Bristol’s vibrant music scene has a long history of acting as the vanguard for sonic innovation in the UK, and the impact of the arrival of dub in the city continues to be felt. As a city with such a continually rich cultural offering, it’s no surprise that current performers, bands, and producers all share a relentless approach to music making.
This article showcases 20 of our favourite artists who are making waves on both a local and a national level across the UK, followed by 5 famous Bristol bands and artists.
Yama Warashi are a truly unique and utterly fantastic project – led by Yoshino Shigihara (formally of Art-rockers Zun Zun Egui), this Bristol band craft evocative soundscapes that draw on jazz, psychedelia, and traditional Japanese songwriting. Late 2018 saw Yama Warashi release their second album, the fantastically titled Boiled Moon, on Small Pond Records.
Like their debut, Boiled Moon conjures dreamscapes of lunar displays, mushrooms and deep, peaceful forests. But it’s not all calm. The band’s songwriting shows a dexterous knowledge of dynamics. Live, they’re a tight and playful unit, and we highly recommend catching them.
Some of the most awakening and exciting moments in music are driven by unexpected dynamics and palettes. Despite a roster of familiar but fantastic influences – see The Fall, The Birthday Party, Country Teasers – and a classic instrument lineup, Lice use a distinctive delivery to make something really special.
Over a menacing but restrained backing steeped in Americana, post-punk and garage rock, Alastair Shuttleworth’s vocal rasps and lilts – the whole band leaving you with the strange feeling that either they’re really exhausted, or that they don’t care. However, pointed blasts of intensity and footage from live shows firmly puts both ideas to bed. Lice are wild – keep them in your sights.
Watch Little John Waynes.
Despite being firmly embedded in the landscape of popular music, there’s still some dissonance between the perceptions of ‘live performance’ and the huge, sprawling metropolis of ‘dance music’. This is an extremely rich seam to tap and explore, though, and Giant Swan have done so with huge and deserved success.
Essentially a live techno band, Harry Wright and Robin Stewart came from a background of dub, pedals and guitars. This has meant that their approach, while completely orientated towards the dance-floor, is also able to breathe a little – with swelling distortion, vocals and textures far removed from cold and clinical hardware sets that are all too common.
Recently, they’ve been able to refine this further, using sampling and rhythms to chop this signature sound into something with even more clout. A Bristol band that you need to check out.
Check out their recent Whities 12”.
In a first for Pink Wafer, here’s an artist that has taken the crucial career step of releasing her debut album as a ceramic head (it is also available as a more conventional CD and digital download too).
Tara Clerkin’s lo-fi pop touches on folk and country songwriting, but uses found sounds and field recordings to craft an intriguing atmosphere – nestling on that perfect balance between the strange and the comforting. Recorded in a week with a bevy of friends, her debut album Hello is available from Stolen Body Records.
Dissonance, attrition, and discomfort are attributes that this Bristol band have wholeheartedly embraced both in their music and mode of operation for the past several years. In a world overflowing with new bands vying for attention, a long-term project such as this can feel like an endless toil.
But through their music, Spectres have turned this into a creative outlet – creating some truly intense and fantastic music in the process. Recent single Choucoune Asphyxiate Repeat is a rolling, thundering tumult of guitars, drums and bass – all of which are warped and distorted to a point where any melody is almost entirely pushed out.
The magic lies in how well they ride that knife-edge – little touches of melodic lines just pulling it back from the brink every time. They’re on tour late April and early May with A Place To Bury Strangers. We highly recommend you go and enjoy the hell-scape.
Watch the fantastic video for Choucoune Asphyxiate Repeat.
October 2018 saw Sunun, a regular on the Bristol dub circuit, put out her first official release on the incredible Bokeh Versions label. Live, her setup is a mass of wires, harps and microphones – using drums, voice, and insect-like pulses and flutters to make a sound that’s steeped in the heritage of human history, whilst unreservedly pushing forwards towards a future.
