Various Venues, Bristol – 6/05/2012
The expectations around Simple Things 2012 were dangerously high. With last year’s headline set from Jamie xx at the Old Fire Station still talked about, this second installment represented a bold step up. With a line-up of talent which has continued to astound as it’s grown, in a broad range of venues, the potential for this young festival to go through the roof was there for all to see.
With the sun shining defiantly, it seems churlish not to get involved nice and early, and cobwebs are comprehensively blown away by an afternoon set from local four-piece Scarlet Rascal and the Trainwreck. Their self-assured strut, guitar wail and admirably powerful bottom end is showcased impressively by The Fleece soundsystem, and the band’s unashamedly retro approach, along with front man Luke Brooks’s exceptional showmanship, ensures that their entire set is an engrossing and entertaining spectacle.
Across town at the far more spacious O2 Academy, Young Magic’s bassy rumblings and atmospherics win an understandably sparse crowd over with ease. By opening with outstanding cut You With Air, they admittedly leave themselves a bit short of places to go, but with striking guitarist/vocalist Melati Malay providing an immediate visual centre piece while her bandmates sway and swoop, the Brooklyn-based multinational three-piece exude a greater authority and directness than on record. They carve out melodies from the feedback with such care; criticisms of overt hipness seem a tad trite. In fact, if Surrey boys Vondelpark could exude half the energy and aura of these guys, then perhaps we wouldn’t have found ourselves across the road at The Hatchet listening to a girl playing Ed Sheeran covers after ten minutes of their set.
“We’re Wet Nuns and we’re going to play songs about women and death”, the Sheffield duo’s guitarist declares. With their bravado and raunchy blues-punk sound, it seems Wet Nuns’ mission is to inspire sweat-soaked debauchery. But the band are on stage at The Fleece around 6pm so it’s way too early for bar brawl and they get a bit whingey about it. Still, the crowd seems to love the set, nodding their heads and sinking beers to meaty tunes that sound like Lemmy fronting Kyuss.
Crack’s got no shortage of love for Tall Ships. This is far from the first time we’ve seen them play, and we know exactly what they’re capable of. But tonight, upstairs at the Academy they excel themselves, totally surpassing our already high expectations. Kicking off with the addictive jerky guitar riff of T=O, it’s apparent straight away, their set’s going to be loud. Like, crunch-your-bowels loud. Always a clever bunch, there’s plenty of time changes and nob twiddling, but they refrain from over-indulgence. Half the audience disappears towards the end of their set to make their way to the main room for the main event, but probably not without hesitation.
If ever an artist has grabbed the zeitgeist and popped it in her top pocket, Grimes is one. Appearing on magazine covers across the world (ours a case in point), making everything from chains and skulls to severe fringes absolutely essential in the process, this is arguably the hottest set of the day. Having witnessed the Grimes of old almost 12 months ago as a shy and uncertain live performer, it’s difficult to believe the transition. Admittedly, the amount actually produced ‘live’ is minimal, but what we are given is exciting, incredibly energetic and so ‘of the moment’ that a flick of the hair can feel iconic. She dominates the huge gathered crowd, bounding behind her tabletop set-up like Bez if he hadn’t been such a reserved fellow, and the hordes respond in kind. Rave and reverb hold hands quite naturally, unashamedly euphoric beats and sweet, dreamy vocals ideal accompaniments to one another. As immaculate bleary anthem Genesis peels from the speakers, Grimes solidifies her position as this year’s definitive artist thus far.
Drawing an almost as expansive crowd by coming from the other end of the musical spectrum, vastly underrated stalwarts Death In Vegascreate a set that is impossible to detract from. They fill the space with immaculately thought-out and accomplished expertise, locking into grooves which are rich, sensory and powerful, spanning the catalogue and dropping classics including Ayesha and Dirge imbued with fresh life.
A dash to the Thekla provides a healthy reward. Factory Floor have reached a point where they exude a reputation. It would be difficult to argue against them being the most exciting and original live act in the UK at the moment, and when the crowd knows that it makes things a hell of a lot easier; especially when your live show is one which depends so thoroughly on an audience prepared to place themselves in your hands. By their ideal midnight time slot there’s a palpable, nervous energy bubbling throughout the boat (something which preceding actKwes’s delicate moments sadly fall victim to). As the band takes to the stage and begins to churn out a familiar, grinding sample around which to build, the floor has already turned to a swirling mass before drummer Gabriel Gurnsey has even found his groove. The set grows, reaching piercing levels which simple serve to increase the euphoria and the physical impact of Factory Floor’s sound. It’s difficult not to feel a swell of pride in these as young, fearless and genuinely important British musicians.
And to the figure whose name leapt from the line-up: Squarepusher. A man of notoriety for levels of creativity and technical accomplishment maintained over a staggering period, his live show has always been, to any but the purist, a mixed affair. Sometimes manifested in stunningly aggressive acid attacks, or at others in considered, classical bass creations, while all of Tom Jenkinson’s outpourings have their considerable merits, whether he’s ever fully done himself justice in a single live experience is debated. It’s therefore with a sense of reluctant, restrained excitement that we approach this much-hyped audio-visual representation of patchy latest full-length Ufabulum. And it’s wonderful. The wall of LEDs which has lurched over acts all day springs vividly into life along with a similarly spruced-up altar and, of course, the screen on the front of ’Pusher himself’s mask. Springing immediately into frantic, glitchy life, the latest album immediately makes sense, serving as a soundtrack to the visual fireworks provided by this unique, bespoke experience. Intense spells of in-your-face, schizophrenic beats which are one minute industrial and jackhammer-punishing, the next playful, the next jungle-infused; these make way for far-reaching yet grainy segments which hark towards knowable sounds that are the same time alien and challenging. It’s easy to stare open-eyed and mouthed for fully half an hour before momentarily returning to the room, but it won’t be long before you’re dragged back into the all-engulfing, lovingly-created realm in front of you. Jenkinson’s fidgety, motivational presence beneath the mask provides a subtle reminder that there is an element of humanity up there among the hi-tech glory; this is a masterful display unlike anything we’ve seen before.
Feeling thoroughly exhausted from such consecutive displays of intensity, if there’s anyone to eke the final shreds of energy from a party,Jackmaster’s your man. Providing a perfect cap to a brilliantly-assembled evening-long Numbers showcase at Lakota (the fact that we missed almost its entirety is testament to the strength of the day), there’s a celebratory feeling in the venue’s well turned-out main room. With a hefty crew gathered onstage going suitably mental, including Rustie and Hudson Mohawke, the man with the quiff provides a joyous, fist-pumping finale to a day of stunning highs. Simple Things proves that with confident, fearless booking, the courage of ones convictions and a city prepared to meet you there, there is a place for events that can open your eyes, be fun and incredibly eclectic. What this festival has achieved here is close to staggering. Nice one.
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Words: Geraint Davies + David Reed
Photos: Chris Cooper