We’ve covered nearly 340 shows this year. Whereas that feels pretty weighty and towering from our humble perspective, the even more overwhelming fact holds firm that there were still tons of great shows in Bristol that we couldn’t cover. Such is the nature of our city’s scene and its intrepids who populate the venues, spending their hard-earned cash, singing themselves hoarse and losing their collective shit. We wish you all a fulfilling, happy and sonically satisfying 2020.

Here’s our run-down of the finest shows from the past year:

20 // The Murder Capital
7th October | Exchange

Murder Capital
The Murder Capital

Words: Ryan Simmonds
Photo: Jess Greenwood

“Then there’s frontman, James McGovern. He appears with his back to the audience before slowly making his way centre stage to the mic stand. McGovern is a great presence; immaculately dressed in a suit, he stares lingeringly and directly at what feels like each audience member as if preparing for battle with them. What follows is an exercise in restraint, slowly building to chaos. Whereas some of the aforementioned bands of the genre may come out all guns blazing to crowd surfing and circle pits from the opening chords, The Murder Capital play things differently.”

19 // Black Midi
20th June | Fiddlers

Black Midi
Black Midi

Words: Sean Toohey
Photo: Chelsey Cliff

“It becomes startlingly apparent that the technical ability possessed by every member of this cult is truly deserving of some appreciation. Not a single beat lies out of place and not a single note goes without purpose, though on the surface it does not always seem that way. That’s what I find so endearingly impressive about their work: you find yourself presented with an incredible wealth of technical proficiency that does not allow itself to lose any of its raw, cathartic passion and spirit… for the love of God, go and catch them live whilst you can.”

18 // Slonk
10th August | Crofters Rights

SLONK
SLONK

Words: Sean Toohey
Photo: Duncan Cruickshank

“It’s the ability to twitch on the border between wholesome and heavy that generates SLONK’s true appeal. Deep within the compositional structures of these cuts lies an obvious passion for both musical dynamics and lyrical narrative. It allows for an emotional impact that is mirrored perfectly across both sound and word. Letting yourself detach visually from the room offers the opportunity to marvel at just how detailed these progressions can become, often landing with the same mania and fanfare of Titus Andronicus or American Football.”

17 // Sharon Van Etten
27th March | SWX

Sharon Van Etten

Words: Albert Testani
Photos: Jessica Bartolini

“Throughout the set, she fluidly moved between the keyboard and guitar, but with her hands free, behind the microphone, she had the most power to orchestrate and breath genuine life into a style of singer-songwriter rock that can often feel stale and dreary in a back-of-a-café open mic. Van Etten made the stage feel so much bigger than it was, in a Springsteen-like way.”

16 // Sampa The Great
18th November | Rough Trade

Sampa
Sampa The Great

Words: Elliott Simpson
Photo: Lee Ramsey

“‘Thank you so much for coming out tonight,’ says Sampa part-way through the set. “Your support has been pivotal.” The love that the audience have for Sampa is palpable. Throughout every song, the crowd are swaying to the music and at each break, they seize the chance to shout and cheer the rapper’s name. In a night filled with bright spots, ‘Leading Us Home’ is one of the brightest. “I said I’d never write a love song,” says Sampa, introducing it. “And then I wrote a love song.” Among The Return’s more high-concept and philosophical songs, there’s a sweet simplicity to the soul-infused track.”

15 // Dave
26th April | O2 Academy

Dave
Dave

Words: Caitlin Scott
Photo: Kevin Tuyen

“‘I used to hear a voice when I was praying / But nowadays, I don’t even wanna be saved,’ the twenty-year-old spits over those iconic, chilling backing vocals and twanging keys. Dave has finally entered centre stage at the O2 Academy, standing tall and bold in front of a flaming blue skull. One minute into opener ‘Psycho’ and the crowd of generation Snapchat is almost at breaking point; that quick tempo flip hits at about two-and-a-half minutes and the entire audience erupts, shaking the foundations of the building.

14 // Mahalia
18th November | O2 Academy

Mahalia
Mahalia

Words: Oliver Evans
Photo: Naomi Williams

“‘Good Company’ is the #MeToo anthem that all guys and girls need to hear to understand a thing or two about Mahalia, and women for that matter. Talking about the inspiration, she noted, ‘I used to find if I invited someone into my home, there was always an expectation to take it further. From my perspective, when you step into my territory, from this moment on, everything is on my terms.’ It stood as a pivotal point of the night, a stark warning for all men to shake the aged presumption women want something more straightaway. She revealed, ‘Truthfully, I don’t have the time or energy to understand what I am to you. Either tell me what’s going on here or fuck off.'”

