The Bristol Sound

Punk, Graffiti and Black Culture mash up and multiply.

By Museum of Youth Culture

Life On The Bridge (1986) by BeezerMuseum of Youth Culture

Bristol Vibes

Set in the West Country, just across from Wales, Bristol is one of England's biggest cities and has the 8th largest urban population in the UK. From a global perspective it does not yet have the iconic status of Liverpool, Manchester or the capital city, London, but it had a huge influence on British Youth Culture movements, from Trip Hop legends Massive Attack to underground graffiti artist Banksy. This exhibit explores how a small but wild bunch of musicians and artists set the country quietly ablaze, with turntables, spray cans and melancholy beats.

Older Wall Posse (1986) by BeezerMuseum of Youth Culture

The big cities of Britain have made unique and invaluable contributions to the always multiplying cells of youth culture, in terms of music and fashion movements.

Liverpool had The Beatles, Manchester had The Smiths, The Hacienda and ‘Madchester’ - whilst London, among many things, saw the first rumblings of British Black culture.

Layin' Down The Lino (1984) by BeezerMuseum of Youth Culture

So what did Bristol have?

Like those bigger English cities, Bristol also had a considerable influx of Caribbean immigrants from the 1950s onwards.

Wall Posse B-Girl (1986) by BeezerMuseum of Youth Culture

These young ones quickly set about moulding what was to become known as The Bristol Sound, influencing the wider Bristol Underground Scene.

Rollin' & Spinnin' (1985) by BeezerMuseum of Youth Culture

Roots Vendors (1986) by BeezerMuseum of Youth Culture

Based around St Paul’s and Easton, Bristol's Sound System culture brought Reggae and Bass beats to new underground clubs of Bristol. Growing from the mid-60s onwards, new sound systems sprung up across the city, diversifying from Reggae into Hip Hop.

The growth was accompanied by the regular impounding of music equipment by police, eventually resulted in the St Paul's Riots of April 1980 when police raided the Black & White Cafe on the Grosvenor Rd.

After the riots the police no longer confiscated music equipment.

People, 1. Police, 0.

Anti-Police demos, Beezer, 1984, From the collection of: Museum of Youth Culture
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Adrian Sherwood & Mark Stewart (1985) by BeezerMuseum of Youth Culture

Meanwhile, over in a Bristol Grammar School, a teenager called Mark Stewart, formed a group with some classmates, and called it The Pop Group

The Pop Group were one of the first of the new wave of post punk groups who blended funk with guitar music, forming a spiky musical backdrop for politically charged songs such as We Are All Prostitutes.

It's been said, by no less than Nick Cave, that The Pop Group 'changed everything'. The blending of morose political poetry with funk and reggae was the foundation of The Bristol Sound, and the group were also hugely inspirational to the American electro-industrial music movement, which included bands such as Skinny Puppy and Front Line Assembly.

Mushroom Growing In The Mix (1985) by BeezerMuseum of Youth Culture

A New Sound

By the mid 1980s a new Bristol identity and sound was taking a clear shape, formed from the Big Bang collision of sound system culture, white punk, battles with the police and activism.Whilst similar cultural earthquakes were occurring across the country, the smaller size of Bristol made the fallout all the more contained and distinct.

Wall Posse (1986) by BeezerMuseum of Youth Culture

Bristol 12 Tribes Posse (1984) by BeezerMuseum of Youth Culture

Music fans began looking towards reggae bands like the St Pauls based band,The Black Roots. The Black Roots sung loudly about pacifism and hope in a time of Margaret Thatcher, social conflict, despair and a bleak Ghost Town future..

Wild Bunch Decked Out, Beezer, 1985, From the collection of: Museum of Youth Culture
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Emerging in the midst of this was Hip Hop Sound System The Wild Bunch, a group of DJs, rappers and musicians who came together in the St Pauls, Montpelier and Bishopston areas of Bristol.

Daddy G In The Shade (1985) by BeezerMuseum of Youth Culture

They were one of the earliest groups to see the power in club DJs, vocalists and musicians collaborating.

NME Spiked Photoshoot (1986) by BeezerMuseum of Youth Culture

Grant Marshall (photographed here on one of his beloved BMX bikes) and Milo Johnson were the two founding DJ’s in The Wild Bunch. They invited a young graffiti artist known as 3D (real name - Robert Del Naja) to join them and he began to write lyrics to rap over the records they played. Other rappers joined the collective such as Willy Wee and later, Tricky, in 1987.

Tricky (2008) by Laurence WatsonMuseum of Youth Culture

I grew up in a white ghetto. My Dad’s Jamaican, my grandmother is white. When I was growing up, until I was about 16, everything was normal. When I moved to an ethnic ghetto I had friends there and my friends would say, why do you hang out with those skinhead guys, the white guys? And my skinhead friends were like, why you hanging out with those black guys? I couldn’t get it, I couldn’t understand it. Things started to change for me when I was about 16, . ....Then I see The Specials on TV, then I was like now I get it. I was at home watching TV and see these white and black guys getting together and... that was it.

Tricky, speaking in 2008

Pause For A Cause (1985) by BeezerMuseum of Youth Culture

In the old days, you stepped out, you had to think about what you were wearing, you had to get out at the right time, you had to stand in a corner, you didn’t fucking tread on anybody’s foot, you didn’t make eye contact with the wrong geezer, you definitely didn’t burn someone with your fag. You did anything wrong, you were fucked.

You grew up with that survival thing, of how you might get through the night or through an afternoon down the city centre, going to Virgin Records, without getting your head kicked in.

Daddy G, The Wild Bunch/Massive Attack, talking about Bristol in the 1980s

Pictures is Daddy G (left) and Milo Johnson (right).

