‘In Bristol, there is a shop, Stokes Croft China, that sells fine bone china emblazoned with quotes from Tony Benn, images of the late, local music legend DJ Derek and a photograph of the Queen surrounded by the words: “I eat swans.” Affiliated to radical community group the People’s Republic of Stokes Croft, this ceramics enterprise – in its improbable mix of craft, creativity and protest – sums up Bristol.
Uniquely among large British cities, Bristol marches to the beat of its own drum (and bass). Liverpool and Glasgow may have a similar streak of independence, but Bristol’s refusal to kowtow to the homogenising forces of modern capitalism is a visible, city-wide phenomenon manifested in endless community groups and co-ops. There is a widespread solidarity in the arts, food and music that promotes quality and individual expression, not profit. From Gloucester Road (the UK’s longest strip of independently owned shops) to the city’s distinctive musical association with heavy bass music – from Massive Attack via dubstep pioneers such as Pinch, to modern cult heroes as different as Hodge, Vessel and the labelCrazylegs – Bristol is a genuine one-off.
Of course, being such an attractive place is both a blessing and a curse. Bristol is one of those places (along with, say, Berlin and Brighton) that many Londoners dream of moving to for a better life. The consequent gentrification is a double-edged sword – you get more nice beer but also more noise complaints – but it can also be devastating where soaring property prices drive out those who give Bristol its energy. Unlike in other cities though (remember 2011’s Tesco riots?), be assured that Bristol will fight any attempt to commodify its bohemian cool. Independence is hardwired into its DNA.
‘What Bristol lacks, locals insist, is a high-quality 400-capacity venue that, at the level below Motion, would provide a focal point for the city’s underground. However, that absence is fuelling a subculture of ad hoc parties thrown in weird locations by outfits such as Dirty Talk (“Bristol’s bastion of interesting house and techno bookings,” says Chris Farrell, who runs the record shop and label Idle Hands); People Like Us; and Rough Draft. “There’s a really good DIY party scene,” agrees Luke Sutton, from Crack magazine, who also rates Alfresco Disco: “Recently, they hired an old navy ship and on a beautiful sunny day sailed 500 people down the river under the suspension bridge to sea, and dropped us off at Clevedon Pier. That was special.”’