BBC 6 Music Festival in Bristol review

Josiah Hartley gives us an extensive run down of when BBC 6 Music took over various venues in Bristol for their annual festival.

Ben Smith

Last updated: 24th Feb 2016.
Originally published: 22nd Feb 2016

Image: Primal Scream

It’s incredible to think that in the frosty month of February we’re still months away from the bustling festival season. However, this didn’t stop music lovers from snapping up tickets for this year’s BBC 6 Music Festival, which all sold out within minutes of going on sale.

Following previous sell-out events in Manchester (2014) and Newcastle (2015) respectively, the annual spectacle descended on Bristol over the Valentine’s Weekend, for their third outing.

The event, which celebrates the diversity of the radio station’s output, saw an exemplary line-up of over 50 acts perform across five venues including - Motion, Colston Hall, O2 Academy, Basement 45 and Trinity Centre. Not to mention an array of emerging local talent who played “the Fringe”, that ran alongside the main festivities. With such a thoroughly diverse, thriving music scene and a rich musical heritage, Bristol made for the ideal host city for 2016. 

DAY 1: FRI BY NIGHT - 12/2/15 @ MOTION

The opening night of the 6 Music Festival went off to a flying start, with Roots Manuva performing to a capacity crowd at the warehouse-style Motion. Despite the unusually early start time for a gig, along with the pressures of launching off the festival, the UK rap veteran was on top form.

Backed by a full band, tracks like current single ‘Fighting For?’ and the clamorous ‘Facety 2:11’ – both drawn from latest LP Bleeds - translated very well  live, and was met with rousing applause.

As expected the South Londoner saved his most popular track ‘Witness’ till last. And it went down an absolute storm with the sprightly mixed crowd, who were aged between their early twenties to fifties, reflecting 6 Music’s wide-reaching demographic. 

Without a doubt one of the most eagerly anticipated and rock-solid sets on the evening came from post-punk revivalists, Savages. Before the London four-piece even hit the stage, numerous attendees during the interval were commenting on how great they are live. And it’s no surprise why as they played a blistering set of brooding noise rock that confirmed their reputation of being one of the UK’s best live bands around right now.

Opening up with the thunderous drums of ‘I Need Something New’, the band clenched the audience’s attention from the outset. They made the most out of road-testing cuts from their brand new album Adore Life, including ‘Surrender’ and ‘T.I.W.Y.G’ which sent the adrenaline-fuelled crowd nuts.

At one stage in the gig, bold front woman Jehnny Beth even crawled atop the fervent crowd during the bands performance of the brutal ‘Hit Me’. Anyone who has previously witnessed the band live will be aware that Beth’s crowd-pleasing antics have become something of a regular occurrence in their energetic shows.  

Following the intensity of Savages, came a live set by Bristol’s bastion of dubstep, Pinch and UK dub stalwart Adrian Sherwood. The pair brought together the sounds of their respective labels - Tectonic and On-U-Sounds - to present a large dosage of earth-shuddering bass riddims to an appreciative crowd.

Although seemingly a radical shift in musical contrast, it’s the kind of move that the 6 music team are able to curate very effectively, much like their eclectic radio programmes, where disparate styles of music sit comfortably next to each other. And this is clear enough testament to the open-mindedness of the station’s music-loving listenership. 

Headliners, Primal Scream made for a fine contrast to the preceding acts, with their iconic status and crossover, dance-rock sound. The Scottish rockers treated the lively audience to a couple of new songs from their forthcoming album Chaosmosis, ahead of its March release date.

The first of which was (‘Feeling Like a) Demon Again’ at the beginning of the show, and later ‘Where the Light Gets In’. Both songs were received well, although the latter track went off to a shaky start, which charismatic frontman Bobby Gillespie admitted was the bands first time giving the track a stab live.

The crowd, however were easily forgiving of the minor blip, and in return the band proceeded to belt out all the classics from their extensive back catalogue. The techno-powered rock of ‘Swastika Eyes’ had the entire audience dancing away into a state euphoria.

While older anthems like ‘I’m Losing More Than I’ll Ever Have’ saw everyone clapping their hands together in unison, followed by the epic ‘Loaded’ that found all chanting back the “Woo woo” refrains with beaming enthusiasm. For a band that hasn’t performed live in almost three years, they put on a thrilling show to conclude the evening’s festivities in style.

DAY 1: FRI LATE – 12/2/16 @ BASEMENT 45

Over at Basement 45, the LATE club night curated by Mary Anne Hobbs, took the more electronic-inclined festival-goers into the early hours. The low-ceilinged cellar rooms of the venue, and its dark-lit atmosphere was a choice setting for the sounds supplied by Bristol’s new wave of bass music producers.

