Simple Things Festival 2014: Various Venues – live review

Simple Things Festival

Colston Hall, O2 Academy, Lakota, The Island

25th Oct 2014

One of the highlights of the Bristol music calendar year is Simple Things, an urban festival which offers only the highest quality of live music and the most cutting edge of DJ’s spread over numerous venues, all within spitting distance of each other. Like last year Louder Than War represented in force with two reporters, Philip Allen and Guy Manchester, who still only managed to cover around half of the acts they wanted to such was the excellence of the lineup.

The day’s beating heart is the Colston’s fine foyer space which acts as a centre point. We rock up pretty early after a warm and buzzing visit to Christmas Steps, Crack Magazine’s very own pub offering ales and pies and hosting DJ’s all day. Senegalese musician, Moussa performs his beautiful sacred chants, masterfully playing his array of African stringed instruments filling the whole foyer with a fluttering meditative vibe, really setting the day up perfectly. Next into the main hall for The Fauns to really open this event with their crackling wall of sound. Singer Alison Garner elegantly leads the band’s noise into a beautiful cacophony, sounding extra massive and artfully tight given the wonderfully busy year they have had since the release of their second album, ‘Lights’.

At Start The Bus, who host the Cabin stage, we discover Mirel Wagner finishing her mind-blowing set of skeletal acoustic songs, stripping the melodies back to their simplest most direct form. She reminded us of a young Polly Harvey, imbued with the same intensity and single-mindedness. Quite a revelation and no surprise she had been snapped up by Sup Pop for her debut album. Another revelation today comes in the form of Grubs, a three piece based out of Bristol who play the kind of Indie music I’d forgotten existed. Shambling D.I.Y. indie pop direct from your 1980s student halls. Check out their debut single here.

Back in the foyer, the afternoon fell in full swing as we are treated to such an incredibly diverse set of acts such as ATP recording artists, Eaux. A stylish synth-pop three-piece from London, whose mesmerising vocalist, Sian Ahern has one of the most ethereal voices we’ve heard, one that traverses the soundtrack influenced melodies and beats. With the crowd growing, Oliver Wilde and his band take the stage for an impressively performed set. There is a wonderful sense of creation that exudes from Oliver and his friends. If the challenge they set themselves is to touch the souls of their audience, it feels they might be close.

Disappointingly we had to give up on our hopes of catching one of our “must see” acts – Esben and the Witch – due to our not having the patience to wait out the long “one in one out” queue and instead decided to make our first trip over to The Firestation for SOPHIE. Perhaps not surprisingly considering the hype surrounding this artist we were greeted by another “one in one out” queue, but fortunately we were the only ones in it so were soon waved through for a delirious set of fractured and at times bonkers beats and breaks. The packed audience of mainly young, mainly hipster, revellers were lurching between “really going for it” and hiding their confusion by staring at their phones as the music slipped easily between joyous pop beats and more difficult noise.

Helsinki’s Jaakko Eino Kalevi were the most baffling band we saw all day in the foyer. If 80s weird pop verging on Stock, Aitken & Waterman at times is your thing, then cool. It’s not mine. Then from out of nowhere comes French beat maker Onra to turn the foyer into one of the highlights of the day. The way he melds DJing with production skills via the use of his MPC samplers is jaw-dropping. He worked his way through a plethora of hip hop and club tracks while whipping the young crowd into a frenzy of arm waving. Crowd pleasing to the max, matched only by the happy throng out on the upper balcony for DJ’s Pardon My French’s deep house grooves.

Time to get some serious rock action on at the O2 Academy care of the Idles who, despite taking some time off performing live, have gotten firm and lean with a menacing, palpable tension. Few bands these days have the danger and pent-up chaos epitomised by lead singer, Joe Talbot’s stomping, off-kilter stare. As my brother used to say, “Tighter than a gnat’s chuff!”

Toronto’s Greys youthful exuberance is something worth shouting about too. Obviously influenced by fellow Canadian’s DFA1979 but with a hint of Nirvana to sweeten the deal and, of course, Fugazi. Talking of whom, their track “Guy Picciotto” was easily a highlight of their set. Next, Bristol’s Turbowolf nail it to the wall. One of the best Rock live acts around for good reason. Their riff heavy, psycho screaming is as powerful as it is catchy, never failing to get the whole crowd eating out of their hand. Masters at the game.

Eagulls have been Louder Than War favourites for some time now although we hadn’t seen them for over a year so we had to check their set out over in the Lantern – and once again they didn’t disappoint. A brilliant set of swaggering post punk inflected tunes which reminded us more of The Cure than anyone else this time – whenever we see them they remind us of another of the giants of “post-punk” but definitely not in a “copy cat” way but rather always with their own identity stamped on top.

