Various artists Vanguard Vanguard Art Records
For decades, Bristol’s cultural reputation stemmed from two movements, both emerging in the late 80s and early 90s and both working in lockstep: street art and music. The latter was dubbed ‘The Bristol Sound’, but in truth the scene resisted categorisation, encompassing trip-hop, broken beat, hip-hop and other bass-driven offshoots directly inspired by the city’s booming sound system heritage.
To celebrate this rich and interwoven artistic history, Bristol art collective Vanguard have curated a street art exhibition and an accompanying vinyl-only compilation. Spanning 15 songs, the record is a portal into the rebellious spirit that has come to define the city’s underground identity; the urban grit, the free raves, the ever-present sub-bass. And with former Purple Penguin member and Bristol music aficionado Boca 45 lending his expertise to the project’s curation, the selections are on point.
Standout cuts include the first-ever Massive Attack single, 1988’s Any Love – a rarity that makes explicit the Bristol legends’ roots in sample culture and hip-hop and forms a direct link to their Wild Bunch days. Elsewhere, the languid Memphis by Purple Penguin, a downtempo classic, represents the more elegant reaches of Bristol’s musical character, with its grittier hip-hop impulses brought to the fore by the likes of Numskullz, Sir Beanz OBE and legendary local crew Aspects. The fact that these MCs never shied away from rapping in their own accents further roots this music in a sense of place, and still feels refreshing.
Taken as a whole, Vanguard is a reminder, if needed, that Bristol has always held its own as a forcing house for new strains of electronic music. Today, a new generation of artists and collectives are rightly celebrated for their ability to expand, refresh and mutate the city’s musical DNA. To listen to the tracks featured on this compilation is to trace that spirit of experimentation to its source.