Bristol is one of the most musically diverse cities on the entire planet.
While London remains known the world over the U.K.’s musical capital, it has been Bristol that has been not only the birthplace of numerous great acts but also the breeding ground for various musical movements themselves.
Whether it is Reggae, Dubstep, Grime, House, Techno, Trip Hop, or even Rock, each of these genres has indubitably been forever altered by a Bristolian act. From globally known acts such as Massive Attack, to the latest artist to release yet another smasher here on Toolroom Records, GotSome, it is fair to say that Bristol is home to a variety of musical flavours.
We pay homage to a town that we have known and loved by discussing the ins and outs of Bristol’s musical heritage, and some of the unique individuals who have helped to make the city the musical hotspot that is most certainly is…
Origins: Soundsystem Culture & Multiculturalism
To understand the amalgamation of influences that make up the enigmatic “Bristol sound,” it is crucial to familiarize one’s self with Soundsystem culture.
While an entire piece can be written about this in and of itself, Sound System culture was born as a result of lax U.K. immigration policies in the mid-1900s that allowed the migration of individuals residing in former colonial territories to live and work in the United Kingdom.
Fun fact: It has mostly been these very same stances on immigration that have made the United Kingdom the cultural melting pot that it is today, with many of our favourite genres coming about due to the movement of people into the Commonwealth.
These policies came about due to WWII having drained Britain of its labor force, with a great many working-age individuals having died in the conflict. As a result, ships laded with migrants the Caribbean would soon make landfall. By 1961, 161,000 individuals of Caribbean ethnicity were living in the U.K., many of whom settled in Bristol.
Whether it be Jamacia, Barbados, or Trinidad, with this movement of people came an influx of new ideas and forms of creative expression into a relatively culturally homogenous United Kingdom. One of these was known as Sound System culture. In 1966 the Bamboo Club opened by a Mr Anthony Bullimore at 7, St Paul Street, catering to a West Indian community, becoming a popular spot for reggae acts.
“For pop music Liverpool had the Cavern, for jazz you had London’s Ronnie Scott’s and for reggae there was the Bamboo club in St Paul’s.”
This Is My…Bassline?
Soundsystem culture involves setting up an array of often shoddily constructed speakers and subwoofers in a public space. What these systems lacked in fidelity, they made up for in bass.
These sound systems would often be headed off by D.J.s from all walks of life, some of whom would mix and others who would simply serve as encyclopaedic selectors. Though Bristolian venues catered to Soundsystem culture, including Docklands Settlement, Bamboo Club, and the Mayfair Suite, these parties were typically organised as pop-ups.
Better yet, Bristol’s annual St. Paul’s Carnival served as a time in which Soundsystem culture would be on full display for the masses to see. While Soundsystem culture may seem like a foreign enough concept to those living outside of the U.K., parties like these are a common enough occurrence in Bristol and London alike. Soundsystem culture always placed a significant amount of emphasis on bass, almost always to a disproportionately large degree. This would make it such that a relatively normal reggae record could, with the help of a sound system, become a bass-laden monolith.
Ultimately, the one characteristic most “Bristolian” music will exhibit is not relegated to a genre or a tempo, but rather the single, sonic quality of having a gargantuan amount of bass. And, it would be the birth of sound system culture that would ultimately serve as the root of the sonic characteristics of the ever-changing “Bristol sound” and the abjectly multicultural flair that the scene carries with it to this very day. If you don’t believe us, you can simply take a look at the many acts to come from Bristol who are now ever-present in the pages of music history.
Massive Attack is perhaps the most well-known act to emerge from Bristol. Their accolades speak for themselves, specifically the release of their 1991, double-platinum album “Blue Lines,” featuring their most famous record, “Unfinished Symphony.” While Massive Attack is something of a cliché in Bristol today, members of the band remain highly active in the city. In fact, word on the street is that founding member Robert Del Naja occasionally volunteers in the city’s homeless shelters from time to time.
In short, there’s no separating Massive Attack from Bristol.
Roni Size began his music career at Bristol’s youth centers of all places, where a chance encounter with an AKAI S-1000 sampler forever altered the course of his life. To this day, Roni Size is an advocate of the Bristol scene, making no reservations that he was influenced by Tricky, Portishead, and of course, Massive Attack. The son of Jamaican immigrants, he often recants growing up in the thick of Soundsystem culture, crediting St. Paul’s carnival as a yearly favourite as a youth. Today, Roni Size is perhaps one of the most influential individuals to ever emerge within Drum ‘n Bass.
