Much like the accompanying artwork by Peruvian artist Jonathan Castro, Simple Things is a warping, future-facing prismatic beast. As always, both halves of Simple Things were impressively curated this year, but the daytime schedule was garbled in the best of ways.
Much like the accompanying artwork by Peruvian artist Jonathan Castro, Simple Things is a warping, future-facing prismatic beast. Though you can expect a couple of familiar names, the festival has a reliable knack for catching artists on the springboard to the big time – Idles, Rejjie Snow, and Glass Animals to name a few.
Organised by Bristol’s Crack Magazine, No Need To Shout and Team Love, last weekend welcomed the eighth edition of the festival. For the first time, Simple Things split proceedings into two ticketed events – by day and by night. For those eager to commit to the circa twenty-hour marathon that change in format came at a cost. But for the punters that were eager for either or – a night in cavernous Lakota dancing to the leftfield sounds of the likes of Helena Hauff, Jane Fitz and Minor Science, or a broader scope of new music during the day – the decision made sense. As always, both halves of Simple Things were impressively curated this year, but the daytime schedule was garbled in the best of ways.
Though local legend Jeffrey ‘Big Jeff’ Johns is, as he himself puts it, the “gig-going equivalent of a battered war horse”, anybody who’s anybody knows that if you see his big blonde ‘fro bobbing at the front of your crowd then you’re doing something right. Dublin’s Fontaines D.C. felt this first-hand, so much so that guitarist Carlos O’Connell hugged him with gratitude after their afternoon performance at Rough Trade which saw a hefty queue of festival-goers waiting outside the store. Despite a quiet underlying confidence, frontman Grian Chatten’s nervous energy bordered on worrying at times; he chewed holes in the cuffs of his oversized brown blazer as the band thrashed out the meaty riffs of the likes of ‘Chequeless Reckless’ and ‘Boys In the Better Land’.
Though it’s a massive part of the Dubliners’ appeal, others engaged their audience with a steadier pace. Over in the Colston Hall Foyer, Halo Maud charmed a multi-tiered crowd with her French brand of psych-pop. Born out of the French underground scene of La Souterraine, Maud Nadal has recently won acclaim for her debut album Je Suis Une Île, songs from which seemed to float up into the rafters with a satisfying grace. The same space where the gorgeous jazz tones of Emma-Jean Thackray went under appreciated with a criminally small audience later in the evening.
The opposite of satisfying grace could be said of Iglooghost, the seizure-inducing project of Brainfeeder affiliate Seamus Malliagh. The stage production for his show at SWX in the early evening matched his distinctive vortex-shifting pop. The conceptual gelatinous worm named Xiāngjiāo joined him on the stage at one point, clown-like and gazing ominously at a crowd who were losing themselves to tracks like ‘New Vectors’ and ‘Clear Tamei’.
The technicolour chaos of Iglooghost wasn’t worlds apart from the frantic energy of Denzel Himself. The rising star delivered with a punk-like execution, ignoring any sense of a stage and instead immersing himself in the crowd who grinned with a mix of appreciation and astonishment.
South London’s Black Midi however, owned the stage, a band whose air of mystery alongside their own grasp of chaos have made them the talk of the town recently. Performing to a packed O2 Academy, it was an opportunity for many to hear the band for the first time – Black Midi are not on social media or streaming services. Their performance was tight, but as the band try to perfect a presence that brings together polished math rock and an idiosyncratic post-punk aesthetic, there were times when I felt I was watching a child try to negotiate a large vehicle. It was a unique feeling, true to the concept of Simple Things, and there was nothing simple about it.
The day wasn’t all surprises, though. Kamaal Williams was as smooth and nonchalantly well-rehearsed as you would expect from a record like this year’s The Return; from his cheeky grin during ‘High Roller’ you could tell he knew it too. The rest of the evening saw more slick and well-received performances, namely French-British breakthrough rapper Octavian and the synergic Australians, Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever. But back over in the Colston Hall Foyer there was one final surprise before proceedings kicked off at Lakota. Headed by drummer and maestro Nicola Mauskovic, The Mauskovic Dance Band’s agenda was simple. With their hypnotic marriage of cumbia, disco and afrobeat, four parts Dutch and one-part Columbian, the five friends charmed anyone in the vicinity. As an ever-growing crowd gravitated closer, ‘Down in the Basement’ may have been the most euphoric moment of the day.