It’s easy to see why Bristol is often named ‘drum and bass capital of the UK’ in a city of just over 700,000 people, it is home to countless Producers, DJ’s, Artists, Labels and Events. Including pioneering legends such as Roni Size, Krust, Die, Randall and a whole heap of new talent who continue to flock to the South West’s biggest city every year to bask in its musical greatness. So, what makes Bristol such an exciting place for music?
Dazee says “‘The Bristol sound’ legacy from Massive Attack, Smith and Mighty, Tricky, Fresh 4, Roni, Die, Krust. The free, underground parties and raves that continue since the early blues, the Windrush Soundsystem culture influence, the city festivals, LSTD, Tokyo, Downs, Harbourside, St Paul’s carnival. Venues are all close to each other (compared to e.g. London) & let’s not forget the People’s Republic of Stokes Croft with its own rules / block parties and Turbo Island fire parties!” It is widely known that Bristol has always had a rich culture and musical history, The Blast echoes that “The underground scene from the 1990s which produced internationally recognised bands with a sound that was heavily bass focused, such as Massive Attack, Portishead, Tricky, Kosheen and more. With a broad city-wide approach to bass heavy sounds that became known as the ‘Bristol sound'”
The sense of community in Bristol is another fundamental reason why it stands out as a cultural hub of music. The Blast explain that “The city is relatively small in the broader scheme of things… You can get around pretty easily and reach most areas of the city within about half an hour. This means it’s easy for people to meet up and collaborate or to pop to a gig or event mid-week and not spend hours trying to get home afterwards” They also state that “we now have our very own ‘Night Time Economy advisor’ Carly Heath who is herself an original Drum and Bass and 140 raver who has promoted events, worked with record labels and even DJ’d at events at places like the Black Swan in the past. Now she’s working inside the council to promote and support Bristol’s night-time scene, similar to the likes of Sacha Lord in Manchester and Amy Lame in London. So to have someone with that level of understanding of our music whose job is to stick up for Bristol’s clubs, venues, musicians and the whole night time scene is just amazing” Euphonique adds that “the promoters and venues bring DJs from all over, they are proper tastemakers booking those making tunes, doing big things or different things, and backstage at a Bristol night it’s a family vibe, no matter what city they’re from it feels like the meeting spot is Bristol sometimes”
Bristol boasts some of the longest running dnb nights in the country like Intrigue who have just celebrated 20 years in the game and has seen how the scene has changed and progressed over the years. Ben Soundscape states that “Drum & bass has grown a lot since the early 2000s, it’s become very popular, and a lot of people have moved from other cities to be involved in the scene. There are way more dnb events than there were in the early days, and nights which cater for every subgenre” he also adds that “The variation in styles of drum & bass here, and the fact that everything is catered for no matter what you’re into” The city is also a base for Festivals such as Boomtown, Tokyo World, Love Saves The Day and of course St Paul’s Carnival which returns after a three year hiatus this summer. Bristol is also just under 25 miles away from Glastonbury Festival which often heavily features many artists from the city and local area.
Venues also play a key role within the Bristol scene, places like Thekla, Motion and Lakota have been home to many longstanding events, but they have also run into a lot of challenges in recent years due to developments popping up all over the city “Motion would be a good case in point as they opened over in St Philips maybe 15 years ago when the whole area was industrial and there was nothing close by at night. They’ve had some issues to contend with recently as there has been a lot of building work nearby and the whole area directly around the club is also earmarked for development very soon” says The Blast. They add that “It’s also been tough for smaller venues in recent years with a lot of them closing down due to the pandemic, rising rents, increasing residentialisation (is that a word!?) of the city centre etc… Thankfully though people are a persistent bunch and new exciting spaces keep popping up, plus support for the big established spaces like Motion and Lakota is always really strong, so I still feel very positive about the future of the scene here”.