‘Ooid’ distills this perfectly and achieves the perfect balance between atmosphere and dub power that is becoming a signature of current electronic music in the city. She also hosts a fantastic regular show on Bristol radio station Noods Radio – fittingly titled ‘Everything is Drum,’ it explores global cultures through rhythm. Highly recommended.
Listen to Ooid here.
Led by Bethany Stenning, STANLÆY is a multi-disciplinary, fluid project that encompasses music, videography and visual art. It’s a deeply rich and rewarding project, sonically drawing on jazz, folk, electronics, and classical music to weave a tapestry of sound. Recent single The Mountain Collector is a beautiful but unsettling dance of strings, brassy vocals, and rhythms.
It forms part of her forthcoming album, The Human Project, which is certainly her most ambitious work yet. A 7-track audio-visual project that delves into the human body as a medium of expression, it’s involved over 70 collaborators, has already won several awards and is due out on May 28th.
Watch the trailer for The Human Project.
I first came across John Bence with a 20 second clip of him screaming his lungs out in a strobe. This now feels like a perfect introduction to his intense music. An electro-acoustic composer, John’s work primarily uses instruments with emotional clout.
On Kill, his most recent EP, this consists of voice, a prepared cello, electronics and percussion. The EP deals with classically epic themes and delivers them with a grandiose and unrelenting punch. As compositions they’re also deeply unique, straddling the wildly disparate sounds of choral music and the unmistakable influence of Bristol’s vibrant bass culture.
As a live performer John takes things even further, singing and screaming over his tracks with a deeply aesthetic and emotionally intense routine of body motions and palpitations. Not for the faint-hearted, but highly recommended.
Kinlaw & Franco Franco
Kinlaw is firmly embedded in the experimental dub and electronics scene that is going from strength to strength in the city. He’s just released the stunning EP Drax on Italy’s Haunter Records, and it’s a sonic gem.
The record is shunted along by enveloping bass, and lo-fi, punkish stabs of rhythm and texture provide the top end and atmosphere. The opening track features vocals from Franco & Franco, an incredible, Bristol-based Italian MC.
Here’s our segway – as a duo, they’ve just released a brilliant, aggressive LP of noisy rhythms and MCing that sounds like nothing else. If you like your music to pick you up and throw you across the room, this one’s for you. Mezzi Umani Mezze Macchine is out now on new agitator label Avon Terror Corps (more on this later).
Listen to the collab LP here.
The Evil Usses
As the title of 2017’s Amateur Pro Wrestling would suggest, The Evil Usses are committed to a manifesto of fun. Released on Bristol’s Stolen Body Records, it’s a cartwheel of proggy, jazzy instrumental rock that’s accomplished and gleeful.
Tracks like ‘Pre-Op Pop’ bounce along with a retro stomp, a distinctive move away from the jazzier, more serious sounding self titled debut of 2015. They’re a force of nature live, and extremely talented musicians – creating a wealth of dynamic range and power from a simple line up of guitar, bass, sax and drums. One of the most technically talented Bristol bands on the scene.
Born from an Icelandic residency programme, Mun Sing is the solo project of Giant Swan’s Harry Wright, and an outlet for his interest in cutting edge bass music, experimental club music, and performance aesthetic. His second EP, Scissor (out on SVBKVLT) is a fittingly incisive and shattering ride.
Sharp, jagged samples are thrown into a tight and precise grid. Every sound at its point of entry is a mutated and new one, creating a thrilling production line of rhythm that is both mechanical and abstract.
The live performance sees him dressed in white overalls brandishing strobes and coloured lights with fury. He’s also a co-runner of new night Illegal Data, which hosts a ever-rotating roster of new music with an emphasis on fun.
Listen to Scissor.
Pet Shimmers is a weird and wonderful gang of musicians, including singer-songwriter Oliver Wilde, and members who’ve been involved in Portishead, Herbal Tea, and Scarlet Rascal. They’ve only played a handful of gigs so far, but have been releasing a steady stream of videos both cute and strange.
