Tuesday, 22 April 2008

The Bristol Sound (Slight Return?)

[Bristol, yesterday]

It has come to Chokecentral's attention, via a handful of slightly annoying articles in the national press, that the Bristol Sound is "back!".

If you believe the broadsheets you'd think the city had been silent for ten years - its musical heroes either drowned in the Severn Estuary or buried under the weight of their spliffed-out indolence. As melody and rhythm wafted from the streets of Hackney and Sheffield to international acclaim, it seems the only sound coming out of Bristol was a row between city elders over which imperialist atrocity to name the new shopping centre after.

This is bollocks, of course. The British press and music industry have ignored every interesting thing to come out of Bristol for the last ten years because none of it matched their prejudice about what our music's meant to sound like. That's why hardly anyone knows who Madnomad were and why Mooz split up without a mention in the music press; why SJ Esau is signed in America and Chikinki play most of their shows in Germany. It's also why Gravenhurst have yet to appear on Later..., why Geisha can't get a proper tour and Team Brick can't afford to buy his own shoes. It's also probably why the only vaguely succesful act to come out of Bristol in the last decade are Kosheen, a coffee table product as cynical and contrived as Nestlé's "fairtrade" brand.

But the Bristol Sound is "back!". Alongside a brilliant new album from Portishead this means releases from the likes of Massive Attack, Tricky and Roni Size Reprazent (who never had much in common with the other three anyway). And that's where the revival idea collapses. All of them have strayed from their original blueprint except Size, whose latest release is a remix of his Mercury winning 'New Forms'. Meanwhile, long-lost boy genius Tricky was last seen jamming with The Red Hot Chilli Peppers and Massive Attack's 100th Window was as far from their sound system roots as can comfortably be imagined. Still, at least they're not repeating themselves.

But while Bristol's 'Big Three' are busy doing their own thing there are continuities. Pinch's 'Underwater Dancehall' - a smart fusion of techno-influenced dubstep and urban reflection - is closer in spirit to the template laid down by Smith & Mighty than anything I've heard in years. Unfortunately, a double CD format that makes the weightier instrumental versions look like bonus tracks has probably scuppered its crossover chances.

Still, it was a spirit of adventure that reigned here in the 80s and early 90's and I think that holds true today. With labels like Tectonic, Punch Drunk and Deathsucker flying the flag for uncompromising dance music and the Venn festival an annual reminder of how many people round here like their heads to be fucked with, it seems the city is still a home for challenging sounds. Meanwhile, a generation of bands from Tractor to Countryside are ploughing their own furrow, seemingly ignorant of the lifestyle soundtrack the media are hoping for. We've moved on.

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