By Jake Paterson & Josh Templeman, Co-Deputy Music Editors
For a new venture for Team Love, the group behind festivals such as Love Saves the Day, the Downs were transformed into a mecca for contemporary alternative music and progressive thinking. Though not without a few teething issues, the festival was a triumph.
Read on for our highlights of the performances that took place throughout the weekend.
Image: Giulia Spadafora
The first day of the festival took off with sets from the likes of Ishmael Ensemble and Kojey Radical, but the energy of the day really got going the second a windswept Charli XCX took to the main stage.
Straight from an intimate set at Brighton's 500 capacity venue Chalk, Charli wasn't short of her more experimental work to sit alongside her worldwide hits. Cuts from this year's CRASH such as 'Baby' and 'Good Ones' alongside the anthemic 'I Love It' had everyone with their feet off the floor. Yet a sudden turn towards the hyperpop leanings of 'Vroom Vroom' and 'visions' was never far away. It was an eclectic and breathtaking performance.
Meanwhile on the second stage, rising Fred Again.. delivered his set. Anybody who has seen Fred’s recent Boiler Room set knows just how special of a performer he is. Receiving perhaps the most thunderous cheer heard all weekend, his emergence in front of the tightly packed stage-two crowd was truly something to behold.
Gushed in red lighting from the screen behind him, Fred opened with ‘Kyle (I found you)’, a crowd favourite from his debut album Actual Life. Close-up camera shots caught Fred in the action as he provided some of the vocal hooks to many of his tracks, whilst simultaneously beating his midi-pad into submission with a level of impeccable timing that would have you thinking it was pre-recorded. Such shots provided a sense of companionship with the crowd, whilst also displaying Fred’s passion as he played fan favourites such as ‘Turn on the lights again’ and ‘Jungle’.
Finishing with undoubtedly his most popular track ‘Marea (We’ve lost dancing)’, it’s clear why Fred has had such a successful few years; the end sent the crowd into the early evening both wishing his set was longer and perhaps wondering why Fred didn’t have a better timeslot (perhaps headline?) during the day.
After a chilled and breezy set from Khruangbin, which was impeded by poor audio quality to really deliver the intricacies of their sound, the electric Little Simz took to the main stage on the one year anniversary of her record Sometimes I Might Be Introvert.
Opening with the emphatic ‘Introvert’, we were treated to a consistent flow between rapturous choruses (as evident on ‘Offence’) and hard, conscious lyrics and beats (like ‘Rollin’ Stone’ or ‘Venom’). Blending genres live on stage, from the groovy, afro-beat inspired ‘Point and Kill’ to the more dace oriented ‘Protect My Energy’, Simz defined the ethos of the festival: forwards and progressive - taking her art to the highest levels.
As a performer, her presence was impossible to ignore. From jumping over the barrier into the crowd for ‘101 FM’ to getting the crowd to sing happy birthday to a member of her technical team, she was live, present, and electric.
Closing the first night of the inaugural festival, Jamie xx delivered an anonymous yet resonant DJ set to the night. A far cry from the dynamism of Fred Again..'s earlier set, Jamie’s handful of solo material was interspersed with hard techno and singalong classics like ‘Sweet Like Chocolate’.
Touching on the emotions of The xx’s material, like his rework of ‘On Hold’ or ‘GMT’, Jamie’s style is still ultimately romantic. Whilst the seven-foot mirrorball did most of the talking visually, the music drove the pace of the ninety minute set through true ebbs and flows. The quiet moments touched on Portishead’s ‘The Rip’ whilst the jungle infused ‘Idontknow’ shook the crowd out of its quiet false sense of security. The closing track ‘Gosh’ rung out into its own encore as the crowd dissipated from the festival site, either groups wailing out the squelchy synth closer, or belting out “EASY EASY” from the opening vocal sample.
Seven years on from his debut album In Colour, Jamie still has the gravitas of a headliner, but needs to expand his repertoire and discography to ever reach the heights of generational contempoaries.
Image: Giulia Spadafora
Onto the second day.
Caribou might just be the most wholesome man in all of music. Headlining stage 2 on the Sunday, the Canadian producer, composer and multi-instrumentalist was joined by a 3- piece band, all donned head-to-toe in white, who performed impeccably as they weaved their way through his glowing catalogue. Caribou’s charm and bubbly personality were ever-present throughout the set but were truly highlighted early on in his performance, as he timidly announced to the crowd that his mother, sister and niece were all watching from the crowd, beckoning the audience to turn and wave to them.
Throughout his set, Caribou performed banger after banger, building the energy early with ‘Odessa’ and maintaining that throughout with standout tracks such as ‘You Can Do it’ and ‘Never Come Back’. Closing his performance with perhaps his most popular track ‘Can’t do Without You’, the Canadian sent the audience into a frenzy as they stared on with adoration to the backdrop of the Bristol sunset.
Caribou’s talent is not to be underestimated. Not only did the Canadian provide his own vocals, but he also played a keyboard, the drums, a synthesizer and even brought a flute out for the end of ‘Odessa’. It is without a shadow of a doubt, that Caribou should rank highly on the bucket list of any music lover.
After sets from the likes of Sleaford Mods, Spiritualised, Rosin Murphy and Self Esteem, The Chemical Brothers took to the stage to close out the festival in style.
In no way am I exaggerating – The Chemical Brothers set at Forwards may just have been the best I have ever seen. Their first show in Bristol for 20 years, the performance was so much more than just music, it offered an absolute masterclass in how to close a festival.
The Chemical Brothers have long been known for the show they put on, but in the last twenty years, it has been refined and crafted into perfection. Stunning visuals, disco balls, balloons and even two giant suspended robots make up just a fraction of what the crowd was blessed with by the Forwards headliners. Their set was non-stop; opening with ‘Block Rockin Beats’ and included classics such as ‘Hey Boy Hey Girl’ and ‘Do it Again’ as well as highlights from their latest album, No Geography, such as ‘Eve of Destruction’ and ‘Got to Keep On’. The engineering that must have gone into the show is truly astounding; the immaculate timing of the visuals and other interactive elements with the music was truly a sight to behold and is a true representation of why, after all these years, The Chemical Brothers are still the best in the game at what they do.
Coming to an explosive end, the duo unsurprisingly finished with ‘Galvanize’, before the awe-struck crowd headed, ears ringing, into the Bristol night.
Featured Image: Giulia Spadafora
FORWARDS Festival will return to the Downs in 2023.