Given how vibrant the Bristol district of Old Market has proven itself to be over the years, it’s a huge wonder that few have taken the opportunity to use its many outlets for an all-day event. Step forward the minds behind Outer Town; a brand-new multi-venue festival, presenting 30 of the most up and coming acts from within the city and beyond. Passionate gig-goers all descended on the area for a veritable selection of live music, and while those who would usually be able to easily formulate a plan of who to see throughout the day, it owes massive credit to the organisers that the lineup was almost too strong to make a decision at times. That said, while many including myself would have missed out on some of the city’s most beloved new acts due to the range of options available, there was still raucous fun to be had by everyone there.
When I say raucous fun, I could put it into simpler terms and say my day was very fucking loud. Starting proceedings at Exchange were the menacing jazz-rock newcomers Ex-Agent, throwing a cacophony of dissonant sax and piano into the mix from the outset. While largely instrumental, their moodiness was heightened by the infrequent haunting vocals that were wailed into a telephone receiver. The five-piece have come on leaps and bounds in the short time they’ve been together, owing to the musical prowess of their members, and their visual game is no doubt aided by having one of the most animated keyboard players around today.
Sticking around at Exchange meant seeing close accomplices HAAL – a band who share a similarly foreboding sound and members (a running theme of the day that I would soon discover). There’s something quite futuristic and dystopian about the way they conduct themselves as a group, with unsettling electronics and samples running beneath a tight post-rock groove, and the disorienting visuals they projected into the pitch-black room. While this might paint them as being gloomy, the execution can be quite cathartic at times, with the way they effortlessly balance dynamic shifts within songs. HAAL seem to have it all planned out, and however disarming it might be, their future releases promise to thrill.
I’ve already mentioned how there appeared to be a number of running themes to my day, but it’s impossible to stress how jaw-droppingly good some of the displays of complex songcraft were. Keeping this up as things migrated to by-day hair salon Glitch, Butch Kassidy were staggeringly adept at maintaining both the brashness and virtuosity of the opening acts. Stretching songs out to 10+ minutes and employing passages of noise, drone and prog, these visitors from London were certainly not for the faint of heart, but anyone willing to stomach the onslaught would have experienced one of the most incendiary sets of the day. Making exemplary use of their members (standard rock quartet plus additional lap steel player for good measure), each of them had their chance to impress, but definitely stealing the show was their animalistic drummer, who from the outset appeared hellbent on destruction. Passers-by peered through the windows of the venue onto the ensuing chaos, unsure what to make of what was going on; those within were having the time of their lives.
Next up and offering a little respite from what preceded and what was to follow were Oslo Twins. Taking a far more relaxed approach and totally uninformed by noise, their luscious dream pop was a welcome reminder of the variety this city has to offer. There’s a growing confidence in their sound, and despite two members having been hampered by various injuries, they didn’t require the need to be in your face or pack a punch to possess bags of character. As soaring vocal lines and swelling synths filled the Ill Repute, it was hard not to be charmed by their mellow songcraft, and you kind of got the feeling that as the sun set over Old Market, most other punters embraced the change of pace.
Returning to Glitch, and returning to the more frenetic side of things, next up was Kyoto Kyoto. Sharing a member with Butch Kassidy, this trio were certainly not short of ideas, but conversely to their frontman’s other band, their bizarre and knotty riffs were all compacted down into shorter bursts of madness. What was pleasing to see was the way in which it is clear that many of these emerging acts clearly inspire each other, yet have forged distinctive sounds of their own. Their dazzling art-punk seemingly draws from the likes of Women and Palm at times, but their incessant writhing between styles makes them a unique spectacle, and one that certainly packs a heavy blow in a live environment.
If the intentions of bands throughout the day were to progressively get louder, then The Rothmans were certainly the final boss of loudness. In a cramped and sweaty Elmer’s Arms, this behemoth of New Zealand and Bristolian origin unravelled a short and certainly not sweet barrage of noise to the room. If their modus operandi was to make things as discomforting as possible, then they achieved that with ease, channelling the abrasive styles of Metz and Gilla Band as people reached to see them through the forest of lolloping bodies. As the day was drawing to a conclusion, this served as a final boost of vigour as people chose which headliner to settle on.
Fair play to those who chose to witness JOHN wreak havoc in their closing set, but it’s fair to say that it would have been a struggle to find a better way to close proceedings than with future local icon Grove. Possessing an unmatched energy, their charisma fed the Exchange main room and every being in the building rightfully lapped it up. An indomitable presence both as a vocalist and frontperson, Grove was untouchable for 40 minutes, even if technical issues caused by the “fucking evil good shit” of the bass caused tracks to cut out on a couple of occasions. Fusing together an idiosyncratic mix of dancehall, harsh electronics and punk, this didn’t just feel like your ordinary homecoming gig; this was a celebration of everything that makes Bristol special, whether that be its diverse music scene, its radical politics or its embracing queer community. It’s hard to describe Grove’s set in a succinct way, but it’s tough to imagine anyone leaving the room thinking it was anything other than special, and a certain sign that their rapid rise in stature can only continue and bring greater things.
Some may have taken the opportunity to continue long into the night with the afterparty, but it’s fair to say that whatever or however much people may have crammed into their day, Outer Town lived up to its promise and then some – here’s to its inevitable return in 2023.
Words: Reuben Cross // Photos: Lydia Cashmore
Check out Outer Town’s website for more information here and listen to the full lineup playlist below.