After a quick excursion to see Nightmares On Wax do their old school flavour real justice in the main hall and The Liars lead singer perform their set wrapped in a orange day-glo jacket with the hood done up, his hair flailing out the front of it we returned to see for one of us the highlight of the whole day. The return of the mighty Death From Above 1979. Back with a new album, DFA have pushed aside the pretenders and take the throne once more. New songs and old come at us thick and fast. The ungodly bass sound, the punk fueled beats, the caterwauling vocals all present and correct. The audience, every one of them have a priceless look of amazement, witnessing one of those unique musical relationships. Tracks like ‘Little Girl’ and ‘Romantic Rights’ remind us why we love this band, snarling bass gymnastics that burrow into the ear. A truly awe-inspiring band that, despite the years inactive, have come back just a strong as they ever were.

As Liars were playing Colston Hall 1 and Death From Above 1979 preparing to lay waste to the O2, Thought Forms took to the stage in The Lantern. The Wiltshire trio have strong links with Bristol, not least through their being signed to Invada Records who were responsible for the programming of the Lantern, so it wasn’t surprising to find a healthy sized audience watching them. As ever they begin with the bewitching Burn Me Clean, a track which never fails to mesmerise, drawing the audience under its spell with hauntingly evocative Moroccan pipe playing married with shimmering walls of guitar noise and downplayed yowls. The track seems to go on forever, loosening us all up before the more standard Thought Forms layered noise assault coupled with a stage full of flailing movement, be it hair, guitars or drum sticks. A typically exhilarating performance. That it clashed with the brilliant Spectres was disappointing, but as we’d seen then live a few weeks before and were to see them a few days later we opted for Thought Forms. However, having seen those two other sets by them we know that they will have gifted those waiting for DFA1979 a real treat of layered, nuanced guitar focussed noise, often unfair described purely in terms of its ear drum destroying intensity which is a shame because Spectres sound is so much more subtle and intelligent than that of a band who just want to make folks ears hurt.

Next up for us were the Colston Hall headliners: Mogwai, whose set was preceded by a whole host of songs culled from Now That’s What I Call Music 1980-something (eg Toto’s Africa) which we assume was a request from the band who are known to have a sense of humour and will be well aware that Simple Things have a rep as being a hipster’s haven. The band took to the stage and proceeded to deliver a thrillingly immersive set with the audience glued to the spot as we were greeted with what was very much the order of the day: a career spanning set. The finale of “Mogwai Fear Satan” and “Batcat” was enough to leave us with our hearts bursting and it was very odd to realise once it had finished that the festival was still only two thirds of the way through.

While most people were now either headed homewards or headed Lakota-wards (for the achingly strong lineup of electronic acts over there) we stayed put for the closing act on the Lantern stage, Bobby “The Haxan Cloak” Krlic. The first time we saw The Haxan Cloak was at Simple Things 2012 when he played to an audience of around a dozen people at Lakota, a set that’s still one of my all time top 10 performances. Now with a second album behind him which consists of actual tracks his set’s changed in format slightly, and to its slight detriment in my opinion, but he still does what he does with the utmost aplomb; murderously deep, dark and intensely dirty electronic beats and kicks which still mess with your soul even though you now have a chance to catch breath between tracks. I’m pretty sure the weight of his music on my chest meant I didn’t draw breathe throughout his set, although I guess that was unlikely. The logical thing to do when at a Haxan Cloak show is just to close ones eyes and get lost in the music, especially when the accompanying strobes are taken into account, and that seems to be what most of us did, heads bowed and bobbing, revelling in our discombobulation. And the cherry on the top? Only a Mogwai cover. The man is the master of building to crescendos then dropping you down to the depths and long may he be a fixture of Simple Things.

With another four hours of the festival left and despite our being emotionally drained by that performance we couldn’t leave it there, so picked up our bikes and headed over to the Lakota / Coroners Court complex off Stokes Croft. The lineup here was most impressive, featuring Actress, Kode 9, Zombey and Happa to name just four of the highlights. Sadly the day’s nemesis – the one in one out queue – re-reared it’s ugly head and despite forlorn attempts to blag our way in with our press passes we failed and hied us off back to have a closing drink over at The Firestation where DJ Harvey was halfway through a four hour set of (what felt like very) old school garage. To quote the person I was with “you’d need a handful of E’s to enjoy this” so we called it a day and went home to our beds.

In conclusion, then, Simple Things has continued to grow in quality. Not bad considering it was already the best urban festival we know of. We’ve been to every iteration of the festival so far and it’s a massive feather in the caps of the promoters that they’ve managed to make what started out as a small, local festival into this massive, internationally renowned event which can draw so many top acts. They continue to be trailblazers – next year, the lineups of most other city centre festivals will look like Simple Things 2014 does – and we can only wonder what lies in store for Simple Things 2015.

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To keep up to date with Simple Things news keep an eye on their Website: simplethingsfestival.co.uk or find them on Facebook. They also tweet as @simplethingsuk.

All words by Philip Allen & Guy Manchester. More writing by these guys can be found in their respective author’s archives here and here.

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