REVIEW: Forwards Festival 23, Day 2

Forwards Festival ’23, for the second day of the festival’s second year, sees thousands make their way onto Clifton Downs for one of the last summer days.

Words: Amelia Kelly,@ameliagrace_k

Images: Amelia Kelly,@ameliagrace_k and Dan Adams, Beth Whelan, Guilia & Tom Whitson, @weareplaster

Last year, it was still finding its feet in Bristol, a tough city to crack as a newcomer. But, with a standout lineup – expertly showcased – there’s no doubt that Team Forwards has cemented its place in the city and, undoubtedly, the UK’s festival scene.

Obongjayar. Image: Amelia Kelly

The crowd exudes a certain calm, from the considerate queue approaching the barrier to those already within. It is indicative of the festival’s organisation, a characteristic that’s evident from the moment you enter until the moment you leave, but there’s an additional layer to this calm. Perhaps it’s the stunned contentment at the September heat, or maybe it’s the collective last hurdle in a summer crowded with music. Whatever it is, it’s a welcoming atmosphere.

As I enter, I’m greeted with the first vocals of a brilliantly uncategorisable day – Yazmin Lacey on the West Stage. Wine in hand, there’s a refreshing air surrounding the Nottingham-based artist. Her collected manner and seamless fusion of R&B, soul, and jazz combine for a radiant performance under the early afternoon heat.  

Bouncing swiftly back and forth between the East and West stage is something that would soon become second nature. Under the hot sun, just two main stages make a pleasant, and welcome, surprise. The insistence on quality over quantity is another refreshing feature of Forwards you can’t help but love.  

Family activities Image: Guilia

As I get closer to the East Stage for the first time, feeling the festival’s excitement and energy picking up, I come across “The Information” – an educational area dedicated to discussion and debate on cultural affairs and issues. It definitely lends itself to Forwards’ goal of implementing a “forward-thinking approach to music festivals” – one that supports local Bristol businesses and creatives. 

Most notably, however, there is a strong call to directly take action on the climate change emergency. It’s slightly haunting, with the September heatwave beating down, but a raw reminder of why such discussions are vital. You can still lose yourself in the music, but the festival isn’t ignorant of a very present reality that awaits us all when we leave.

The Information. Image: Tom Whitson

Up next on the East Stage is the brilliant Obongjayar. His performance, alongside a five-piece band, is glorious. An infectious free-form fusion of hip-hop, soul and jazz, transfixing the crowd with every track. Whether they’re swaying to the tender moments, or jumping around to bolder tracks (like the popular Point and Kill), it’s evident that he’s a natural performer. 

Obongjayar is a unique talent – able to vocally dance between rap and song. It’s a wonderful celebration of the artist’s diverse musical and vocal range, and encapsulates the festival as a whole; varied acts, each distinct and unique, brought together by the same enamoured crowd.

Obongjayar. Image: Dan Adams

The switch from Obongjayar to the experimental electro pair Jockstrap is perhaps a hint of what’s coming later in the evening. For the enigmatic duo, sticking to one sound is unfamiliar, and their bewitching exploration of sounds and genres is exactly the type of music Bristol loves. Lead singer Georgia Ellery and electronic producer Taylor Skye waltz through their critically acclaimed album I Love You Jennifer B, with the thundering disorder of 50/50 punctuating their set.

Jockstrap. Image: Amelia Kelly

In true Forwards style, with each new act comes a new genre. Next up on the West Stage, with the festival’s energy ever increasing as we draw closer to the headline act, is the Australian rock band Amyl and the Sniffers. Vocalist Amy Taylor dominates the West Stage, conducting a raucous ensemble of drummer Bryce Wilson, guitarist Declan Martens, and bassist Gus Romer. The set is chaotic, yet the band never loses control – a performance that typifies their excellent sound.

Amyl & The Sniffers. Image: Amelia Kelly

With headliner Aphex Twin returning to Bristol for the first time in 20 years, it’s no wonder the crowd is so varied – people of all ages and backgrounds have made the pilgrimage, drawn by that infamous logo. It’s great to see that crowd explore up and coming acts like Jockstrap and Amyl and The Sniffers.

We got a slight glimpse into what would be coming from Aphex’s synth soundscape through Field Day coverage last month. But, no video coverage could have really captured the visual and sonic turmoil that Forwards is thrown into. Senses are strained, you can’t really dance and you’re not entirely sure where to look. At one moment you’re faced with a contorted image of The Beatles, the next Richard David James’ face is plastered onto the body of Charlie XCX, the Beatles, and the late SOPHIE.

Aphex Twin. Image: Amelia Kelly

It’s a delightfully confusing frenzy at the hands of a DJ with 30 years of electronica under his belt. Rhythm doesn’t sit still throughout the entire hour-and-a-half set, the crowd at risk of whiplash as they’re thrown into an experimental assortment of acid techno and even dubstep. It’s the perfect end to Forwards Festival 23, and the festival season altogether.

Aphex Twin. Image: Amelia Kelly