Bristol’s musical output has always been admired around the world with labels such as Full Cycle, Symmetry, Sofa Sound, Born on Road, Ruffneck Ting and Intrigue consistently releasing innovative music over the years. It is also home to a plethora of newer labels like Transparent Audio, Invicta Audio and Keeno Music (to name a few) who are keeping things exciting and evolving in true Bristol style. Stiv’s, one of the founding members of Born on Road points out when discussing how the scene has changed musically over the years and what the future holds “There is this massive re-surgence in drum and bass and I’m worried that rather than there being this positive thing that is going to happen. Is there a point in which the drum and bass bubble bursts and something else comes along? You just don’t know do you, but I think it’s either going to be that or more of the same”.
Even during the lockdowns of 2020/21 when everything came to a standstill, Bristol did its best to keep things moving and it was a time when new and exciting projects and music were being created. Solstice, founder of JustBe says that “the idea for a female/non-binary brand/label came about in lockdown. It was a combination of needing something to focus on and take my mind off the world melting around us and just really missing being around music” Euphonique adds that “Even in lockdown, Bristol somehow kept spinning with sit down parties when allowed” Bristol based studios such as Goat Shed and Headroom provided a safe and much needed place for DJ’s and MC’s to keep the scene going. Goat Shed hosted a number of ‘Stay at Home’ festivals online and it helped keep the music alive through uncertain times. Lezley, who runs Headroom Studios remembers how “During lockdown the DJs needed somewhere to practise and perform, and the ravers needed live music… Livestreams were the perfect solution”.
There is a running joke that “everyone in Bristol is a DJ” and maybe there is some truth to that. With so many events occurring on almost a daily basis, it really is a DJ and ravers paradise, and the energy and vibes are palpable. Euphonique emphasises that “The parties are incredible – the ravers really love It and everyone feeds of that energy so it’s a wicked night – or day party – you can guarantee there will be a vibe at 2 in the afternoon at a day party in Bristol! Feels like you can really be yourself here and I love it” and as Dazee points out “It’s pretty much the dnb capital of the universe and has so many dnb artists based here. High student population and music universities like BIMM and DBS keep the demand for events”.
However, in a city with so much going on with so many events and brands popping up all the time, is it hard to stand out from the crowd? Ben Soundscape says that “It can sometimes be tricky with lots of similar dnb events being on at the same time. Good for the dnb raver but not so good for the organisers, as it can split the crowd” Similarly Dazee says that “Putting on a night can be stressful and risky as there will always be a lot of competition ” and Solstice adds that “you have to take note of when other brands are holding their events, who’s been booked to play, where…” But rather than that being a hindrance she also states that “It’s super easy to see it as competition and compare what you’re doing to what someone else is doing but life’s far too short to spend it with that type of mindset. It’s more positive and useful to look at brands you admire and use them as a catalyst to push what you want to do!”
It is not just drum and bass that has gained massive popularity over the years “on the periphery of DNB there is Sam Binga and his Pineapple Records thing, people like Cesco, Sir Hiss, etc. You’ve got Mandidexterous pushing the boundaries between DNB and Amen based Techno sounds… Then outside of DNB you’ve also got the original Bristol Dubstep lot, many of whom have moved onto different sounds and are really pushing the envelope: R.S.D, Addison Groove, Peverelist, Pinch, Joker, Gemmy etc. And again, a newer breed like Kahn & Neek and the Bandulu lot, and after them Cesco, Drone, Enada from Dynamics, the list just goes on and on and on!” says The Blast. The variety and evolution of music in Bristol is what draws in ravers and artists alike and it constantly keeps the vibe fresh in the city, with many events now turning their attention to multi-genre parties.
Just in case you needed any more convincing as to why Bristol’s rave scene is truly unmatched, it was only a few weeks ago when Dom Whiting caused an actual roadblock in the City Centre with his return of d&b on a bike. It is estimated that over 3000 people joined him throughout the afternoon and the party carried on long afterwards at The Bristol Amphitheatre. Similarly, the Shipment Studios x Dazed 4/20 Castle Park takeover quickly turned a City Centre Park into a full-on festival atmosphere, with appearances from some of Bristol’s leading talent. As Solstice points out “It can be any random day of the week, walking through the park and there’s a huge crowd, a rig, and plenty of smiling faces – you just don’t get core memory-making moments like that in the other cities. Everyone here just absolutely adores music, that’s why it thrives and will continue to do so!”