Simple Things Festival. Bristol.

Simple Things Festival.
Bristol. Various Venues.
May 6th 2012.

There seems to have been an ever increasing number of one day festivals popping up in Bristol over recent years. One of the newest of these is Simple Things of which last weekends was only the second. Read a fullish report of the festival below.

When I first glanced at the lineup for Simple Things it seemed pretty obvious this was going to be a festival of two halves, the one half rock & the other half dance. It was only when I got my festival program that I realised it was actually going to be a festival of two two halves, the aforementioned rock vs dance half and secondly the Bristol Artists vs The Rest half.

Indeed, five of the first six bands I saw were from Bristol & they totally reinforced what strength in depth (& variety) there lies in the local music scene here. For too long now it’s been a common misconception that Bristol’s all about bass music but the rock / indie / experimental music scenes are definitely snapping at the heels of the bass music scene in terms of the cities predominant music genres. Hopefully any visitors (or indeed local bods) who attended the festival labouring under the misconception that Bristol’s about bass, bass & nothing but the bass will have had that misconception totally blown away.

Sadly I only got to see one song from the first band on, The Naturals (who are definitely not to be confused with the other Bristol band with a similar name, Big Naturals, who are one of my favourite local bands & who I went on about a bit here). I dilly dallied getting over to the O2 coz I was labouring under the impression that The Naturals were going to still be the very mediocre guitar rock band that they were last time I saw them. Bugger me though did that one song convince me that they’ve changed, very much for the better. That one song slowly whipped itself up into a crescendo of swirling guitars, riffs, noise, feedback & effects & left me scratching my head wondering when this transformation occurred & wondering why no one told me about it. I have made a mental note to check them out live again some time soon, preferably for more than one song.

Second band was another Bristol band, The Liftmen. They’ve received some 6 music exposure recently & I file them away under the “quirky indiepop band” category, all stoppy starty & thumpy bassy stuff. Dangerously catchy & fun to listen to. Unfortunately they were plagued by equipment malfunctions & lost the lead guitar for about 10 minutes of their set but once that gremlin was sorted out it was great stuff. Check out their song “Two Kranes” below but be warned if you watch it more than once it’ll be lodged in your head for the rest of the day.

 

Still at the O2 I then caught a few songs from all female alternative choir Gaggle. They dress like Tinariwen after the apocryphal “explosion in a paint factory” (even though they were going for a Japanese look I think). They must’ve been going for ages now as the first time I heard them was on Lauren Laverne’s Saturday avvy show. Not sure whether the O2 stage has ever had so many people (or mics) on it at once (18 mics, 1 drummer & the conductor down by the crash barrier). Lots of lovely harmonising on a Sunday avvy. The video below came out yesterday & demonstrates their sound pretty well.

 

Over to the Thekla now where Spectres pulled off exactly the same trick as The Naturals, also surprising me by being considerably better than last time I saw them. More guitar mangling noise of the finest order, everyone in the packed, swelterry top deck of the boat were obviously enjoying the guitar storm they were witnessing.

It was too hot to last long up there so as soon as they finished I descended into the bowels of the boat where, after a few minutes of a dj set by Cuddles, Bristol alt folk band Gravenhurst took to the stage plying us with some of their fragile, intricate guitar work & perfectly honed song smithery. It was a great counterpoint to some of the guitar abuse from earlier in the day. Warp recording star Nick Talbot, whose vehicle Gravenhurst is, has a genuinely astonishing talent. You should probably make an effort to go buy his latest album if you haven’t already got it. Watch a video of the lead single from it below.

 

Annoyingly though, gentle music like Gravenhurst doesn’t tend to work at festivals like this, there were way too many drunken oafs talking throughout it. After 3 songs I knew if I hung around any longer I’d spontaneously combust with the effort it was taking me to contain my spleen, so instead I made a dramatic, huffing exit which I have no doubt was utterly missed by those who my hufferry (hufferring?) was directed at.

Back upstairs for the first of my big 3 highlights of the day, the ever astonishing Bristol band Big Joan. This was the second time in 3 days I’d seen them & they absolutely killed this afternoon. Actually, they absolutely kill it every time but this time they killed it even more so ‘absolutely’ than usual. They’re fronted by the inimitable Berlin born (I’m only mentioning that she’s from Berlin coz everyone does, not coz it’s relevant or anything) Annette Berlin who has a penchant for knocking crap out of old fashioned metal dustbins as well as singing songs through old fashioned telephones. All those people who bandy expressions like “experimental” & “unique” about too freely should check Big Joan out & use them as a benchmark for both in future. Add in some startlingly splintery & electrifying guitar work (expect bleeding fingers), thumping bass work & pounding drums & you’ve got Big Joan. Below’s a track off their latest album, the track that sounds most like The Gang Of Four IMO. Buy that album asap.

