The simple things in life are often the most beautiful. Considered choices are such; disparate ideas amalgamated, edited and reduced down to a unified whole. Condensed to a point of seeming inevitability, they’re precious jewels. Weighty words to describe a festival perhaps, but Bristol's notable one-day event Simple Things Festival sits undeniably in the pantheon of such simple things. Featuring a line up as well curated as we’ve seen at any city gathering and an impressively juggled timetable, it’s no small feat of precision engineering combined with a whole lot of love.
Boasting a remarkable array of international talent, the line up for Simple Things Festival is seriously striking. It’s a wet dream of over 60 bands, artists and DJ’s congregating on a damp Saturday to bring aural audaciousness and boundary pushing beauty to the hearts and minds of Bristol. Despite the near incessant pissing rain, it proves to be an incandescent evening, literally bursting at the seams with top end transcendent electronica and bowel rinsing bass. In this, arguably the most vital and creative of the UK’s smaller cities, the atmosphere is electric.
The main venue for the festival is the impressive multi-leveled venue Colston Hall. Usually the preserve of classical concerts and conferences, it has serious acoustics and a mixing desk in the main hall to make any tech head blush. And over the course of the evening this traditional yet somehow still quirky space comes quietly into it’s own. Showcasing the talents of Darkstar and These New Puritans amongst many others, it transforms into a church of noise.
For Nicholas Jaar, our first set of the evening, the auditorium is unsurprisingly packed and there’s a hefty queue outside waiting for the chance to get in; but as far as we can see, no one is willing to leave. Against the inspired backdrop of Tarik Barri's extraordinary improvised visuals, which are directly reactionary to the music, the black back screen pulses with geometric patterns and flashing linear lights, like a beefed up Tron cityscape. The always breath-taking beats of Jaar are luminous in this environment, flexing and fluxing in great rolling washes of sound and the incorporation of sampled strings and unusual time signatures are literally trance inducing. From crackling crisp packets to deep Bach worthy organ notes, it’s busy music yet inherently minimal; a modernist psychedelia infused with Latin warmth and deep humanism; it’s an accomplished and aurally ecstatic start to the evening.
A wander throughout the many spaces of Colston Hall affords views down into the deep atrium, thronged with smiling faces. People are palpably happy to be here and spirits are as high as the stream rising from the bodies piling back into the main space. Pantha Du Prince proves a revelation tonight, even by his own impeccable standards. We may have seen him numerous times and although his sets are never less than well judged, a bolder, beefier side to Hendrik Weber is on display. Atmospheric tracks from ‘Black Noise’ such as 'Lay In A Shimmer' are vitally transformed; its delicate, cascading refrains are tenser and more masculine than ever before. It’s nothing short of a masterclass, which leaves the audience in a suspended state of contentedness. If we believed in chakras, we’d swear ours had undergone a good spring clean.
So we stumble out and join a party out on the terrace, which affords cracking views across the city to whet our whistles before Modeselektor. Seeing them live is like catching up with old mates. There are very few surprises; they predominantly play tracks from their albums and the crowd love it. Whilst detractors may lampoon their often-cartoonish antics, there’s no denying the quality of the tunes. They prank about on stage and talk through their vocoders and spray the audience with lashings of champagne. The place is fit to bust at this point. It’s as familial and fun as Teutonic techno gets.
So it’s time to hit the next venue, literally a five minute walk through town to the incredible Island Complex, a former municipal site consisting of a re-purposed fire station, dis-used courtrooms and police cells. Acts performing here include Jon Hopkins, Mykki Blanco and Evian Christ, sadly none of whom we manage to catch.
It feels like we’ve walked through an archway and ended up in Berlin or Barcelona. Whilst the CrazyLegs club team rips up the courthouse we take a walk on the wild side courtesy of Planet Mu and slink into the police cells to catch Brighton’s Ital Tek mesmerise with glitchy, glittering techno. It’s dank, dark and unarguably atmospheric but a little too claustrophobic so we head across the courtyard to the Red Bull curated Fire Station for a our last dance of the evening which is soundtracked by Berghain's own long-running resident Marcel Dettmann. It’s just the sort of taut, muscular set we were expecting; rough, ready and succulently sustained over several sweat dripping hours.
As we stagger out onto Bristol’s rain soaked dawn streets our heads are hazy and our hearts are happy. Simple Things has been a triumph of intelligent programming, admirable partnerships and above all, blindingly good music. We’ve hooked up with old friends and made some anew, discovered amazing venues and had any speck of cynicism mightily obliterated. Bristol, you’ve been one lush lover.
Words: Anna Wilson
Photo Credit: Benjamin Price
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