The Downs | 3rd September
27,000 people, gale force winds and torrential downpour are all expected for today’s historic festival event at the Downs as it’s the homecoming of one of Bristol’s most iconic music exports; trip hop heroes Massive Attack – who span a successful career of 5 studio albums, numerous awards, sell-out tours and inspiring a new generation of diverse and emerging talent.
We collect our wristbands and pass through the entrance onto the festival site. Blown away by the rain we immediately check out the surroundings and make our plans for the day on the acts we want to see. The Second Stage is the closest to us so we head there first to catch the funky beats of Idle Hands and Bristol HIFI, who do a admirable job uplifting the spirits of festival goers on this very soggy afternoon. We briefly check out the food stands as we head towards the main stage. Right in the middle are three pillars with set times for all three stages (the third being The Information Stage) which is really convenient and saves us a fiver purchasing a programme.
Straight to the music and its Texas trio Khruangbin opening the main stage with their delicious blend of psychedelic guitars, scattering drums and lush harmonies that keep us warm and smiling as we sway in the pouring rain. The band pay their respects to Massive Attack as do the other DJs earlier on; a key theme that resonates proudly among everyone visiting and performing today.
Next up are Savages who need no introduction with their fiercely defiant post-punk. Not quite as climatic as their BBC 6 Music Festival performance in February, but strong enough, as the four-piece led by the captivating Jehnny Beth power through songs from their acclaimed album Adore Life.
Afterwards we head over to The Information Stage to catch an exclusive spoken word performance from Kate Tempest. Part of today’s festival was also engaging with social and political issues, and this stage was the heart of it. Various talks, films and insights, with a strong message on the on-going refugee crisis, led by organisation Help Refugees.
Hundreds gather under the tent to see Tempest for her poetic performance of forthcoming album Let Them Eat Chaos. A whirlwind of emotions absorbed as Kate’s sharp flows and honest words grasp on the people and today’s actions of government. A brilliant display from one of the scene’s talented artists.
The rain stops as we emerge from the tent and head straight down to catch Boy Better Know’s headman Skepta. With the help of DJ Maximum, the king of grime dominates the main stage, keeping the energy going tune after tune to the excited festival ravers.
After dancing it was time for some grub having been on our feet most of the day. Peak time arrives as hordes of people swamp the site, the food and bar queues grow bigger and we find ourselves waiting in line. Moving further away from the main stage, it takes us over an hour to get to the food stand, which means we miss out on seeing Glasgow’s rockers Primal Scream. However the good spirits of the people queuing with us while passing down chips to everyone waiting was truly a delight. Much love Bristol!
Food and drinks done we’re set for the performance of the night, the legends that are Massive Attack. The heavens open up in all its glory but the rain isn’t stopping people’s excitement. Out come Grant ‘Daddy G’ Marshall and Robert ‘3D’ Del Naja and immediately they launch into opener ‘Hymn of the Big Wheel’ supported by the illuminating stage lighting on display.
What’s a homecoming without special guests? And the duo certainly brings them out in numbers. Azekel’s soaring vocals sending shivers down spines during ‘Ritual Spirit’ and the reggae roots of Horace Andy channelling through on ‘Angels’. Hip-hop breakers Young Fathers provide more firepower performing the electrifying ‘Voodoo In My Blood’ while Deborah Miller’s majestic vocals performing classic ‘Unfinished Sympathy’ was simply timeless.
However, the most notable guest was Bristol legend Tricky, as he echoes to the crowd “I’m home” as they perform ‘Take It There’. Fully content we feel the vibes from all the dancing, singing and appreciation. More shout outs as Massive Attack express their views on world issues. The stage screen displays the words “We Are All In This Together” – touching many hearts in the gloomy weather, while further messages pay respects to refugees and recent terrorist attacks. Lastly, Robert squashes all the recent rumours claiming he is Banksy by saying, “we are all Banksy.”
Closing the night, Miller’s powerful harmonies drive forward for a solid finish, before all the guests arrive on stage for a grand farewell. With the rain crashing down so heavily we decide that’s our cue to leave and rush to the exits before the floods come in.
Today’s festival event was one of those rare moments where everyone felt as one for all things music and more. A homecoming like no other and one that’ll be remembered for years to come.
Watch the video for ‘Take It There’: