This was it, the big one! The highly anticipated big event of the year for The Shonk with Arbiter Titan picking up early-bird tickets what feels like an eternity to go. Every event we have been to in the meantime has served as a checkpoint or countdown leading up to Bristol Psych Fest. Now though, it’s over. Been and gone in the blink of an eye, but fear not as there’ll be more and in the meantime you can read our words about the one that’s just passed.
For those unfamiliar, Bristol Psych Fest is an annually hosted event jam packed full of the most wonderful psych bands known to all ears. It’s hosted by Stolen Body Records a family owned independent Bristol record label that has a number of Shonk favourites on their roster – some we’ll come to talk about, some we’re yet to see and some we’ve already seen and worded!
The event took place across three venues, The Lanes, SWX and Rough Trade with a fine collection of DJs bringing about aural entertainment in the courtyard of The Lanes to keep the momentum at a safe ticking-level whilst ducking out for occasional cigarettes and air. Upon signing in we were issued itineraries and maps, two things that Arbiter Titan loves dearly (he had made his own in preparation but was outsmarted by the organisers).
We had parked up just off Gloucester road, a fifteen minute walk from the venues and on this particular day it just so happened to be St. Paul’s Carnival as well. The throng of colourfully dancing residents throughout the street certainly helped us ease into the madness that was to follow, we ducked and dived between parties of glittery and glistening folk who had given themselves over to the Gods of partying. The sun was fierce and we couldn’t wait to get into the safety of a dimly lit venue.
Finally wrist-banded and suitably mapped we were set for our cosmic voyage through the spatial and kaleidoscopic medium of Psych. We entered The Lanes  purchased our beverages (1x pint and 1x orange juice) and awaited the first exciting act to set us off on our journey…
This was the optimum first band to catch because it allowed us to be gently led into the cosmic zone by the hand of Galaxy Guru Graeme Smith and his band of awoken fellows. Their relaxed, acid-like journey across the astral plain was sweet and innocuous as well as it was a trip into the surreal. It reminded me of the wonderful time of space-related curiosity, where we didn’t know so whatever was imagined couldn’t be considered far fetched. Maybe there are giant space babies? Maybe Mars is home to battle princesses? We just don’t know, so how about we take a nice, chilled voyage and find out? It also felt like they had identified the existential crises that we all have within us, the fear of unknowing and perpetual mystery and ambiguity of existence, but Graeme gently pulls you up and says ‘it happens to us all, but lets adventure anyway’ and adventure you go.
If Joe Meek were alive today he’d certainly be keen to get these guys recorded as I think they certainly encapsulate his idea of what outer space would look like and have translated it wonderfully and playfully into musical form. Vaguely akin to the absurd yet profound work of The Bonzo Dog Doo Dah band but remaining ultimately a unique canvas of cosmic translation.
I had the opportunity to converse with Graeme after their performance and he told me a delightful anecdote about a snail – it was beautiful.
Although our introduction had been one of gentle persuasion and curiosity the feeling of relaxed acceptance was short lived because next up was a blinding face melter…
This merciless three-piece hailing from Toulouse wasted no time in filling The Lanes to its absolute brim with a cacophony of electric chaos ripping through cranked amps. We were hurtling through a galactic storm of hypnotic sounds that sunk deep into our marrow forcing us to orchestrate it through physical movement. The driving drums and bass allowed a sturdy straight road for the hyperactive guitar, tweaking and jerking across the sound spectrum like it had been dipped in coffee beforehand. Short and sweet vocals layered in lightyears of reverb fired out like laser shots across the manic crowd. They had picked us up with their tractor beam and flung us into a colourful blackhole like we were mere space rocks. Higher and higher they took us until we’d reached the top of the universe and we were now being dragged along it quite happily, totally tranced out by this injection of noise. As they ended their final piece it wasn’t a sudden stop, we went past the finish line with the torque of a sturdy diesel – they had overfilled us with a desire to dance and transcend and we weren’t ready to stop. From here on in it was all or nothing!