The likes of Hodge, Kahn & Neek, Ziro and Ossia, amongst others, all played strong DJ sets to a crowd of young ravers who stomped along to the bass-heavy beats. Even the omnipresent Big Jeff who frequents the Bristol live music circuit, was on the dancefloor getting his skank on.

The night provided a snapshot of the innovative sounds seeping out of Bristol’s electronic music underground, spanning grime, techno, dubstep and house, but all sharing one thing in common: shed loads of bass.  Just the way Bristol folks like it.

DAY 2: SAT BY DAY – 13/2/16 @ TRINITY CENTRE

Saturday’s by day festivities offered a fascinating variety within the confines of the Trinity community Centre, which is a landmark Bristol venue that regularly hosts a range of arts and cultural events.

Saul Williams kicked off proceedings from 11am, with an awe-inspiring blend of slam poetry and alternative hip hop. Beginning his set on stage, the New York artist soon found himself amidst the enthralled crowd who circled themselves around him.

If anyone was still adjusting to the fairly early hour for a live show, they were most certainly awakened by the time he finished the set with his rambunctious new single ‘The Noise Came from Here’.

Following this was another early lunchtime highlight, by none other than zany psych-rock maverick, Julian Cope. Using just a mellotron that was a striking Hi-Vis colour, along with his unmistakable voice, the ex-Teardrop Explodes singer performed three mesmerizing tracks, one of which was a cover of The Soft Machines ‘Why Are We Sleeping?’. In between songs he conversed on stage with 6 Music presenter Stuart Maconie, which was broadcast live from the venue. 

Given that most of the younger festival-goers were perhaps recovering from the late night mayhem of Friday’s club night, Trinity’s daytime event largely attracted a middle-aged crowd - who were keen to sample the cultural side of the festival.

Beyond the wondrous musical attractions, there was plenty more to take in, including a photo exhibition by local photographer Beezer, featuring some great pics that captured the 1980’s Bristol music scene.

Through to the culinary delights of Jamaican pop-up stall, Mr G’s serving Jerk Chicken and Gopal’s Curry Shack offering Indian cuisine, that hungry attendee’s enjoyed, to a soundtrack of roots reggae courtesy of Jah Lokko soundsystem.

Back inside was a record fair for the vinyl enthusiasts and a mix of poetry, spoken word and comedy. Bristol-born comedian, Mark Watson pulled in the masses, and provided some laughs with his scatter-shot style, that saw the eccentric ramblings of Julian Cope’s prior live interview become the subject to one of his comedic observations.

While upstairs during the late afternoon, 6 Music presenter, Nemone held engaging talks with DJ Krust, Ben Jon Power aka Blanck Mass, and Massive Attack’s tour DJ Queen Bee: all of whom gave insight into the early days of their music careers in Bristol. 

The daytime event was brought to an electrifying close by UK dub masters Dennis Bovell, Mad Professor and Adrian Sherwood who each played stellar individual sets, before joining forces and totally mashing up the dance with a hefty serving of dub-wise business.

If a single piece of bass music history was going to happen during the festival, it couldn’t get any better than witnessing these three don’s on stage together for the first time ever. And given Bristol’s long affinity with bass, it made for an even more fitting experience.

DAY 2: SAT BY NIGHT – 13/2/16 @ MOTION

Motion hosted a second evening of top performances from the likes of Roisin Murphy who opened up the night, Tricky, Daughter and headliners Suede.

Taking a page out of Grace Jones book, Roisin Murphy had the packed main room fully engrossed in her theatrical show, which saw her make numerous costume changes throughout.

The ex-Moloko singer ran through tracks such as ‘Gone Fishing’ and ‘Exploitation’ from her Mercury Prize-nominated LP Hairless Toys, along with playing some earlier material, including a spellbinding version of ‘Sing It Back’, from her Moloko years. 

Now residing in Berlin, Bristol native Tricky followed with first homecoming gig in almost four years, which made this appearance an even bigger deal for many. Assisted by a drummer and guitarist, the trip hop veteran performed a boisterous set that largely consisted of tracks from his new collaborative project, and album of the same name, Skilled Mechanics.

Highlights included ‘Diving Away’ where multi-talented drummer Luke Harris sang lead vocals over a plaintive guitar melody. While the Trickster snarled his way through ‘My Palestine Girl’ and closed the set with a mind-blowing rendition of ‘Vent’ that was met with overwhelming applause.

Like most of Tricky’s live gigs, the songs that he performs often gets a more scuzzy rock makeover, and for a two-piece band they created an impressively loud, sound to complement the Bristolian’s gravelly vocals.

