the music sounds better in bristol, and it’s half the price of london!
CRACK magazine’s Anna Tehabsim pens a love letter to Bristol, the hardcore home of parties and brand new sounds.
Photography Alex Hughes-Games
Two things stand out from a night in Bristol. 1- people are committed to the party and 2 - the party locations are probably the most innovative use of space in any city. Take the Island complex in central Bristol, a bundle of transformed club spaces including an outdoor courtyard, an old county court and a former prison with full preserved jail cells as toilets. The space is quintessentially Bristol. From the transformed skatepark of Motion to the woods, quarries and country manors where Alfresco Disco has taken place over the years, we revel in out-of-place mischief.
Feeling the weighty bass of dubstep pioneer, Mala, reverberate through those cell toilet walls at Young Echo Sound (a night run by a collective of ten Bristol based musicians), is a feeling that belongs to this city, as much as Mala's south London home. Borrowing elements from sound system culture, grime's sonic brutalism and the heady, dubplate-filled sets of dubstep's recent past, Young Echo are redefining the city's sound.They are at the forefront of a new wave of creativity that is gathering increasing momentum, propelling labels like Howling Owl and Crazylegs further into the spotlight. As Howling Owl's Joe Hatt explains: "The initial excitement of discovering a load of new bands when we moved here is what birthed the label, and this is something that hasn't stopped; across all genres."
It's the evolution of the much-discussed 'Bristol sound': potent fusions of sound system culture, hip-hop, punk and UK dance music. It began with big names like Massive Attack, Tricky and Portishead as well as the cult melds of funk, dub and punk from the likes of The Pop Group and Maximum Joy. And while trip-hop might be a dirty word in the city these days, it was ultimately a sense of community that acted as a launchpad for these revolutions. To be followed by the emergence of jungle and then dubstep, these movements inspired the streets as well as the scene, as there's an enduring mystique about the relationship between sound and place.
The inner city areas were - and still are - very diverse in terms of race and class, with ghetto and bohemian areas blending in to one. This unique interplay of people, coupled with an inclusive atmosphere and tendency to cross-pollinate, sees Bristol take culture in an entirely new direction.
To this day, Bristol remains a cultural anomaly because the qualities that thrust each of these shifts in sound are still very much alive and well. Ask anyone why they love the city and they'll tell you in a heartbeat about its compact size and artistic community, or its abundance of green spaces and great little places to eat. They'll tell you about its familial atmosphere, perpetual sense of optimism, and its alleviating affordability. With its cheap - but rising - rents and overall cost of living at roughly half the price of London, its creative scene has always had more time and space to gestate.
When I came to Bristol five years ago I found myself driven by the opportunities for creative employment, as there's a growing eco-system of support for those who pursue creative careers. The wealth of council funding schemes and successful start-ups has led to a recent surge in digital, technology and creative companies, joining established institutions like the BBC and Aardman. The successes of these impact the wider community, with the likes of homegrown event management and production company Team Love nurturing plenty of opportunities for young enthusiasts to get involved through their various branches, including Motion, Love Saves The Day and The Love Inn.
Though Bristol's relatively small size is an intensifying factor across all scenes, the most visible example of this remains in its most considerable cultural export: music. "There's generally a good, communal spirit, people are keen to provide a platform and be part of a bigger picture", says Ossia, the latest recruit to Young Echo. Ossia's DIY approach is symptomatic of Bristol, from the voicemail that teases out tracks from his affiliated label Hotline to the Tape Echo publication he helps produce, this kneejerk decision to embrace physicality is reflected in the city at large.
Bristol Independent publishers look after the city's growing print media, including Cereal Magazine, street press comic Off Life and new addition Bricks. This surge of artistic independence is also visible in the thriving art scene, aided in part by the influx of students doing creative degrees at UWE, and evident in grassroots operations like the Antlers gallery, Chris Wright's cult t-shirt brand Turbo Island - named after a notorious grassy knoll in the lovably chaotic Stokes Croft - or photographer Stephanie Elizabeth Third's emerging zine BOX, dedicated to Bristol-based women. "Bristol has given me a chance to be able to support myself as an artist," Third declares. "I've met so many talented people and this has driven me into creating a platform for females." The emerging Bristol Women In Music association also aims to raise awareness of the roles, issues, and successes of women within the city's music industry.
Bristol's inclusive nature stretches further than the 'scene' - it also extends to the very framework of the city, with a sense of ownership that feeds off its multitude of proudly independent spaces. We might have had some vital organs taken from us recently, notably the Motorcycle Showrooms venue and The Croft, home to Pinch's Dubloaded night, but the tenacity of locals has salvaged what it can, resilient in the face of a much bigger fight against gentrification.
After the closure of Rooted Records, Chris Farrell opened Idle Hands. It epitomizes the community feel, acting as a hub of producers and enthusiasts. Former employee Shanti Celeste cites the store as a massive influence on her music. "I have met so many people who have taught me so much through the years," she explains. "I wouldn't be where I am right now without their input and support." The new addition to the building, Elevator Sound, aims to be "the friendly face" for music tech equipment and advice and hosts sporadic events for aspiring producers. Around the corner from the store sits The Cube, a volunteer-operated cinema and arts venue saved by donations of £185,000 from locals last year.
The beloved Greenbank pub in Easton was also rescued after a lengthy battle from the community who simply refused for it to be converted into flats. After it looked like gig venue The Fleece might face potential closure after similar developments, a petition to save it now sits on 42,000 signatures.
This fervent grassroots action suggests possibilities for change; where art, a social life and your chance of being part of something still seems possible. Yes, the city is often romanticized, but not in the same way as London or Manchester. As Chris Farrell explains: "For a long time no one really paid attention to what was happening in Bristol, the city was perceived as a graveyard of ambition; just a lot of stoners and not much else." This has left the city to burrow away from the mainstream, making its mark in its own misfit, reclusive manner. This continues to birth blossoming independent scenes and a knack for throwing up Funktion-Ones in odd places. And if you ever fancy getting involved, you might just be welcomed with open arms.
Text Anna Tehabsim
Photography Alex Hughes-Games