FREESTYLE BRISTOL

REVIEW: Outer Town festival returns to Bristol's Old Market, 16th April

One of Bristol’s most historic streets burst into life last weekend as buzzing crowds rushed from venue to venue during the return of Outer Town festival.

Words: Leon Riccio, @leonricciojourno

Images: Ben Hunt, @bhunt720

Outer Town festival, running for its second consecutive year, spanned seven different event spaces across six venues and reeled in crowds of funkily dressed music lovers from across the city, all onto one road.

The Old Market Assembly, The Exchange and The Exchange basement led the charge with heavy-hitters Courting, DITZ, Deep Tan and others. Glitch Studios, The Elmers Arms, To The Moon and the Ill Repute held the flanks with Talk Show, The Fashion Weak and Loose Articles to name some of the 40 artists performing.

DITZ

The plan was simple. Rock up at Moor Beer (which was lined with art-and-craft stalls, as well as a vegan food stall and ice-cream van) to collect my wristbands, grab some food, meet up with the Ben the snapper and head on down to The Exchange for around 4 p.m. to catch Bible Club, who were kicking off the evening. From there, I’d see what the familiar faces were suggesting I go to, and play it by ear.

Many of the now-arriving punters were clad in fashion that is quintessentially Bristolian. Amongst a sea of standard-fare vividly-coloured jackets, Adidas and Doc Martens, recurring trends were bangs and two-tone hair, heavy belts and questionable facial hair.

In the top floor room of The Exchange, at the very end of Old Market, Bible Club launched into Mr Lizard, which comprised haunting, distorted groans of guitar over an unrelenting bass riff, with the vocalist switching from spoken narrative verses to whining/roaring on the choruses.

The use of three guitars – two doubling up and the third used as a soundboard in its own right – was highly effective for the band’s switching between post-punk etherealness into funk-punk breakdowns.

As the set-list progressed (Ford Capri, Vision/Construction, Postcard Envy, Dog Town and finally Desert Wizard), the momentum of the show slowed – although this was only because the songs became progressively more interesting, as shown by the band’s ability to play with dynamics and juggle time signatures.

Humour; DITZ

Despite looking like an enthusiastic ‘70s rock cover band (“Jack [the bassist] has joined the band recently – we only got him in because he looks like Frank Zappa,” the frontman told the crowd), Bible Club’s thickly-layered tracks were genuinely enthralling. It was a bold start to the festival, and a good omen for what was to come.

Grandmas House

After the set ended, I realised I was missing Clemencie. After losing Ben in the crowds, I managed to “excuse me” my way to the front of yet another packed-out room, this time Glitch Studios: a mix of hair salon, tattoo studio and arts hub/music venue.

The feeling of the music, and the room itself – soft ring lighting, pot plants hanging from the ceiling – was far more bedroom-pop-py, and Clemencie’s indie-pop tunes, drenched in lush vocal harmonies from Grace Bland and Molly Griffiths, reverberated through the crowd.

I only managed to catch the last two songs of the set, Get Through and Choose Me, both deliciously surfy and dancey. So much so, in fact, that Molly seemed to be running through her own choreographed boogie while closing the set with a cracking key solo.

Hunny Buzz; Knives

I then rushed back to The Exchange to catch Knives. Frontman Jay Shottlander towered over the crowd, despite the venom-green lighting and harsh stage mist making it hard to see him clearly.

The set opened with Newshounds, taken from the band’s debut single and reintroduced on their latest EP. With hissing synths, down-tuned and discordant guitars, forceful IDLES-esque vocal delivery and an agogô, their music bore all the hallmarks of contemporary post-punk. It was heavy, eclectic, laser-focussed.

Highlights of the show were tongue-in-cheek track Leeches with its addictive pop-infused chorus (“Did you forget you can’t eat money?”) and taunting guitar licks during the breakdowns; Doppelganger, a sour tribute to the band’s former guitarist, dubbed “a fucking wanker” by Shottlander; and a burn-out-but-fun rendition of Kate Bush’s Babooshka. And pretty much any time Maddy Hill ripped on the saxophone – that was awesome.

Mass House

It was once again a total change of pace when I headed to the Exchange basement to catch “slow-core” outfit Swelt. Already somewhat familiar with their music, I knew the four-piece were ones to look out for, known best for their ability to create enormous, hypnotic soundscapes using a fairly traditional band arrangement, accompanied by the singer’s ethereal bleat along with acoustic guitar and violin.

The band played I Thought This Winter Would Never End, Ready the Moon and My Only Reflection, and they closed with Red Mountain, which never fails to get me emotional.

“That’s fucking impressive,” I saw a guy in the crowd mouth to his girlfriend. Yes, it was.

Bible Club

At this point I figured I ought to take a look at what was happening in some of the smaller venues, and after a mate told me to check out Sapphire Blues, I made my way into The Elmers Arms.

I did not appreciate the meaning of “smaller venue” until I got in.

Back-to-front, shoulder to shoulder – the room was rammed. I stood less than a foot away from the band, watching myself and others struggle to find enough elbow room to get a half-decent groove on.

The band made the most of the space they had, playing with their influences on their sleeve: think The Cure, early-release Stone Roses, Fontaines DC, that sort of stuff. It was a solid blend of guitar-pop and rock.