On Persona Party, they’ve somehow managed to take inspiration from probably one of the creepiest videos on the internet and make something adorable (but still a little creepy). ‘Mortal Sport Argonaut,’ their main single so far, bounces along with joy. The ensemble is propelled by guitar and brightly-coloured 8-bit electronics in a full group effort, and it’s a thrill to be taken along on the ride.
Listen to the singles on their Bandcamp.
Since his breakthrough in 2014 with his track Kung Fu Kick, instrumental grime and dubstep producer Hi5ghost has been making waves in the city and beyond. He’s an original member of Bandalu itself alongside compatriots Boofy, Kahn & Neek, who have joined a bevy of independent labels in Bristol that are pulling punches well above their weight.
He’s also set up his own label, Paper Cranes Records, which released his latest EP Isoulate at the end of the year. His production style is a solid, melodic grime and dubstep hybrid with the deft production and understanding of bass dynamics that makes Bristol so special.
The solo recording project of Helena Walker (also of lo-fi duo Sleep Radio and Pet Shimmer). Herbal Tea is at its heart classic bedroom pop – wistful, glistening vocals, perfectly simple guitar and melancholic melody.
It’s beautiful stuff, and holds a deep essence of the night-time – and song titles like ‘Kitchen Floor (4am)’ suggest that this is also when Helena wants the music to be heard. That track itself, released in 2018, somehow channels perfect pop through the filter of eerie, empty midnight rooms – much akin to James Leyland Kirby’s The Caretaker project.
She recently played a sold out support show at London’s Union Chapel, so look out for big things to come soon.
With recommendations coming in from now-defunct but much missed Bristol Post-Rock unit Chiyoda Ku, Steve Strong is definitely one to watch. A considered but meticulous 1 man math rock looping machine, he released his latest album in January this year.
Called Turbo Island (after the fairly wild but much loved area of Stokes Croft, if you’re not a local), it’s an emotional, beautifully produced album of post-rock inspired tracks, led predominantly by his piston-like drumming and incredible guitar work.
Take a holiday on Turbo Island.
From Valencia all the way to the sunny shores of Bristol, Solana play beautifully evocative ‘world folk’, and tour relentlessly across the UK and Europe. The complex, multi-layered sound is harmonically rich, with enough drive and spirit to deftly segue between moments of jazz through klezmer to afro-beat.
They’re the perfect summer festival band, and unsurprisingly Spring has already seen them complete a lengthy 11 date tour across the British Isles. Their 2017 album Camino is a patchwork of contemporary and traditional folk influences, played with aplomb on keys, fiddle, flute, accordian, double bass, percussion and more.
Listen to their album Camino.
Despite an innate fear of the creature itself, a lifetime of Father Ted has left me with a particular appreciation for any musician who write songs about horses (see also Horsey by マクロスMACROSS 82-99). Enter then, into this web of favouritism, Bristol’s Slagheap.
Horsey, the latest track on their bandcamp, is a superbly direct documentary piece about a girl who really likes horses (perhaps you could tell from the title). The Bristol band are a raucous four piece of bass, drums, guitar and keys with brilliantly arranged four-way vocals. Their 4 tracks online hint at a really exciting future, so watch this space.
Recently picked by ever-ascendant Bristolians IDLES to play at their ‘Bruiser’ night, new band Cruelty have pricked the ears of press, and with good reason. Their debut single ‘Disgraced’ is a pummelling 2 minute carousel of desperation that delves into mental health and romantic love.
There’s been a resurgence of goth-inspired post-punk of late, and Cruelty fit this bill perfectly, evoking lost Sheffield legends Sievehead amongst others. They’re tight-lipped for now but their only descriptor of ‘NO LOVE / NO HOPE’ is a succinct summation of their beguiling approach. Keep an eye out. They’re likely to catch on.
Disgrace yourself here.
Oro Swimming Hour
Another project featuring Oliver Wilde – an avid collaborator and fantastic solo musician in his own right. Oro Swimming Hour is a lo-fi pop project with children’s illustrator Nicholas Stephenson.
