Photos: Tim Ellis
Brisfest has got plenty going for it. Run by a charity that provides on-the- job training and music industry work experience for young people, it also supports local record labels like Temple Records and this year implemented a pay-what-you-want ticketing scheme. All of which nods towards this being a thoroughly Bristolian affair, in terms of its spirit as well as its location.
The decision to move from its previous base at Ashton Court into central Bristol proves to be both a strength and a weakness: it gives the crowd an insight into the breadth of Bristol’s various subcultures by making use of some of the best venues in the city. At the same, the event feels a bit sprawling, and it’s a stretch to make it to all the sites involved.
The hub of this year’s event is The Island/Old Fire Station. The most absorbing performance on the main stage during the early part of the day comes from Vena Cava, whose set eases between minimal postrock and grungier, noise-driven tracks. Meanwhile, a constant throb of 4/4 kicks emanates from the Old Police Cells, keeping house and techno heads busy all evening.
Exploring the outlying venues of the festival, I venture over to Old Market. The Exchange has been handed over to the hardcore/punk contingent, who transform the club into a sweating hive of testosterone, featuring the only inklings of a mosh pit I see all day. The most energetic performance I see is from Broken Bones Gentlemans’ Club, whose singer screams from an improvised catwalk, and gets the entire crowd onto its knees for a rendition of a charming number called ‘eat shit’, which lasts all of five seconds.
Over on Stokes Croft, only a dedicated handful make it over to the back room of the Crofter’s Rights, where I catch a lively, scrappy set of ska from The Convicts, who don’t seem the least bit bothered that only about seven people have shown up for their gig.
As the night draws in and some of the headliners make their appearances, two very different versions of Bristol’s musical identity compete for attention. On the main stage, noise-mongers Spectres bombard the crowd with their visceral, discordant soundscapes, while next door in The Station, Eva Lazarus, Lil Rhys and Mr Woodnote summon a more festive vibe with their their hip hop-influenced, loop station wizardry.
Following that, Smithy & Mighty, two of the most important producers to have ever emerged from the city, play a set erring towards the commercial, rather than the journey into Bristolian bass culture that I’d expected. The night doesn’t end there though: several venues stay open until 5am to service tastes ranging from the ominous techno-noise of Giant Swan to dubstep and jungle back on Stokes Croft.
Overall, the event provided an overview of the relentless creativity the underpins the city, and especially the tenacity of its younger generation of musicians and producers. It could have pulled larger numbers, but then putting on a city-based event with festival season in full swing was always a bit of a gamble.