Massive Attack’s huge summer blow out put rose tinted glasses for many about Bristol’s musical past. Whilst yes, no Bristol scene has blown up internationally in the same way trip-hop did back “in the good old days”, but dismissing the new music and musicians the city is producing is incredibly ignorant. The billing of Bristol newcomers NE$$ and SCALPING alongside recent Edinburgh-based LuckyMe signees Naked show that the city is still producing, and putting on, challenging and experimental music.
Chosen venue Start The Bus made sure the event wasn’t just your run-of-the-mill gig. With a huge screen blocking the back of the stage and an extension added on the front, the space was transformed from it’s usual dingy self.
NE$$ starts off proceedings. Armed with just a guitar and his laptop, the project is a far cry from the singer’s day job in Bristol-based shoegaze-pop band The Jesuits. Tinny and sharp beats rattle off his laptop, as with his guitar he builds layers of dreamy noise. Part hip hop, part psychedelic, his eerily reverbed vocals are lost behind the layers of guitar. But it’s not just a simple vaporwave project; NE$$ peppers the songs with flecks of different genres constantly. At one point we hear a guitar line that wouldn’t sound out of place in a Metallica song, the next a cute 8-bit synth line. As he plays, glitchy anime clips dominate the screen behind him, adding to the mood of the songs. Some tightening up is needed, with sound problems hampering a few songs, but as a first outing, the set is absorbing.
SCALPING offer something very different altogether. As flickering, shifting patterns dominate the screen behind the band, making only their silhouettes visible, dark pulsating bass shakes the room. Despite the four piece set up, with drums, guitar and bass complimented by electronics, the music falls decidedly in a box marked ‘dance’, but with a heavy intense twist. With no obvious frontman, the drums provide a focal point, and the intricate, tribal rhythms provide a solid base for the rest of the band to build from. As songs mix into each other, influences like techno and electro seep through the loops and pounding bass. But the guitar lines offer a different angle to stop the band veering into a ‘nu rave’ area. They’re the sharp, feedback leaden riffs that acts like Girl Band and Preoccupations use to great effect, and their inclusion brings to mind fellow Bristolian’s The Naturals or maybe Late of The Pier’s ability to seamlessly blend dance genres with heavy live guitar.
Naked’s set up is a lot simpler to both Bristol acts. Compared to the intricate visuals of SCALPING, Naked just go for one image; a single razor blade on a stark black background. With both dressed head to toe in black, the two-piece take to the stage to crushing, crunching, droning bass. A strobe light flickers constantly as singer Agnes Gryczkowska surveys the crowd, swinging her mic loosely like a medieval flail. The music is a pounding mix that pitches aggressive, unrelenting Death Grips darkness against Gryczkowska’s ethereal, often FKA Twigs-like voice. Song after song of dark R&B pounds away, and though at times it’s sheer intensity (as well as the constantly flickering strobe) can feel too much, towards the end of the band’s set the songs change in dynamics, leaving more spaces in between bass thuds, allowing the assembled audience to briefly breathe. It’s at these points that the Naked feel like Grimes but from the Upside Down; pop at heart, but constantly twisting simple melodies and song structures into something much more interesting. Despite a few technical problems cutting one or two songs short, the duo continue, never saying a word to the crowd.
Nights like this one remind you that music needs to challenge and absorb you. All acts shared a love of claustrophobic noise, but all knew how to write a banger. Showcasing talent like this is what Bristol always has, and will continue to do, very well.
Watch Naked’s ‘Void’ below: