Another year, another Simple Things festival – and 2016’s instalment of the ever-popular event did not disappoint. The mix of genres stretched from indie to house and techno, across a variety of lesser-known acts and big names of the industry, creating a veritable smorgasbord for the more adventurous of Bristol’s music lovers. Kemptation writer Dale Stassen attended the festival to cover the madness.
Cousin Kula (Colston Hall foyer) 2:10pm
The Bristol-based six piece kicked off festivities with their vast dreamy soundscape of synth-pop and horns. The band played the Colston Hall, bringing with them an upbeat, big-brass sound layered with psychedelic jazz and great vocal harmonies. The set had the audience moving in no time and every track was met with raucous applause. Cousin Kula have frequently played gigs around the city and this incredible performance will no doubt boost their bookings and overall following – definitely one to watch.
Rink (The Gryphon) 3:30pm
Rink blew away their audience at the much smaller Gryphon pub venue, keeping the crowd entertained by switching between delicate ethereal harmonies and crashing grunge melodies. The band’s volatile dynamism dissipated in the moments between songs, when the softly-spoken lead guitarist would preoccupy listeners with endearingly awkward ‘banter.’ This only added to it, though, as the renewed, haunting vocals combined with the jagged instrumentals made the intimate performance one to remember.
Horsebeach (Colston Foyer) 4:10pm
The woozy shoegaze sound of Horsebeach drifted through the Colston Hall foyer and set everyone swaying. The band performed well, their heavy sound clearly influenced by acts steeped in the 1980s, but they exuded little gusto when compared to other sets throughout the day. Sadly, it seemed the soundcheck hadn’t quite identified the weaker tech spots. This, along with the backup vocalist needing to take regular swigs from a bottle of cough syrup onstage made for a slightly sloppy-seeming show. Nevertheless, the band still managed to entertain those in attendance.
Allah-Las (Colston Hall) 6pm
The LA visitors played a great set but unfortunately fell victim to a cavernous venue that meant anyone beyond the first few rows barely heard the smooth beach rock that Allah-Las are famous for. The low turnout to this portion of the day, despite the times being very clearly posted, was unfortunate for such a well-known group. The set boasted a solid combination of old and new tracks, offering something for both long-time and new fans. The Zombie-esque five piece emitted a vibe during their performance that can only be described as cool. Although the band isn’t known for being particularly energetic on stage, they never once lost the focus of their psych pop-loving audience. Bristol’s calling (begging!) for a second visit.
Kanda Bongo Man (Colston Foyer) 6:30pm
The Congolese soukous performer met a roaring crowd during his set in the Colston Hall foyer. Unrelenting in pumping out an awesomely upbeat African drum beat, the backing ensemble kept their audience moving throughout. The performance livened up the night with traditional African dancing and the iconic rhythmic sound that made Kanda Bongo Man a key figure in the development of the soukous genre. The cheerful tunes dragged listeners down from all levels of the Colston Hall and kept them wrapped up in the festivities. An unarguably fun addition to the lineup this year.
Bad Breeding (The Sportmans) 7:10pm
Bad Breeding are loud and incredibly, well…LOUD. The Stevenage band (seemingly mild mannered during their soundcheck) unleashed their sound like a pack of rabid animals, causing the entire pub to shake on its foundations. Although the raging clang of guitar and drums drowned out the socially conscious lyrics, the band’s message came across perfectly: “we are angry.” It seemed as though frontman Chris Dodd was hoping for a more violent crowd reaction as he would often leave the stage to square up to headbangers in the front row. Though no mosh pit formed, the atmosphere was reminiscent of those rowdy teenage years that all retired punks adoringly think back to. The fast, intense show left most with a smile and some, possibly, with a perforated eardrum.
ABRA (SWX) 7:50pm
The Carhartt WIP stage was packed to near-capacity in the runup to the Atlanta-based singer/producer’s performance. Since releasing her first original tracks in 2014, ABRA has shot to notoriety within the world of alternative hip-hop. Her sensually-soulful voice echoed over the busy layers of the accompanying beat, keeping her onlookers hooked on every note. The so-far-released studio recordings aren’t particularly ‘neat’ in technique, but there’s something so satisfying about hearing the somewhat rougher sounding tracks live, in the moment. The beautifully-eerie vocals float through you as you find yourself unable to look away from the charismatic performer. She’s got the siren aesthetic down to such a point that it’s no surprise Awful Records snapped her up so quickly.
Kano (SWX) 9pm
Any energy the crowd had left over after ABRA’s set erupted when grime legend Kano took to the stage. It took a little while for the show to get going, but this point was forgotten the moment the Made in the Manor creator began his set. It was clear that he fed off the vibes of his screaming fans, moving along the stage to ensure every front-rower, if only for a moment, got his full attention. The general feel from the audience seemed to be less crazy than that of most grime shows. It was still busy and entertaining, minus a drunken brawl or two. Kano is an A-class hype man and made sure to keep the buzz going throughout his set, which he performed without the assistance of an accompanying band – it seems that all Kano needs to thrill a crowd is a mic and his relentless energy.
A fantastically-organised festival, Simple Things refuses to let up on its annual promise to bring some of the world’s most entertaining acts. Most attendees were left a little worse for wear, but there was no doubt that any exhaustion was entirely worth it. If you’re a fan of being spoilt for musical choice and want an excuse to visit many of Bristol’s great live venues, 2017 is your year.
2016's instalment of Bristol's ever-popular music event did not disappoint.