If you were to say Liverpool and music what comes to mind? Probably the Beatles or Gerry and the Pacemakers or even modern day band Stone. Whereas, Manchester gave us Joy Division, The Smiths, Oasis, up to more recently, Witch Fever. London had Led Zeppelin, David Bowie, Pink Floyd, and Blur, and now has Da Beatfreakz and others. Places and Bands or even singers have become so intertwined. This has given place to a kind of rivalry between cities as well. These different areas have constantly been producing artists over the decades, and still do, to this day. Often attention is given to big cities with layers of history of music and areas, But smaller cities have gotten in on the act too. one such important area is Bristol which affirmed itself in the 1990s. Yet 30 years on Bristol is still singing. Find out more here in Battle of the Musical Cities.
For many, a small city or even a town wasn’t necessarily associated with a style or sound. Yet many had a tremendous impact on culture. Think of cities and towns such as Sheffield, Bradford or even Glasgow. And of course Bristol.
Well Hung Lover by Banksy, Bristol, Seven Park Street
Bristol is very diverse, although only a fraction (1/20) of London’s population. It’s home to people originating from 187 countries. The numerous cultures present have influenced the city. But, from a musical standpoint, the Jamaican culture has influenced Bristol the most. In fact, the Windrush generation from post-World War 11 has greatly impacted the music scene over the decades. Jamaican immigrants brought their sound system culture made from large speakers. This led to the rise of reggae & dub in Bristol.
A unique sound, the Bristol underground scene, a 1980s cultural movement born from a lack of mainstream clubs catering for the emergence of hip hop. This resulted in street and underground parties with the Jamaican newly introduced sound systems. This even prompted the creation of the town’s own music genre that appeared in the 1990s, the Bristol Sound.
Bristol also has a strong visual culture, perpetrated mostly through graffiti. We cannot mention Bristol without including the street artist Banksy, a big influence on the town’s underground scene. There is even a Banksy Walking Tour in Bristol.
The Wild Bunch crew is one of the sound systems to put a local spin on the international phenomenon. It started with the two DJs Grant Marshall and Miles Johnson, who then invited graffiti artist known as 3D (Robert Del Naja) to be an MC.
The group played at all-nighter clubs and abandoned warehouses. The group is responsible for the birth of Bristol’s signature sound of “trip-hop”. The term “trip-hop” was coined by music journalist Andy Pemberton in 1994. But artists didn’t like to be put under the label “trip hop”. So, we’ll refer to it as the “Bristol Sound”.
The original crew consisted of many artists. But they signed a record deal and evolved into how we know them now, as Massive Attack. The group’s core collective consisted of the remaining lyricist Robert “3D” Del Naja and Djs Grant “Daddy G” Marshall and Andrew “Mushroom” Vowles.
They would have regular contributions from a rotating cast, including members such as MC Tricky Kid, producer Jonny Dollars, and various vocalists including Shara Nelson, Tracy Thorn and Liz Frazer of the Cocteau twins.
Massive Attack had its mainstream breakthrough in 1991. Their first album Blue Lines was a huge success in the UK. It is widely considered the first album of the genre. They describe the genre as music for “chilling out” rather than dancing. They pioneered this style, and in doing so revolutionized the music scene.
In 1994, Portishead, a trio comprising singer Beth Gibbons, Geoff Barrow, and Adrian Utley, released their debut album Dummy. Portishead shared the scratchy, jazz-sample-based aesthetic of early Massive Attack.
In 1995, Dummy was awarded the Mercury Music Prize as the best British album of the year. This gave Trip-Hop the biggest amount of exposure it had yet had. The album was successful in both Europe and the United States. Rolling Stone magazine described it as gothic-hip hop
“Music Noire for a film not yet made”
This truly showcases the impact Portishead had and how ground-breaking their sound was.
Tricky’s “Maxinquaye” album cover
Adrian Nicolas Thaws A.K.A Tricky Kid later shortened to “Tricky”, heavily contributed to the uprising of the genre. He began his career as an early member of Massive Attack. He then embarked on a solo career releasing his debut album Maxinquaye in 1995. It won popular acclaim and set off his career.
Martina Topley-Bird English singer and at the time, Tricky’s soulmate heavily contributed to Maxinquaye. In fact, she was prominently featured in the project. They would collaborate multiple times in the future.
Some didn’t make it to fame and fortune with their works. These “unsung pioneers” helped shape the genre but didn’t get the recognition they deserve. Smith & Mighty represent this perfectly. The duo Rob Smith and Ray Mighty laid the blueprint for the movement. In fact, they produced Massive Attack’s first single and broke the top 10 with the group Fresh 4. It may have never happened without them. They were scene initiators, alongside the Wild Bunch.
The genre inspired various prominent artists and groups, such as Radiohead, Gorillaz, Madonna and Björk. Even influenced the 2010s with Lana Del Ray’s album Born 2 Die in 2012. Furthermore, it has influenced music genres around the World from Washington DC’s Thievery Corporation to Brazilian drifty sounds like Ceu. This is a testimony of Bristol’s impact on the music scene.
But don’t think the Bristol. sound has gone away. In fact, now Tricky is collaborating with upcoming artist Marta Złakowska. The Polish vocalist had previously worked with him on numerous occasions. She featured on “Fall to Pieces” Tricky’s 14th studio album, which had propelled her onto the forefront of the scene.
The pair is now working hand in hand on a new project. The collaboration is an album named “When It’s Going Wrong” set to release on the 31st of March. This goes to show that Bristol is still vibrant.
It is safe to say that Bristol has had and has to this day significant impact. Small cities also shape culture and should never be neglected. The bristol sound is proof of this.
If you enjoyed reading The Bristol Sound why not read Built Like Cake here
Listen to Marta, Tricky “When It’s Going Wrong” here
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