On paper – or webpage – this year’s Simple Things festival in Bristol promised performances from an innovative cross-section of artists including Caribou, Mogwai, Death from Above 1979, Black Lips, Liars and How to Dress Well, dotted throughout the city centre in a creative selection of venues.
With the festival spanning 15 stages, the main concern for any enthused muso attending would be the inevitability of being torn between giants like Mogwai, and up-and-comers such as dreamy, laptop pop act Oliver Wilde. With its fourth running year, and our first, what was delivered was nothing short of ground-breaking.
Friday night saw an opening party at club InMotion, featuring Canadian electronic crafters Caribou, and Jessy Lanza.
The Saturday line-up was carefully engineered to provide a steady stream of eclectic sounds from noon all the way through until 5am on Sunday.
Starting the day were a handful of local Bristol bands playing at smaller venues across the city; shimmering with promise were new new-wavers Moon Club, and the primevil dark balladry of Mirel Wagner.
Later came ethereal R’n’B crooner Tom Krell, or How to Dress Well, initially captivating the whole of Bristol’s largest concert hall, Colston Hall, with his lush Prince-like falsetto. He delivered his set with an intoxicating release of emotion which seemed to make time stand still, for about half an hour, before the offerings from his newest album ‘What is this heart?’, concentrating largely on heartbreak and general misery, served to thaw his enticing brand of glacial indie-soul.
More bump ‘n’ whine than bump and grind, too much talking sent a few too many of the 4pm festival goers away in search of other offerings. Though How to Dress Well is growing and experimenting in the art he may well become a master of, he would have garnered a greater appreciation at 4am in a wind-down lull.
Disappointment ensued, having narrowly missed most of Oliver Wilde for a long wait for a Lebanese wrap, particularly because a friend reported his indisputable talent; with woozy unwinding of long, synth strewn tracks, this was said to be a mood-filled, pleasant interlude before SOPHIE and Dark Sky kicked off at 6pm.
The old Fire Station was the hang out of dance lovers prior to Lakota opening, perhaps milling around here and in Shapes Courtyard in eager anticipation of giant DJ Harvey, headlining at 1am. It should have been spent getting excited about DJ/Producers Dark Sky, though, who were one of our stand out acts and one of the few remaining vestiges of UK bass music: percussive and rich with garage, EDM and hip hop, these three guys were flavourful and dynamic.
Cult band Liars have peppered their repetoire with everything, from destructive dance punk to air raid synths. Though they were a treat for those existing fans in the hall, digging through a mine of angsty post-punk which runs through most of the fabric of their music, they could be accused of alienating those who weren’t already invited to the Liars party.
Spectres were a welcome lead-up to Death from Above 1979, who we had been waiting almost our entire adolescence to see in the flesh. This Bristolian noise-rock ensemble sent pulses of hidden melody surging through your solar plexis, artfully buried under sonic rubble.
The mounting hysteria for Death From Above 1979 in the main hall of Bristol’s O2 Academy was so tangible you could almost brush it with your fingers. Having had a break since 2006, when the Canadian dance punk duo began their set, their onstage presence and the walls of sound they created were even more palpable.
Surging drills of garage bass guitar and drums exploded at the crowd like ammo, a tightly wound mass of fuzz and force, the driver of which could not be distinguished. Bassist Jesse F. Keeler delivered sensual, relentless riffs beneath a curtain of dark hair, whilst drummer/ singer Sebastien Grainger cast out attacking percussive shrapnel, crude charisma and sexual energy with anecdotes like “that was the first time I asked a woman in a bar to come home with me, I’d never had the guts before. We had the most disgusting, incredible sex all night”. Having felt a little disdainful of the new album, The Physical World, perhaps unfairly dismissing it as an afterthought of their raging 2004 offering, You’re a Woman, I’m a Machine, some of the tracks which did sound more wise and developed, but possibly a little wary on record, certainly bore unrestrained crowd synergy here. Live, they scratched an overwhelming itch.
Festivals, for many, are about variety. The music and range of venues weren’t the only deliverers, but the many people from all corners of the world in Bristol on Saturday impacted the environment too. The very fact that this collection of genres and creative spaces had united a collection of people, made this vibrant city like a miniature world, and never has there been a more fun place to people-watch.
Waiting in the long queue for Mogwai at Colston Hall, we were certainly granted some of our people-watching time. Eventually, we entered the hall to a hazy wash of green light, behind which an eye peered out from the back of the stage like an omnipresent cyclops. Not many bands make it to their 19th year, and if they do, they rarely conjur the kind of reverence and creative accolade that Mogwai have. No matter how familiar you are with their juggling towers of noise and melody, a live performance of Mogwai is like standing next to a jumbo jet, with a slowly realised, delicate melody which forms around you and bewitches you. It is unlikely and strangely convincing; a haunting experience that was worth all the wait. Perhaps it is the fact that their music is so difficult to pin down which has made it so enduring.
A microcosm for the entire event, Mogwai for us served as the perfect closing note to a festival which itself was so difficult to pin down, and yet seemed effortless: there was no semblance or facade, there was simply good music and good people milling around having a good time. Simple.
Simple Things was, and will hopefully continue to be, one of the most effective, multi-faceted and musically stimulating festivals to grace the UK. The fact that it also catered for both hip house heads and serious nodding post-rock aficionados, was an entirely impressive feat.
Want the good news? Simple Things is happening again in Glasgow this Saturday, 1st November. If Bristol is too far south, or you happen to be around Scotland this weekend, get yourself a ticket and head over there pronto.