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Bristol New Music Festival (5-8 May 2022)

Todd Wills, former music programmer for the Vortex, is Artistic Director at Bristol Beacon, and is about to launch the fourth edition of Bristol New Music festival. A collective involving Spike Island, the Arnolfini gallery and Bristol University, has crafted a progressive multidisciplinary programme including Angel Bat Dawid, Bendik Giske and the Mica Levi Ensemble, taking place in various venues across Bristol. Preview/ interview by AJ Dehany

Kelly Jayne Jones. Publicity photo by Annie Feng

“When I moved to Bristol ten years ago working for the Colston Hall as was (now the Beacon)” explains Todd Wills, “we were talking to a lot of contemporary artists and experimental artists. We sensed there was an audience in Bristol but contemporary programming was not doing particularly well in terms of audiences. With booking agency Qu Junktions in 2014, Bristol New Music was born, with the idea to put this kind of music within a context ie. a festival, and it’s worked amazingly well. There is an audience in Bristol and we’ve always been pleasantly surprised with the audience we’ve got for each iteration.”

Manchester-based artist Kelly Jayne Jones will be performing Sedimentary Stone Tape actually within the vaults of the genuinely iconic Clifton Suspension Bridge. “With Bristol New Music we’ve always done stuff in unusual and found spaces—we’ve had concerts in Redcliffe caves before.. What we’re doing this year is there is a set of vaults underneath the large supporting pillar of the Clifton Suspension Bridge. Kelly will be performing inside the vaults and what she’s pulling together responds to the space itself with an installation and video projection. It’s not an easy place to access but it feels true to the tradition of finding weird and wonderful places to perform in.”

“It’s great to be able to include these iconic spaces in Bristol. Since 2014 it really has developed more into a festival with a sort of ‘Bristol mindset’. We were aware that it couldn’t be Huddersfield Contemporary On Sea—eventually we might be able to put on Finnish opera but it doesn’t feel quite the sort of thing that people would respond to, hence working with people ensconced within the experimental music scene for such a long time. It’s been developed in a way of knowing what the audiences of Bristol know and enjoy but at the same time ensuring that it’s interesting and challenging. It brings something new to the city.”

A policy of Bristol New music is to make sure they have newly commissioned projects for each iteration of the festival. Áine O’Dwyer has devised a large-scale community event happening in Green Bank Avenue involving Bristol residents. Another highlight is a commission with the Barbican and The Mica Levi Ensemble.

“Mica Levi has brought together a handpicked ensemble to perform their work and that’s gonna be a great show. I’m particularly excited to see Still House Plants who are pretty amazing, with Joanne Robertson on the same bill its a great way to start the festival. St George’s is a converted church, a very classic style venue so to be housing music like this it’s a bit of a departure, but that again is sort of a part of the BNM experience. It’s what we talked about from the outset. St George’s usually stages classical music, so we were keen to do things that wouldn’t come into their programme usually, and using spaces for artists out of the ordinary for their ongoing programmes. It’s a chance for us all to mix it up a little bit.”

Angel Bat Dawid. Publicity Photo supplied by SoundUK

One of the highlights of the programme is US jazz legend Angel Bat Dawid, an amazing booking. “Yeah, it is amazing. I’ve been trying to get Angel for about three years. It feels like a coup to get Angel on the bill; when the opportunity presented itself I couldn’t quite believe it. It’s going to be quite a special show, quite an intimate experience. She’s based in Berlin now. That’s another difference between the 2020 iteration and 2022: we had quite a few American based artists in 2020 and this time we’ve kind of kept it more European.”

Birmingham Contemporary work with the Arnolfini gallery on a regular basis and their show at Bristol New Music will be the first of the shows in their residency. “It will be an interesting development to see how they work with them. They’ve also got Uproar who were part of the 2020 programme, which is more contemporary classical—we’re trying to keep a variety across the board for what we’re offering audiences. Veridian Ensemble are also in classical contemporary—we’re just trying to make sure there is something for everyone.”

It’s an accessible but serious programme of multidisciplinary art and performance. “Yeah, that is sort of the point. It is challenging music. But there are opportunities  to enjoy settings that add to the experience, so with Ligeti Quartet we’ve got a performance in the pitch black. The Victoria Rooms are used by the university primarily, so students have put together a fringe programme on the contemporary music course and are performing as well.”

For such a young festival to already have a fringe is pretty wild. Todd laughs, agreeing: “Delusions of grandeur!”

AJ Dehany writes independently about music, art and stuff. ajdehany.co.uk

LINK: Bristol New Music

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