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Review: Rabbit Party no. 1 @ Strange Brew

At the end of last term, designer Sophie Spratley - the brains behind the fashion label Rabbit Baby - hosted a beautiful night of artistic celebration, drawing together the creative expressions of fashion and music for a truly great event.

By Benjamin Smith, Third Year History

I’ve never previously felt underdressed for a gig before, until I walked into Strange Brew in my hoodie and Dickies straight-leg trousers and was confronted by an array of elaborate knitwear and ethereal dresses - but then again, this was not technically a gig, but rather a fashion show. Hosted by designer Rabbit Baby (Sophie Spratley), and advertised as a Rabbit Party no. 1, this was a showcase of Spratley’s work, but with musical performances taking precedence over a catwalk.

Spratley has worked with bands and artists since the start of Rabbit Baby, having put on numerous events where she showcases her work at gigs, having worked with bands such as The Last Dinner Party, The New Eves, Prima Queen and Honeyglaze. However this was the first public ‘Rabbit Party’, and it was a night full of beautiful outfits, similarly stunning music, and an energy of celebration. 

Bristol-based Olive Haigh opened up the evening, a last-minute addition due to the scheduled opener cancelling, but she immediately set the tone. Stood alone on stage with nothing but an autoharp for accompaniment Olive created enthralling soundscapes, alongside evocative lyricism combining themes of nature with humanity. Perfectly accompanying the folk stylings of Rabbit Baby’s designs, Olive also plays with themes of femininity that are present within the corsets and bonnets of Spratley’s work. I confess I was completely unaware of what an autoharp was - a quick Google search after the set led me to it - but Olive maximises the instrument’s capabilities, filling the room with textures, and projecting a sound that transports the audience. 

Next up was Pem, another local Bristol artist who told gentle tales over the top of lush, subtly grooving melodies. The focus here is very much on Pem’s stunning vocal delivery, despite her apologising at the start for being slightly ill, but she nevertheless shows remarkable vocal versatility, slipping in and out of the instrumentals. She floats above on songs accompanied by a cello and, on others, her voice glides in between the picked guitars. There is a moment during Pem’s set when Spratley has to gently ask for quiet, the party atmosphere getting out of hand, but once the attention of the crowd is brought back to Pem there are no more interruptions, everyone in the room transfixed. 

There was a palpable, anticipatory, shift in the energy of the room as Mary in the Junkyard began to play. Similarly to Pem’s band, Saya Barbaglia of Mary in the Junkyard alternates between a bass and a viola throughout the set, although it’s harder to pin down any directions the songs may go in. One song begins with scratching viola before a powerful bassline comes in, willing the crowd to start dancing. The interplay here between the bass and viola is reflective of Mary in the Junkyard’s chemistry as a band, and you would be forgiven for assuming that they have far more than three members, as they combine to create full soundscapes and chaotic climaxes, while also embracing Pixies-esque loud-quiet dynamic contrasts. Guitarist (and occasional bassist) Clari Freeman-Taylor’s vocals provide another departure from the earlier acts, opting for a more delicate touch, with her words often wavering, with tender whispers lost in the chaos, as on climactic closer Tuesday, or sometimes strained above the cacophony, her voice pushed to its limits. 

Mary in the Junkyard @ Rabbit Party no. 1 | Sandra Ebert

Right before Mary in the Junkyard started playing, I ran into a friend who didn’t know any of the bands performing, and she asked me if she would be able to dance to any of the bands playing. Baby Vanga, the closing act, provided an emphatic answer to this. Introduced by Spratley with a story of how the frontman was the first person to down a pint faster than her, Baby Vanga’s funky psychedelia immediately brought the ‘party’ to Strange Brew. Tight rhythms provided the backbone for off-kilter synths and the occasional cowbell to get the crowd moving. Warm, reverb-soaked guitars add to the layers of synths, filling the space, enveloping the crowd in Baby Vanga’s fusing sound. Maybe the highlight of Baby Vanga’s set came as vocals were traded for a flute, the unexpected combination of a flute solo above these Latin-inspired instrumentals and the image of the frantic switching between flute and guitar perfectly encapsulating the joy of Baby Vanga’s set. 

The premise of forgoing a catwalk to exhibit a designer’s creations may be novel, but the Rabbit Party at Strange Brew provided a strong case for it. Admittedly I have never attended a catwalk show, but I can’t imagine one providing as much fun for both the attendees and participants as this party did, while the consistent aesthetic provided to the bands through Spratley’s creations elevated this over just a ‘normal’ gig. Not only did four incredible artists perform, but it felt like a communal celebration, engulfed in Rabbit Baby’s transcendent world of musical and visual beauty. 

Featured Image: Sandra Ebert courtesy of Rabbit Baby

Which artists would you like to see wearing Rabbit Baby's designs?