The rain might have been taken as a bad omen by some people – including the poor guy at Start The Bus who managed to fill up a few bins with water flowing from a newly formed gap in the ceiling – but this is England, and when is rain not a problem? Simple Things is compact and indoors, the line-up barely fits into the fifteen-hour schedule (and means you have to be pretty harsh on what you decide not to see), and once again it’s very, very good.
Managing to dry off in the modern grandiosity of the Colston Hall, the first act we caught was local love Oliver Wilde who made his live return with a suitably grandiose recreation of tracks from his two albums, while anticipating his upcoming third.
The central band – Wilde on vocals and guitar, another guitarist, synth, drums – were joined by violinists and a cellist, who added a luscious oomf to his scuzzy folk sensibilities. He was also joined by The Naturals’ Harry Wright mid-set, for even more reverb to be added to proceedings. While the mezzanined venue did focus the sound a little too much on the drums and bass, which meant the overall sound lost some of the more psychedelic elements usually brought to life via the samples and keys, it was an exciting return. The juxtaposition between the lopsided rhythms of the verses and the epic crescendoing of the finales still packed a punch.
Chastity Belt could’ve done with playing a smaller venue, not because they lack ambition but because the slightly empty and vacuous O2 Academy highlighted their shortcomings while a gritty punk venue would’ve made them quirks. There’s plenty to like if you’re a fan of the Mac DeMarco school of slacker rock, though where DeMarco focuses on his love life, CB have a strong feminist thread running throughout their lyrics. However, for a band with two good singers it’s weird that a lot of potential harmonies are left for the audience to imagine.
As a band that hasn’t played live since 1981, Maximum Joy didn’t really have any right to be as good as they were. They opened with the sublime ‘Silent Street’, a track where a dub rhythm bounces under a tight drum loop (the gig was worth it just for Charlie Llewellin’s awesome drumming). Janine Rainforth’s falsetto plea of “let’s hear the music all day long” couldn’t have been made in a better scenario. The vibrancy from the jazz and funk influences brought the whole set together and shook the 5pm crowd into something close to daytime dancing. Top work.
I am only one man, and I can only be in one place at a time. And sometimes that place, even at a music festival, isn’t watching a performance. Luckily I know these other things called ‘people’ who witnessed a couple of ST highlights I missed. Take it away, then…
Joshua Scarratt: From the get-go Savages’ lead singer Jehnny Beth had the audience very much in the palm of her hand (cliché, but true). This is a band that feels like they really know what they’re doing live. It’s not contrived or forced though, and even a slight pause after two songs (apparent medical attention for drummer Fay Milton) didn’t hinder things.
Making an early appearance in their set was ‘The Answer’, the first taste of the band’s new album Adore Life, which blended perfectly with tracks from debut Silence Yourself. To say it blended may suggest that this band hasn’t gone away and moved on sonically, but this isn’t true. New material suggests an even more raucous approach, full of emotion, backed by heavy and steady basslines and disco drum patterns as the cherry on top.
As Savages’ set progressed, so did Jehnny Beth’s audience interaction. Leaning over the moshpit and shaking as many audience members’ hands as possible, the singer couldn’t have shown much more love physically or verbally. That was until Jehnny was raised above the audience and remained standing on their palms, conducting a large portion of the band’s set from there – it was a spectacle that took the festival to another level. Intense, immersing and empowering, these are 3 words I can easily associate with Savages’ performance at Colston Hall.
Emma Hall: Yorkshire five-piece Vessels came on with the words: “We’re Vessels, we’re from Leeds, we’ve come a long way to be here… Enjoy the show.” Despite the apparently long and perilous journey across the north-south divide, the band came on fighting fit, and enjoy the show we did. Without doubt the biggest draw of these guys is the drum double-act which takes centre stage: it adds an exhilarating live dimension to the catchy-if-safe techno which forms the backbone of the music. The Lantern venue suited them even more than Village Underground, where we saw last saw them at Convergence festival earlier this year: the lower ceiling and eye-to-eye stage level made for a cracking atmosphere and one of the sweatier crowds of the weekend.
Good to hear.
San Francisco avant-gardist Holly Herndon brought her dancing, laptop-fiddling boys along for her set at the reconditioned Firestation (as the name implies, it’s an ex-fire station). She almost totally ignores doing anything close to a recognisable song for the majority of the set, although that’s not much of a problem when it comes to the glitching electronica she’s known for. ‘Chorus’ was undoubtedly the highlight of the set, combining a foot-stomping rhythm with a strange, bleepy melody, all pretty reminiscent of Aphex Twin at his sweaty best.
On most line-ups Herndon would be a clear winner, but we hadn’t banked on Dean Blunt stealing the show. The long-time Crack magazine favourite (the Bristol-based music paper that organises Simple Things) and sometimes Hype Williams member (with Inga Copeland) has eluded me for a while. Coming on to a loop of “the white man, I say to you over and over again,” a line taken from a Louis Theroux interview in his Black Nationalism episode, Blunt was soon joined on stage by a guitarist (Copeland? I couldn’t really see properly) and a bouncer (a seemingly permanent fixture of his stage set-up), lit up by nothing other than a menacing red spotlight.
The sound was beefed up by a drum machine and sequencers, and the first half of the show was an amalgamation of punk ethos and jazz musicality. Blunt can’t really sing that well, but stood looking like he was about to bum-rush the crowd in a zipped up windbreaker while simultaneously pouring his heart out via spoken word monologues. He was full of edgy charisma; there aren’t many performers who look dangerous at the moment, so the additional personality was much appreciated.
Fifteen minutes later and the lights went off, strobes came on, and the first burst of solid noise came pumping through the speakers. Most of the audience, myself included, held their ears for this testing period. The rest of the show was conducted in almost complete darkness. Blunt, now joined by a saxophonist, managed to turn the venue’s atmosphere into that of an illicit warehouse night, even removing an overzealous photographer with a flash bulb from the side of the stage at one point.
Here on in the music took a decidedly post-rock turn, and the whole thing built into a pretty effective showcase for what a live show can do. When the whole anti-performance was over the crowd took a collective sigh from the sheer exhaustion of taking in that much information for forty-five minutes, and stood dazed for five minutes afterwards before reaching the bar for another cider. A mind-bending and exhilarating show, get Dean Blunt down on your one-to-watch list now.
Simple Things was rounded up in the disco and house rooms at Lakota, Objekt managing to keep things going in the main room for a whole four hours. By this point the rain had long since stopped and the crowd were in good spirits. Simple Things does a simple thing, but just like Dean Blunt, it’s quality not quantity that counts.
Words: Nicholas Burman
Photos: Andy Zajac