Simple Things, now running for half a decade, returned to the clubs, venues, and streets of Bristol last weekend. The event stretches itself out over the centre of the city, using many of its best spots for music, from the sophisticated Colston Hall to the grimy Lakota. The venues are within easy walking distance, and you’re always close to restaurants, bars and off-licenses as you make your way between stages . Most importantly, it is booked with both incredible variety and impeccable taste, stretching across folk, through house, to grime.
The intelligence of the festival programming was made clear from the very beginning when Penguin Café gliding us in very gently at 15.30. Their acoustic instrumentation warmed the impeccable Colston Hall sound system and the crowd. What’s made clear live is just how complicated their songs are: three violinists play separate parts of the seemingly simple melody of ‘Perpetuum Mobile‘, interlocking to create an incredibly rich tapestry.
Throughout the festival, the Firestation hosted a selection of forward thinking electronic music. PC musician Danny L Harle put on what was the most surreal performance of the night. From J-Pop to the absolute best of happy hardcore, the crowd took it straight to the vein, launching themselves off the ground in time at approximately 190 beats per minute. Under absolutely zero stage lighting, and as if running a full diagnostics check of the sound rig, Dean Blunt followed on, blasting his listeners with the subbiest of sub bass, only to augment it with smooth yet impactful ambient saxophone.
Holly Herndon made unnecessary early apologies, typing out “just started a band, still trying to figure it out” to the crowd. The music, a combination of dehumanised vocals on top of abstract, genreless beats, was at its best when it remained tied by a thread to an underlying techno groove. A truly forward thinking set, hugely refreshing considering how backward looking much of modern electronic music has become. Factory Floor were disappointingly short on ideas by contrast, their usually clever techno regularly crossing the fine line between hypnotic and tedious.
In the courtyard, given a long, centrepiece timeslot, PanoramaBar Resident, nd_Baumecker played what was essentially a peak-time P-Bar set, really pounding away with the help of Kerri Chandler’s ‘Atmosphere’. Every mix flawless, he made it very clear why he is a resident of such an establishment.
Meanwhile, at Colton Hall, Savages materialised out of a flood of smoke and stark stage lights. After a slow-building start, they blasted out raw sheets of punk, rendered in stunning, gory detail by Colton Hall’s soundsystem. Quickly whipping an initially tepid crowd into a frenzy, the set was capped by Jehnny Beth spending the entirety of one track suspended above the crowd, supported by an ever changing mass of hands.
A few skips away, the prospect of a Helena Hauff set in the Prison Cells unsurprisingly generated quite the queue and, once inside, it was clear why no one was really leaving. Hauff expertly transitioned from aggressive alarm-bell techno into angry Krautrock into fast, raw house. She was the perfect temporary resident for such a metallic, sweat box of a space.
Later in the evening the migration begins from the centre of town over to Stokes Croft’s Lakota and Coroner’s Court complex. Five stages hosted rich pickings drawn from across the 4/4 spectrum, though our only real choice was Hunee. Playing three hours of exquisitely selected house, techno, disco, electro, new wave and, at one point, going from 160bpm shangaan all the way down to 80bpm Depeche Mode, then into dub. It was the perfect end to a festival that was never short on personality or variety.
Simple Things is a festival that truly unites Bristol’s music scene. The city’s dedication to good music and community spirit shines through – regularly people will turn around in the crowd and enthuse with you about the act that just finished playing. It’s the only event going that properly combines excellent bands with excellent DJs and, as a result is a vital institution for the South West.
Photo Credit: Gray Brame, Cameron Sweeney, Ro Murphy, Kane Rich, Andy Zajac, Chris Cooper, Joe Coulson, Adam Reid and Max Foster.