With Stolen Body at the helm, Bristol’s third Psych Fest has proven itself to be an innovative, eclectic representation of the national scene.
With all the acclaimed “Psych Fests” happening the world over, it’s no surprise that garage and psych has made a significant come back in recent years. And it’s certainly no different in Bristol. Championing the output of this explosive noise is local label Stolen Body Records, who have dealt almost exclusively in band music for a number of years and have never strayed far from their roots. Other Bristol labels, like Howling Owl and Invada, spawn from the same sentiment, only having branched off from garage rock to become inclusive of more noise and electronic elements. This has allowed Bristol to diversify significantly and test the waters in regard to completely new, innovative music. Stolen Body Records, however, have kept true to their cause and this year put on Bristol’s third annual “Psych Fest”, taking place at The Crofter’s Rights.
Opening its doors at 2pm on Saturday, it didn’t take long for the psych-heads of Bristol to fill out the venue. The weather was typically British, relentlessly raining and dreary, but as if used to the conditions everybody carried on regardless. A total of 11 bands were set to perform over 9 hours, showcasing some of the acts on Stolen Body’s roster. Upon seeing the merch table, which had sprawled out to cover half the pub walls with vinyl, there was a uniting theme of traditional psychedelia, at least visually – bold colors swirling into typically “trippy” patterns to produce art hypnotic to the eye. But as the music began I deemed this commonality as merely visual.
Yo No Se, the second band to perform, presented vignettes of psych, stoner and grunge rock. It felt like a fitting welcome to this year’s festival and an intriguing slice of some of the variance within the genre of psych music. There was a relation with the old Seattle garage scene, but never stayed in one genre long enough to be pinned down. It was both highly charged and hypnotic – an odd balance the genre has seemed to carve for itself – but at the same moment unpredictable and fresh.
Fruit Tones presented a complete shift in sound, heading more towards a Beach Boys/Buzzcocks fusion and an underlying feeling of nostalgia. The three-piece Manchurian band were musically tight and confident, and had no problem throwing out jangly pop tunes to the masses. They were familiar and warming, like a series of covers to your favourite bygone band – but they were original and current. The festival was off to a roaring start.
After a few hours the mood heightened, foot traffic increased and the Crofters filled what that warm, stale smell left over from its previous legacy. Bristol’s own Yama Warashi followed, changing the tone again to perform slow, climactic experimental numbers with a more comprehensive band. Perhaps confusing to more traditional psych-heads, Warashi presented yet another face to the cities melting pot of noise, for all that it’s worth.
Outstanding performances followed from Os Noctambulos, Edward Penfold and Taos Humm. Having seen the latter many times, their consistency at putting on an explosive show was known, changing instruments and sounds naturally as their music takes new shapes. The three acts very much embodied the festival’s focus on innovation within the genre. The fusion of garage, psych, surf, and soul elements brought about new territory for experimentation. It felt very much like a playground for the psych world, that had taken from the past but was by no means defined by it any longer.
London-based Thee MVPs knocked the evening into the next gear, presenting the festival’s punk-rock face. The Evil Usses and Go!Zilla followed suit, and when I returned from another gig I had popped out to, I was met with an even hotter room and sweatier crowd. Several shirts had been thrown away into the ether, and a sizable mosh pit had formed to release some of the audience’s built-up energy. Stolen Body had managed to curate the set times tastefully, allowing some of the more immersive acts to be shown later, and to a more loosened up audience. Asteroid Delux segued beautifully into the night’s DJ set, as it married space rock with a concrete framework that marvelled listeners in a dream-like state.
With Psych Fest now being etched firmly into the festival calender, both as a local and national festival, we have been left to revel in new ground for British psych music. There’s a wave of really progressive musicians that have kicked off the shackles of former comparisons to nostalgic throwbacks. Stolen Body Records are just one of its key players, and this year’s Psych Fest proves that they have traveled well so far, and continue to reach new ground.