Simple Things 2014 Round-up

Festival season is long over, leaving the kind of dedicated, awkward music-nerd nutjobs (i.e. me and my social circle) to attend the more sparse, city-based fests, rather than the grim summer experience of waking up in a field the morning after seeing the illustrious likes of Jake Bugg and Papa Roach et al, smelling of shit with an empty Carling wedged into your eye socket. Either way, you can always count on the relatively more low-key gatherings like Bristol’s Simple Things to renew your faith in music festivals after the summer burnout. Here are our favourite acts from this year’s fest.

Caribou with Jessy Lanza, headlining the Simple Things Friday opening party at Motion.
The Fauns

Early festival hours are always a fantastic opportunity to scope out some local talent, which Bristol is nothing short of. Signed to Geoff Barrow of Portishead’s label Invada Records, The Fauns’ brand of textured, heavy shoegaze was the first act of the day to play the main stage at Colston Hall. Their hypnotic, wistful dreampop dirges enchanted those who showed up early enough, gently lulling the audience in a wash of reverberated guitars before bringing the hundred-year old house down with pounding waves of distortion and bass. Well recommended for folks in patched-up flannel and fake Docs who wish the ‘80s never ended. Never dismiss local acts at fests, kids. You’ll always find some absolute gold.

How To Dress Well

Chicago singer-songwriter Tom Krell’s latest full-length What Is This Heart? received some mixed reviews upon release, but the infectiousness of How To Dress Well’s unique, nostalgia-tinged strain of post-R&B proved to be super-groovy and infectious in a live setting, writing off complaints by those who had previously confined the act to the predictable label of ‘hipster’. Some amusing mid-song banter segued nicely in between each of Krell’s mesmerizing unions of 70’s-esque electro and his über-smooth vocal delivery.

Death From Above 1979

And the award for ‘best atmosphere at Simple Things’ goes to the legendary Death From Above 1979’s headliner set. Unless of course you were refused entry from the venue being full to bursting, everyone was waiting patiently and excitedly for DFA to take to the stage. And how could they not be? It’d been a whole decade since the release of their revolutionary party record You’re A Woman, I’m A Machine, as well as their abrupt breakup, leaving behind canonic tales of hedonistic on-stage antics and frenzied, drug-addled live shows. The band reformed for some shows in 2011 but after, presumably, hiding away in their native Toronto, engaging in endless dancefloor coitus with nubile young women while snorting cocaine off a DJ deck to prepare for the release of their much-anticipated 2014 follow-up The Physical World, within the sweaty, beer-stained halls of the O2 Academy, the mood was just right.

It’s easy to bestow unreal amounts of praise to a band making their proper comeback, but especially for the punk antics of DFA1979, it’s the audience that really makes the live experience. For a single hour, no matter your age, you experienced that feeling of adolescent fury again. Everyone was equal. Everyone was having a good time. Everyone was chanting “COME HERE BABY, I LOVE YOUR COMPANY”. Much love to the Canadian duo, but even more to those that attended.

Stuart Braithwaite of Mogwai headlining Colston Hall.

Warning: You shouldn’t trust this part of the article because, a) The amount of alcohol consumed that had been considered up to this point and, b) Mogwai are one of, if not, my favourite band in the world. I love them to death. I was going to be purely objective here, but I just couldn’t. Instead, I’m going to use this space to gush about how amazing their set was. Because I can.

Mogwai are, at least in my opinion at least, one of the more under-appreciated post-rockers for being one of the seminal acts that always add variation to their sound. Not so much evolving, but touching upon different styles rather than sticking to the third-wave post-rock formula that’s killing so much creativity in experimental rock. Their 2014 LP Rave Tapes was one of their most bold experiments, leaning more towards a repetitious, electronically-fused krautrock style. Fittingly, they came on with the album opener ‘Heard About You Last Night’, before moving onto their more aggressive, noise rock material an- oh my god are they playing ‘Ex-Cowboy’ are they actually playing my favourite song that they never play live this must be a dream. Ahem.

Mogwai’s performances are unfortunately rather hit-and-miss, but the festival circuit is where they always shine. The impeccable sound and atmosphere of Bristol’s legendary Colston Hall served as the perfect venue for the band to unleash their suitably grandiose brand of instrumental rock as the second headliner to the festival. They’re always an absolute treat to experience live, unleashing heavy loads of sustained noise punctuated by touching harmonies, all while keeping their composure amidst all the dissonance and chaos, like austere sentinels orchestrating the heartbeat of urban life.

The Haxan Cloak

Earlier this year, I interviewed Bobby Krlic, aka The Haxan Cloak before one of his headlining shows after his acclaimed LP Excavation dropped a few weeks prior (thanks to the Midas touch of none other than Ryan Schrieber). Despite his work sounding equal parts ominous, entrancing, horrific and captivating, it was immediately apparent that Krlic was a very humble, straightforward person as we shared a table at the Stag & Hounds pub, noshing on some burgers and gushing over a mutual love of drone and experimental art. Krlic mentioned how he doesn’t like to adopt the typical ‘enigmatic electronic artist’ persona, shedding the degree of pretense that you would expect from an experimental dark ambient artist.

It was fitting that Krlic’s set was to be the last act we saw for the night, bringing us full circle as The Haxan Cloak took to The Lantern in Colston Hall, a fittingly spacious and haunting venue for the 1am festival roundoff. Eerie lighting and sweeping drones, minimalist dirges and vacuous soundscapes; The Cloak’s lack of theatrics only serve to bring the atmosphere up to its most concentrated, fixating the audience on pulsating bass hits and the occasional haunting vocal snippet or distorted electronic fizzle to jolt you out of your comfort zone. A cold, provocative closer to Simple Things, and a great transition to getting smashed and dancing til 3am with the late DJs, one of which being Zomby, melon that he is. Cheers for the great weekend, Simple Things. Roll on 2015.

Much thanks to Tim Ellis Photography for preserving the event.

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