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Last weekend Simple Things celebrated its 5th year of the multi-venue, city-wide commemoration of left field music, covering a diverse spectrum of genres and disciplines.

Simple Things has cemented its reputation as one of the most forward-thinking festivals in the Bristol and Southwest circuit, with a fantastically well thought-out lineup that included a mix of well-known and underground artists from across the musical board.

Asides from the artists, part of the beauty of Simple Things lies in the range of interesting and inspiring venues that play host to them. Taking place in multiple locations throughout Bristol, the city’s artistic and musical spaces are brilliantly cast as supporting characters in the overall performance of the festival. The crowd of 4,000 are a relatively mature, and engaged audience. Mostly in their 20’s-30’s, there seems to be an element of geekiness to people’s knowledge of music. One bloke proceeded to educate us on the history of roots rock reggae, gesturing violently and spilling Red Stripe in all directions.

Decentralised madness ensued across the city, pulling acts from as far reaching as San Francisco to Berlin – dotted from the sterile grandeur of Colston Hall, to Bristol’s underbelly, Stokes Croft. As always, there was a notable attention to detail in the programming, and this year showed no sign of compromise, with Crack Magazine showcasing Canadian post-rock band Godspeed You! Black Emperor for their opening party, which seems to echo the booking of last year’s headline act – Canadian rock duo Death From Above 1979.

The Saturday started with a few beers around the table at Cracks own pub The Christmas Steps. Glass-eyed and in high spirits we then made our way down to Bristol’s jewel in the crown – Colston Hall. The first act of the festival, Tamu Massif defined a musical mood that was smooth and poppy, with many of the earlier bands acting as the first gear in a progressive heightening of both sound and spirit. DJ Kokoro displayed the same laid-back stylings from the upstairs terrace as the venue began bustling with activity by the mid-afternoon.

We then made our way to catch local Bristolian talent Oliver Wilde, who was joined by 7 additional members (stringed section included. The sonic result seemed a little contrived and messy. The stage’s sound system also seemed to come under slight strain, as Wilde’s typically ethereal and heartfelt compositions became lost under a sea of conflicting guitar licks and heavy bass. His set finished 20 minutes short of proceedings, with a delay of over an hour before the next act, Penguin Café, took to the stage.

15+ members of Penguin Cafe Orchestra eased us into the day with moving and energetic renditions of Music for a Found Harmonium, Perpetuum Mobile and Solaris, which were complemented by the imposing grandeur of the room. But in the same vein as Oliver Wilde’s performance, the washy mass of frequencies that tumbled out of the poorly designed sound system failed to match the artistic talents of the performers.

By the early evening the game had significantly stepped up. US post-punk outfit HEALTH provided the main stage with the adrenaline it needed to sustain itself until midnight, with Savages and Battles performing equally high-octane sets.

Standout performances came from Micachu & The Shapes in the foyer and Beak>, who headlined the Lantern stage. The Shapes have been touring off the back of their latest record, Good Sad Happy Bad, and seemed nonchalant but appreciative of the sizable crowd they managed to pull. Their rough, jam-style compositions define the off-kilter nature of Simple Things – where convention and predictability are left at the door and the unsung heroes are left to revel in what noise has been sparked from the underground. It was one of these heroes that provided Mica Levi with a replacement guitar as her string suddenly broke. Their delivery was met with rapturous applause by both the band and the audience.  

As night fell on the city, DJ’s across the board of electronic dance and bass music donned headphones and inhaled the crisp winter air, whilst tuning in to the exuberant anticipation of fresh-faced ravers. Over at the Firestation, Fiery haired Londoner Moxie was dialling into this collective conscious by flexing 2-step bass-driven carnival music, dropping Kelis – Millionaire to the crowd’s delight, leaving onlookers nibbling at their cheeks and thwarting dismay. Outside in the courtyard, San Francisco’s Avalon Emerson was single handedly manipulating the crowd’s emotional states with lush surfy pads juxtaposed by morbid Berlin techno selections.

In a stroke of booking genius, Hamburg’s Pudel resident Helena Hauff took over the cells, an ideal setting for her brand of moody techno. Hauff packed the place out and lines of clued-up techno heads waited eagerly outside for the duration of her set. Though the underground prison cells made for a fitting environment, Helena Hauff (quite rightly) draws a strong recognition from heads, and with not much else going on around her, it was only the luckiest few that were able to make it into the 250 capacity venue.

Streetwear retailer Carhartt sponsored the stage at the O2 academy where London Grime artists Skepta and JME drew a huge crowd to the 350 venue, which in turn generated a grid-locked queue that laced the perimeter of the building. The pair certainly brought the audience, and many of their standout records were performed, with flawless showmanship and engaging crowd control. But – and it’s a big but – there was something about the affair that felt slightly characterless. Again, it was the sound system that failed to create an immersive experience out of what could’ve been a fully engaging and memorable experience.

After midnight, all roads led to Lakota. The vibe was all smiles in Coroner’s Court for Hunee’s characteristically eclectic mix of jams from disco to house and techno. Hunee’s expert mixing and impeccable taste resulted in a slightly overcrowded dance floor but there was no real reason to complain. A standout moment was hearing Liem – If Only I Could through the room’s massive sound system. Infamous local legends The Kelly Twins were in a league of their own that night, but it was a shame about the crowd, which could be counted on two hands.

We then caught Objekt, who was taking people on an entirely different journey. With 4 hours to play with, and plenty of breathing room, both in his set and in terms of dancefloor space, it felt like a much more serious and weighty affair. He started slow and went on to deliver a masterful set of deep and funky techno, at times apocalyptic but completely immersive. It was the highlight for the night for us.

Words by Oliver Simåo, Peter Malla and Michael Robertson

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