Citing the ghost of Elliot Smith as an influence, the whole project is full of child-like wonder (and yes, the record covers are beautiful) – simple, sunny melodies both acoustic and electronic penetrate playfully through a lo-fi fuzz. 2017 saw them release the fantastic LP Penrose Winoa, and a follow up is due this year – they’ve teased the incoming release with the single Zzz / Perylene, which we highly recommend checking out.
Check out ZZZ / Perylene on Bandcamp.
I have a soft spot for music that makes the bold step of trying to fuse dance culture and rock music. It’s something particularly hard to pull off, but when done right can be extremely rewarding – Giant Swan’s development in sound being an example.
Scalping have been around for a year or two now, but have only just released their debut single, the double-headed monster of ‘Chamber’ and ‘Satan II’. Both are brilliant fusions of techno and post-punk, and in both cases the band aren’t afraid to embrace the more direct touches of Industrial with the guitar work. Highly recommended.
Founded in 1988, Massive Attack is a trip-hop collective that epitomises something of Bristol’s counterculture.
One of the most important trip-hop artists of their generation, Massive Attack blend elements of hip-hop, dub, and soul, in a dark and cinematic melange.
Their 1991 hit ‘Unfinished Sympathy’ is recognised around the world, and was voted as the 63rd greatest song of all time in an NME poll.
Their all-time best albums include Blue Lines (2006) and Mezzanine (2006), with its distinctive beetle artwork. One of the most-loved Bristol bands of all time.
Portishead are formed of singer-songwriter Beth Gibbons and producers Geoff Barrow and Adrian Utley. The legendary Bristol band are more or less the epitome of the sound of trip-hop, although they dislike like the label.
Like their fellow Bristolians Massive Attack, Portishead are one of the genre’s key artists. Their debut album Dummy (1994) won the 1995 Mercury Prize for good reason. Featuring their iconic single ‘Glory Box,’ the record is a case-study in dark. cinematic trip-hop vibes.
After a hiatus in the early 00s, the band continue to gig and tour in 2022.
IDLES are without a doubt one of the most notable and most important rock bands to emerge from the UK in the 2010s and beyond.
Their debut 2017 album Brutalism received significant critical acclaim – as have all their following releases. IDLES singer Joe Talbot denies that they are a punk (or post-punk) band, although that is the category that will come to mind for most listeners.
The Bristol band’s explosive energy and witty lyricism have marked them out as the freshest rock band to emerge from the city’s ever-innovative music scene. If you haven’t already, check out their single ‘Mother’ for a taste of their sound.
Stanton Warriors is the project of breakbeat producer legends Dominic Butler and Mark Yardley.
Touching on garage, house, and breaks their famous Stantion Session parties have made them one of the best-loved breakbeat artists in the world.
The duo’s discography includes a number of big remixes, including a remix of Gorillaz’s ‘Feel Good Inc.’ Their most-critically acclaimed album, Stanton Session Vol. 3 (2008), is a great place to start if you’re looking to get into their music.
Experimental rockers BEAK> are another stellar example of Bristol’s groundbreaking music scene. Citing influences from dub, to krautrock, to The Beach Boys, their eclectic sound couldn’t have come from any other city.
Formed by Portishead’s Geoff Barrow, along with Billy Fuller (Robert Plant) and Will Young (Moon Gangs), their 2018 album L.A. Playback is well worth a listen. Check out their 2017 single ‘Sex Music’ for a taster.
Bristol Record Labels
Unsurprisingly for such a productive community of musicians, there’s some incredible record labels in Bristol too. Here are three essentials if you want to dig even deeper.
Bokeh Versions is the home of the most forward thinking experimental dub, and some truly incredible artwork.
Catch up on 5 years of NoCorner – another deeply innovative electronic label co-run by Ossia.
Avon Terror Corps
A fresh arrival – the brilliantly named collective and label Avon Terror Corps have just released a rollercoaster of a compilation in Avon is Dead.
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