2016 marks the year Simple Things embarked upon their “vision” for expansion. No longer restrained to a one-day music festival, in the week preceding the main event, we were treated to a number of “EXT” events in the form of panel discussions and audiovisual performances.
Three of these bonuses took place in what has to be the most fantasized home turf of any audio visual artist: the Bristol Planetarium. The first date saw Terry Riley’s minimal classic In C performed by The British Paraorchestra – the first ever British orchestra comprised wholly of disabled musicians – to projection mapping that was, as one person put it, “spiritually intense”. The stunning (and also improvised) introduction from conductor Charles Hazelwood – in which he broke down the history of minimalism and, among other things, the enlightenment – explained that minimalism was non-teleological. It seeks no overall pattern, narrative or endpoint; it is about embracing the essence or moment. It was enough to set audience members up for the 45 minute philosophical rollercoaster, whose minds were undoubtedly blown. Ironically, if the telos of the performance was to inspire the audience, it was a riotus success.
Unfortunately it was the most in demand Planetarium session that let the side down. Dopplereffekt – one half of which dons the mantel of being part of Drexciya – simply had not prepared for the venue in which they had been booked and preceded to bore the audience with amateur stock-footgae visual material that was on loop for an excruciatingly short amount of time. But, no matter.
The last of the EXT. sessions was curated by Tarik Barri – a Thom Yorke and Nicolas Jaar affiliate – who, when explaining what he was going to perform for us, had to disclaim that at the end, he “hopes” to bring us back to reality. Away from reality we went; projected onto three very large screens were 3D abstract representations of sounds he was making (somehow) through what seemed to be the 1993 version of the DOOM game (it wasn’t). Large analogue bass sounds were represented with long roads of unfurled string, intersecting one another before flicking in and out of existence. We would follow them before veering up over our heads, meeting more firework-like models, playing a part of a visual mind map, the only realistic comparison being that it was similar to, but a far more intricate version of, the visualiser in iTunes. As it came to a finish, the roar of the audience was met with a huge smile from Tarik, who was clearly thrilled with the debut of Versum I, which will be at the Pithay building for the next few days.
The main festival day came with a bank of prologue that had one excited and immersed before even setting out of the house. Iglooghost set the tone with what I can only describe as PC Music-enfused IDM, before giving way to Squarepusher’s Shobaleader One, a groovey hyped jazz trio that set alight the Firestation with their LED Daft Punk-style head gear. Intrigued to step into the former Syndicate nightclub – now SWX – we ran over to Jessy Lanza’s style of a more minimal, straight beat Grimes, which was a welcome aperitif of bouncy pop music.
On the CRACK stage, it was Warpaint’s turn to light up Colston Hall. Their exuberance and musical clarity on stage was endearing as much as it was melodic. They swam through the breadth of their catalogue, the wondrous tone of their guitars soared across the great hall and, mentioning Death Grips, the crowd’s cheer only added to the stockpiling of energy that was soon to be unleashed a mere hour later.
It’s unlikely that Colston Hall will play host to such pandemonium ever again. Death Grips’ set was abrasive, angry but tight. The crowd spent every second fighting each other and even with the house lights up (definitely the safest option) it was dark and engulfingly so. As a headline act, Death Grips is a classic Simple Things booking and having an act like Warpaint juxtapose the top slot is another predictable unpredictability that they do so incredibly well. What no one was prepared for however, was Charlotte Church.
Sure, you could say almost all of Church’s audience turned up out of pure fascination. Will this be a disaster? Has anyone heard much of Charlotte Church (below) recently? Why are we waiting for a Charlotte Church set at 1am when we could be at Lakota? All valid questions given the circumstances, but Simple Things has already won over its patrons after years of tasteful programming, as if they’ve somehow stumbled now.
Lo and Behold, it was the set of the week, it was the booking of the year, and it was the programming of the century. Draped in a wedding dress and running eye make up, Charlotte and band came out to quite a large number of people; the stairs brimming all the way to the top of the giant glass foyer. The selections Charlotte and her band banged out were faultless and the transitions between them were a masterclass. Charlie and The Chocolate Factory’s ‘Pure Imagination’ to the melody of ‘White Rabbit’ by Jefferson Aeroplane, Sugarbabes into ‘Killing In The Name Of’ and it was my compatriot that first noticed the bassline of ‘Halleluwah’ by Can (yes, THAT Can). By the time she had the place singing ‘I Believe I Can Fly’, the order of “TAPS AFF” had already been well underway. It was certainly not Death Grips but it was indeed a form of complete pandemonium.
The Teklife Showcase was criminally under-attended at the time we were there. The presence of DJ Spin and Traxman felt more significant than a lot of other acts given that they are pioneers of a genre and an upside wash-off of Chicago’s Southside troubles. At one point they went from footwork into UK jungle, into Kanye West, into sped up Chicago house, taking us “back to 1994”. It was amazing to see a crowd collectively make its way through different methods of dancing, but it was a party fuelled by heaps of authenticity.
Bristol’s most anticipated date on the calendar is now a week long and with that, Simple Things has shot straight into the mesosphere of festivals. The taste and craftsmanship behind the lineup and programming is frankly unparalleled. I challenge you find such a crevasse of genres and adult artist choices put on with such meticulous curation. Moreover I challenge you to find a billing that comes close to Death Grips followed by Charlotte Church.