No Capital: Trekking Through Bristol’s Expansive Underground
Bristol has always been up there as a city noticed for its cultural creativity, whether its pseudonymous Banksy’s street art on to the side of a building, or an all night rave on a German Cargo Ship. The city has undoubtedly become a place of artistic expression, fully submersing itself within its deep and dark underground culture. With that, we took to exploring the ever-growing popularity of Bristol’s music scene, as it welcomes an influx of ravers, who rate what the city has to offer as a cut above the rest, and rumor has it, they rival the around the clock parties of London!
One of the reasons for Bristol being nationally renowned as a place to party, probably has something to do with that SKINS TV series from 2007, where we watched a group of British teens pull up a man hole cover to enter a secret underground rave, as well as attend a handful of other parties dotted around the city, noticeably innovative and strictly invite only. With this came appeal, and triggered a sense of exploration for a party scene that has become something of the un-ordinary.
So what does Bristol have to offer, that sees many ravers head to nightclubs throughout the city on the regular, putting them at the top of their favorites list, in a head to head contest with London? I’d say that the answer lies somewhere within a continuously flourishing underground scene and a truck load of carefully crafted club nights with eye watering line ups; the type of line ups that create that dreaded ‘Fear of Missing Out’ feeling, that ultimately lands you on the event page, where in about five seconds flat you’ve entered your card details, and got yourself a ticket! We threw a quick question over to Bristol House Legend Nick Warren, to ask where he felt the appeal lies in attracting people to Bristol, he answered ‘Bristol has always had a hip factor in the music scene, it attracts students to study there, knowing they are going to experience a cool and vibrant nightlife, alongside the locals that make for a great club scene.’
So what’s so cool and vibrant about the Bristol nightlife? Take one Bristol club as an example. One that sits comfortably in DJ Mag’s Top 100 list and voted 24th best club in the world is MOTION. With a capacity of over 1,200 the skate park by day and club by night is rising through the ranks. Situated close to Temple Meads Station it’s easily accessible for ravers. Within the site sits the Marble Factory with a smaller capacity, it provides an intimate and exclusive venue, that has seen a whole host of well known names placed behind the decks from Radio 1’s Annie Mac to Redlight, Loco Dice and Shadow Child. Motions infamous series, InMotion runs during the Winter months, and eases the Summer festival blues. From October to January the club revealed a series of nights, dedicated to popular house labels and artists including the Defected label, Future Boogie and Dusky. It even saved a space for the Barcelona based party, Elrow!
With the continuous rise of House Music in London, the focus there seems to be on big events and venues with huge capacities, where quantity is a priority. Bristol on the other hand, puts its reliance within the community, and continuously strives to develop its underground scene.
For me, finding an appropriate definition for the underground music scene is a hard task. It simply can’t be defined as it is solely based on opinion as to what is and isn’t ‘underground.’ To me, its clubs leaving the dressed décor, red ropes and contemporary chart music right at the bottom of their priority list, or even better, not considering it at all. It’s the clubs with black walls, a dance floor covered in spilled drinks, a relaxed entry policy, and a casual dress code. At the top of the priority list to keep a club strictly underground, in my opinion, is a club’s ability to search and find talented Artists and Producers, investing time in this is key, this comes hand in hand with club goers that are intrigued to explore and expand their music taste.
Weekly underground events, are held in various sweat-boxes throughout Bristol, and it is here that local DJ’s and Producers are encouraged to present their skill set, and rise to the very top. We caught up with DJ October, a Bristol based DJ & Producer, who provided us with an insight into the exciting development of the underground events, that are held throughout the city. It is here that he relays the ethos of the community culture, that lies within Bristol – ‘Bristol is a bit of a rebel Pirate City and this reflects on its scene, both in the past and now. It’s less about being cool and more about being completely out of your tree, this always translates well in a club environment in terms of an up for it crowd!’
Bristol appeals to those that want something of a ‘no frills’ night, no extortionate prices or VIP access. Instead club nights tend to rely on those with an educated music taste and a casual dress sense, encouraging both men and women to leave their evening attire at home, and turn up at the club with their best pair of trainers on.