Heading off Roni Size & Reprazent in 1997, his sets remain just as in-demand today, both in Bristol and worldwide.
First emerging in 1991, Portishead effectively spearheaded the “Trip-Hop” movement that came about in the early 1990s. Often compared to Nirvana in terms of their impact on popular culture, the trio (unsurprisingly) formed in none other than Bristol. First making impact with their 1994 hit, “Dummy,” records like “Glory Box” remain popular to this very day.
At present, the band remains fierce advocates of Bristol and the ethnic diversity that exists there, rallying against the forces of gentrification that are threatening the cultural heritage of many parts of the U.K. In any case, this list is, by no means, complete. To say otherwise would be an insult to the laundry list of fantastic talent that has emanated from Bristol over the years.
As the old adage states, “variety is the spice of life,” and cities like Bristol serve as all-important cultural junctions in which worlds, people and races will collide with one another, creating new, previously unimagined sonics that have helped to inspire music fans the world over. Best of all, this fusion is something that continues to this very day.
Here at Toolroom, you could say we’re in a musical space that exhibits far more purism than that which is seen in Bristol. In fact, the general impression that one gets when perusing the city’s many weeklies is that there is not any one, defining sound in the city, and it is this way intentionally.
Bristol is a region that purposely tries to never be put in a box.
What you essentially have in the small, Southwestern town is a brooding cauldron of sounds, influences, and subcultures, all of which are distilled into an effervescent music scene that is just as diverse as it is distinctive.
Genre purists beware…
Trips to Bristol can completely shatter any preconceived notions about where dividing lines exist between styles, scenes, and social circles. In few other cities will you have House producers who have a go at making a Grime beat, Grime producers from South London trying their hand at noise music, or Techno D.J.s experimenting with Rock, simply to avoid being placed into any one box. There’s a beauty and a brilliance to this. Admittedly, it is quite different from what we do here at Toolroom in terms of our musical direction. However, we cannot help but appreciate the variety and open-mindedness that Bristolians exhibit.
In fact, our latest release here at the label is a shining example of one of Bristol’s finest injecting a rugged, multi-genre flair into our genre.
GotSome: A Multi-genre Take on House Music…
It was Mark Knight who recently said, “Really, my favorite genres are Hip Hop, Soul, Disco, Boogie, and Funk. Honestly, I probably spend more time listening to records from the ’80s than I do now.”
Needless to say, this approach has done the bossman well, leading to a conflagration of influences finding their way into his music.
At Toolroom, we’re always on the lookout for artists with a similar ethos, or those who draw upon a colourful palette when in the studio to produce something truly remarkable.
And, this is absolutely the case with Adam Gorsky, otherwise known as GotSome. First exploding onto the scene in 2014 with his smash hit “Baseline,” GotSome has been one of the few acts to emerge from the 2013 “U.K. House” era oozing with credibility. Today, GotSome continues his upward trajectory in 2020 with “Caught In Your Rhythm,” his latest release on Toolroom.
The record itself may not be an ordinary Tech House record. However, GotSome is no ordinary producer.
Never one to deny the influences of those who have come before him, GotSome credits artists like Basement Jaxx, The Prodigy, J Dilla, Switch, Bugz In The Attic, Roni Size, MJ Cole and D.J. Die as some of the key artists who have inspired him over the years.
Fortunately for all of us, they continue to influence his production style to this very day.
Needless to say, GotSome’s sound is a gem: a nuanced, multigenre take on House music that pushes the boundaries of what’s possible in the genre while still staying true to its core principles.
Better yet, it doesn’t take listening to this record on a proper sound system (something that we might not have the privilege of for quite some time) to hear Bristol’s bass-heavy influences bleeding through.
On top of that, the release features an unforgettable lead vocal hook from Clementine Douglas, accompanied by a stripped-down bassline and percussion that harkens back to a simpler time in House music. Never one to rely on the accolades of yesterday, some might say that GotSome has outdone himself with this latest release, highlighting both a continued evolution as an artist and his rich musical heritage.
Like Nowhere Else
Bristol is home to some of the most forward-thinking music and artists to have ever graced the scene, and GotSome is a proud bearer of Bristol’s musical heritage. Like virtually all artists who hail from the Southwestern musical hotspot, a multitude of sounds, cultural influences, and perhaps most importantly, bass have found their way into his music. It is artists like him and his Bristolian counterparts who will continue to push the boundaries of our music, and force other artists to do the same. Never one to the complacent, and always keeping it a bit weird, Bristol truly is like nowhere else.