That was the last Bristol ‘band’ of the day (although there were lots more Briz DJ’s & bassmongers to come). They barely scratched the surface of the local scene here & I could launch into a long list of other awesome local bands but as this isn’t an appraisal of the Bristol music scene I’ll shove on. Next stop was my first trip to a surprisingly empty Fleece for the brilliant Eagulls (who we really must feature on here as a new band of the day soon). I remember hearing them on Huw Stephens show the first time he played them & I immediately sat up and took notice. Like their mates Pulled Apart By Horses they too have a foot in both hardcore & rock camps, and play impressively hard, fast attitudinal music. Check out Possessed below.

Back to the O2 for my only slight disappointment of the day. Sorry Grimes fans but this was a set for which the expression “when it was good it was very very good but when it was a bit shambolic it wasn’t quite so good” was invented. Whaddya mean you’ve never heard that expression before? I’m probably being a bit harsh & if it had been anywhere but the O2 I’m sure I’d have loved it. I do like her music but tonight it just felt a little flat at times. I’m sure most people really enjoyed it & I did stay till the end so it obviously wasn’t ‘bad’ as such.

It was now deffo time for some dance music & a trip to Timbuk2 was in order. It had been taken over by the brilliant Crazylegs promoters for the early evening. Crazylegs are having a stellar year this year, putting on some unbelievable lineups at various venues across the city. Like this coming up tomorrow. I just caught the end of The Kelly Twins set, part of the Idle Hands clan they have a legendarily deep record collection & sure enough they played a wonderfully varied set full of underground (bass) music. Bouncing, garagey beats with a tempo that slowly rose as their set went on. They handed over to techno dj Lukas who was great but people kept on sidling up to me asking if I could sell them pills or MDMA so I left. It was either that or ask them “do i look like a fucking drug dealer” to which the answer would obviously have been “yes”.

Having hung around in Timbuk2 for Timbuk2 (sic) long I missed all but the final flourish of Three Trapped Tigers at the Thekla then headed back to The Fleece which was still pretty empty. Time for the second of my top 3 highlights of the day, the apocalyptic, psychedelic space rock of Bo Ningen. Seriously blew the roof off the place. Quite incredible. It was good to see the guys from Spectres in the audience – hope they took away something about honing your own sound & being original.

Time to crash out in one of the booths on the top deck of the Thekla for 15 minutes with a bag of nuts (easy to forget to eat when at a festival like this) while Becoming Real did his thing. I was in need of another ‘wind’ & 4am was looking a long way away. So, partially recharged I then sallied downstairs for Factory Floor, the third standout highlight of the festival. They magnificently fully realised the recharging that had started by that bag of nuts. It was one of their typically pounding, driving, relentless motorik sets. I swear I haven’t been in such an electric audience for quite some time. If anyone’s wondering, I can report that Factory Floor still don’t believe in giving you a chance to catch your breath with one pummelling track still segueing straight into another. I reckon I must’ve spent at least half their set with no feet on the ground so hard was I dancing. This was the first time I’d seen Factory Flooor since Feb 2010 when they were supporting Fuck Buttons & by jimminy cricket have they come a really long, really good way since then. I swear I whimpered when it ended. The Factory Floor track below was released last week, it’s a remix of a track by Forward Strategy Group & obviously isn’t a patch on their live sound but what the hec.

Trickiest dilemma of the day was where to go next. Squarepusher was starting just as Factory Floor finished but it clashed with ‘Hudson Mohawk b2b Rustie’. A tricky one but I was pretty sure I’d miss a lot of Squarepusher’s set getting over too & into the O2. Plus the Lakota was on my way home, (and hence, more pertinently, on my way to a shower & bed) so it won my attentions.

A slightly tipsy cycle ride later & I was there. And woah was it good stuff. About as opposite to a ‘safe’ set as you could get. Heavy on the squelch & bouncing unpredictably off into different directions it was an incredibly deep, challenging, intelligent & at times slightly bonkers set and I don’t care how pretty Squarepusher’s lights were THIS was the place to be this night at this precise time. Seen.

Despite my head telling me to go back into town for Caribou after Hudmo & Rustie finished my body was telling me it had had enough. Id already told it to sod off the two times earlier in the evening it had told me that but I decided this time to pay attention to it. Plus I was on my 6th & final t-shirt.

Generally speaking the organisers of the festival should be commended. Considering it’s only the second year of the festival they did a great job, learning from the problems of last year & rolling with the new problems of this year pretty well – a venue pulled out at the last minute so they couldn’t announce set times before the day of the festival which especially annoyed people who like planning in advance.

So, a good day. And now it’s heads down for the next Bristol on day festivals, Dot2dot & Love Saves The Day in a couple of weeks. Bring em on.

All words Guy Manchester. More by Guy can be read here.

It’s obviously been the day when people have had to get their Simple Things reviews in coz both the 405 & tQ have published Simple things reviews today also. Apart from Grimes & Factory Floor we all saw different bands etc.

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