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Review: Ritual Union 2024

Bristol's multi-venue day festival returned for 2024 but failed to shine besides a few cult heroes.

By Jake Paterson, Music Editor

Bristol is spoiled for multi-venue day festivals across the musical calendar. A quick glance tells you that Dot to Dot manages to attract the most widely-appealing and household names (think Dua Lipa and The Horrors in the past ten years), Simple Things the most boundary-pushing and underground wunderkinds, Outer Town the most physical and DIY, and brand new ones popping up like Down Stokes which debuted last year.

Ritual Union sits in amongst the mix without a real USP. Cornered into the borderlands of Broadmead using the venues SWX, Strange Brew, Rough Trade, and The Island as its main stages across the day, it does pose positives for its locality but doesn't manage to generate the communal and excited vibe that other festivals like it do. It's easy to forget that you're at a festival and instead a string of interconnected gigs. Moreover, the names announced for the 2024 edition were a little lacklustre - no headliners you'd put yourself out of the way to see and only a handful of cult and up-and-comers to catch before they try and hit larger circuits.

Although this is obviously harsh, the competition for punters in Bristol is evidently not easy and certain missing factors, such as the communal festival energy, are really needed to propel such a festival forward into the future amongst others like it folding through the cost-of-living crisis.

Despite this, however, I did manage to see some excellent performers through the day which I've gone in depth into below.

Liz Lawrence @ SWX

Full of idiosyncrasy and wonkiness reminiscent of Cate Le Bon, Anna Calvi and Sharon Van Etten, Liz Lawrence delivered a set full of tracks with true indie sparkle. Dressed in business casual, they set about transforming their tracks into a deft community environment. Excited to be in Bristol because it is 'the home of my favourite hot sauce', the crowd met each track with great applause and reverence.

With a new record, Peanuts, on the way for release later this year Liz is definitely one to watch for fans of synth-led art pop.

Van Houten @ Rough Trade

With six members on the stage, the shoegaze outfit from Leeds delivered a blistering and loud set built around beautifully arranged guitar and synth lines that you could imagine listening to for hours on end. With Rough Trade crammed to near capacity, they transformed the intimate space into a personal space where their friendship shined.

Impossible to sever from a sound of 90s nostalgia, they enveloped the crowd with an organic set unfolding gradually before us. Another group to keep an eye on.

Do Nothing @ SWX

In the game for over a decade now, Do Nothing have graduated from post-brexit post-punk into something that their contemporaries couldn't quite meet. That difference is the charisma and elegance of lead singer Chris Bailey who was decked out in a black suit jacket and trousers. He commanded the audience with grace even when he pushed his vocals to shouting.

Interspersing their set with new cuts from their debut album with their greatest hits like 'Handshakes' and 'New Life', they cemented their place on Bristol's minds for the rest of the night.

Dream Wife @ SWX

Headliners Dream Wife delivered a frantic and captivating set. Interspersing social commentary with punk-infused tracks, it was impossible to take your eyes off the band. Worthy headliners and continued stalwarts of the scene.

Have you ever been to Ritual Union?