Virgin record shop. Broadmead 3D (1984) by BeezerMuseum of Youth Culture

Hold It Now (1985) by BeezerMuseum of Youth Culture

The Wild Bunch were pioneers of a new type of sound system.

They performed at all-nighters and abandoned warehouses, in the early 1980s, before such things were commonplace in youth and club culture.

In 1986 they signed to Island Records, the British/Jamaican label who had signed Bob Marley and so many other significant and innovative musicians.

London VS Bristol (1984) by BeezerMuseum of Youth Culture

Sound Clash

The Wild Bunch amalgamated a staggeringly wide variety of genres, blending elements of Punk, R&B, Reggae and Hip Hop.

Their focus on slower rhythms and ambient electronic atmospheres defined The Bristol sound, which later developed further into the popular Trip Hop genre, which peaked in the late 1990s.

London VS Bristol (1984) by BeezerMuseum of Youth Culture

The collective itself disbanded in 1989, by which time Robert Del Naja, Grant Marshall and Andrew ‘Mushroom’ Vowles had formed the soon-to-be world conquering band Massive Attack.

Ultimate Wild Bunch (1984) by BeezerMuseum of Youth Culture

Nellee Hooper from the Wild Bunch (centre) became a very successful music producer, working with Madonna, U2, Janet Jackson, Gwen Stefani and The Smashing Pumpkins.

Tricky Daddy G, Peter Anderson, From the collection of: Museum of Youth Culture
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We don't look for music. It just hangs there.

Tricky, Speaking in 1995

Drum & bass recording artist Roni Size UK 1990's (1990's) by NakiMuseum of Youth Culture

Brown Paper Bag

Roni Size was another significant musician born and raised in Bristol.Born Ryan Williams, Size attended The Wild Bunch's events as a teenager, and later learnt about music production at the city's Sefton Park Basement Project. Size's major innovation was melding turntable Jungle beats with live percussion. He is credited with propelling Drum n Bass music into the mainstream, via his anthemic rave hit Brown Paper Bag

This is Sefton Park Community Centre, where Drum n Bass superstar Roni Size learned his craft.

When he won the 1997 Mercury Music Prize, Size donated his £20,000 winnings to the centre.

Roni Size, Tristan O'Neill, From the collection of: Museum of Youth Culture
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Kids in bedrooms on drugs fiddling around with computers.

An early review of Roni Size's groundbreaking debut album, New Forms

Girl and Boy posing at Bristol University rag ball 1985 (1985) by Marcus GrahamMuseum of Youth Culture

Sounds of the Underground

The Bristol Sound was part of the much wider 80s Bristol Underground Scene. The Bristol Underground Scene encompassed political activism, anarchy, print media, art but most famously... graffiti. 

3D Spray (1985) by BeezerMuseum of Youth Culture

The most famous graffiti artist of all time ever, anywhere on the planet, is Banksy. And they are from Bristol.

He (or she) has managed to remain anonymous despite global recognition for their art, which is randomly sprayed on walls and buildings across the globe.

Banksy and Robert Del Naja of Massive Attack were recently rumoured to be the same person, as many Banky pieces appearerd at locations were Massive Attack had appeared.

Start Of The Longest Day (1985) by BeezerMuseum of Youth Culture

Banksy's influence has crossed over to every corner of this planet.

Anti-Apartheid Demo, Beezer, 1985, From the collection of: Museum of Youth Culture
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Massive Attack at the Sonar Festival in Barcelona (2004) by Rob WatkinsMuseum of Youth Culture

In 2019 Massive Attack continue to innovate and lead the way, announcing they would no longer tour by flying, and will only promote themselves travelling via train from now on.

It is hoped other internationally popular musicians will follow their lead.

Man stood next to a Banksy stencil (2002) by Suzy Del CampoMuseum of Youth Culture

Enduring Bristol Spirit

Bristol then, is a city of unique innovation, quietly changing youth culture with a magical fusion of slow beats, subversion, graffiti, Trip Hop, smokey all night basement clubbing, and counter culture.It may not have the open-top-bus, tourist drawing landmarks, the bright block coloured tea towel friendly sights and sights of Beatlemania Liverpool and Big Ben London, but it is absolutely a vital part of the narrative of British Youth Culture.

Fly Girls and Guy (1985) by BeezerMuseum of Youth Culture

Key Photographer: Beezer

Born and bred Bristolian Andrew "Beezer``Beese was at the heart of the emerging Bristol underground scene. Born in the city on October 22nd 1965, he went on to document the pioneers of the Bristol Sound and the scene that surrounded it.

Daddy G (1984) by BeezerMuseum of Youth Culture

"I left school in the early '80s with fairly low grades, due to me going out a lot between the ages of 12 and 16. There was a brand new audio-visual course going on at technical college in Bristol, so I borrowed a camera from a mate, put together some photos," says Beezer, who was born and raised in Bristol. "I didn't have a clue what I was doing but I was accepted on the course...Bristol had a very healthy scene at that time, both for live music and DJing. In 1984, Technics just brought out these DJ decks, all my friends were DJs, they would play all kinds of records-funk, punk, post-punk and then a lot of US hip-hop and electro stuff was coming in. There was also the graffiti that people like Goldie were doing. But we had no idea what it would escalate into."

Beezer, Bristol Photographer

Credits: Story

Joe Egg is a filmmaker, writer and DJ who has played records in some of the most iconic venues in London. He is a keen amateur freestyle dancer,   and has one of the biggest record collections in Deptford Bridge. 

The Museum of Youth Culture is a new destination dedicated to celebrating 100 years of youth culture history through photographs, ephemera and stories. Launching in 2019, the Online Museum of Youth Culture has been developed by YOUTH CLUB, with support from the National Lottery Heritage Fund.

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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