blues of Willis Earl Beal and Nottingham's brightest prospect Jake Bugg are given high billing on the line-up, alongside Willy Mason. The former's background, spending time in the US Army and homeless for a time, has (inevitably) brought up comparisons to Seasick Steve, and he shares with him a hauntingly stark vibe, whilst the latter is well schooled in the dusty folk of Dylan and in possession of a yearning voice well beyond that of a teenager.
Whilst local talent has always been represented, 2012 is the first year in which several artists from Nottingham, the festivals' spiritual homeland, have been given a high billing across the entire event. This year, alongside Jake Bugg, Dog Is Dead bring their Fleet Foxes-meets-Vampire Weekend angular blend of multi-part harmonies and rolling percussion, whilst Petebox showcases his progression from pure beatboxing into a dizzying concoction of styles and ideas.
Which is not to say that Dot-To-Dot has become a Royston Vasey-friendly local festival for local people and local artists. The sun-kissed lo-fi garage-rock of Cleveland, Ohia's Cloud Nothings promises to be one of the highlights of the days' activities, as does the equally summer-friendly folk-rock of Here We Go Magic. On top of this Pearl & The Beard offer up similarly enticing reverb-soaked indie, but for a break from all these melodies and pop-sensibilities The Men are highly recommended. Their relentless scuzzed-up punk bottles the very essence of Iggy Pop, J Mascis and Paul Westerberg and then launches amplifier-torturing attacks that all three would be proud of. Their omission from Nottingham's line-up is a big loss, but residents of the city won't have to wait too long for an appearance from the Brooklyn anarchists.
Matching its unique mix of artists, the concept of Dot-To-Dot is likewise refreshingly different. Resembling a much more well organised Camden Crawl or Great Escape, each day of the festival takes place in a cluster of indoor venues within a small radius in the centre of each city; for Bristol and Nottingham six separate stages are used, whilst Manchester is somewhat less spread out. The close proximity of each venue alongside intelligent scheduling across the entire day ensures that it is much easier to skip from stage to stage and see a larger number of bands than would be possible at similar events, and it is unusual to find any of the rooms at full capacity whilst most remain busy.
Something that allows for casual journeys to and from the festival itself, which can be a godsend in the midst of over 12 consecutive hours of live music. In Nottingham, Mogal-E-Azam's curries and a quiet drink at The Orange Tree are within two minutes walk of the main venue, Rock City, whilst Abdul's near Manchester's Deaf Institute is the perfect pick-up place for a late-night, diet-defying treat. With similar attractions in Bristol there are umpteen ways to stretch out the festivities, and with tickets at such a suspiciously low price there is less of a sense of wallet-guilt if you should choose to stray.
Whilst other events may put Dot-To-Dot in the shade with stronger headliners and a wider range of activities very few can offer so much for so little, and with an absence of pretension or hype it has become one of the strongest small festivals in the country.