Returning for its third year, Bristol’s Simple Things Festival has now earned its stripes as one of the city’s most exciting festivals. We were treated to its better-than-ever line up on a rainy Saturday in October, spread across some of the grandest and most unique music venues across Bristol. Less third-time lucky, more a fine-tuned perfect formula.
Wristband exchange took place at Start the Bus, and seemed a rather pleasant affair compared to the extensive queues of 2012. We arrived in time to soak up the atmosphere at STB, settle our stomachs with a big breakfast and a Bloody Mary, and head to Colston Hall to see the best-named band in suburban rock, The Portillo Moment. The perfect opener for the day, their guitar sounds and lyrics that cover basketball players, minidiscs and M&S briefs bred a beautiful sort of Bristolian nostalgia.
Next up were John Wizards in the Colston foyer, on their first show out of South Africa. Fans of the band were sad not to see singer Emmanuel, who was stuck in Nairobi with visa issues, but frontman John stepped up to the plate. So impressed were we by their warm, African-infused, eclectic sounds, our first post-festival vinyl purchase was their self-titled debut album; a truly excellent record that gets better with each play.
From there we headed to The Old Firestation to catch the end of Typesun, a recent Stamp Mix guest. Always a joy to see live, vocalist Romaine Smith brought his smooth melodies to match the underground soul of producer and drummer Luke Harney. No time to rest, as DJ Jazzy Jeff was up next and we’ve learnt that he’s not worth missing. Tune after tune meant that however composed we wanted to remain during the daylight hours, we couldn’t help breaking a sweat. If it weren’t for the great song selection, the MC’s incessant advertising of the JJ t-shirts might have got to us. But thankfully we were more interested in rapping along with the Fresh Prince.
In the meantime, the other half of the team stayed in Colston Hall, unable to move from the sun-kissed Pardon My French terrace. We caught the end of a set from Seka, who opened our day party last June, who then passed the baton onto recent Bristol Spotlight collaborators Summits. Fittingly they opened with Paper Trails, a highlight from Nicolas Jaar’s recent Darkside LP, whetting our appetite for his own set later that evening. Scala, Agoria’s track of the moment went down a treat as the last of the day’s sun disappeared behind the Bristol high-risers; as did a couple homegrown tracks, Del Mar and Everyday, which are still crying out to be signed.
The Jazzy Jeff contingent then made the exodus back to Colston Hall for the evening’s big players and the contrast offered by These New Puritans perfectly elucidated the diversity of the festival’s line up. Billed as hypnotic and shapeless, their captivating performance invaded our senses, leaving us a little in awe of the spectacle we’d just witnessed.
Before the main event, we returned to the Howling Owl second stage to see raucous Bristol-based Idles demonstrate their obvious skill to a room of appreciative fans. And then it was time. As the clock ticked down to Nicolas Jaar’s scheduled slot, we could see the crowds pouring into the main hall. Leaving it a minute too late, we were turned away from the stalls, but luckily made our way through to the balcony (very lucky indeed – many fans were left outside as the room reached capacity far sooner than expected). Our detour actually turned out to be a blessing in disguise; looking down from above allowed us to truly appreciate the enchanting pervasiveness of Jaar’s performance. We’d been told that it was either going to be magnificent or disappointing and we’d be able to tell which within the first five minutes. But watching him take complete control of the stage, it’s hard to imagine that it could have been anything short of sublime. He was accompanied by stellar visuals from artist Tarik Barri; a perfect collaboration that left the keenest of dancers sitting down in appreciation. Jaar himself proclaimed that he didn’t know what the crowd done to him – he’d never played that hard. Whatever the reason, we salute you Nico.
Not wanting to miss a beat, we headed straight back to the PMF terrace. The WLT boys supplied one groove after another, and the crowd kept dancing despite the rain. A party is a party. Our last stop in Colston Hall was back in the main room for Pantha du Prince. Another mesmerising performance, as Henrik Weber dominated Bristol’s musical palace.
It was then that we made our way back to The Island complex; a place that seems almost too good to be true. A fire station, two courtrooms and police cells, all in one spot. The perfect party venue on paper, and luckily, in practice too. Narrowly missing the queues, we went straight to the Crazylegs courtrooms to check out Outboxx. Together with vocalist Naomi Jeremy, the atmosphere was alive, and they prepped us for the night that was to come. Motor City Drum Ensemble followed, and we lost all sense of time amongst the grooving mass of bodies. From our perfect vantage point in the jury box, we could see Danilo Plessow happily at home with his records, playing to the gratuitous crowd. A prodigy followed by a master: a surprise set from Roy Davis Jr kept us up and fed with his own veteran-wisdom record selection.
Over in the second courtroom (aka The Lampshade Room), Maurice Fulton kept us grooving for two solid hours. We caught him this summer in New York, and knew we wouldn’t want to miss the best forehead in the party business. To bring the festivities to a close, we visited our favourite South West party-throwers, Alfresco Disco, at their courtyard behind the Bridewell cells. Having no sense of how far the crowd stretched out in front of us, the rain still pouring, we weren’t even slightly troubled. They laid down the tracks, and we literally danced the night away.
Thank you Simple Things, it was special.
Photo credit: Ben Price