The room, literally moving as one due to the squeeze, reeked of hot bodies and booze, so I decided to enjoy the rest of it from the street – which was no issue, as we could still hear the band clearly as they played through Daydream, Settle for Less and Ourselves Forgotten.

Perhaps it was just my own cranky exhaustion, but the set felt much of a likeness. That said, although it didn’t necessarily reinvent the wheel, it didn’t have to. It was a blast, which is ultimately all that you want from a gig.

Knives

Kingswood resident Max Willis, a law student I have encountered a number of times while attending the city’s underground punk shows, told me: “Knives were incredible – I haven’t seen them in a while, but they’ve really stepped up their game.

“I’ve had a good day and it’s a good festival. I think next year if they started the line-up a bit earlier, you’d be able to see more bands. There’s been quite a lot of clashes.”

And they definitely weren’t wrong. For all the great use of space and time the one-day festival had achieved, set clashes were an issue for most of the day, combined with the fact that some shows were simply too packed to enter, leaving trailing queues outside venue doors.

Event organisers did admittedly try their best to alert festival-goers in advance through social media, and they managed to regularly provide updates throughout the day on set changes, however it did leave a desire for the festival to perhaps take another look at the logistics.

Try Me

After a short breather, I moved to the Old Market Assembly, easily the coolest venue of the seven. Great marbled plinths marked the corners of the main hall and a wide balcony overhung the bar directly facing the stage, which gave a sort of punk-rock amphitheatre feel. And then a glimmering disco ball, hanging from the raised ceiling, was simply the cherry on top.

I arrived a good 20 minutes before Grandmas House were set to start – plenty of time to pull a chair, find the best lines of fire for my flimsy kit lens and natter to the new people I’d met while meandering through shows. Soon enough, the ground level was stacked, the stairs stuffed, and the top floor filled with photographers.

Then the band came on. A Riot Grrl trio, they knew what to do and they did it well, ripping through three-minute punk blasts, kicking the crowd to the head with tunes like Golden, Feed Me and Desire.

They actually rocked so hard that, half-way through Screw It Up, they managed to blow the sound desk.

First the crowd sang the words back to the band, as the singer tried to figure out how to get the mic to work, then confusion and nervous energy ensued while further investigation continued, only for the band to play an acoustic cover of Body and then take a 20-minute break.

Despite initially planning to make a beeline to DITZ, I felt a moral (and maybe a slightly journalistic) obligation to stay for the rest of the show; I had a hunch it would pay off.

After an en-masse evacuation to the street for a well-deserved nicotine hit, the crowd that came back into the room after the crew managed to fix the issue was surprisingly pretty much the same size as before; closing bands like DITZ and Talk Show were about to start, mind.

“The monitors aren’t the best, but we will do our best!” cried out Yasmin Berndt, her speaking voice now on the verge of giving out after trying to keep the show alive without any amplification.

Thankfully, Grandmas played twice as hard as before. The guitar feedback pinging back from the speakers somehow added to the sense of carnage on Pasty, Devil and, as the band hurled everything into the final and most popular song, Body.

Wow, that was awesome. Now to catch DITZ.

Swelt

As I entered the Exchange once again, I knew there was no chance I was going to be able to get close to the front. Luckily I could stand on a bench at the back of the room to suss out what was happening.

I was greeted by an audience of heavy-metal folk going bananas to Summer of the Shark, Ded Wurst and Teeth sung by vocalist Cal Francis.

Cal, sporting a leopard-print halter-neck, pink cardigan and red wig, trudged around the stage, hanging by one hand from the steel framing at times, in a powerfully elegant yet languorous directing of the frenzied crowd. I’m talking circle pits, walls of death, the lot.

Razor-sharp bass riffs, twisting speeds from high-octane punk to sludged-out stoner pace, and textured noise rock effects really put a sturdy full-stop on the day, at least for the guitar music side of things.

Grandmas House

Finally, as I made my way back to Moor Beer to catch some of the after-party, with DJ sets from Steve Bob (the guy behind Thekla Thursdays), DITZ and K Rush, I could hear the final few bands finishing their sets as I walked past on the street.

 The Old Market itself – referred to as “Bristol’s Gay Village” as of late, due to the number of queer-friendly neighbouring venues – traces all the way back to the 12th century and is home to more than 60 listed buildings, which made it an area one wouldn’t usually associate with a fast-paced festival space. However, somehow it just worked.

Public Body

Speaking after the day came to a close, one of the founders, Cluny, explained: “Outer Town started as mine and [co-founder] Harry’s dissertation projects – we were both passionate about putting on gigs around Bristol, so we decided to create a multi-venue one-day festival for our dissertation project.

“The festival is special because it showcases some of Bristol’s independent venues in Old Market, which is an up-and-coming area in Bristol. We felt it was a slightly overlooked area of the city which has a lot to offer, and I feel that we have really highlighted it in the past two years.

“I think our second year went incredibly well! We had an extra venue this year, which could have made it more difficult to keep the other venues busy, but everywhere seemed busy from the time the music started.

“Outer Town is a space for some of Bristol’s best and upcoming artists to broadcast their talent, and it’s always lovely to see everyone so happy. As ever, I would like to give credit to our brilliant team of volunteers who make the festival run.”

At the time of writing, Outer Town’s socials and website were being updated, hence the lack of more info and links. I suppose, like all good things this city offers, your best bet is to keep an ear to the ground. And an eye on Instagram.