Musical city 1
Musical city ©

Mati Milstein

The “Bristol Sound” or “trip hop” as branded by the media, conjures sensory associations of smoked sounds, dark scents and heavy thumping beats. The unique sound evolved in Bristol, one of UK's most racially diverse cities, in the 1980s and 90s when the genre developed. 

In the early 1980s local band "The Pop Group” were featured on the cover of the hugely popular NME magazine (the New Musical Express) before their debut album “Y” had even been released. “Y” included a sophisticated mix of funk music, dub, punk and free jazz creating a refreshing new sound and an early sign of the new genre. The group was short lived, and its members went on to form new groups, among them “Rip-Rig + Panic”, featuring a young Neneh Cherry. 

‘Wild Bunch’ a collective of musicians and DJ’s, began throwing parties in the Bristol neighbourhood of St. Pauls in 1983. The parties were influenced by the Jamaican ‘soundsystem’ culture, where party music was played in public spaces, usually in economically deprived urban areas. Their sound mixed different black music and subculture influences including hip hop, reggae, funk, rap and R&B but at a slower pace using ambient electronic influence which developed into trip hop. This group eventually became the central musical collective that defined trip-hop. Three Wild Bunch members were Robert Del Naja, Grant Marshall, Andew Vowles and Tricky, who in 1987 formed "Massive Attack".

In 1991, having collaborated with Neneh Cherry on her debut album "Raw like Sushi", Massive Attack released their first album "Blue Lines". Blue Lines is considered a masterpiece and the first official trip-hop album. The album featured prominent vocalists including reggae stars Horace Andy and Willie Wee as well as Tricky. The track “Unfinished Sympathy”, with vocals by Shara Nelson, another musician who was part of the St. Paul’s party scene, continues to be considered one of the best musical tracks to ever be produced.   

After the release of Blue Lines, and the growing number of quality musicians with their origins in the Wild Bunch, it was evident that something significant was happening. In 1995 Portishead released their debut album “Dummy” which won the Mercury Music Prize and Massive Attack their second album “Protection”, Tricky released his debut album "Maxinquaye" in 1995.  All three albums were huge successes, critically and with audiences and brought the “Bristol Sound” to international recognition.

The graduates of the Wild Bunch crew continued to have huge success with Reprazent, the drum and bass act formed by Roni Size, who also took part in that scene. They released their first album “New Forms” in 1997, which took home the Mercury Music Prize that year, putting drum & bass in the mainstream spotlight. 

These musicians and their visionary mix of Caribbean beats, hip-hop, funk and a slow electronic pace, have defined the importance of their city as a major influence on the British, and international, musical scene.