Simple Things festival review – masterfully curated and delivered

Multiple venues, Bristol
The two-day weekender put math-punk with mumblecore, house, grime and happy hardcore as Battles and Galcher Lustwerk played to impress

Bristol’s Simple Things festival – which adopts the “stumbling around multiple venues” festival model of The Great Escape, Tramlines and others – has now reached its fifth year. It opens with a Friday night gig from Godspeed You! Black Emperor, whose noise-rock is stirring but dogmatic, with only brief bursts that truly grab your collar.

Chastity Belt kick things off on Saturday with pleasant mumblecore songs about Samantha from Sex and the City, among other millennial topics, sung entirely out of tune as is the slacker’s wont; Lower Dens can’t seem to fill the stage with a guitarist missing, while Speedy Ortiz play lazily written math-punk. Maximum Joy also disappoint with their doily-fringed funk, but Battles impress. They have one of the best rhythm sections in rock, comprising all three members – their melodies are often gawky, but they’re spectacular when locked into pure groove.

Two grime acts take the roof off the Academy – nimble hectoring from Ruff Sqwad segues into a well-drilled set from Skepta and JME. Its climactic third, of bars thrown over a megamix of classic instrumentals – German Whip, I Luv U, the whimsically beautiful Ruff Sqwad anthem Functions on the Low – is overwhelming, but their own greatest hits stand proudly beside them.

Over in a converted fire station, PC Music emissary Danny L Harle has half the audience dancing with genuine abandon to his brilliantly overstuffed J-pop and happy hardcore; the other half dancing with inverted commas, trapped behind the hipster’s irony shield. They’d have struggled even more with Jam City’s earnest emo-soul – his songs were improbably but expertly juxtaposed with gorgeously dark dancehall.

By 4am in the Lakota club space – which, this being Bristol, has its own dedicated nitrous oxide bar – some punters are a bit worse for wear. Galcher Lustwerk is halfway through a profoundly satisfying deep house set, but a man with oscillating eyeballs, lying in repose, manages to yank out the cabling from the decks. No matter: Lustwerk makes a right turn into sparse rap from Future, before steering back towards the cosmos. A masterful end to a masterfully curated and delivered festival.


Ben Beaumont-Thomas

The GuardianTramp

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