It is evident that clubs in Bristol seem to not shy away from releasing line ups of upcoming nights, with DJ’s that are nowhere near the top of DJ Mags top 100, but these nights still manage to deliver, take Basement 45 as an example! Priding itself on being underground and near to some of Banksy’s most memorable art, the club sits comfortably amongst a handful of grade II listed buildings. Basement 45 is an ultimate no frills venue with two floors and a tiny capacity of just 300, it creates an exclusive environment to encapsulate the sounds that travel from the booth. Mark, owner of the club stated that the clubs success is down to ‘the level of professionalism and expertise that we have compared to most other venues. I own and run the club myself and have a background of over 20 years DJ’ing and running events, so I feel we are able to get involved and help with the development of new nights far more so than other venues.‘ The venue hosts something that is bizarre but aims to deliver – The Breakfast Club, an after party that often lasts from 4am – 8am, a chance for the ravers that love to stay on their feet for hours and hours, to keep on going. The Breakfast Club is hosted by Craig, the main man also behind popular house and techno night Banjax.
Craig stated that the Breakfast Club has gained popularity as it ‘for those who are musically focused, they can see some of bristols underground talented DJs, we play peak time music at after hours times.’ Craig chooses to hold this event at Basement 45 as he says it creates ‘the underground feel, good sound system, and the club is run by Mark, a Dj so there is more understanding. We work closely with the venue so we both understand the needs.’ Craig has been working within the industry for 10 years, he has been heavily involved in the growing popularity of the city, and its influx of ravers. When asked about the ever evolving Bristol scene his answer closely matches to Warren’s as he states; ‘The scene has changed due to amount of students coming into the city.’ It’s Become more diverse. The production of music has reached a better level over the past few years and People are more open minded and don’t get stuck in there ways.’
When exploring the underground music history of Bristol, its easy to understand the flow of genres of the past, from the rise of Jungle, then to Drum & Bass, to Dubstep, and now more recently, taking a twist on house, with bass house; take My Nu Leng as an example of this. The Bristol duo are renowned for their diversity due to their kaleidoscopic taste and toying with genres, first starting out as two jump up kids, together they explored Dubstep and Drum and Bass and these sounds still play a pivotal part in the sets that they play today. Take their track ‘Masterplan’ as my chosen example of bass house. The track features a heavy bassline, and is a true representation of how the cross pollination of the Bristol music scene is insanely unique. My Nu Leng provide the dance floor with a diverse collection of genres and sub genres, that create a sense of moody and deep dub.
The sounds of 130 – 140 BPM bass house, is currently a hallmark of the Bristol underground scene, sharing characteristics with Dubstep and Grime, the events for this genre are mostly always low key and held in the most peculiar of places throughout the City. Take the Young Echo parties as an example and true representation of the creative underground Bristol scene, 11 musicians with a mission to create the most diverse electronic sounds. At the forefront of this collective is Kahn & Neek, hailing from Bristol they grew up submerged in a variety of genres, laying down their own vocals and experimenting with instrumentation, noticeably creating dub-plate and vinyl only occasions. A handful of Young Echo parties are held in the Old Market area, at a venue called The Exchange, a compact room, that allows for beats to travel from the sound system, and bounce off of its four walls, releasing energy as tantalizing sounds are fed to bass hungry ravers.
Bristol’s underground scene plays a big contribution in attracting a musically educated crowd, making it stand out, from what’s on offer in the Capital. There’s no denying the fact that Bristol’s culture just makes it an insanely cool place to be, with its record shops dotted around the city, it’s very satisfying and reassuring to see aspiring Artists dig through crates searching for vinyl to add to their record bags. Those that head to Bristol to experience the night life on offer, tend to be searching for unique sounds and the privilege of submersing themselves within the urban culture, provided by Bristol’s local talent, a musical city that is certainly not afraid to break the conventional boundaries, that shape the music industry.
by Aimee Knowles
Aimee graduated from Southampton Solent University in 2014 after studying Media Culture and Production. Aimee has a strong passion for the music industry, and often delegates her time to not only writing about the industry, but searching for new sounds within the house and techno genres.