It’s unknown whether the unconventional decision to do without a bass player was a creative one or not, however live bass would have enhanced the overall sound, rather than the reliance of a backing track generating bass lines. Aside from that, the Knowle West boy delivered and it was great to have him back, representing Bristol on the bill. 

Next up was Daughter, who created a breath-taking, aural landscape with their cinematic form of folk. The trio played a set that was balanced out by cuts from both their debut album If You Leave and the newly released follow up Not to Disappear.

All their new material, including new single ‘Numbers’ was well received, as was fan favourites such as ‘Youth’. The winning formula of singer Elena Tonra’s husky vocals, and the wall of pounding drums, subtle basslines and dreamy guitars, captivated the audience’s attention throughout, much in the way a gripping film manages to do so.

At the top of the bill was Britpop icons, Suede who put on a tour de force performance. They played new material from their brand new LP Night Thoughts and of course all the old favourites that the most avid fans wanted to hear.

Ranging from ‘Trash’ to ‘Animal Nitrate’ , through to ‘So Young’ and ‘Beautiful Ones’ which had the whole crowd reciting back the lyrics with pure gusto, including the “La-la-la-la-la-la” ad-libs of the latter number. Singer Brett Anderson was energetic as ever, strutting and leaping across the stage throughout the show, while taking time to interact with the buzzing crowd who fed off his vibrant energy.

Not to mention the rest of band who played with the kind of dexterity akin to when they were at the top of their game around two decades ago. The set was a mere reminder how pivotal the band were during the so called “Britpop” movement of the nineties and the many timeless anthems that they have to their name.  

DAY 2: SAT LATE – 13/2/16 @ MOTION

An hour after Saturday evenings live shows in Motion - which was attended by a majority older crowd – the venue took the honours for the second of the festival’s club nights, hauling in a flock of younger punters.

The night saw 6 Music presenters Craig Charles and Nemone deliver uplifting DJ sets that kept the dancefloor rammed with ecstatic club-goers. Nemone went down the path of peak-time house and techno, while the preceding set by ex-Corrie star, Charles, comprised of funky breaks and soul edits, to warm the up proceedings. T

he biggest highlight came from Bristol’s very own golden boy of house, Julio Bashmore, who took to the decks later on in the night. The producer/DJ played a dazzling set of French Touch style, disco-house that had the dancefloor on cloud nine.

Before the set culminated with a banger of his own ‘Au Seve’, which went down treat, and topped off a superb second day and night of the 6 Music Festival.

DAY 3: SUN – 14/2/16 – THE FRINGE @ VARIOUS VENUES

The final day of the festival was a chance for many attendees to check out the eclectic sounds offered by some of Bristol’s emerging talent, who performed at the The Fringe.

Taking a similar multi-venue approach employed by the towns own staple festivals: Dot To Dot and Simple Things, The Fringe featured a myriad of participating venues that played host to music and cultural events, covering the wider city.

As a brand new addition to the 6 Music Festival, it proved to be a wise decision from the organisers, who clearly did their homework on Bristol’s vast amount of live music venues and nightclubs, as well as it’s thriving creative arts and reputable food scene. 

Over at the Thekla, local indie label Howling Owl assembled an eclectic line-up of new acts, that included Many Monika who offered up alternative rock, with yowling vocals by their androgynous singer.

While at Start the Bus the likes of Jet McDonald and Andy Skellam played a soothing set of finger-picked folk ditties ideal for a campfire.

Elsewhere, Vena Cava proved to be one of the afternoon’s highlights. The three-piece band played an astounding set at the Fleece, which was hosted by BBC Introducing in The West.

Their sound shifts between moments of dreamy, shoegaze in the vein of My Bloody Valentine, to heavy outbursts of grungy, psychedelic noise rock. With one album under their belts so far, they’re a band likely to garner wider attention in the near future.

Meanwhile, the Watershed cinema represented the cultural aspect of The Fringe, having produced a special programme of Bristol related music films, DJ sets and discussions.

The early evening saw local DJ’s Adam TMA and Awkward hold an in-depth discussion with “Bristol sound” pioneers, Fresh 4, which was informative and in parts educational.

Before the group members stepped to the decks and played an exclusive DJ set that consisted of hip hop, funk and soulful grooves, which nicely topped off a spectacular weekend.

As a whole the 2016 edition of the BBC 6 Festival is certain to live on in the memories of thousands of music lovers, and will surely go down in history as one of Bristol’s greatest musical events.

Read: Dot to Dot Festival announces first wave of acts

Words: Josiah Hartley

 

Festivals 2019