BRIEF INTERMISSION – DRINKS, SMOKES, RECOVERY! Also at this point I’ll note how amazing the turnout was, July is a great month for distractions like holidays, beaches, children, carnivals and other stuff so to see such consistently packed venues each time we moved around was incredible and shows not only how much Psych is loved and respected by the attendees but also how fiercely well marketed and organised the event is as a whole.
Then over to Rough Trade to catch…
To demonstrate the broad church that is Psych this Parisian band took us back to the roots of the genre with their spin that drew from early psych / garage like The Electric Prunes, 13th Floor Elevators or The Animals. Stripping back from the fast paced, multi-effected catapulted trip through feedback infused, fuzzy alien frenzies we felt like we had landed on our feet albeit in a different decade.
39th are a solid tribute to the origins of Psych with jangling guitars, scratchy rhythms and a playful organ dancing between the notes, it was contrastually uplifting, taking us up into the clouds for an opportunity to look down at the landscape below instead perpetually being hurtled ahead. At the time it was a respite from the sweat inducing mega-moves I was compelled to throw during anything played fastly, now I could gently sway and give myself some time to recover whilst simultaneously enjoying something from the same genre that was equally brilliant but totally different.
Wych Elm provided refuge in that I could now reduce my dancing speed by 27% percent as I was caught up in their delicate, if not at times borderline collapsing and incredibly boognish sound. Like a clutch to a flywheel I was running at one tempo and they were running at another and suddenly I was being slowed down by a passive aggressive force, I didn’t notice it until it had happened but it was fine – happy to oblige. Wych Elm contrasts a heavy and confident rhythm section that delicately balances sporadic guitar that would provide the perfect soundtrack to a manic person trying to find their car keys whilst in an immense hurry. Incorporating influences drawn from 90s grunge, indie and Psych they create the musical equivalent to the finite point before a mental breakdown begins. They are on the line between sane and utterly crazy, with lyrics that could come from the mind of someone holding in their dark angry thoughts whilst trying to navigate a supermarket. They made me angry, depressed, motivated, inspired, sad and mad all at once. There was a sense of glorious apathy in that the band had an aura that said ‘we don’t really care if you like us or not, we’re doing this and that’s that’ and that made me love them even more.
We now had to do the unthinkable… we couldn’t physically split up because one of us would definitely wander off and end up working on a boat for a cartel overlord or baking artisan bread in Puru if left to our own devices, so we had no choice but to split up the time in order to see both bands who were now performing at more or less the same time.
Y’see I had had tickets to see one of these bands twice on prior occasions and I had never made it. The first time there was an issue with a friend of mine buying a pint without a wrist band, it was their first time out in the city to see a gig but no amount of explaining would allow them to be entered into the place. I figured it would be a dick move to go and see the band alone so I left with them, deflated like a punctured rubber ring. The second time I had an unbelievable migraine that would only be exasperated by red hot Psych rock.
But now, Psych Fest had provided me with a ‘third time’s the charm’ chance to finally see them. It just meant we had to navigate fastly from The Lanes to SWX, and we did!
Suffice to say it was an up and down journey, like those cartoon scenes with someone stuck in a lift that’s going up and down rapidly and they’re being thrown into the floor and ceiling of the lift each time! Sunflowers were set to raise the ante again and create a swirling chasm of sound and colours that would make Willie Wonker’s child traumatising day! A pair of Psychedelic sound wizards with their chosen tools of drums and an guitar cranked the knob of our proverbial treadmill and set us off on another adrenaline fuelled joyride through time and space. I’ve never seen a band, let alone a duo use their wonderful quantities of hair as either a metronome or home of their talent and abilities but it was magical. At times you could picture Ewoks enjoying an acid fuelled rave in the deep forests of Endor, or imagine the B-52’s Love Shack but written by Douglas Adams. Their harmonised vocals topped off with that delicious reverb was like a welcoming chorus to join the moon party and shake your antennae! For a two-piece they possessed the energy and sound of an eight piece with exceptional drumming and nuanced guitar bonkery that could trick the mind into thinking there was more than one, they took no breaks but instead smashed through any impending barriers with their sheer psych producing willpower. Once again we had been taken and we weren’t complaining!
