We take a look at some of Bristol's best-loved DIY and underground music scene kingpins.
Bristol has long been known as a Kingpin in the underground and DIY music scene. Organic, homegrown artists flourish in the West country city and have produced some of the most memorable and influential records that have helped to shape the music landscape. Take the trip-hop movement spearheaded by Tricky and Massive Attack; a longstanding reggae tradition boosted by the likes of Black Roots; drum & bass, techno and house music pouring out of hidden warehouses dotted across the harbourside and more recently, the angst-fuelled hammerhead of punk rock music IDLES.
But without great venues, where do great artists hone their live craft? Where do we, as music fans, go to lose ourselves in our favourite tunes and see our idols live, sweaty, breathing in the flesh? Thankfully, Bristol has a plethora of hidden gems just waiting to be discovered by fresh eyes and a bunch of established venues that, despite their popularity, still maintain that West country grit we all know and love.
In a converted cargo ship moored in the Mud Dock area of Bristol’s Floating Harbour sits Thekla. Originally brought to Briz as the Old Profanity Showboat by Vivian Stanshall’s novelist husband Ki Longfellow-Stanshall in 1982, the boat was originally purposed for running a theatre and showcasing music from across every imaginable genre. In the late 80s, now-Thekla played host to cabaret, comedy, plays, musicals, art exhibitions and poetry events but with the cataclysmic arrival of the early 90s rave scene, it was turned into Bristol’s very own rent-a-club. In its illustrious history, Thekla has played host to a mishmash of excellent artists from across the genre-scape, such as Florence & The Machine, Bat For Lashes, Yann Tiersen, Chromeo, Sandi Thom and so, so many more.
Firmly rooted on solid ground sits The Fleece, a grade II listed building originally used as a sheep trading market in the 1800s. Since ‘82 The Fleece has operated as a live music venue, attracting Queens Of The Stone Age, Muse and Radiohead in its early stages. While hosting its millennial-targeted club nights (as most venues do to bring in revenue), The Fleece really makes its mark as the stage for musicians with deep-rooted history and a breadth of knowledge and expertise. In the next few weeks alone, you can catch The Correspondents, The Blockheads, Blancmange and Pearl Jam under the wood-slatted roof.
Open until 3am on weeknights and 4am on Fridays and Saturdays, Mr Wolfs has established itself as a proper dusk-til-dawner. The family-run business in St Nicholas Street is a cultural and artistic haven - bolstering Bristol’s well-established scene with weekly open mic nights, live burlesque and graffiti shows. Huge supporters of up-and-coming artists, local musicians and DJs and comics, Mr Wolfs is acting as a stage for new wave of Bristol-born talent to take over our airwaves, screens and hearts. Plus, they’ve got a bangin’ selection of noodles for a late night snack.
Hopefully, you’ll have all heard of the Exchange. A relative late-comer to Bristol’s live music scene, Exchange opened its doors as a venue in August 2012 but in their 6 shimmering years have already welcomed The 1975, Rag n Bone Man and Haim, and have had club night takeovers from Invada, Deadpunk Promotions and Replay Records. But it’s not just their live performances that get the people of Briz going, Exchange is also home to its own record shop, recording studio and office spaces for promoters and labels. It’s more than just a venue - it’s become a home for local creatives and artists to share, collaborate and work side-by-side to ensure the scene in Bristol continues to be diverse and adventurous. And if you’ve got a penchant for seriously, seriously filthy dance music then look no further than Exchange’s ‘AfterDark’ events. It’s bound to get naughty.
I could go on and on with this list, but it feels nice to round off with the jewel in Bristol’s clubbing crown, the mighty Motion. Breaking the top 20 in DJ Mag’s 2018 list of ‘Top 100 Clubs’ and famed haunt of 90% of Hospitality Records, Motion remains to this day one of the best clubs for artists and punters alike. With a capacity ranging from 200 up to 4000 depending on the night, this club is raucous, filthy and gritty and, seriously, never disappoints. The skate park-cum-nightclub has been graced by the greats of the dance music movement; Deadmau5, Fatboy Slim, Groove Armada, Calvin Harris, DJ Shadow, Mix Master Mike and the rest on a list too long to recount. Constantly pushing the boundaries of production and talent, venues like Motion lend themselves to the city having an even more vibrant and diverse underground music scene than ever before.