Forwards Festival 2023 - The Review

Forwards Festival is better than its rivals but remains a gig in a field

By Mike Marshall | Published: Mon 11th Sep 2023

around the site

Friday 1st to Saturday 2nd September 2023
Clifton Downs, Stoke Road, Bristol, City of Bristol, BS5 6XA, England
daily capacity: 25000
last updated: Thu 4th May 2023

There’s been a few different brandings of live performances on the Downs in early September, and the latest name is Forwards Festival, which started last year in 2022. 

As we enter, the site looks great. There’s a relevant and pleasant amount of decoration, with food stalls and bars covering every point between the different stages. No space is wasted, and the food selection compares positively to many camping festivals of similar size, there’s a great range and it’s a struggle to decide which to choose from.

around the site

We meander via a bar towards the main stage, where Viagra Boys have pulled out, with Scalping* moved from a small stage late slot into the gap. As always, they’re excellent, melding stunningly noisy electronic filth with an incredible visual backdrop. The step up to a larger stage doesn’t seem to faze them in the slightest, and they show themselves fully capable of dominating the area.

*2 days after the festival they changed their name to Scaler. This is left here as the name they performed under at the time.

Unfortunately, moving between the stages feels a little crowded, and having a good spot at the main stage feels just a little too valuable to dip elsewhere, so we stick around for Amyl & The Sniffers. They’re excellent, and imposing, but having seen them two weeks earlier, I couldn’t help but notice the difference in sound quality compared to Green Man. There wasn’t anything technically wrong here, and the performance was captivating, but there wasn’t that extra edge that helped the sound fill out the space. 

Amyl and the Sniffers

The next band on were Primal Scream, and true to form, they brought an upbeat, familar party atmosphere, bringing the day into the sunset before a last couple of rounds of drinks. And here’s my biggest complaint - the beer. Lost and Grounded are a fine local brewery, with a perfectly good lager and pale ale offered at Forwards, except this was littered with problems. £6.30 is a slightly steep but fairly standard price for a pint at an event like this. Unfortunately, most of the bars were only providing 440ml cans at that price, with the few that did have taps running out very early in the day. 

And so onto the finale. Aphex Twin, with a massive 3D cube layered visual show, with elaborate screens covering the stage at different angles. The reason we’re here, and wow it did not disappoint. A brilliant performance, melding dirty, intense, uncompromising beats to a stunning backdrop, with barely a glimpse of Richard James himself through the visual effects. The sounds built and dropped and soared across the Downs, tearing through the crowd like little before. 

Aphex Twin

In many ways - I feel like most of this review has been too critical. Forwards Festival does things better than many other equivalent metropolitan festivals, and the Saturday’s line-up was fantastic, if a little disjointed. Unfortunately though, the price was just that fraction too high to feel good value compared to full weekend camping festivals, and while I’d definitely go again given it’s held in my own city, I think it needs just a bit more refinement to become Foan event in the calendar, not just a gig in a field.

review by: Mike Marshall

photos by: Mike Marshall

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