Astral Festival (FKA Bristol Psych Fest), presented by Stolen Body Records, is back for its 6th year and BSM has made the journey south to check it out. Over the past six years the festival has grown from a 50 capacity room to a daylong event over three Bristol venues; SWX, The Lanes and Rough Trade. The festival is totally independent with its focus on sharing the best music the world has to offer.
The first band of the day for us comes in the form of New Zealand duo Earth Tongue, who recently released LP Floating Being too much acclaim on Stolen Body Records and are a major draw on today’s bill. They are a fuzz laden, heavy psychedelic offering with tinges of grunge and sludge that will appeal too many with a heavier persuasion. The duo are clearly in their element here and soak up the atmosphere as their set progresses and the cheers increase, something tells me they will be back sooner rather than later. EP/64 are one of the local offerings and a late addition due to a change in line, they offer up a heady mixture of world focused beats with wild improvisation and eccentric movement. It’s an exotic mix that enthrals at first but with so many other temptations, the crowd come and go throughout.
Gnod are a band who have become synonymous with this kind of event and their inclusion here today, and on the biggest stage, is pleasing to many. Formed in 2006 and with an ever evolving line up, Gnod are now a mainstay in the psych scene with their heady mixture of powerful melodies fuelled by hypnotic basslines and a double drum pounding. The highlight of their set comes in the form of ‘Bodies for Money’, taken from their 2017 LP Just Say No to the Psycho Right-Wing Capitalist Fascist Industrial Death Machine. This track epitomises what Gnod are all about and it’s made special today by the fact that they play an extended version, essentially remixing their own track making it an entirely different beast. Even through it’s still early in the day, the cavernous venue is packed and the large space is filled by their noise. That set is gonna take some beating, the bar has been set high.
Next up its Cult of Dom Keller, another mainstay in the scene who always cause a stir when their name appears on a bill. Creating insanely infectious melodies since 2007, with a few changes in personnel, they haven’t put out recordings in a while so fans flock to see them live instead; today is no exception as The Lanes fills quickly. Their set is almost a greatest hits rendition which spans their career, with favourites such as ‘Nowhere to Land’ invoking a sing-a-long and recent haunting number ‘Broken Arm of God’ seeing the crowd dancing along. This band are at such a level now that the crowd expect a certain level from them and they certainly deliver today.
I’m enticed over to Rough Trade by a recommendation to see Seattle quartet Steal Shit Do Drugs, and I am incredibly glad I am as they are without doubt the band of the day. There is always a sense of excitement about the unknown but this band offer up something that isn’t your average. Their blend of punk garage rock accompanied by a front man throwing himself all over the stage with gusto is intoxicating and the venue rocks along unashamedly. It’s hard to describe accurately this kind of set, but one things for sure, they certainly made an impression.
Triptides are one of the lighter offerings on the bill, offering sun drenched, 60s tinged psychedelia straight from the heart of Los Angeles. They’ve attracted a following from two successful UK tours in the last few years and are a feel good band that set feet dancing from the beginning. They play a range of tracks from across their impressive back catalogue and tracks such as ‘All My Life’ from 2018’s Visitors and ‘Invitation’ from 2017’s Afterglow is a prime example of why they have become so popular. The bands so far have been heavy and dark, Triptides blast through this like a ray of light and throw rainbows into the bargain. They probably won’t appeal to all here today, but no one can deny their set is exciting and their energy is contagious.
Known as the Clapton Cowboys, Creatures are the perfect follow up to Triptides and it’s no wonder they have been sharing dates with them on their latest tour. They offer a blend of spaghetti western style psych, made popular by the likes of Spindrift, and mix it effortlessly with more conventional psychedelia and a sprinkling of conventional pop to make a sound all their own. With a charismatic front man who commands the room, they breeze through their set and before the end the room is about as full as it could get.
Keeping with this theme up next is another dose of Californian sunshine, this time in the form of Levitation Room. The quintet are joined by the front man from Triptides, Glenn Brigman, on keys duty to add an extra layer to their complex psychedelic sound which invokes imagery of Haight-Ashbury in its heyday. Their upbeat tracks fill the room and the likes of ‘Cosmic Flower’ from 2016 LP Ethos is a highlight due to its lyrics which hint at rebellion.
L.A. Witch are three ladies with a lot of attitude and some incredibly catchy tunes. The venue is full when they take the stage and a lot of fans who want to enjoy the experience are stuck upstairs where the sound isn’t as good as it could be, unfortunately I am one of those fans and the muffled sound is a disappointment. Observing the crowd however, it would indicate that closer to the stage the sound is what you’d expect and even if they can’t be enjoyed aurally, visually they are always a sight to behold.
Bo Ningen bring a big sound and a lot of hair. They offer up weighty tracks that are lengthy and constantly evolving. With Japanese lyrics they are one of the bands what have led the way for Japanese psychedelia and are ever popular and they rightly deserve the late slot here in The Lanes. Again there appears to be a problem with too many bodies wanting to be in the small space but as their sound is designed to be played at volume, a little muddiness does not detract. They offer up exactly what you’d expect and what they have become known for and are enjoyable as a result. There is a lot of head banging in the crowd and a lot of hair swooshing on stage, all whilst managing to keep in perfect time and melody, it really is astonishing to behold and has become part of their appeal. Another solid performance from them ensures they stay favourites.
The final slot of the night in The Lanes is awarded to French punk, garage rock trio Slift who have shot to attention after the release of two strong LPs and a string of stunning live performances, including here in Bristol last year; they are much anticipated and once again the venue is full capacity. They start with a string of new tracks which entice and fans lap them up, however they continue to do this and in fact the entire set is made from new stuff. This is disappointing and people dissipate as the set goes on. It must be annoying playing the same songs in every set, however at a festival fans do expect the old favourites that got the band to the headline slot in the first place. I feel for them as they progress as they are a brilliant live band and really captivate with their energy, but it’s not enough to keep everyone’s interest.
Since the conclusion of what has been a fantastically organised day which has appeared seamless in its progression, news has come through that this will be the last for now and there has been a cry of dismay as a result. Festivals like this don’t come cheap and it seems that this year has been the final nail in the coffin, I’m sure I speak for all attendants when I say thank you for everything you’ve done and for bringing us some beautiful noise.