13 // Some Bodies
15th November | Louisiana

Some Bodies
Some Bodies

Words: Amy Grace
Photo: Jess Greenwood

“Vocalist, Tom Nosek arrived through the crowd before delivering a memorable vocal performance, raw and confident, potentially one of the best vocalists in terms of sheer diversity and tenacity. ‘You guys are crazy,’ he said with a smile after the song had long ended. The applause and cheers from the crowd were raucous. You could easily see them selling out a much bigger venue. If anything, The Louisiana was a little too small for all the bodies.”

12 // Aldous Harding
7th December | O2 Academy 

Aldous Harding
Aldous Harding

Words: Elliott Simpson
Photo: Jessica Bartolini

“‘And now for something new,’ says Harding, before introducing an unreleased song named ‘Old Peel’. She forgoes her guitar for the night’s final song, instead arming herself with a striped mug and a drumstick. After counting her band in, she begins to strut around the stage hitting the mug, almost menacingly. It’s Harding at her most eccentric. The song itself is fantastic; angular and almost krautrock-inspired. Played alongside the heart-wrenching ‘Imagining My Man’, it feels especially bright and fun. If it’s a glimpse of where Harding plans to go next, then it’s impossible not to get excited. Bring it on.”

11 // The St. Pierre Snake Invasion
29th March | Crofters Rights

Pierre
The St Pierre Snake Invasion

Words: Simon Moyse
Photo: Andrzej Zajac

“On came the Snake Invasion, and they were clearly fired up and ready to open the next chapter in their story. This was exemplified when Damien took to the mic to call out his own wife for excessive talking in the audience during their set. Clearly, stopping the mindless jibber-jabbering during live shows is always an entirely laudable exercise, but daaaaaamn, your own wife? That shit will get you KILLED, boy. This, though, really showed the determination of the band to make an impression on their first show back.”

10 // Stella Donnelly
24th April | Thekla

Stella Donnelly
Stella Donnelly

Words: Caitlin Scott
Photo: Craig Simmonds 

“It’s incredible to watch an artist so emotionally in touch with the goings on of the world around her, able to translate that into gutsy lyrics that still feel somewhat uplifting. “I need be alone” she calls; the sentiment of ‘Mechanical Bull’ not lost on a generation surrounded by a constant buzz. In the moments she sings about love, she smiles, and in the moments sung about hate and pain, she smiles. I know it should just be about the music, but it’s impossible to separate the person from the sound in the case of Stella Donnelly.”

9 // Beak>
20th May | SWX

Beak>
Beak>

Words: Sean Toohey
Photo: Michael Brumby

“Barrow’s small scale kit offers a mesmerising click in its low-end with his open-handed snare rolls dancing into flourishing echoes in the rafters. Billy Fuller’s bass adopts an equally impressive presence, tessellating seamlessly into the space around every rhythmic cue. The auditory highlight, in my opinion, is the range of deliciously sun-bleached synths wielded by Will Young that ebb and flow like meandering elephants, creating an ominous and loping bed of warmth and wonder.”

8 // The Beths
17th May | Fleece

Beths
The Beths

Words: Sean Toohey
Photo: Craig Simmonds

“Straight off the bat, with their now iconic single, ‘Future Me Hates Me’, the room gurgles into a delicate warm fuzz accented by a lush sorbet of soft vocals. It seems their strength lies in an ear for melodies that, whilst never becoming challenging for challenging’s sake, are simply impossible to resist joining in with, a prospect that tonight’s crowd need no pushing towards. As the set rolls on, I can’t help but draw comparison with the early work of The Beatles, the addictive happiness of ‘I Wanna Hold Your Hand’ without the air of formulaic drudgery. That’s not to say that the band are particularly experimental; they’re not, but they don’t need to be, not when their music enjoys such a wide reach.”

7 // Better Oblivion Community Center
10th May | O2 Academy

Better
Better Oblivion Community Center

Words: Guy Marcham
Photo: Lee Ramsey

“Just as the inherent darkness of the band’s stage design and light show was contrasted by a luminescent pair of lightbulbs at each far corner, Conor Oberst and Phoebe Bridgers also represented a duo fraught with juxtapositions. As Oberst ferociously attacked his guitar into a frenzy of feedback, Bridgers delicately glistened and looked deep in a haze of silent consideration, burrowing for thoughts. The duo perhaps offered a perfect allegory for today’s confusing and volatile political landscape. For all of today’s mayhem and chaos, a glistening sense of hope and thoughtfulness isn’t too far away.”

6 // Jimothy Lacoste
15th February | Thekla

Jimothy Lacoste
Jimothy Lacoste

Words: Caitlin Scott
Photo: Alesha Hickmans

“‘Jimothy you’re my future bae!’ a girl screams from the front row, as the hi-hats tip and the lights get down low. ‘FUTURE BAE’ is a primary example of Jimothy’s appeal – layer upon layer of witty lyrics, earnestness and confusion in equal measure. This guy is operating on so many different levels of meta that thinking about it too hard can drive you head-first into a gaping black hole, unable to differentiate between sincerity and outright mockery ever again…The crowd shoved, shimmied and slammed into each other, shaking Thekla’s foundations to the core, and chanting back-and-forth as Jimothy grappled with girls’ hands, phones, and printed polaroids of himself in the front row.”

