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LIVE REPORT: Simple Things Festival
Stephen Dalton , May 11th, 2012 09:30

Stephen Dalton is blasted by Squarepusher and Factory Floor at Bristol's Simple Things Festival

Playing his new album Ufabulum on British soil for the first time, Squarepusher unveiled his latest sense-blitzing sound-and-vision spectacular at the Simple Things Festival in Bristol last Sunday (May 6). In a clear swing away from his recent excursions into more organic jazz-funk, Tom Jenkinson played a purely electronic set in front of a giant screen that throbbed with retina-scorching monochrome graphics. The same fluid patterns played on a smaller screen at the front of his equipment stand, and also on a further mini-screen built into the visor of Jenkinson's helmet, obscuring his face. He looked both menacing and comic, like some kind of death-metal Tellytubby.

This futuristic spectacle called to mind vintage sci-fi movies like Tron and Star Wars, as well as cutting-edge live shows by fellow cyborg-rockers Daft Punk and Amon Tobin. Sticking to arthouse monochrome aside from a brief blaze of red and blue, Jenkinson's video backdrop also had an emphatically retro-modernist aesthetic, evoking everything from Cubism to the starkly beautiful deep-space radiowaves on Joy Division's Unknown Pleasures sleeve. Communicating only in totalitarian hand gestures, Squarepusher's wordless excursions into digital glitch-tech Euro-rave left some of the Bristol crowd cold. Even so, he continues to mine the rich musical borderlands between conceptual art and confrontational theatre.

Just in its second year, Simple Things is a one-day multi-venue boutique festival run by a small coalition of local Bristol promoters. With its ATP-style mixtape menu of post-laptop rock and left-field electronica, this year's line-up could almost have been drawn up with Quietus readers in mind. Tall Ships, Errors, Yacht, Ghostpoet and Japanese post-hardcore pranksters Bo Ningen were among its 60-odd performers. Such was the eclectic, egalitarian enthusiasm among the buzzy crowd that even a debutante like Grimes managed to ram the festival's largest venue, the Academy, for her early evening show. The strawberry-haired Canadian techno-pixie skipped and bounced throughout her melody-rich iPop set, dancing along the narrow ledge between Bjorkish quirk and post-Gaga bling.

One of the festival's key hubs is the Thekla, a converted German freighter towed to Bristol in 1983 by the Bonzo Dog Doo Dah Band legend Viv Stanshall and his artist-writer wife Ki. Permanently moored on the city's harbourside, this floating metal hulk became a studio, home and performance space. Now refurbished and adorned with Banksy graphics, it has served as a music and club venue for more than two decades.

On the main stage in the Thekla's clangy metal bowels, Warp signing and sometime Damon Albarn collaborator Kwes played an engagingly wonky set of polyrhythmic art-pop, his boy-girl trio featuring an incongruously raucous drummer who makes Meg White sound sedate. Kwes was followed by Quietus favourites Factory Floor, whose relentlessly brutal disco-punk weaponry sounded exhilaratingly fierce in such a relatively confined space. Squarepusher's post-human punishment beats may have provided the cerebral high point of Simple Things, but the rest of the bill was bursting with gutsy humanity and raw emotion. Even in an in overcrowded market, this is a fine addition to the festival calendar.

Ufabulum is released on Warp on May 14. Squarepusher plays Bloc festival in London in July.