21st October | Various venues
Photo: Mustafa Mirreh
Now in it’s seventh year, Simple Things Festival has become renowned for hosting an ever inimitable array of innovative artists, spanning tender and sparse soundscapes to abrasive techno and this year’s instalment further confirmed the festival’s status as a pioneer and celebration of some of the most vital and refreshing artists both within Bristol and across the globe.
Bursting open with the ferocious fun of Liverpool creative collective Pink Kink, the band’s eccentric art-punk exudes an infectious energy that spreads through the eager crowd gathering. Meanwhile in The Lantern, bathed in a gloomy obscurity, Scalping’s dark, warped designs hold everyone in a hypnotic trance amidst their pulsating rhythms and sketchy, twisted visuals. Caught up in the intensity of Scalping’s set there’s a sense that is the kind of heavier atmosphere you might expect later in the day rather than half two in the afternoon, yet the vivacity of these two opening acts, in their very differing ways, only goes to illustrate how adeptly the Simple Things team craft their line-ups. Never a festival to gently lure in the crowds, there’s a full immersion in every moment, emphasising why it’s become such a favourite amongst music lovers.
As Nadine Shah and her band take to the stage in Colston Hall she pertinently calls out the name of the venue, stating some of her friends wouldn’t even come to the show because of it’s associations with a slave trader. This being the festival’s last year in the venue before it’s renaming and refurbishment it feels all the more poignant, especially as Shah uses her voice and platform as an artist both during this set, and in her music, to speak out against injustice, and through her most recent release Holiday Destination address in particular the refugee crisis and speak up for those who are unable to. As she performs tracks from this record there’s both a sleek and gritty quality to Shah’s emotive rawness. Her commanding presence is enthralling and her frankness is inspiring as she talks about her own mental health struggles prior to performing ‘Evil’ and as she emphasises the necessity of being vocal and fighting against racism and xenophobia rife in our politics, media and society; putting her all into every moment of the powerful performance with such a sincere vitality and entrancing rhythmic melodicism Shah undoubtedly proves a highlight of the festival.
Spilling out from Nadine Shah into the very different sounds of HMLTD is naturally a bit of a shock for the senses as the high-energy doused in 80s nostalgia, both visually and sonically, atmosphere spreads through the Foyer as singer Henry Spychalski prowls around the stage. Elsewhere Oliver Wilde spreads a soothing tenderness and warmth as he and Nicholas Stevenson play a selection of Oro Swimming Hour tracks alongside Wilde’s solo creations.
Providing invigoratingly loud vivacity, Downtown Boys’ empowering punk literally has the speakers in The Sportsman shaking. As the band rattles through their politically charged, fiery blend of roaring vocals, furious basslines and frantic, soaring sax riffs there’s a unity that Downtown Boys create with their potent songs, as singer Victoria Ruiz passionately talks about using music as a sharpening tool and a form protest. In this vein of inclusive punk spirit, Diet Cig’s bubbling energy is infectious as singer and guitarist Alex Luciano leaps around the stage, and the duo’s infinitely joyous tracks exude an animated warmth that’s impossible not to get swept up in.
Delving further into the day’s proceedings and the dark, twisted noise of Spectres pulsates through The Sportsman in heady, pervasive swathes of feedback-laden urgency. For fellow Bristol band Idles playing Colston Hall is a momentous occasion. As frontman Joe Talbot instantly addresses the crowd “hello family” diving into what it undoubtedly a homecoming of sorts for them, having recently supported Foo Fighters. And the raucous, charged punk that has gained Idles so much love and support spreads an ever more relentless energy and sincerity, proving their well-deserved reputation as such a formidable force right now.
With the enigmatic Omar Souleyman’s euphoric, entrancing set spreading a frenzy through the audience and closing proceedings within Colston Hall, before the descent into the wealth of hedonistic techno heaven until the early hours, it’s a suitably eclectic end to a day filled with such an incredible and diverse array of innovative musicians, confirming Simple Things Festival as one of the best music events of the year.
Check out ‘Well Done’ by Idles below.