Review | Simple Things Festival

by Tom Spooner

The name ‘Simple Things‘ is something of a misnomer. There is nothing simple in bringing 60 world class acts to Bristol for a 16 hour showcase of innovative music. In fact, getting acts of the calibre of Nicolas Jaar, No Age, Modeselektor, Pantha Du Prince and Jon Hopkins to play together on the same bill, on the same day, to hundreds of people is about as far from simple as it gets.

The depth, quality and diversity of this year’s program is indicative of a genuine passion for music. The line-up reads like a fantasy list that has somehow, against the odds, come into fruition. So can they pull it off? Thankfully, having ironed out some of the logistical issues that have plagued the festival in previous years, Simple Things more than delivers on its promise. The event is a triumph.

Like the city of Bristol itself, Simple Things is full of intriguing contrasts and juxtapositions. Take the two venues – on one hand the gold-plated grandiosity of the Colston Hall and on the other, the intriguing spaces of a disused inner-city fire station (the Island). And then there’s the music. Within just half an hour you can go from watching DJ Jazzy Jeff shaking the room with the post-ironic glee of Toto’s Africa to These New Puritans delivering an uncompromising, and at times oppressive, slab of brain-rattling gothic gloom.

Understandably, much of the Simple Things buzz is around Nicolas Jaar’s performance. The young producer and DJ has already redefined what is possible within electronic music and is deserving of his many plaudits. It is no wonder then that the main hall reaches capacity for his set, leaving many fans unable to get in. The disappointment doesn’t last long however as down in the Colston foyer bonkers Welsh outfit Islet start throwing themselves and their equipment around in a delightfully anarchic genre-hopping workout. Dissolving musical boundaries as well as physical boundaries, the band take it in turns to dance around the audience whipping up an unexpected frenzy.

Next up Vessels (pictured above) step things up another level with easily one of the festival’s most enjoyable sets. Having left behind their post-rock roots, the Leeds band are now solely committed to celebrating dance music in its various forms. Acid house melodies, a techno shimmer, a 90s house beat, and woozy textures all vie for attention in their groove-heavy sound. Their cover of Modeselektor’s Blue Clouds is so exhilarating that the audience forgets that Jaar is performing next door. Vessels are unafraid to reveal the sweat and dedication that goes into making electronic music, a pertinent reminder that analogue can still make you dance pretty damn hard.


Vessels by Nancy Donnelly

Back in the hall, Pantha du Prince is another revelation. The immersive nature of Hendrik Weber’s set, the precision with which he executes each movement, each incremental build and euphoric drop, is nothing short of breathtaking. The architecture of his minimalist techno world is brought to life with maximalist gestures. Later Jon Hopkins over at the Island ditches any subtlety, switching up complex rhythms and dramatic drops to make the sweaty crowd erupt.

After an evening of cutting-edge digital music, No Age’s punk-rock aesthetic makes for a refreshing change. The duo’s songs are visceral and primal forms of expression, inspiring a moshpit manufactured out of the sweetest anger – the mild frustrations of rock kids lured momentarily away from guitars by the appeal of the Macbook and its multitude of sounds. No Age are a frenzied reminder of just how alive fast riffing can make you feel. The pit sees boys and girls part hug, part shove as they try to process the raw energy and their delight at it.

From start to finish, Simple Things feels like a celebration. A great atmosphere pervades as people are free to enjoy inspiring music without boundaries, to lose themselves in blissed-out soundscapes one minute before being battered into the here and now by a wall of swirling guitars the next. You can throw your hands high to a hip hop beat, get down low to a dirty electro bassline or allow your whole body to sway to a hypnotic Krautrock groove – the choice is yours. It may not have been easy but today the simple things were done right, leaving ringing in the ears and warmth in the soul.


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