Progress - Simple Things Festival - By Volume

I'm afraid of heaven because I can't stand the height. I'm afraid of you because I can't be left behind. St. Vincent - Regret
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Progress – Simple Things Festival

Tayyab visits Bristol for the excellent and intriguing Simple Things Festival. Author: on October 18, 2013
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The Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994 nears its twentieth anniversary — the UK bill was seen as an attempt to reign in the then-developing rave culture. Resentment to this law is nested within a generation slightly more experienced than mine and a new breed ushered in along with the Internet Age surely resonates less with their elder’s sentiments, having grown up knowing no alternative way by-and-large. Still, all might agree that throwing parties in old courtrooms and police cells carries its own taste of sweet revenge – nay, justice. It’s the little things in life, or rather, the Simple Things; not to suggest that the Bristol-based festival is organised with any political agenda, however, far from it. Simple Things conducted core inquiries when it came to establishing a festival: Who? A fine array of artists, big or small, favouring quality of production over records sold, for fans of pushing musical boundaries a little further. Where? Various venues that feel exotic, different to generic sticky-floored space or fucked-up field. When? All day, all night.

Darkstar

Darkstar

First blip on the radar was Darkstar, the Warp-signed quartet with a second album under their belt. They appeared on the Main Stage of Colston Hall, a well-to-do venue where people were free to get up close and off the wall or lounge in the encircling seats and bask in Darkstar’s cosily-knitted weave of psychedelic pop-electronica. The unfortunate cancellation of Portico Quartet induced a craving of comfort food at local hotspot Start The Bus, where Ruby Jean’s Diner offer their admirable catering services. It was at Start The Bus where ticket-holders could collect wristbands or purchase programmes — it’s worth noting that the ticket, barebones programme and the sporadic cloakrooms were refreshingly easy on the wallet.

Colston Hall

Colston Hall

Colston Hall was the main area of the festival, flanked only by the Island Complex, which housed the more unconventional dancefloors. DJ Jazzy Jeff had taken centre-stage at the RBMA-presented old firestation, giant red doors and all. Jazzy Jeff’s set was a curious affair – no doubt his hip-hop-forefather/Fresh Prince of Bel Air fame drew its fair share of the crowd who just wanted to singalong to the show’s infectious theme. Accompanied by a necessary evil in the form of an MC (in the more traditional sense), Jazzy Jeff had to cater to a disparate audience. The second track he played was Jay Electronica’s “Exhibit C”, followed by a few classics for the hip hop heads and two picks from Common’s Be; it wasn’t a surprise as tracks went over many partygoers’ heads. Then came Toto’s “Africa”, Phil Collins’ “In The Air Tonight” and “Get Lucky”, in all its agonizingly-played out glory – dude knows how to scratch though, I’ll give him that. Perhaps the biggest surprise here was how the Fresh Prince theme came well before the end, cut short in favour of Drake’s “The Motto” – YOLO indeed.

These New Puritans.

These New Puritans.

These New Puritans were the most conspicuous pick of the headliners, not really matching the mould of their co-headliners, as they chose to incorporate the festival into their touring of new album Field of Reeds. I was happy to remain seated as their post-rock hit in waves of overwhelming walls of sound. Classical influences came through too, as dedicated brass players joining the confluence of immaculate production. With powerful yet delicate vocal work and a bit of good old guitar-thrashing too; their performance essentially legitimised piano-rock as an area of music worth my time, to be frank about it. Simple Things also made use of Colston Hall’s foyer, as I left the Main Stage to see onlookers spiralling up the staircases, peering over handrails, enchanted under Forrests’ spell.

Multitalented and genre-transcending, electronic music’s wonderkid Nicolas Jaar followed up on the Main Stage. The show was a bit smaller in scale compared to the prior week’s Barbican gig , as Jaar reduced his stage setup to bring more beat-oriented music to make up for it. His woozy house lifted those on the balcony to their feet, kicking off what would be a long and irritatingly proactive shift from Colston Hall’s health and safety staff. It was a pristine, delectable set from Jaar and it was unfortunate that many were stuck outside and missed out as capacity was filled, I noticed as I left slightly early to head to the Island Complex.

SimpleThings2

DjRUM was doing his thing in an old, decrepit courtroom and there was no way I was going to forgo it. His frantic, frenetic concoction of jungle breaks and footwork couldn’t have alleviated any pressures on the walls and ceiling as plaster peeled off the surfaces. DjRUM brought order on a whim, filling the Tribe-shaped void left by Jazzy Jeff with some unexpected airtime of “Buggin’ Out”. Soon after, I was back on the Colston Hall balcony, witnessing Pantha Du Prince ensnare an audience with the deeper end of techno, embarking on a non-stop odyssey through his solo material. Hearing him reconstruct Black Noise was a dazzling, uncompromising ordeal, bubbling and bouncing and a treat to all in attendance.

Wet Nuns

Wet Nuns

The punk aspect of Simple Things’ lineup manifested itself in a second room of Colston Hall. True to the culture, the artists billed there were the only ones with their own merchstand. Wet Nuns’ drummer left tall duties to go and well, play in his band for the show they were booked for. The duo were on their final tour, having agreed to part ways. I didn’t sense a huge amount of animosity between the pair as they put aside differences to celebrate their aggressive hard-rock creations, tongues firmly in cheek and alcohol very close by. Their set did seem a little more subdued than they’re known to have been and there was a breaking-in period but hey-ho.

Modeselektor

Modeselektor

It’s no secret that Modeselektor throw ridiculously fun parties and they didn’t hold much back from the Colston Hall crowd. Szary takes mic duties, attempting to entertain whether it’s using vocal distortion to sound like a chipmunk or simply spraying champagne at everyone in the near vicinity. Their reworking of Erol Alkan and Boys Noize’s “Roland Rat” came as a particular highlight. I left prematurely to give myself a chance at catching Motor City Drum Ensemble in the courtroom, though many had a similar idea as Colston Hall activity began to ease off. Standing in the rain for forty minutes just to get into the Island Complex didn’t exactly impress but I can’t pretend the last twenty minutes of MCDE weren’t worth it.

A smaller room alongside the firestation played hosts to acts I’d hope to catch. Face+Heel packed more punch live than they do on record, the duo keeping busy with a controllers-and-keyboards set-up complemented by guitar and some spine-tingling vocal work. They’re the sort of band that more people would enjoy if only they’d been exposed to them. Dam Mantle followed up and played out productions that had been given the 3 a.m. kick treatment over the rainy-Sunday-morning style of his LP for Gold Panda’s label — this was probably for the better, too.

Face+Heel

Face+Heel

By this point, things had gotten a bit more serious than Jazzy Jeff over in the firestation. I imagine Dopplereffekt held faces beneath their masks as straight and hard-edged as their techno. Like the supporting visuals, the pair seemed scientists programming giant, ancient computers; experts in their field and master of their craft. Marcel Dettmann would take over the reigns for the final two hours of the festival, teaching Bristol a thing or two about the virtue of patience and it was a pleasure to learn. For those with shorter attention spans, flagship footwork label Planet Mu had taken over the police cells. Underground, reverberating through a cold, stone tunnel, festivalgoers lost all inhibitions while DJs cut up, contorted, and just generally did some unspeakable things to “Bohemian Rhapsody”. There was some freedom to be found in these abandoned spaces, something like a ‘90s Prodigy video — I’d never been in a place quite like it. Simple Things was a blast on the whole and sticking to core values served it well: variety and breaths of fresh air in the lineup as well as the venues. For me, Simple Things was one of the more unique and memorable moments in live music this year.

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