Live Report: Forwards Festival 2022 | Live

Since Bristol’s Clifton Downs hosted Massive attacks triumphant return concert in September 2016, it has become a late summer staple for music fans across the city. As host of the Downs Festival since 2017, the site has established itself as a hotspot for the likes of elbow, High Flying Birds by Noel Gallagher and Lauryn Hill in recent years, backed by an impressive roster of supporting talent, both local and international.

For 2022, the format has been reworked into FORWARDS, a new two-day event developed by Bristol’s Team Love and AEG. Hosting two live music stages and a space dedicated to discussions focused on activism and cultural issues, there was something for everyone. Add a line-up including headliners Jamie xx and The chemical brothers and slot machines like Charlie XCX, Roisin Murphy, Fred again, Little Simz, Caribou and Khruangbin into the mix and FORWARDS looked set to continue the Downs’ legacy of keeping things eclectic and varied.

Saturday saw a stellar lineup of pop, house and electronic music playing out on both stages, with a Bristol-based jazz/electronica collective Ishmael set nicely setting the tone for things to come, while Charlie XCX The set saw the pop starlet produce smooth renditions of tracks from “Crash,” as well as Icona Pop’s “Boys,” “I Love It,” and “1999.” Calls for her to play “Taxi,” the unreleased fan favorite, went unheeded.

Little Simz drew applause as she celebrated the one year anniversary of the release of the stellar ‘Sometimes I Could Be Introverted’, while Fred Again deservedly continued to bask in the glory of his now legendary Boiler Room with an hour of anthems that prove his status as one of the UK’s hottest electronic talents.

Later in the day, Floating points would go on to present a ravishing hour of invigorating techno before Jaime XX took to the main stage with a relatively dark closing set, which was oddly at odds with the poppy, celebratory tone established throughout the day.

While the end of Saturday was slightly pessimistic, Sunday afternoon saw Self esteem pick things up, charm the crowd with a set of afternoon pop bangers. sleaford mods meanwhile, he delivered a garish, aggressive set of post-punk that seemed tailor-made for a Bristol audience, while the ever-reliable Róisín Murphy kept things wonderfully bizarre. It was Caribouhowever, that stole the show, with Dan Snaith’s electronic outfit providing an hour-long retrospective of electronic hits, including a sprawling rendition of “Sun” and a euphoric take on “Can’t Do Without You.”

Round things up, The chemical brothers did as they alone, delivering an audio-visual feast unlike anything else. Marking their first Bristol appearance in nearly two decades, their set was nothing short of memorable. From the hard-hitting intro of “Block Rockin’ Beats” to the swirling finale of “Galvanize”, giant robots, lasers and baffling visuals ensured a show that will live in the collective memory for many years to come.

With an impressive, multi-genre line-up and no shortage of surprises, FORWARDS’ debut release felt like a real statement of intent for things to come. While its eclectic lineup has left some punters wondering exactly who the event was for, with Saturday’s crowd no doubt much younger, two days of jubilant evidence alone is enough to say FORWARDS’ status as a mainstay of the September festival feels assured.

Words: Paul Wedon