Insights into the Bristol Music Scene from Varme & Idle Hands

Bristol Stokes Croft MusicImage courtesy of Zosia Swidlicka

We gave the same set of questions about Bristol’s musical climate to 2 people involved in different ways in music in Bristol. They may have come up with different answers, but they both seem to hold true in their own ways. Read on to see how they responded to our very general questions.

Chris Farrell runs the Idle Hands record store on Stokes Croft. He’s a regular face behind the decks for all sorts of nights and has brought artists and labels to town including L.I.E.S. and Blackest Ever Black.


Paul Popa has been a Bristol resident for the last 3 years. In that time he’s been involved in setting up one of the city’s most forward thinking club nights, Varme, which has invited artists including A Made Up Sound, Fred P, Romansoff & Vester Koza to the city.


Describe for us what it is you do in Bristol.                                                    

CF: I run the Idle Hands shop, DJ and put on some parties. I also run the Idle Hands label and have some involvement with a few others.

PP: Well I’m in my final year at uni. This was the reason why I moved to Bristol besides the music scene. From time to time, I throw parties in an attempt to showcase my musical taste.

Did you find it easy to get involved with music, or was it a struggle to get a foothold in the city?

CF: I just fell into it really. I was in Imperial Records (formerly a shop on Park Street) one day and someone was at the counter asking if they had any jobs. They said that they did. The bloke who asked seemed pretty clueless so when he left I went up and had a chat with Ralph who was working there, got an interview and got the job. In the years since I have consistently worked in record stores and Djed. I never saw it as getting a foothold, it was just me getting on with life and the things that I liked doing.

PP: For Varme it wasn’t really. Initially, I thought that it would be a struggle as I was new in town. However seeing loads of nights appearing out of nowhere and doing well made me more comfortable with the idea of starting one.

What dominates the musical landscape at the moment?

CF: Undoubtedly house music in all its various guises. I was in Broadmead earlier and walked past a couple of shops all blaring out the same identikit house, albeit different tracks. It reminds me of how DnB used to be in Bristol about 10 years ago – it didn’t matter where you were in the city, you heard it. There is still a healthy amount of bassier stuff about and there seems to be a renewed energy for roots reggae, steppers and dub.

PP:  I can’t say there is something that dominates really. Each style of music has its own crowd and it’s wonderful to see that even though Bristol is a small city, there are several nights that put on great parties.

Do you feel there’s anything lacking? Anything you’d like to see more of?

CF: I think if anything there is a little bit too much going on. I can’t quite keep up with everything that’s happening!

PP: I’ve always been really into techno and I think that the city lacks a huge variety of techno events. Room 237 have been doing a great job since last year, however I would love to see more Minimal/Dub-Techno influenced lineups. That 90s Minimal sound has started to be popular again (with artists like Steve O’ Sullivan making a comeback) so I wouldn’t mind seeing more of that here. Also I think there are loads of nights popping off lately that do not bring anything new to the scene. Personally, I think that if you want to start a night, you have to be original. Try to book people that haven’t been in town before. Challenge the crowd if you can 🙂

Do you think that there’s a consistency between Bristol’s musical heritage and its current crop of artists?

CF: Bristol’s musical past weighs heavy on the present. It is hard for artists to escape comparisons with things that have gone on here before. I think there is an expectation of ‘bass’ rightly or wrongly. The Jamaican influence is generally mentioned. All these things have a grounding in truth but I wonder sometimes if it is just a case that we have all been referencing the city’s former glories for so long that we have come to see links even if they aren’t there.

PP: Yeah, definitely. I think a lot of new artists move to Bristol because they have the feeling they could be influenced by the rich history the city has. Hopefully, it will keep going like this for years to come.

Is it possible to view everything going on under the same grouping, or is the scene made up of various disparate groups?

CF: I think it would depend on who you spoke to. Peoples conception of a ‘scene’ will be different from one person to the next. I am lucky enough to know and be friendly with people involved with various types of music. To me it seems like disparate groups who may or may not drink in the same pubs together. As a small city there are always going to be crossovers.

PP: If we’re speaking about the electronic music crowd, I doubt there are various disparate groups. When I go to parties (no matter if it’s techno, hip hop, house etc.) I always see the same people, more or less. I think nowadays, people listen to loads of music so it’s impossible to say there are people that just go to house or people that just go to disco. Most of us are into loads of music and I think this is a good thing.

What sort of response to what you’re doing do you get from the rest of the country?

CF: I’ve never really thought about that. We just get on and do our own thing. It’s nice if other people are into it, but I try not to spend my time obsessing over facebook analytics and the like. I probably should.

PP: Last year, we had a great response. Had an offer from Echo Festival to host a launch party in Bristol with Fred P. It’s great to see that people appreciate your work especially when you do it out of passion.

What about outside of the UK?

CF: We have a following in Germany, Berlin for instance. It has been good to go over there and play this year,especially the Golden Pudel in Hamburg, where Kowton and I played in the summer. It is something I would like to do more of.

PP: Can’t say we get a response from outside the UK at the moment. I have plans for later this year to start up a label and stop doing parties for a while. I have always wanted to create a platform that releases great music from talented artists. So hopefully, we will get a good response outside the UK when we do that.

Who are the most exciting Bristollian talents for you at the moment?

CF: The term Bristolian is problematic as many people here involved with music have moved here and are not originally from Bristol. I like what the Young Echo collective do, plus what the Peng Sound and Dubkasm crews do. These are people who actually grew up in the city as opposed to people like me who migrated here.

PP: Livity Sound is probably my best tip from Bristol. Their music is really special for me and it kinda reminds of the old Dubstep days. Hodge is also getting really good. His last two EPs on Punch Drunk are showing the huge talent that he has. Also he is one half of Outboxx, which is another great project I recommend. The Young Echo lot are also on my list. I love the fact they’re bringing the music that they love without thinking of the current musical trends in the scene nowadays.

Finally, where do you see Bristol heading musically in the future?

CF: I think Bristol will continue to be a place that is welcoming of musicians, producers, DJs etc. In terms of the music being produced here, it tends to be whatever London does we latch onto and put our own spin on things; making it distinct from the capital. I think the house music thing is going to be round for a while yet then we are due a DnB revival right?

PP: Hard to say really however I’m pretty sure it will be something good as it has been in the last couple of years.

Check out our review of the latest Idle Hands release, Shanti Celeste’s Days Like This/On My Own


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