FREESTYLE BRISTOL

Siren Calling

Last weekend, July 29 – 30, saw the first major event from Siren Bristol: a two-day programme of large-scale shows for serious dance music fans, all taking place at the Lloyds Amphitheatre on the Harbourside.

With two stages and over 20 performers on the bill, Saturday featured a sold-out lineup by Hospitality (the events arm of Hospital Records) in partnership with drum & bass event organisers Sequences.

Words & Photos: Frances Pope

The temperature was creeping up on Saturday afternoon as people steadily streamed into the amphitheatre and the dancing started to kick off. When I arrived, there was still an early-in-the-day feel, with plenty of space to spread out. From the outset, it was definitely a specific crowd: largely young groups of friends, more men than women, lots of shirts off and fluorescent tie-dye. The Red Stripes were flowing, and the mood was set; for the next seven hours, we were there to party.

Assuming I couldn’t dance for seven hours straight, I decided to pace myself and sat on the steps for a while to soak up the atmosphere, while Aries (a co-founder of Bristol label Born On Road, who hosted the Area 2 stage) played back to back with Kelvin 373, Selecta J-Man and Trigga and A Little Sound at the main stage. Of this first set, A Little Sound really stood out, her silken yet power-packing D&B vocals matched by her slick performance and totally owning-it onstage presence. (Check out A Little Sound’s upcoming tour dates on her Instagram.)

Kings of the Rollers & Inja

Heading over to explore the other half of the site and check out Area 2, I was immediately won over by the vibe at the smaller stage. Looser, more elastic, a little freer, this feeling had a lot to do with the smaller space and more intimate crowd, but the music was also a little more experimental.

I caught the second half of Euphonique’s set at Area 2 and it took all of eight seconds for me to decide I was a massive fan. Euphonique is a major name on the scene, having run the Subwoofah label for over ten years, performed at all the big festivals, and championed several up-and-coming jungle and D&B artists – so it was a real treat to catch her set on this intimate stage, spinning high-voltage broken beats (a favourite being her mashup of The Fugees’ Ready or Not), skilfully MC’d by Juma. It was the nudge I needed to dive in head-first and get dancing; it was literally impossible not to. It wasn’t a big crowd at Area 2 yet, but we were all still energetic and fresh, and the vibe was great. (You can get tickets to Euphonique’s upcoming events here.)

Euphonique & Juma

Back at the now-packed amphitheatre stage, High Contrast and Dynamite MC were rolling out a consistent groove. UK Producer High Contrast, another long-timer on the D&B and jungle scene, is known for his crossover, liquid and melodic D&B styles. This set, with a heavy, rubbery bass and killer drops, felt less choppy and skittish than the wild rhythms of Area 2. Although one person I spoke to felt it could have been louder (“I want my ears to be ringing when I get home”), the bass was still strong enough to set the hair on your arms buzzing. Dynamite MC, not only a mainstay in the MC world since the early 90s but also a writer and sommelier, competently kept the energy levels high, even if a lot of people still looked to be in the mid-afternoon chill zone. I was among them – regretting my clothing choices (it was not a day for black jeans), I was still trying to cool down after Euphonique.

Meanwhile, the crowd at Area 2 had at least doubled in size. Gray (MC’d by Jakes) was spinning eclectic, jumpy beats, with a few deep house numbers thrown in for good measure.

After stopping by The Spice Is Right for a samosa break to refuel, and some slightly strange conversations with fellow shade-sitters (“do you work here? You look like you work here”), it was time for one of my favourite sets of the day, Hospital Records’ own Degs, on the main stage. One of the label’s only vocalists, Degs brought a style entirely his own that fused rippling breakbeats with golden vocals and crisp, poetic rap. The whole thing glowed with dreamy liquid vibes – which isn’t normally my go-to in drum & bass, but Degs was really something else. His latest single, Povoglia, was absolutely beautiful, and Sleepless also went down a storm.

High Contrast & MC Dynamite

Next up, Bryan Gee and Jakes were raising the hype levels at Area 2. They were followed by Birmingham’s Gold Dubs (another member of the Born On Road team) accompanied by Hospitality regular MC Carasel. Gold Dubs’ restless, sample-heavy style was lifted even further by Carasel’s warm connection with the crowd.

By this time it was getting dusky, and plenty of people were taking the opportunity for a cheeky lie-down around the edges of the site. Despite a few dazed looks, the general atmosphere was still buoyant, and a solid mass of dancers kept the mood going. After taking a break to re-hydrate and re-energize, I enjoyed catching the end of Kings of the Rollers – a high-flying D&B trio signed to Hospital Records comprising Serum, Bladerunner and Voltage, who were joined on stage by Lens, Texas and what looked like a dozen other people.

 

I had a wander and chatted to a few people about the event experience. There was a strong consensus that there needed to be about three times as many portaloos – with, I would add, more staff to maintain them; by the end of the day (it was an 8.5-hour event with a strict no re-entry policy), they were fairly grim. I definitely felt that a friendly and visible presence of welfare staff, along with more female security staff, would have added to the sense of safety, in line with the movement in Bristol and across the UK for safer nights out. More affordable food options would have made a big difference to the event’s accessibility: again, anyone there from beginning to end would be onsite for over eight hours, which would really rack up the cost of attending given the festival-level food prices. Finally, there were some fantastic women on the lineup, but I would have liked to see more. All these things would, in my opinion, have made a brilliant event even more welcoming and accessible to a greater diversity of people – which makes for a better event for everyone.

We’d all done enough talking by this point and, tempted by the sparkly lights, I went to dive back into the middle of the main-stage audience for the last act of the night.

Hybrid Minds & Tempza

As you’d expect of the Hospitality headliners, Hybrid Minds delivered a ginormous, anthemic and glossy sound with a crowd experience to match. The atmosphere was suitably euphoric, feeling more like a big stadium show than any of the previous acts, with pyrotechnics aplenty and glittering firework flares. I felt a little left out not knowing all the lyrics; everyone around me did, and the love for Hybrid Minds was tangible.

Tempza was unequivocally stellar on MC duty, cool as ice in front of the crowd and whipping up a joyful mood. Purely from a personal-taste perspective, the headline set wasn’t my absolute favourite; partly this is because I’m more a fan of frayed edges, instrumentals and weird riffs than I am the more polished, vocal-heavy, anthemic strain of D&B (although Degs apparently dislodged some of my previously held preferences).

It also had something to do with the strange effect that disembodied vocals always has on me but, given that Hybrid Minds have worked with a whole host of different vocalists on their latest album (including Grace Grundy, Lily Denning and Alexa Harley to name just a few), they clearly couldn’t have them all appear live. All that aside, and regardless whether their music was 100% my cup of tea, Hybrid Minds and Tempza absolutely smashed it. Their fans were having a blast, which is all that matters, of course, and they closed the night on a wave of swaying phone-torch lights: an uplifting end to a memorable day of bone-shaking bass by the harbour.

Read more of Frances Pope’s music journalism on her electronic music blog electrosplit