Review: Arlo Parks, Aphex Twin and more live at Forwards Festival 2023

Photo of Arlo Parks playing Leeds Festival 2023 (Gary Mather)

Arlo Parks playing Leeds Festival 2023 (Gary Mather)

Arlo Parks and Aphex Twin were at Forwards Festival on September 2nd.

There is no shortage of festivals in the Bristol area, given its proximity as the ‘Gateway to the South West’, as well as being just three hours outside London (apart from the Glastonbury weekend when everyone in the city makes the 30 mile journey south).

But the jewel in Bristol’s festival crown (with all due respect to Love Saves The Day) comes at the tail end of the summer. Rebranded post-pandemic from The Downs Festival to Forwards, the 2023 iteration has pulled off quite the coup for its headliners. Hot on the heels of Queen of Neo Soul Erykah Badu on Day One, the legendary Aphex Twin closes the festival on Saturday in one of only two UK festival shows.

However, there is a feast of music with something for everyone to get through first: Jockstrap continue to sustain their momentum as critical darlings, with thudding electro or acoustic musings, often in the same song. Georgina Ellery has something of the Goldfrapp about her, gleefully casting a spell on the sizable crowd. The duo impressively fill the East Stage, albeit in volume rather than physical presence.

In contrast, over on the West Stage, Amyl And The Sniffers are barely contained. In the nicest possible way, Amy Taylor is a feral force of nature who, one senses, would be doing her thing even if no-one was watching. Their swaggering, visceral punk-rock is unlike anything else on the bill, with the possible exception of Primal Scream, but even in their hedonistic heyday it didn’t look like as much fun as Taylor and her pals are clearly having. Even if their music isn’t to everyone’s taste, as a live force they take some beating.

With Viagara Boys unfortunately having to pull out, industrial noiseniks Scalping are moved up the bill and make the step up with ease, even if their skull-rattling electronica is a little bit incongruous in broad daylight. After such an aural assault, Arlo Parks offers welcome and sedate respite.

Her second album My Soft Machine has consolidated the success of 2021’s Collapsed In Sunbeams, and she appears full of beans and joy even after a gruelling summer. Her mixture of indie-folk and trip-hop works well in what is becoming a hits-packed set as the sun enters the Magic Hour and gears things up for the final furlong.

Also coming on the back of a busy festival season, Primal Scream provide a welcome blast of good old-fashioned rock and roll before the electronica kicks in. Despite being limited to nine songs, Bobby Gillespie and his comrades showcase the disparate sides of their character, with familiar rock hits (Jailbird, Rocks), deeper cuts (Suicide Bomb, Big Jet Plane) and the compulsory Screamadelica offerings (Loaded, Movin’ On Up).

Backed with a five-piece gospel choir, swelling the onstage numbers to twelve, it’s a masterclass of a festival set with Gillespie looking typically resplendent in a white suit. Like the Scream, Leftfield are old hands at giving the masses what they want, and their blissed-out set, crammed with classics including Release The Pressure and Song Of Life, is euphoric.

Sadly, both acts would likely have received a better response than Aphex Twin. Given the relative scarcity of his live performances, there is an air of anticipation around Richard James’ headline set as the audience has little idea of what to expect. What they get is a blitzkrieg of largely industrial techno/jungle, with occasional glimmers of trance, but little of the ambient work which made his name.

The visuals are impressive, paying homage to several Bristolian legends, while his set-up is beneath a huge square which acts as the main focal point, but there is a palpable indifference or disappointment within the crowd, as there is little scope for engagement, and the crowd has notably thinned by the end of the set.

An inauspicious end then to an otherwise stellar day for what is fast becoming Bristol’s best event.

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