Live Report: Forwards Festival 2022

Bristol’s newest weekender shows huge signs of promise...

Since Bristol’s Clifton Downs played host to Massive Attack’s triumphant homecoming gig in September 2016, it’s become something of a late summer staple for music fans across the city. As host of The Downs Festival since 2017, the site has established itself as a headline venue for the likes of elbow, Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds and Lauryn Hill in recent years, with support from an impressive line-up of supporting talents, both local and international.

For 2022, the format was reworked into FORWARDS, a new two-day event developed by Bristol’s Team Love and AEG. Playing host to two stages of live music and a dedicated space for talks focused around activism and cultural issues, there was something to cater to all tastes. Add a line-up including headliners Jamie xx and The Chemical Brothers and slots from the likes of Charli XCX, Róisín Murphy, Fred Again, Little Simz, Caribou and Khruangbin into the mix and FORWARDS looked set to continue The Downs’ legacy of keeping things eclectic and varied.

Saturday saw a stellar line-up of pop, house and electronic music unfold across the two stages, with Bristol-based jazz/electronica collective Ishmael Ensemble nicely setting the tone for things to come, while Charli XCX’s set saw the pop starlet turn out slick renditions of tracks from ‘Crash’, along with the likes of ‘Boys’, Icona Pop’s ‘I Love It’ and ‘1999’. Pleas for her to play unreleased fan favourite ‘Taxi’ went unheard.

Little Simz drew cheers as she celebrated the one year anniversary of the release of the stellar ‘Sometimes I Might Be Introvert’, while Fred Again rightly continued to bask in the glory of his now legendary Boiler Room set with an hour of anthems that prove his status as one of the UK’s hottest electronic talents. 

Later in the day, Floating Points would go on to showcase a rapturous hour of bracing techno before Jamie XX took to the main stage with a comparatively somber closing set, which sat strangely at odds with the poppy, celebratory tone established throughout the day.

If Saturday’s ending felt slightly downbeat, Sunday afternoon saw Self Esteem pick things up, charming the crowd with an afternoon set of pop bangers. sleaford mods meanwhile delivered a barnstorming set of shouty, aggressive post-punk that felt tailor-made for a Bristol audience, while the ever dependable Róisín Murphy kept things wonderfully weird. It was Caribou, however, who stole the show, with Dan Snaith’s electronic outfit serving up an hour-long retrospective of electronic showstoppers, including a sprawling rendition of ‘Sun’ and a euphoric full band version of ‘Can’t Do Without You’.

Rounding things off, The Chemical Brothers did as only they can, delivering an audio-visual feast quite unlike anything else. Marking their first Bristol appearance in nearly two decades, their set felt nothing short of momentous. From the thumping intro of ‘Block Rockin’ Beats’ to the whirling finale of ‘Galvanize’, giant robots, lasers and confounding visuals aplenty ensured a spectacle that will remain in the collective memory for many years to come.

With an impressive, multi-genre line-up and no shortage of surprises, FORWARDS’ first outing felt like a real statement of intent for things to come. Even if its eclectic line-up left some punters scratching their heads as to exactly who the event was for, with Saturday’s crowd arguably skewing much younger, two days of jubilant evidence alone is enough to say that FORWARDS’ status as a September festival mainstay feels assured.

Words: Paul Weedon

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