Suitably re-energised by the ethereal mega-rays of Sunflowers we made a mad dash over to SWX to catch as much as we could of the illusive…
Honestly I expected to get run over on our way over, I felt destined never to see these guys and a wee bit annoyed that I hadn’t seen them in a small venue prior to their immense and well deserved success. I had first been exposed to them by my friend Flakey Rhys and then received their exclusive 7″ that they put out with Flying Vinyl. Despite never seeing them perform I did purchase a couple of their albums at the Clwb Ifor Bach gig that I had briefly entered so that I could enjoy them very loudly at home.
Now, finally I was able to see them in actual human form atop a stage with everything plugged in and cranked up as it should be in its raw and pure form.
I was not disappointed at all! One of my favourite features of SWX is that they have monitors leading up through the stairs so as you ascend into the performance area the sound gets louder and louder, like you’re working your way up to something so it helps you build the anticipation, then you come through the door and BOOM it’s right in front of you.
The Wytches are an acerbic unit that takes raw, vitriolic energy and aggressively pumps it out in such a way that can be processed by the human mind. The unit is made up of four members who I believe were always destined to meet and form a band that would go on to unnerve the ear buds of their growing fandom. There’s an element of horror punk to them, a tone that envisages heavy rain, cemeteries and anger-based tragedy. The vocals loomed in the air and lifted slowly like a lethargic fog that would expose a sharp landscape that one would have to navigate to ultimately nowhere, an intricate journey to the void.
I found them thoroughly enjoyable and with any luck the fourth time should go without a hitch!
Further enforcing the fact that Paris seems to be home to a delightful resurgence of early Psych foundations was Bad Pelicans, a playful trio who provided further interpretations of the early roots of Psych with a modern twist seemingly influenced by East coast indie [Velvet Underground etc…] there was a looseness to their tracks that I thoroughly enjoyed, like they were bursting at the seam. Each track like a pass the parcel with a layer being removed every few moments to reveal something slightly different, the shape and form would change like they’d just remembered something else they needed to incorporate into the performance but it all fitted together like a set of dominos. At one point they coaxed one of the audience members onto stage and passed him the bass so that their bassist could be freeeee and bring us some terrifying vocals that would entice the crowd into madness, it was great they had started off so seemingly gentle and soft (by comparison) but lifted us up and up into the Psychosphere until it was too late! Now there were random members joining them and encouraging this debauchery! It was simply marvellous – We’ve no idea if they knew the guy or not but he could certainly play bass and we did capture it for prosperity!
Now it was time to see what the states were going to bring to the Psych table and by God it was mind blowing. What they gave us was an amalgamation of classic rock elements wrapped beautifully in the bow of aural guitar chaos associated with Psych music. They couldn’t be found on the spectrum because they ARE the spectrum, they take concept of genre and play with it to the very brim of its capacity, even at times, I thought playfully incorporating nu-metal style vocal delivery to formulate a slightly more abrasive type of Psych, one that goes against the grain in a punk-like manner. They were very exciting and allowed me to continue throwing peculiar shapes!
We were now entering the last segment of the night although neither us nor anyone else appeared to be ready for any of it to end yet, it wasn’t over though so it was vital that we made the most of it, without any hesitation we dashed over to SWX to catch…
This Seattle 3-piece provided thick, groovy guitar riffs shimmering down chrome corridors allowing it to crash and thunder through puddles of effects, thick rhythmic waves washed over us and coated us in a shiny and colourful sheen of sparkly absolution whilst a playful jester type coaxed us ever forward into the cosmic sea. They were both beautifully refined and devilishly raw in their musical delivery, they didn’t reap away our energy but rather replenished it.
We then made a mad dash over to Rough Trade to catch…
If there has one thing I have learnt from my previous experience of Glaswegian Psych bands is that you’re going to have your face melted off, followed by all the… face bones? Then your third eye is going to be forced open like that scene from Clockwork Orange and the creators of the aforementioned Glaswegian Psych are going to metaphorically crawl into your minds eye through the medium of soundular chaos and they’re going to run back and forth from one side of your mind to the other in an attempt to capsize you’re entire consciousness until it pours out of your ears into a multi-coloured oily pool where it’ll then be quickly digested by a raven that will fly away and eventually pour the contents of it’s stomach into a goblet to be devoured by the band in order to enhance their powers. It’s a vicious but deeply addictive circle that began when I watched Acid Cannibals earlier in the year.
