Live Review: One Saturday Night at Forwards Festival 2023

This weekend, I was lucky enough to be once again invited back to Bristol’s “Forwards Festival”. A weekend that, only two years into its run, has already established itself as a must on any festival goers calendar.

Unfortunately, I could only attend on the Saturday this year, so missed out on some of the more up-and-coming artists that Forwards played host to. Erykah Badu’s set looked completely magical, and I was thrilled to read comments on Forwards’ Instagram raving about the sound system. Last year the festival was plagued with sound issues, so I was ecstatic to learn that this had been fixed. 

Nevertheless, with nothing but the adrenaline in my heart and a four-pack of Stella in my hand, I boarded the train to Bristol on Saturday afternoon. We arrived just in time for the absolutely magnetic “Jockstrap”, an act I had also had the pleasure of witnessing at “Green Man” two weeks prior. This meant I knew exactly what I was in for, which only increased my excitement. Jockstrap are an act that has been working tirelessly throughout the summer, performing everywhere under the sun (or in this year’s case, the rain) to prove that they are one of the most innovative groups to come out of the last few years. From a stunning Glasto performance to supporting “Blur” in Wembley, I truly hope Georgia Ellery and Taylor Skye continue to have their moment in the spotlight. A tight 45-minute set meant there was never a dull moment, making for one of the most captivating sets of the day, which is particularly impressive considering the band performed without any sort of visual accompaniment. I stood there with a stupid grin on my face, shouting to my poor sister that: “She’s actually also the violinist from Black country, New Road”, and realised that I will follow this band wherever they go. Highlights include the implementation of Nicki Minaj’s verse in Monster and a remix of 50/50, making for a truly high-octane set closer. 

After a quick pit stop, we managed to catch a glimpse of “Amyl and the Sniffers” amongst a completely packed crowd. It was the perfect 6 p.m. slot for the day, high energy in the baking heat getting everyone riled up for the main events of the evening. Perhaps not the most original act in a saturation of punk bands on the scene, but you can’t fault Amy Taylor’s energy and passion on stage, truly a joy to behold, with some definite bangers under their belt. This is a band I had also seen at Green Man, so I was more than satisfied to leave their set early and catch the end of “Arlo Parks”, an artist I stumbled onto much later than others, around the time of her Mercury nomination the year before last. Well, she certainly did not disappoint as the rays absolutely smiled down on her. The mood could not have been better as the sun began to set and brought out a warm orange glow across the Durdham Downs, to accompany the blissful tones of Parks. Her set truly reignited my love for her thoughtful, poetic tunes, and whoever was on electric guitar needs all the praise in the world and then some. Definitely some of the nicest vibes of the day, and a life-affirming set, which was definitely reciprocated by the crowd. 

It was now about 7pm, and this was where things got really tasty, as we slid through the crowd to get to the front for “Primal Scream”. I have long thought that Bobby Gillespie was now way too past it to be able to perform well. Friends have seen him over the years and told me that he was far too belligerently drunk to be able to put on a good show. However, it’s always an act I have been desperate to see, Primal Scream seem to do the festival circuit every year and I always seem to miss them. After all, Screamadelica is the album that got me into dance music, and is an album I have held dear for many, many years. So, I was still excited, and what a glorious set it was. Gillespie and Co really know how to please a crowd, playing strictly the biggest and best songs from what is a rather extensive back catalogue. The gospel choir were nothing short of sublime and the whole hour radiated pure serotonin, it really was the epitome of joy. I would have loved to see some rendition of Come Together, but admittedly I was dreaming quite big here, and to close on Rocks was a safer decision, although the crowd were unfortunately rather quiet for this anthem. 

Catching a glimpse of “Leftfield’s” pulsing techno grooves happened to make for the perfect transitioning period to what was to follow, we gladly waved goodbye to guitars and entered the world of electronica. Oh yes, we were about to witness something truly special, like nothing I have ever witnessed before. This was none other than the complete sensory overload that is Aphex Twin. We eagerly awaited the stylings of Richard D. James, a legend of IDM and rave, mystique, noise and often bizarre confusion. As we stood in that crowd on a warm September evening, we pondered what the set would be like. I’m a mega fan of the first two ambient works of Aphex Twin, truly remarkable records, but my knowledge of his more intense tracks consists only of Digeridoo and Windowlicker

“Oh don’t worry, it’s veeerry intense” came a voice from behind us, although nothing could have prepared us for what was to follow. If you have never heard Aphex Twin’s music before, its almost impossible to explain, it should not work, the time signatures are completely mental, all rhythm goes out the window and what you are left with is a bombardment of noise. But somehow it does really really work. The set kicked off to a plethora of 90s style 303s, with some brilliant psychedelic visuals featuring the Aphex Twin logo. A huge cube above Richard D. James’s head displays these viusuals, as well as two towers next to him, these are also transparent when the visuals aren’t present, which is completely ridiculous, in the best way possible. The bombardment of noise and lights continued in what could be described as an epileptic torture device, a serious sensory assault, but a mentally brilliant experience at the same time. As the set continued, the visuals showed a series of British celebrities with Aphex Twin’s face superimposed on the top of them. There was Sergeant Angel and Danny Butterman, Greg Wallace from Master Chef and even Captain Tom receiving the treatment. It was a wild trip, to say the least. The extent of my intoxication consisted purely of a few healthy beers and a rum and coke or 2, but as I stood there, every colour and picture under the sun reflecting off my eyeballs, it felt like I had been rooting around in the trunk of Hunter S. Thompson’s car. No artist I have ever seen before has invoked that feeling, and I really doubt any ever will. While I did prefer The Chemical Brothers’ set the year before, purely because they had recognisable tunes, Apex Twin was another beast entirely. I usually become disgruntled when DJs don’t play their own music at a headline slot, but here, that didn’t matter in the slightest. 

So, Forwards have done it again, hats off for what is quickly seeming to become the most invigoratingly exciting new festival in all the land.