5 // IDLES
31st August | The Downs Festival 

IDLES

Words: Jon Kean
Photo: Callum O’Keefe

“‘This is an anti-fascist song,’ came before almost every song, with increasing levels of unapologetic repetition. We were reminded that we still existed (the sort of thing that the power of an animated crowd can remind us, despite it being forgettably obvious) and we were encouraged to see the breadth, depth and warmth of the crowd as something that could blanket and smother prejudice and division. Their set was inclusive in many ways. Danny Nedelko was borne on Joe’s shoulders for the song that bears his name, their manager’s son (last seen playing air drums in the wings of the Park Stage at Glastonbury) joined Jon Beavis on the actual drums during Love Song. Mark Bowen and Lee Kiernan not only surfed the rowdy crowd, but parted the audience, walked amongst hem and trod the same hallowed ground. IDLES set was of the people, for the people and by the people.”

4 // Cherry Glazerr
4th April | Thekla

Cherry Glazerr
Cherry Glazerr

Words: Jonny Pinches
Photo: Jessica Bartolini

“Cherry Glazerr finally come on stage, and they’re met with huge cheers. Clementine’s all-scarlet outfit matches the enormous inflated cherry she struts out in front of. Fittingly, the band starts up with the four-count from new album opener, ‘Ohio’, then into early track and fan-favourite ‘Had Ten Dollaz’. Clem’s as good on her axe as the stories say: she’s riffing off the chords with ease. It’s only the second song of their set, yet she is already headbanging, and the crowd are following suit. In response: ‘Bristol, fuck yeah! You’re a good crowd!’…As the gig goes on, the fire in Thekla keeps growing. Clem shudders and flexes on stage to highlights, ‘Stupid Fish’ and ‘Apocalipstick’, strumming with virtuosic fever.”

3 // Fontaines D.C.
30th November | SWX

Fontaines D.C
Fontaines D.C

Words: Jon Kean
Photo: Lee Ramsey

“They kept the big dogs on the leash until late. ‘Big’ closed the set, with a thumping, extended, kick-drum intro, before Chatten barked, “My childhood was small, but I’m gonna be big.” Agreed, Grian. ‘Boys In The Better Land’ sat eleventh in the setlist. As soon as Chatten was tooled up with tambourine, we knew what was coming. Mid-song, the barrier security guard, stage left, looked more alarmed by a crowd’s movement than I’ve ever seen at a show. Grian Chatten surveyed the lawful disorder that the band had successfully incited. And just for a split second, just the once, he smiled.”

2 // Sasami
29th August | Louisiana

Sasami
Sasami

Words: Jonny Pinches
Photo: Jessica Bartolini

“Sasami shows up, and she’s wearing a frilly nightgown straight out of a horror flick. We wait in anticipation as she fiddles with her guitar on stage. We later learn she’d just changed her strings – and suddenly she’s blasting out chords, so we all fall silent. ‘We’re not playing yet,’ she declares, and carries on fiddling, ignoring us once again. It’s uniquely comic.

“‘Don’t Be Sorry’ is up first, drenching us with washed-out shoegaze from the start. The energy is turned up another notch: she starts bursting out screaming at random intervals. But it somehow works, and the noise just adds on to the track’s ordered, yet urgent, cacophony.

“She has a certain eccentricity on stage. Although dressed like Alice, her role’s the Mad Hatter, and we’re the ones through the looking glass. Apparently, she’s come ‘long and far’ to get here, ‘in a tiny box, on the shoulder of an old man… thank you, old man.’ Even the cruellest Scrooge would find it difficult not to smile when invited into her world.”

1 // slowthai
17th October | O2 Academy

slowthai
slowthai

Words: Georgia Marsh
Photo: Lee Ramsey

“‘Bristol, are you ready for slowthai?!’ a rabid rabbit’s head roared. This wasn’t my sleep paralysis: this was the O2 Academy on Thursday night. The crowd roared back in readiness. It was likely the figure could’ve ripped off the animal’s head (the kind you would encounter in the Disneyland of your nightmares) and it would be slowthai himself. The rapper is much cooler, though, strolling into the gaff with a sleek, all-black tracksuit as his pre-recorded vocals purr, ‘There’s nothing great about the place we live in / nothing great about Britain,’ – the latter half of the lyric being the title of his Mercury Prize-nominated debut. There is something odd about his entrance, though, until I realise I’ve rarely seen slowthai with clothes on.”

See the video for slowthai’s ‘Nothing Great About Britain’ here: