Whatever you think of the RBMA's corporate trappings, it'd be pretty hard to deny the calibre of the events it has curated over seventeen years and across the globe, not to mention the high quality and often fringe-orientated music journalism published on its online magazine. The tension between the academy's excellent record of exciting musical events and knowledge the soft drink brand's cynical marketing strategies is something which has forced many a music fan into fretful ambivalence; especially university students such as myself who have had cans of Red Bull waved in my face by campus 'brand ambassadors'.

However on the Bristol leg of this year's UK tour at least, brand saturation was surprisingly not so in-yer-face, apart from the slightly troubling sight of the brand's logo presiding like some pagan behemoth above the altar of St Paul's church, the venue for the astoundingly good psychedelic rock band Goat's 'Sounds of Surrender' show. Such misgivings aside, the expertise of the curates and their evident knowledge of Bristol's cultural landscape certainly struck me. A talk and DJ set by masterchef Seth Troxler on Stokes Croft Road and a night featuring Danny Brown and grime wunderkind Mumdance and Novelist at a stately home way out of the city centre in Shirehampton (organized by local publication Crack Magazine) were two events which showed the thought that went into the billing.

RBMA UK Tour

But it was perhaps the smaller, more intimate events around the city that illustrated both the vibrancy of Bristol's current scenes and its grounding in decades of musical history. At the RBMA Radio sessions in local don Chris Farrell's Idle Hands record shop one definitely got the sense of being in the presence of a tight-nit yet inclusive community of DJs and music-makers, where the airy house set of rising star and Idle Hands employee Shanti Celeste sat with surprising congruity next to Rob Smith's set of weighty, classicist dubstep. Hodge's driving exposition of spooked, grime-inflected techno was also a highlight, though this writer was most pleasantly surprised by Kahn and Neek's invigorating foray into grime, dubstep and even UK funky, which blew out the cobwebs, and an unidentified Flowdan-featuring banger creating one of the more exciting moments. The atmosphere of the proceedings was certainly helped by the lads downing can after can of Red Stripe next to the store's tape section for most of the afternoon, but less so by the optimistic MC who came off the street to offer his services during Krust's set.

So the smaller events of the weekend definitely had their charms. The afternoon workshop with Pinch, whilst fairly boring to anyone who did not want to collaborate with the producer in making a track, nevertheless illustrated the passion which still exists for the weightier end of dance music. An extra dimension to the proceedings was added by how Pinch's voice seemed to me to be almost identical to that of Martin Freeman; with my eyes closed, I felt as if I was being given a dubstep tutorial by Bilbo Baggins.

With Bristol's civic penchant for THC, it didn't come as a surprise that many of the events took on an altogether more cosmic hue. Sunday's 'Altered States' club night at the Arnolfini art gallery was a feast of contemporary audiovisual action, with idiosyncratic minimal techno guru DJ Koze headlining. The visual elements were provided by a combination of the work of artist Victoria Topping and the mindboggling interactive visuals of Dr David Glowacki's Danceroom Spectroscopy, whose projections interpret the 'energy fields' of dancers into swirling phosphorescent images of light and colour. Writing on Glowacki's project tends to discuss quantum physics, 'electrostatic forcefields' and its use of 'the nanoscale', but the reason for its deployment at the Arnolfini was clear: it would have looked amazing to people on drugs. Whilst Danceroom Spectroscopy's interactive visual feast in the smaller room was definitely impressive, for me the projections of Victoria Topping's works splayed throughout the main room were too much akin to something the Future Sound of London might have created circa 1997. This in no way detracted from the overall experience, however, with the vast, blank space of the gallery creating the feeling of being in a warehouse, and the rhythmic upsurge from house to fairly heavy techno in the ItaloJohnson crew's set ensuring the venue stayed packed with dancers until the very end.

RBMA UK Tour

Goat's 'Sounds of Surrender' show featured similarly inane FSOL/Windows Media Player projections, however the thrust of this event was more towards abandonment, loss of identity and collective experience. The idea was for punters to be divested of phones, cameras, money and the like, and to be given masks similar to the ones the band wear in order to be able to immerse more freely in the band's psychedelic afro-rock. My friend and I arrived just before the band came on, and as far as we could tell, personal possessions were not actually confiscated. Gig-goers were however furnished with natty Venetian masks and kaftan robes, except my friend and I, who, being late, could only be given strange tasseled balaclavas that left us looking like a cross between Dr Zoidberg and a member of Hamas. Things were not promising at the beginning; the crowd initially seemed unsure of how to react to the opening extended take on 'Talk to God', milling around in floor space that seemed strangely abundant, with an upper tier of seating reserved for people with the utterly bonkers conviction of seeing Goat sitting down. Things improved greatly, however, and the persuasive power of Goat's preternatural funkiness ensured maximum kinesis and maximum perspiration for all present.

RBMA UK Tour

Rounding off the Bristol leg of the tour was 'Cosmic Expansions', which saw Gilles Peterson in conversation with Lonnie Liston Smith, the jazz journeyman who had his astral schooling with the likes of Pharoah Sanders and Miles Davis before going to pioneer a space-bound strain of jazz-funk on his 1975 album Expansions. Despite my averseness to those smoother strains of jazz, Smith nevertheless proved to be a winningly endearing personality, and his discussion of 1970's black music's preoccupation with space and spirituality was illuminating. Furthermore, the event took place in Bristol's Planetarium, and once Smith took to the stage with his band things got altogether more immersive. Running through variations of material from Expansions, the band played along as the projections of the Planetarium morphed through images of space and various geometric patterns. Things got particularly heady when the band moved into a beatless, raging, sheets-of-sound section, soloing freely as a member read Sun Ra-esque poetry through a delay unit. Another interesting moment saw the band's drummer vacate his stool and pick up a drum machine, tapping out a head-nodding four-to-the-floor as the band weaved around it, drawing the latent connections between cosmic jazz and the strains of dance music offered by the likes of Moodyman and Omar S. As the players left the stage, I felt a lot more kindly towards the smooth end of space music than before, and felt as though I'd had my mind gently blown as a walked home through the warm spring night. The Bristol section of the RBMA tour balanced muso-fodder with more hedonistic proceedings to a successful degree, and it is this commitment to eclecticism, along with a genuine passion and knowledge on the part of the event's curators that should be applauded.

RBMA UK Tour
RBMA UK Tour
RBMA UK Tour
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RBMA UK Tour
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