The Quietus - A new rock music and pop culture website


Things Learned At: Simple Things
Danny Riley , November 3rd, 2014 17:03

Danny Riley reports from the Saturday of Bristol festival Simple Things, featuring SOPHIE, Kode9, Zomby and Laurel Halo and more.

Photo by Kane Aaron

Logistics are important

Now in its fourth year, Bristol's multi-venue Simple Things festival seems to be overcoming the serious organisational issues it struggled with in the past. Last year, whilst boasting an arguably better lineup, the festival foundered in logistical issues as punters were forced to queue for long periods of time to get into each venue, some being simply turned away at the door due to overcrowding (The Bug contentiously tweeted that the event had been run by "reptilian incompetents"). This problem now seems to have been righted, allowing for an omnivorous music experience where fans like me can move between the robust psych-pop of local boy Oliver Wilde and the lurching, Odd Future-esque hip hop of Rejjie Snow with relative ease.

Colston Hall, a large concert venue often host to the likes of Russell Brand and Caitlin Moran, is given over to the more rockist sections of the bill, and it is very pleasant to be able to potter between the billowy kosmische of Eaux in the foyer area and the portentous, gothic post-rock of Esben And The Witch (props to their guitarist for sporting a mighty, William Morris-esque beard) in The Lantern room. Elsewhere, in the O2 Academy venue, Black Lips lay down a thoroughly enjoyable set of giddy garage-psych, where thankfully no one was too cool to let loose.

Shock and Awe is a risky strategy

It is mainly with trepidation that I approach the Firestation venue down the road to catch SOPHIE's set. I liked 'Bipp' but was less enamored with the rest of what I'd heard from the anonymous producer. How sustainable can a sound be that takes vacuity as a starting point and intensifies it? Can music widely regarded as some kind of knowing, semi-ironic take on banal, maximalist pop really constitute a nourishing live show? Thankfully all this fretting went out the window as the first bass rumbles shook the venue. SOPHIE live is, I have to say, pretty banging. Breezeblocks of saturated synths and gurgling blips coast on top of monstrous trap beats, histrionic pop cadences underpin chattering, dehumanised vocals. Singles like 'Hard' and 'Lemonade' are received elatedly, yet despite its evident appeal, this set is not easy to digest. SOPHIE is clearly just as interested in disorientation a gratification, the spaces between each pop banger filled with elasticated twangs and contorted synth-squelch. Overall this shock and awe strategy pays off, his set constituting both pleasure-rush and mind-fuck, like mainlining sugar whilst being hit repeatedly over the head.

Actress on the other hand, feels particularly alienating, particularly during the first half of his set where his mesh of odd, disorienting techno strays a little too far onto the punishing side for the time of night. Later, the Wolverhampton beatsmith saves himself to a degree by the masterful employment of an unholy trinity of bangers: 'Idioteque', Aphex's 'Green Calx' and Axel F's 'Crazy Frog' remix. Yet even dropping choons like The Human League's 'Don't You Want Me' amidst a swathe of abrasive techno can't save me from the feeling I'm being fucked with slightly, Actress' playful eccentricities proving just too jarring to be truly enjoyable.

Photo by Shot Away  

Wreckheads are a vital component of any festival

From my attendance at other festivals in the city I already have an idea of the kind of atmosphere there would be at Simple Things. When it comes to the enjoyment of large, alternative music events, Bristolians like to go hard. Hence why the mild-mannered older Mogwai fans quietly sipping ale and cider the Colston Hall venue earlier in the day morph into the rock-oriented hedonists of the festival, hopped up and staggering around the foyer area whilst putting the concert hall's bar services under considerable strain. All this is good news for the later acts, and the onset of flailing bodies and deranged dancing that greet Liars' clangorous din is a joy to behold.

Over in Lakota, the nightclub that sees most of the festival's dancier acts perform, it's surprising to see Laurel Halo's nuanced, ultra-textural electronics rapturously received by a small group of ravers down the front, despite the initial thinness of the crowd and the cerebral nature of the set. The group of spangled thirty-somethings at the side of the stage are especially entertaining, who manfully attempt to get down to the experimental electronics despite evident levels of over-refreshment. For me they inspire not the elitist revulsion of an impartial, 'proper' music fan but a perverse glow of empathy; this slightly skewed display of music appreciation affirming the notion that live music should be both inclusive and immersive, however avant garde it may be. To be fair, things soon pick up and Laurel Halo's beats get more tangible towards the end of the set, but the fact remains that the presence of disinhibited people who are ready to get down is always the progenitor of a good, shared live experience, and hence it is a good start to the clubbier part of the festival.

Photo by Harry Leath  

Happy hardcore will never die

Having spent some time exploring the smaller rooms of the club complex, which essentially joined Lakota and the Old Coroner's Court (a converted morgue that has previously hosted the likes of Gnod, Pharmakon and Stephen O'Malley), I eschew the tasteful house proffered by DJ Sprinkles and Bristol's Stamp The Wax collective, deciding instead that breakbeats would be the way to go. Kode9 more than satisfies on this front, and his bracing set draws lines between footwork and jungle, even shoehorning the odd grime track into the mix. For me, footwork and juke constitute an overly hectic experience for home listening, but in a live context it makes perfect sense, its frantic rhythms latticing perfectly onto the breakneck jungle beside it.

Likewise Zomby provides an excellent diversion for those tired of the uniform four-to-the-floor throb of house and techno on offer, his joyful set comprising purely of delirious, cheesy hardcore. Sat stationary behind his decks and wearing his trademark mask, Zomby's physical stoicism belied the exuberant energy of his set, strewn with airhorns, chipmunk vocals and nostalgic euphoria. The continued interest and affection shown by younger music fans and musicians to hardcore and proto-jungle might indicate an innate reactionary impulse and lack of innovation in modern dance music, but the fact remains that the rave-y still deserves its place on the dancefloors of today, at least as much as the moody or the stern.

Happa's murderous techno onslaught eventually becomes too much for me, and after 17 hours of music I drag myself home, thoroughly sated by the mixture of cutting edge and reliably enjoyable that the Simple Things programmers have rustled up. A non-discriminatory policy is always best, and now with its organisational issues righted, Simple Things will hopefully continue to provide that excellent mixture of the hip and hedonistic.