By Jake Paterson, Music Editor
Bristol's music legacy can be tied down by a restless desire for independence. Our city's most famous bands that invented trip-hop in the 90s did it in their own way and made the world watch. The likes of IDLES spread punk to the masses in a long overdue revival, all whilst tackling toxic masculinity at the same time. Long after genres like reggae and dnb fell out of fashion with the London crowd, there's still a thriving scene blasting it out of all corners on our streets.
With this restlessness comes open arms to join the crowd and do it in your own way. Everyone with something to say or something wonky to play has a stage and an audience here - if you're playing something weird there's almost definitely someone in the next room playing something weirder.
This spirit attracts artists from across the globe to play here across our ever expanding range of venues; from boats and warehouses to old churches and bowling alleys. It seeps out of every street.
Our job here at Epigram is to keep track of it. We don't give out stars, ratings or awards - we want to hear why music connects with students today, whether that be personal memories or the excitement of the birth of a new scene, so that someone else might share that experience with you too.
Here's our rundown of all the venues from large to small that you can grasp hold of and shape the music that defines your university years.
A former leisure centre, now multi-level music venue and student halls, the building of the O2 Academy is a strange one. Boasting some of the biggest names in UK and international contemporary music going through its doors, the width of the venue makes it feel almost intimate at times which is a rare treat for its capacity. Expect to see dad-rock bands on their farewell tours alongside the latest in the indie rock scene.
Having only reopened in September 2022 after an infamous fire gutted the venue in 2020, SWX has become a mainstay in the Bristol music scene. The modern club has up to five rooms when dnb is the agenda, but it's main live room feels pristine - if a little characterless. Their booking agents are some of the city's best, pulling the attention of an array of artists and genres - from folk and hip-hop to punk and metal.
Located inside Motion, Bristol's world-renowned club, the Marble Factory is as blank a canvas as a venue as you can get. It's industrial interior, from its corugated sheet metal ceiling and concrete floor to its reinforced iron raised balcony area, the venue is best suited to music that suits its unpolished aesthetic. You're likely to hear anything from hip-hop and punk to experimental and indie darlings.
After closing its doors in 2020 for a refurb and name change, the old Colston Hall that has seen the likes of Bowie grace its stage, will reopen as the Bristol Beacon in November this year. With two venues contained within its walls, the Beacon Hall and The Lantern, we cannot wait to catch a glimpse of the work put on behind the scenes. The programme so far has seen a blend of folk, rock and orchestral music dominate, but the future is certainly exciting.
Another new venue on the cards, Document is a 3,000 capacity venue created by the team behind Motion situated in an old document storage facility. Although events taking place here have been more focussed on club events, the team behind it suggest that live music is definitely on the cards as they look to make the venue a mainstay in the Bristol scene. Watch this space.
The first converted church on the list, the Trinity Centre is part of the beating heart of Bristol's music scene. As much a community centre as it is a gig venue, the space is truly one containing Bristol's independent spirit. Containing two recording studios, an extensive garden and outside area for summer parties, its programme is an eclectic one that boasts painting workshops on the same day as internationally renowned bands. Expect to hear a slice of everything here - jazz, folk, spoken word, electronic - everyone has a stage.
Perhaps the best venue in Bristol, Strange Brew is a celebration of all things alternative. Nestled in a hotspot of venues between Castle Park and Broadmead, the collaborative arts space hosts weekly jam nights, markets for independent artists, techno nights in its backroom, and gigs from artists spanning genres. It's a shining light for the city's spirit and rarely fails to deliver a good night.
Another converted church, and one that has acoustics praised by Bjork, St George's is the home of the best classical music in Bristol. Occasionally hosting folk musicians and old-school rockers, it's always keeping an eye on the programme for this state-of-the-art venue.
Yet another converted factory, the Fleece's simple yet effective canvas for artists has meant some of the best indie and alternative artsits have played here over the years. Located just across from the Bristol bridge, this is one not to sleep on.
One of the best student venues, not only for gigs but also for nights out, the converted boat on Bristol's harbourside is one of the best intimate venues the city has to offer. From the up-and-coming in indie rock to hip-hop and rap, there's always something for everyone here.
Produced by the team behind Glastonbury Festival's legendary Shangri-La area, the self-proclaimed 'creative playground' hosts everything from artists in residence to live music from a huge range of genres. It's also the world's first fully hybrid music venue, capable of producing the show on a VR headset in real time.
As we dip a little deeper, the Exchange is one of Bristol’s true gems. From international artists in the intimate main room whilst having unsigned talent playing simultaneously in their basement, the venue is one of the most restless in the city.
Another one of the newest venues in the city, Dareshack is a blend of contemporary arts space and cafe in the day and one of the most exciting contemporary music venues by night. Located just off Castle Park, its diverse programme of hip-hop, indie and soul is one not to be missed.
One of the best record stores in the city also has one of the best intimate venues tucked in the back. Clad with fairy lights, the warmth of the space cannot be mistaken, and as the venue plays host to intimate album launch shows you can expect to see some of the biggest artists in small settings.
The Crofters Rights
One of the shining lights of Stokes Croft, the two rooms in Crofters give established artists the chance to play intimate spaces, and new bands the chance to play their first ever gigs. The alternative feel and beer soaked wood panels make a perfect setting for those building up their following.
Another gorgeous intimate venue this time on the Harbourside, the Louis also has a great roster of emerging indie, pop and rock artists, all playing for the price of a pint or two. It also has one of the best lists of former players, from IDLES and Florence + the Machine.
Redgrave Theatre / Wardrobe Theatre / Tobacco Factory
A quick note here to not discount the rare live music event at some of Bristol's best independent theatres. Usually based around folk musicians, if you're in search of a warm and laid-back evening, these venues will usually be able to provide.
The beating heart of Stokes Croft, The Canteen is a beacon for a great way to show your cultural side to your new friends. Hosting FREE live music every night of the week, you can grab a drink and enjoy some latin jazz or turn up later for experimental up-and-comers.
The Mount Without
The third church of the list, the Mount Without have multiple spaces for live music, including a converted Crypt!
Famous for students because of the free jazz jam Tuesday nights hosted by JazzFunkSoul Society, the venue in Bristol's old city also has a huge range across its calendar.
A killer beer garden, ten-pin bowling alley, and fun live music venue? We couldn't ask for much more from the Lanes, yet they go further by making most of their events free-entry. Trust us, it'll be a good time.
Also a cinema, this is for those of you leaning towards all things experimental.
The Old Duke, The Mothers' Ruin, The Cloak and Dagger, The Thunderbolt, The Crown
To complete our list, here are the best pubs to check out for live music. From open-mic nights every Tuesday at The Old Duke to the weird and wonderful at the Cloak and Dagger, every corner of the city has something to offer for students.
Headfirst is your port-of-call for all things Bristol and music. Listing all the shows promoted by independent venues and artists in one place, you can take your pick from one of the ten things happening in the city tonight.