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Exploring the inaugural Down Stokes Festival in Stokes Croft

Inaugural edition of Down Stokes Festival was off to a flyer showcasing local talent and independent music venues.

By Milan Perera, Deputy Editor

The inaugural edition of Down Stokes Festival made its entrance showcasing over 20 local bands/artists at three independent local venues on four stages on Saturday, October 21 in Stokes Croft. Down Stokes Festival may have been the answer to the prayers of anyone interested in promoting local venues and artists who are yet to receive the recognition they deserve.

The festival featured the likes of Langkamer, Karma Sheen, Dreamwave, Longheads, , Sickrose, Bible Club, Birdfeeder, Sonotto, Seneca, Pig city Committee, The Cement Garden, Dirty Nips, Mentira, Anti Honey. The venues for the marathon of gigs were Crofters Rights, Cafe Kino and The Canteen. The sonic boom began around 2.00 pm and ran well into the midnight that culminated in a DJ night.

The project is the brain child of Edward ‘Ed’ Leese of Velvet Echoes, the Bristol-based record label, and Conscious Sounds, Bristol-based promoter. The project came about when Ed and Louie from Conscious Sounds sipping a pint at the Bristol Flier about a year ago. Speaking to Epigram, Ed Leese explained the inception of the project: ‘We felt that there was an opportunity to build something in Stokes Croft, an area with a rich history of art, music, independence and vouching for itself.’

On the logo and the name of the newly christened music festival he said: ‘I’d had an idea for the marketing, the little pedal characters seen all over the Instagram and poster. After a few names we finally decided on Down Stokes. It felt like the name just gave it a bit of a welcoming and silly edge which matched the characters so well.’

On the objectives of the project he could not be more emphatic: ‘We wanted the festival to be about the artists, the venues and the audience.’

On the level of ambition of the project, even in its infancy, the creators told Epigram: ‘We wanted to be ambitious and agreed to go multi venue, for us it’s so important that all the venues in Stokes Croft get an opportunity to show themselves off and show how accessible they are to anyone wanting to find music or put on music.’

‘As for the artists - they all are the best of Bristol to me and deserved to be part of something independent.’

Birdfeeder @ Down Stokes | Milan Perera

As for a festival goer, you are spoilt for choice and it is impossible to be present at all venues and watch all acts, unless you are ubiquitous! Here are some of the highlights that captured our attention.

Around 3.30pm, at ‘Room 2’ of Crofters Rights, Seneca, the five-piece, Exeter-based alt rock band was creating a sonic boom for an intimate gathering. The group known for its raspy, metallic sound augmented with toe-tapping melodies. The front row of the audience was in a slight danger as the bassist, Jamie Pegler was executing energetic flying kicks and swings, without missing a beat. The song, ‘Ventriloquist’ follows the classic alt rock idiom tapping into to the raw energy of the genre while the 2023 single, ‘Plateau’ is a hypnotic descent augmented with a frenetic bass line.

Seneca @ Down Stokes Festival | Milan Perera

At ‘Room 1’, the Bristol-based post-punk band, Birdfeeder was on song with their 70s inspired psychedelic sound with a nod to the likes of Robert Plant and Ozzy Osbourne. Birdfeeder was founded in Bristol by a group of Bristol BIMM graduates who bonded over a their shared passion of psychedelic music and the post-punk idiom.

The five-piece band had the audiences in their palms with songs such as ‘Born of Dismay’, ‘The Host’ and ‘Emma’. The expressive vocals of Lucas Richards neatly blended with the drum and bass of Max Dunstone and Ed Thompson which then sublimated with the inventive guitar riffs of Tom Holman and Jack Wojtowycz to form a psychedelic idiom of such delights.

After their closing track for the set, ‘Waning’, Epigram had the chance to catch up with the lead singer, Lucas Richards outside Crofters Rights where he was composing himself over a roll-up cigarette. When we asked if it is fair to draw parallels with the likes of Robert Plant, he talked of the huge influence of acts such as Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath and The Cramps on their formative period.

Another act which graced ‘Room 2’ was the immaculately imperious San Vito Ryder who played with his three-piece band where he is both the vocalist and lead guitarist. The band was able to create enough razzmatazz with its thumping, chunky bass line played to a tee by the Portishead-based bassist, Simon Hedges, accompanied by the firm metronomic beat of Kristian Bell. San Vito not only resembles his idol Nick Cave, but also exudes the brooding, melancholic vibes of the Australian singer-songwriter. It is an immersive experience where his Gothic and quasi religious delivery draws you in. ‘I am the King’ had the feel of a journey through a dark labyrinth in search of light, while the penultimate song for the set, ‘Tree Lily’ was a cornucopia of delights with a thumping bass line from Hedges and a mercurial riff from San Vito.

San Vito Ryder @ Down Stokes Festival | Milan Perera

When asked about his full-bodied sound, the bassist, Simon Hedges talked about his influences which included Cliff Williams, John McVie and John Deacon.

The bar area was a focal points for acts and fans to mingle. When we caught up with Ed Thompson of Birdfeeder, they talked about their days at BIMM and how their music was evolved from those formative years. When I asked them if there was a band they would recommend, they were quick to point out ‘check out Sickrose.’ And they were not wrong. Sickrose’s blues infused sound is a throwback to great masters such as BB King and Buddy Guy. The bass line is reminiscent of the late Mark Sandman of Morphine. ‘Happy Home’ is a fine example of these elements in action.

Sonotto @ Cafe Kino | Milan Perera

Across the road at Cafe Kino, the Bristol-based Electronic and Ambient artist, Sonotto played a memorable set in its basement. Sonotto is an artist renowned for his genre-bending, multiple-medium projects where photography, light arrangements and storytelling are integral elements of his opus. His ability to whip up an audience into a sweaty nightclub with his infectious energy has earned him accolades from both fans and critics alike. The performance at Down stoke Festival was no different. The set was completed with the recently released single, ‘Casual Sex’ with its hypnotic story telling augmented with Sonotto’s earnest vocal line where he explores the limitations of love, sex and loyalty.

From 10.30pm onwards popular acts such as Bible Club and Karma Sheen played at The Canteen which neatly segued into the DJ sets of Tom Riley, Acid Mojito and Bandwidth Thief.

Regarding the future of the event, Ed Leese commented: ‘We’re here now and we’re not going anywhere. Next year the ambition continues and we’ll look to grow into more venues to bring music to our favourite part of Bristol.’

Featured Image: Milan Perera

Will you go to Down Stokes next year?