Simple Things Festival: Colston Hall and The Island, Bristol – live review

Photo of Modeselektor at Simple Things Festival © Ben Price

Simple Things Festival, Bristol

Colston Hall and The Island, Bristol

12th / 13th October

Photo Credits Ben Price & Kane Rich, as denoted.

For the second year running Louder Than War reports back from Bristol’s Simple Things festival, a one day marathon of some of the best, most cutting edge artists practising the gentle art of “music” today. 

The following review comes to you from the joint perspectives of Philip Allen & Guy Manchester. Having been granted a +1 the only logical thing to do (esp for a site that doesn’t feel comfortable with “+1 culture”) was to take another writer along. So the following review is in the style of your favourite wresting tag team (w/out the wrestling of course). We’ve tried to make it easy for you to work out who’s who but if there’s any question of doubt bear in mind that it probably doesn’t matter.  ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

Kicking us off is Philip…

Under the rooves of both Bristol’s Colston Hall & The Island Complex, a sixteen hour marathon of talent and music is about to commence. Collecting our passes (will come in very handy later!) and wristbands from Start The Bus, Guy (Reviews Editor) and I (Your Contributor Scribe) are discussing the line-up times and essential viewings amongst the plethora of bands and DJ’s playing today. The loss of Portico Quartet and Tall Ships who have pulled out last minute cuts deep, but the sheer volume of talent here tends to the wounded expectation. We pass through the security tent shielding the courtyard where the BBQ and smoking quarters are and rush to the main stage to see Oliver Wilde.

A kaleidoscope of colour bathes the stage as Oliver and his bands mates play a stunning set to the early vanguard watching. Performing tracks off their debut album like the euphoric, ‘Perrett’s Brook’ and the dream-like, ‘Curve’, prisms of light and sound meld into a psychedelic soup bursting with flavour and depth, sounding the best we have heard him, something we put down largely to Colston Hall’s superior kit & acoustics.

In order to get the lie of the land, we head over to the Firestation for some Typesun (see pic right, © Kane Rich) who is driving the beats getting the place ready for Jazzy Jeff’s hip hop heaven.

(Guy) At this point we separate for the first time. I stay put, having as I do a soft spot for Typesun’s woozy “perfect for a chilled out Sunday afternoon vibe” of slinky jazz come soul made perfectly contemporary with some glorious undercurrents of bassy “wump”. People’s feet inevitably begin to shuffle, and there’s a total sense of inclusion here with talking kept to an absolute minimum, something very rare for one day festival as a lot of the punters are probably here as much for a “social” as to listen to some music. During the set though we get an intimation that the wheels are beginning to come off this, The RBMA stage’s timetable and cometh the end of their set we’re already thirty minutes late.

(Philip) Back on the main stage where The Pastels play an awkward but enjoyable mid-afternoon set whilst most folks were chatting outside or watching Fimbar Bravo in the foyer.

(Guy) Fimber’s the first of today’s festival incongruities. Whereas 99% of the artists playing  could easily be fitted into either “indie” or “electronic” genres, Fimber’s West Indian steel drums soaked with the sounds of the Caribbean, but melded, thanks to the rest of his band, with your favourite West African sounds set him apart. It’s unlikely many people will have marked Fimber down as a “must see” at the start of the day, but you can rest assured that those who lucked upon the band will have been glad they did. People’s inhibitions suddenly dropped and dancing, as well as smiling, was suddenly the order of the day.

During their set I spied some dude hanging around sporting a Pig Destroyer t-shirt. Varied though the bill was, I didn’t expect to see many of your average fans of old school death & grindcore to be present. All became a bit clearer as the next band on in the foyer, Fair Ohs, stepped up to the stage led by none other than said Pig Destroyer t-shirt clad man. It’s fair to say I’d been waiting two years to see Fair Ohs live having read an enthusiastic review of one of their gigs some time back. It was everything I could have hoped for, they carried on what Fimber Bravo had started (hat tip to the programmers) & the same people who’d been smiling & dancing to Fimber now did so to Fair Ohs, or rather to their idiosyncratic brand of punk fueled garage rock mixed with afrobeat, funk and even hints of reggae at times. Decidedly ‘upper’ music and one of the sets of the day for sure.

(Philip) Local label, Howling Owl’s Room 2 at the Colston offered a great selection of ‘heavy’ with frenzy whipping from Spectres, The Naturals, and Idles (see pic right, © Kane Rich) who shone with all the hard work they have been putting in lately on being bloody great. Hats come off to the Wet Nuns though who went heavier than everyone, metal-ing up the place like no ones business on this their last ever shows. The joke has gone too far, apparently.

The foyer was my favourite stage by far. It’s viewing accessibility from all floors up is a unique perspective on the gig experience thus creating some fresh and exciting performances from Dublin duo, Forrests, who electro’d up the space with their flippantly freaky set that included two surreally masked dancers psyche-ing out the front row. The Welsh Dada-ists Islet gave a fantastically manic performance. A bit avant-garde for some, but inspiration personified for me. Their excitement was matched by the arrival and rush to the main stage by those here to see Nico / Nicolas Jarr, one of tonight’s big name headliners. Unfortunately, due to the place bursting at the seams under the weight of so many people, we missed him. Not even the waving of press passes could get us in the auditorium, oh well. Turned out to be a good thing in the end because we would have missed Vessels in the foyer, winning over the crowd who had dispersed after Islet’s set to grab some food in the courtyard. Their electronic live band hybrid boasted some incredible double drumming during their dynamic set. The crowd were literally slavering for more.

