Bristol is a unique hub for culture and arts. The city is far smaller than somewhere like Manchester or London, but this is part of the reason it’s managed to carve its own identity in a way.
The underground scene has traditionally been affiliated with sound system music, which in some senses is still true. When I arrived to the town on the Friday night, I noticed an advert for an upcoming Drum & Bass party spray-painted onto the front of a disused building, and let’s not forget Livity Sound are still very much a thing.
In recent years, though, promoters have adopted new ideas and the musical landscape has changed. Simple Things is the brainchild of the Crack Magazine team, who have always pushed a mix of cutting-edge music from across the spectrum. This was reflective in the line-up, with an impressive blend of bands and DJs playing in different venues across the city centre from Saturday through till early the next day.
(Photo: Andy Zajac)
I started off in The Island complex, which was made up of 3 small venues centred on a bar in a courtyard. Mike Skinner played an early DJ set in an old firestation, leaning on cuts of commercial Drum & Bass, Dubstep and Grime. Yes, he played that overtired Nero remix of ‘Blinded by the Lights’ followed by ‘Fit But You Know It’, and yes, his mixing was bad. The crowd went for it, though, which was no mean feat at 3pm.
Avalon Emerson followed with a set of heady House next door in the courtyard, while nd_baumecker drew more upbeat stuff like Deetron’s remix of Todd Terje’s ‘Alfonso Muskedunder’ as day turned to night. Helena Hauff slayed it in a dark, packed-out underground tunnel, which was the perfect accompaniment to her abrasive, industrial Techno.
It wasn’t all about DJs, though – the grandiose Colston Hall played host to a number of avant-garde, experimental bands throughout the weekend. Godspeed You! Black Emperor played an intense opening concert on the Friday before the main event, while Battles’ catchy guitar loops had the whole venue jumping around as they closed out the Saturday night.
(Photo: Joe Coulson)
A couple of minutes away in the O2 Academy, Skepta and JME came on close to 1am to perform all of their biggest bangers like ‘That’s Not Me’, ‘Shutdown’ and ‘Too Many Man’ to a hyped crowd. In other words, they tore the fucking roof off, and it was probably the best set of the day.
As the early hours approached, bleary-eyed ravers descended on Lakota for the final stretch. Untold was playing jittery Dubstep like Joe’s ‘Claptrap’ when I arrived to the main room, while Hunee had everyone’s hands in the air with his ultra-rare disco cuts like Sunstreet’s ‘Lovin’ over at the Studio 89 stage.
Objekt followed from Untold, drawing on introspective Techno and 90s Breakbeat to close out the weekend. The Ragga Twins’ ‘Shine Eye’ was one of his darker choices, while African Dreams’ ‘All The Same Family’ sounded particularly huge. Even when he indulged in an intergalactic ambient excursion some time in the middle of his set, he still had the trust of the crowd, with most of those still standing in it for the long haul. I’d been out for close to 14 hours by the time he finished, though I wasn’t in any rush to leave.
(Photo: Kane Rich)
Multi-venue day festivals like this are hardly a new concept, but rarely are they executed so well. Queues for venues passed quickly, bars were always well stocked, and proper toilets were abundant. There was also a free atmosphere to the whole thing, which massively added to the experience. When I left Skepta and JME, there was a group of guys in wigs and sequin blazers tearing it up at the back. Guitar nerds stood smoking spliffs for each of the bands. Even when I stopped for a drink at the Crack-owned The Christmas Steps in between 2 acts, a DJ was playing Andrès tracks in the back corner of the pub. Bristol’s active music scene puts the city firmly on the culture map – Simple Things may well be the jewel in its crown.
Words: Chris Williams
Featured image: Joe Coulson