The Cosmic Dead are a forced to be reckoned with, at the beginning it felt like they could threaten us all by implying that the preponderance of doom-filled evil sound they were generating around them could open a dark portal into an evil underworld, allowing beasts to escape and devour us. Everything about them said ‘we’re going down a dark and scary road where anything could happen and none of us have a choice’ it was an excitingly bewildering experience seeing how much organised chaos could be generating by these tenacious musical warlords.
I felt like the guy from that scene in The Temple of Doom, about to have my heart magically pulled from my chest and paraded around the room for all to see and enjoy before I was fed to the beings that were responsible through this cacophony being channeled through the sheering brutality of instrumental abuse. Always good to see another Westone user too!
Upon approaching the stage at the end of their exhilarating show in an attempt to thank them for cleansing me of all demons I was consumed by a colossal hug from two of the band members now with beaming smiles and the friendliest of personas, like we had all been cleansed and ‘it was all worth it in the end’ – it totally was! They were epic.
By now my shirt was totally unbuttoned, my pale and pasty skin bruised from my bag and my camera, my knees burning like fire, every part of me soaking wet in a salty, beery sweaty glisten that I knew would take days to scrape off. My ears were screaming, my eyes watering and my brain misfiring, but it couldn’t end there, we couldn’t allow it, there was one final push through the frontier of endurance and it had to be made. Arbiter and I looked at each other, nodded in unison and confidently marched back across to The Lanes, possibly looking more like jellies to outsiders, but we felt cool.
By this point The Lanes was the last refuge as all other performances had been and gone so capacity was at maximum, we had to patiently wait to be allowed in as one by one fellow Psych lovers expended the last of their energy and soul and vanished into the night. Within a few moments we were allowed in and we promptly made our way downstairs to catch as much of the last band as we could.
Within the first few seconds it felt like the band were trying to kill us off deliberately, like they knew that people were flaking and they wanted to see how much magic was left in us all, well nice try Pigs, Pigs, Pigs, Pigs, Pigs, Pigs, Pigs we had your number from the beginning and we were going nowhere. Although to be fair they extracted every last drop of what we had left and they chewed it up and spat it right back at us, it was a perpetual cycle of giving and taking that could have easily carried on to the present day.
Every audible frequency was filled to the brim with vitriolic madness, from deep within these Newcastle-Upon-Tynians drew upon everything of that day and regurgitated it back to us leaving no room for anything else. My entire self was possessed and taken over by the sweetest sludge I’ve ever tasted as this rip roaring 5-piece demolished the building and everyone in it.
Misleading breakdowns provided safety for brief moments before they took another turn and threw us into bottomless caverns towards the belly of the beast that was the Psychademon. The sheer joy I felt when they played another one at the point that we thought they were done has been unmatched to date. It was like suddenly having room for pudding even though you struggled with the mains, take it, take it all! Bleed me dry and cast me out in the night I soggy, ruined mess. Which is exactly what they did!
We ambled our way back to the car which was now an eternity away, we stopped off briefly at the Bear Pit to enjoy an impromptu night time drum circle and to absorb the energy left over from St. Paul’s. As we sat down in the van and closed the doors through the tinitus we both realised that we had been to an absolute, unconditional stormer of a day. From start to end it had been perfect, everything had been enough and in some cases there had been ample. Everyone we saw had been incredible, everyone we met in the interim between shows had been fascinating and magical as you’d expect them to be at an event like this. It will take a lot to stop us from coming to the next one, absolutely hands down amazing!
From the desk of Arbiter Titan: hearty congratulations must be given to Stolen Body Records, all 3 venues and all the bands for the wonderful spectacle that was Bristol Psych Fest V. A truly spectacular day which live long in the hearts of all at Shonk Towers. Added praise must be given to Duke of Earl for his textural reminisces of the days occurrences. 5 Shonk merit points.
Other day event write-ups include: