I love clubbing in Bristol. Its my second home, always has been, and some of the best nights out I’ve ever had have been here. So when I heard some friends had secured Toolroom Live I knew I HAD to go. Toolroom may not be my personal favourite label, but what they’ve achieved for the UK dance scene and the artists under their banner is remarkable. Its always been a very recognisable and accessible sound. Never too techno, never too house, Toolroom strides confidently atop a precarious tight rope of commercially viable, underground dance music and they do it with aplomb. I was visibly excited, and meeting Mark Knight was way more nerve racking than I gave it credit, but I’m getting ahead of myself.
Ever have those days when you know you’re going out and the daytime drags SO slowly?! Well, Saturday was one of those days. I walked the dog, cooked a nice brunch, did some washing, and on and on… Finally, after a triple bill of NCIS (love that show), time came to hit the showers, don my dancing shoes and make my way over to Bristol. The train was unusually quiet save a drunk self important mid 30s lady expressing much displeasure to her mate over a torturous phone conversation that lasted way too long (for me and the poor girl on the other end of the phone) “…just been on a hen party… yeah her… had to pay for everything myself… party hats, dildo all of it. You ever been on one of them hen dos? (I don’t think anyone has love, maybe you need better mates?!) …and on it when.
I tuned out and refocused on how I’d traverse a city I knew like the back of my hand. I was headed for the O2 Academy on Frogmore Street. It used to be a cinema if I remember right, and have a ice rink on the top floor. I’ve been clubbing there since before AMG bought it in 2001 and its always been a fantastic place to party. I’ve seen everyone there too. From Daddy G (Massive Attack) and Nick Warren to Sander Kleinenberg, Dave Seaman and a host of the old guard who played at the Scream nights. Toolroom had a lot to live up to. As I made my way from the train station along Victoria Street, over the Bristol bridge and down Baldwin Street, I reminisced some of those great nights in-between avoiding beggars and drunken revellers falling out of bars on route – never a dull moment in “the big city”.
As I turned past the oldest pub in Bristol – The Hatchet and faced the O2 Academy I was greeted by the unmistakable shape of a great buddy of mine, Simon Ridge. Along with one of my oldest mates, Ant Davies, they patrolled the guest list queue and waited (fairly calmly) for the crowds to arrive. Both admitted to being nervous, hoping this wasn’t going to be a massive cock up. We chatted for about 20 minutes on the door before I finally headed inside with my back stage pass. Now I want to clear something up before we get into the meat of the story – being a music journalist isn’t as glamorous as one might believe. We go to these events with our review cap on alone in most cases (anyone under 30 reading this, just you wait for the barrage of excuses you’ll hear! – but its free tickets?! I know mate, but I have to go to B&Q in the morning, the missus will kill me if this kitchen isn’t finished soon).
On this occasion I knew a fair few people, so my experience was always going to be positive. Sure, you make friends backstage, but those people came with people so any conversations you have are normally fleeting and fairly superfluous anyway. Meeting Juliet Fox however was a whole different experience. Beaming smile and bags of energy, she bounced backstage with her 3 friends and we were instantly into conversation. Her set was due to start pretty soon, but the promoter insisted we open a bottle of champagne first: who were we to argue! [edit: OK, not so shabby] Glass in hand we walked through the back stage doors and into the cauldron of rave that the O2 Academy main room is. I’ve been many times, but never this side of the stage and watching the brave first few souls testing the waters was a little surreal. Its normally me doing that.
Ben Remember was in full control weaving an intricate tale of deep house groovers for Juliet to take over. The floor was pretty quiet still as the crowds amassed and took some time at the bar to survey the scene. Juliet’s first track, a deep bass heavy growl, set the mood for one of the most technically gifted sets I’ve ever heard. Its never easy to take over from the warm up DJ and the room still be empty, but she did it with consummate ease and within 5 tracks had the place jumping. From that point on, the dance floor was packed until the final bar of the final track Mark Knight played. Juliet’s set over the 90 mins she was allocated moved from deepness, towards an energetic guttural techno. The crowd moved with her and as they got more into it, so did she; a perfect symbiosis. Before long Prok & Fitch arrived and things got a whole lot more crazy. Famed for their re-edits, one which stood out for me was the stripped back Tiga vs Audion – Let’s Go Dancing. The vocal kept intact, its shamanic qualities were plain to see as the crowd became deafening in repeating the refrain. It was go time, and I’ve never been disappointed by a Bristol crowds ability to step up to top party gear.
Mark Knight‘s arrival was surreal: we all buzzed around him and he greeted us individually. His set was equally interesting. Never too techno, never too house, he walked the tightrope of peak time dance with ease. Tracks like ‘Freak Out’ and a cheeky bootleg of Underworld whirled around our heads drawing us further down the rabbit hole. As the house lights came up many revellers made their way home. Some to kick on at house parties, some to sleep, the rest of us (including me waiting for the first train back to my town) decided the infamous Banjax Breakfast Club would be a welcome distraction for a few hours, and at the very least we would be in the warm.
Anyone whose been to an after-hours knows the deal. This is where the crazies go. The ones not finished partying, with boundless energy and a desire to carry on listening to loud techno music. The DJ booth was packed. And in a bizarre and strangely well worked B2B2B, promoter Craig Brown, Ben Remember and Ben Prok kept the crowd jumping for another 3 hours with an amazing cross section of beats, the highlight for me being Mambo Brothers brilliant hands in the air anthem – Momento which continues to confound the new gen (hint: the point of the track is there is NO drop bro). I’ve not heard many other tracks so perfectly suited to ridiculous’o’clock and its on Toolroom!
By 7.30am I was done, I headed off into the sunny cold morning with a smile and made my way back to the train station. Thoughts of the evening raced through my head, and I started to piece together how I would write this review and what the names of some of those damn fine records were, but sleep was fast approaching, and as I entered the station to buy my tickets and find my carriage home, I was made aware of the cruelest of endings for any clubber. The bus replacement service. Sometimes House music is a devilish mistress… told you its wasn’t that glamorous!
Photo Credit : Bubimages