Simple Things Festival

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Bristol’s annual Simple Things Festival returned on 17th - 19th of October bringing with it an eclectic mix of acts spread across many of the cities best music venues.

Having poured over the line-up and clashfinder, going through the difficult decisions of what to sacrifice and what are must sees, I spent my time running up and down Nelson Street on the Colston Hall, Rough Trade and SWX axis.

Starting the day at the Colston Hall with Black Country, New Road, this London based 6 piece make up an unusual rock band. Featuring violin, saxophone and synth alongside the usual guitar lineup, they produced a set of inventive post-punk with barbed lyrics and relentlessly driving percussion.

Next up was K-X-P at SWX. These hooded wizards of motorik drone electronica, delivered a non-stop performance of earth shattering volume that pummeled the audience with the sheer power of their set.

Trekking back to Colston Hall, to catch Silverbacks, it was fun to see other festival attendees heading in the opposite direction, all with their little yellow wristbands, obviously going to the wrong concerts. Silverbacks use their unusual 3 guitar frontline to build complexly intertwined layers of post-punk, somewhat reminiscent of Television, while also delivering their own take on garage rock fuzz.

Silverbacks started and finished their set early, which luckily allowed me to get along to Rough Trade for the start of Otha’s set. This elfin Norwegian, with a keytar and an Alice Tinker jumper, really was the highlight of the day for me. Setting her downbeat, dreamy voiced vocals over triumphant club bangers gave the set the feeling of introspective exhibitionism, like a Ken Loach film set inside Ministry Of Sound, while recent release “Tired and Sick” seems to incapsulate the specifically 2019 anxiety nightmare.

Following Otha at Rough Trade was Shadowlark, an often underrated synth-rock outfit from Leeds. Vocalist Ellen Smith’s delivery reminded me of the much missed Dolores O’Riordan, with her gymnastic switches of tone and timbre. The bands sound defies easy categorization, pulling in a mix of garage rock, synthpop and balladry to create an affecting whole.

To finish off my day, I stopped by at SWX again, to see Holly Herndon perform her recent album PROTO. This did mean that I had to unfortunately miss Nilüfer Yanya at Colston Hall, but as PROTO has been one of this years most remarkable albums, I didn’t want to miss the chance of seeing it performed live. Due to some technical difficulties, AI baby Spawn wasn’t able to be used in the performance, but Herndon, joined by 5 additional vocalists, performed the album brilliantly. Mixing heavily manipulated vocals with natural singing they delivered a performance of stunning vocal virtuosity and invention to a packed out crowd.

And so that was it for me. I’d liked to have stayed on at SWX for Aïsha Devi, but unfortunately trains don’t run much beyond 10pm on a Saturday for some reason. Simple Things continues to be a festival offering a wonderfully diverse programme of music and other art, and proves once more that Bristol is one of the best places in Britain for music.

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