(Guy) Meanwhile, back at The Firestation (RBMA) stage we were waiting for King Midas Sound, another incongruity of the day. Arriving there just before 7:15 I, and a wee cohort of half a dozen other KMS fans, twiddled our thumbs & chatted amongst ourselves as we bided our time. During the wait I ambled round some of the other stages and rooms, catching the end of the set by Manchester band No Ceremony/// (in the Firestation Second Room) whose darkwave sounds impressed; a bit of legendary hero of the early Bristol dubstep scene Appleblim (in The Shapes Courtyard) & the nascent Crazylegs 5th birthday in The Courtrooms. There couldn’t have been more that five people in The Courtrooms but the atmosphere was already electric so, despite my intention of just poking my nose in for a couple of minutes I ended up hanging around half an hour busting some moves.

Eventually, two hours late and after engaging with more cables than I’ve ever seen one man engage with, King Midas Sound were ready. I was totally pumped by now what with the wait, the talking with other KMS fans & knowing the last time I saw Kevin Martin et al play was one of my top 5 all time favourite sets. Ever. The only thing holding my excitement back was that regular vocalist Kiki Hitomi wasn’t with them. I needn’t have worried of course as her boots were more than ably filled by Bo Ningen’s Taigen Kawabe. It was a typical King Midas Sound performance, totally engrossing. I was enraptured from the get go by a set full of shuddering bass drops and the most glorious fusion of electronics & dub. I imagine this is the sound that aliens who are told what dubstep is like imagine it to be – you can sense the influence of dub throughout every beat. Taigen’s vocals added a sense of the deeply spiritual (or deeply eerie depending on how you look at it) edge to things. Similarly, when soft-voiced singer and poet Roger Robinson joined in, the marriage of his delicacy with the power of juddering beats kept you spell bound. A total triumph.

Normally I’d have been good for nothing after a set like that, but a sobering 10 minute walk back to Colston Hall in the dark was just what the doctor ordering & by the time I got back there I was well up for running to the front of the main Hall for a brilliant set by Pantha Du Prince. He may not have tapped into the theatricals of Modeselector (see below) but his set was a peerless example of minimal techno, mesmeric and intricate, but still melodic enough so that the half cut kids surrounding me had eyes for nowt but him. He finished his set with a  shrug, a smile & a namaste and was gone, clearing the way for Modeselector.

(Philip) Highlight of the night belonged to Modeselector who nailed it as the kings of the festival. Their kooky personality and impressive lights and visuals helped make it a real fun time with a crowd that was in their hands the whole time. Pure enjoyment. Then into the rainy night to the Firestation, bypassing the cues round the block with the wave of a pass (a saviour at times like these) into the RBMA stage, where Doc Deneeka and Benjamin Damage are doubling up their abilities to win the crowd playing some of the best modern Techno and House. The set is smoking hot with Damage winding up the deep Tec side of things and Deneeka releasing the tension with ripples of euphoria. Both are DJ’s and Producers in their own right, but together they breathe fresh new life into the genres as they proved with their album, ‘They Live!’.

(Guy) I hung around at Colston Hall after Modeselector. They may have been the headliner but there was still life in this party yet! Straight after their set finished and while most were heading to the Firestation, I went to check out the headliners in The Lantern, No Age, who gave masterclass in stripped down garage rock, lilting between more in your face guitar squalls & more melodic moments. A quite gentle push pit ensued proving, if there were proof needed, that all was well with the world and that people were still having fun.

I followed Philip over to The Island and squeezed myself inside but after two minutes (13 hours after the whole caboodle had begun) I suddenly realised I’d had enough. I’d worked my way through 4 tshirts and needed the last dry one for the cycle home. And yes, I will probably regret missing Jon Hopkins for a long time to come.

~

So, in conclusion, a day that lived up to its promise – and some. The bias this year had been slanted more evenly between “electronic” & “alternative” than last year which worked a treat. It wouldn’t be a festival if there wasn’t something that needed ironing out for next year so we can forgive them the timekeeping gremlins. Dropping the somewhat seedy and soulless O2 Academy in favour of the grandeur of Colston Hall (see pic above © Kane Rich) was possibly the most inspired organisational coup of the day (well lit, clean, very friendly staff, amazing vantage points, seats for those who wanted to take a load off and, most pertinently, astonishing sound quality that led you to see bands you’d seen a hundred times before in a new light), although also swapping the group of other venues used last year for the Island Complex (formed from fire stations, law courts, youth clubs and police cells (yes, you heard me right, police cells)) ran it a close second! Add to the venues the sheer quality of the lineup and it was clear from the outset that to live up to expectations the day was going to have to be pretty special. And so it turned out to be.

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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