Simple Things Festival 2024 - The Review

a return filled with wonder but at what cost

By Mike Marshall | Published: Wed 6th Mar 2024


Saturday 24th February 2024
various venues and creative spaces, Bristol, City of Bristol, BS8 1HP, England MAP
Day tickets £55 (plus fees), Night tickets £22.50 (plus fees)
Last updated: Thu 18th Jan 2024

Simple Things is back, another inner-city multi-venue festival, but unlike a number of other ones around the country, this is mostly focused around one building with multiple stages - the expensively renovated Bristol Beacon, formerly known as Colston Hall after the city’s prolific merchant venturer (slaver).

Somewhat bizarrely, we collect our wristbands at the Christmas Steps pub, it’s a nice cosy place to pop in for a drink, but this narrow winding place feels an odd choice to swiftly cycle queues. Still, it’s central and nearby to all the venues, and we move around to start watching bands.


Over in SWX, another renovated building after a fire in 2021, we catch local band Spectres. They have a screen behind them showing a craft project at 8x speed, and it creates a jarring yet interesting dissonance with the music and stage, but their stage presence is missing, failing to bring the effects together into what amounts to a lifeless performance. No matter, there’s plenty of other venues. We try and squeeze into Rough Trade to catch Borough Council, but it’s pretty packed so we head on again.

Strange Brew is one of my favourite venues in Bristol, they often put on some brilliantly weird bands, and both the main room and smaller side room are hosting a full programme, which doesn’t disappoint. We arrive just as Tlya X An is starting, and she’s absolutely brilliant, bringing a hyperactive pop take to a musical hybrid of darkwave and glitch. On stage, they’re performing pop-esque dance routines, but with her supporting dancers in scream masks. It’s energetic, confusing, and exhilarating.

Tlya X An

Over in Strange Brew’s main room, L’Rain comes on, fusing dreamy sounds onto prominent percussion to create… something. Once again it’s unique and enthralling, challenging you to define it. They could do with slightly more stage presence, or at least not as horrendously bright backlighting, but they’re another excellent mid-afternoon discovery.

In the final fortnight before Simple Things, they announced the late addition of The Lanes into the performances, but unlike the other venues, these shows weren’t exclusive to ticket holders, just a series of free gigs for anyone paying sufficient attention until they reach capacity. I’m quite a big fan of Wych Elm, who I’ve seen supporting various bands at gigs around Bristol in recent years, and I’m keen to catch them again. They completely pack out the venue, bringing a wonderfully macabre modern take on a grungy style. Elliman’s vocals are brilliant and haunting, and I urge you to keep an eye out for their UK tour in early May.

Into the Beacon itself, and after a brief milling around, and a walk through the security check, we head into the main stage for Les Savy Fav. I saw them last year at Green Man, and once again, Tim Harrington is just a wandering ball of chaotic energy, roaming into the crowd with a changing array of props as the band effortlessly play their punchy art punk.

Les Savy Fav

After a break back at the Christmas Steps for food and a couple of nice pints, we return to the Beacon, ready to explore the other stages. Over in the Lantern Hall Mun Sing is playing, but his performance seems more focused on trying to prove he’s being sufficiently experimental and avant-garde, instead of actually creating interesting sounds. This peaks as he inflates a balloon then releases the air into the mic, while pre-patterned beats drifted out across the room. Further meandering took us into The Cellars, where Nkisi was playing a DJ set, and the room looked like a great space for a late night club vibe, but at 8pm, it wasn’t quite suitable yet, so we headed back to the Bridgehouse Stage in the main entrance, and chilled in the bar enjoying their upbeat psych-soul while sitting with a pint.

The main headliner is Max Cooper, and this is only the third queue we’ve seen outside a venue - after the tiny Rough Trade stage and the free-events at the Lanes in the afternoon. Dubbed an “AV Performance”, this set is visually stunning, with layered screens showing a masterful whirl of light, colour, words, and everything. It’s not quite at the level of Kraftwerk’s 3D shows, but it’s still mightily impressive, and the music ebbs and soars perfectly along with it. 

There was a last minute change to the finale of the day line-up, where Giant Swan were removed due to allegations and replaced with Scaler. Initially, I was disappointed, but mostly because I hadn’t heard the reason and I’ve been lucky enough to catch Scaler a mighty 5 times in the past 2 years. Still though, this was their biggest performance yet, and their tense, intimidating sound has grown in this time, sufficient to fill the much larger space of the Beacon.


So how was Simple Things, and how was the renovated Beacon? The festival itself was excellent, showcasing plenty of great bands, but it felt like there was a distinct disconnect between the events hosted at the Bristol Beacon and the ones in other central venues, which was only amplified by the queues for security/bag checks into the Beacon. It felt like there were two sets of events going on, with the only real overlap being the wristbands that got you in. The smaller parts of the Beacon felt like bands were there to fill gaps, while the other venues were too separate if you wanted to catch the bigger names in the Beacon main hall. The sound quality, seat comfort, and overall presence of the Beacon is much improved from its days as Colston Hall, but it’s hard to see how it’s going to justify its final cost.

I’d definitely return to Simple Things again, but it had a notably different vibe from other multi-venue festivals I’ve been to, and there seemed to be fairly few punters meandering between the Beacon and elsewhere. I hope that in the later part of the day the excellent other venues managed to pull crowds, as the separation felt much larger than the 5 minute walk it was in practice.

review by: Mike Marshall

photos by: Mike Marshall

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