Simple Things Festival 2024: a day of genre-defying genius

A crowdsurfer at Bristol's Simple Things festival

Bristol’s Simple Things is a welcome returnee in its first year back after the pandemic – and now celebrating a decade of existence.

An ambitious day, with over 15 hours of alternative music spread across seven venues, Simple Things is a true reflection of the south western city’s cultural diversity. Presenting itself as one of the UK’s most forward-thinking festivals with a splendidly inspired lineup to boot: it’s a day of genre-defying genius.

Early on was Manchester’s Nina Cobham – who fills the intimate Rough Trade live room. A bilingual singer-songwriter, Cobham is quickly ascending the ranks of the UK pop scene – with her melodic voice, precise guitarist Rory, and melancholic lyrics, it is hard not to be enchanted.

New York multi-instrumentalist L’Rain makes for an enthralling change, as she warms up the Strange Brew stage. Soaring through her tentative album I Killed Your Dog, she plays with a complete band and overarching, echoed samples of dogs and mobile phones. L’Rain’s set is distinctly intimate, even with her surrounding rhythm section, mostly impart to her elegant vocalisations, which never stray too far from her bedroom-pop routes.

Meanwhile, Bristol Beacon’s main stage is a party with Les Savy Fav‘s angular guitar work beaming across the stage; triumphing over the Beacon’s almost conference hall-like character. Singer Tim Harrington squawks and bombardments make him a hard figure to miss. Effortlessly pulling and pushing the meticulously placed stage equipment wherever he desires; the stage is laid out like a nursery school’s play den by the time the last song is complete. A particular stand-out is when he pulls a ping-pong table into the crowd and rode on top of it – like an emperor from a children’s storybook… until he rubs his sweat-drenched torso into a giddy patron’s face.

Freshly reopened, the Beacon became the hub of the day with festival goers queuing for blocks around the venue throughout the event – testament to their supreme line-up.

Emmeline’s set in the foyer presented a high point for the day – ‘foyer’ being very indicative of the business-like surroundings we were in. A fully spoken word set, her jilty cadence and natural rhythm, almost like a musical town-cryer enchanting passers-by.

Foyer’s executive surroundings come in stark contrast to the rough-and-tumble sports bar, aptly named The Sportsman, which is lined with arcade machines, high pub stools and sticky floors. The Sportsman hosts the ‘fringe’ of the festival, giving space for the fresh and vibrant artists of the Bristol local and UK alternative scenes. This is not to say that it is a modest environment, however, with acts like Butch Kassidy and Psychotic Monks rattling the rickety venues’ floors and door to the point of structural concern. Gurriers’ art-house punk stylings in particular seem to be almost magically intune with the venue, the frenzied crowd threatening the very beams the venue is built upon.

The two stand-outs from the day come later in the evening – as the collective dopamine of the festival leading from one exhilarating and manic performance to another.

Flowdan’s short but potent set at the Beacon’s Lantern Hall is of particular note. Making history this month as the first UK MC to win a Grammy award, Flowdan’s dextrous bars and magnetic stage performance is a bewildering watch. A set that forces the question: how can a single performer exhibit so much talent? 

Ditz take to the stage at Strange Brew late in the day. A six-song set of turbulent, noisy grunge; their performance is brilliant. Ditz play together with such distinct harmony, playing off one other in energised dissonance. The band play with fervour, the drums and bass propelling forward throughout. Vocalist Cal feels more at home in the crowd than on stage, always finding unique and oftentimes precarious ways to escape his four-by-four cage. The audience welcome him and push him back, informing the band when they need more energy and when they need immersion – Ditz and the festival-goers create a symbiotic relationship within the short-thirty-minute set, a testament to Ditz’s hefty live presence.

Simple Things is a remarkably varied and vibrant day out, bringing some much-needed musical brightness to the dreary winter months. Demonstrating Bristol’s rich cultural scene, Simple Things trusts its revellers’ taste and determination to uncover their own hidden gems. A long day, it delivers on its promise and more. From local stars to the countries buzziest new names, Simple Thing’s four years out of the festival game did nothing to tarnish its well-deserved reputation.

featured image: Colin Moody

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