Mark Simmons’ photos revisit Bristol’s pioneering music scene

A new exhibition and accompanying book present a sliver of Simmons’ vast photographic archive dating back to the 1980s

Sound System. All images © Mark Simmons and HVBS

A new photo exhibition running as part of Bristol Photo Festival is highlighting the city’s rich history of attracting and nurturing pioneering sounds and artists. Bristol is closely associated with trip hop acts like Portishead and Massive Attack, which originated there, and has also been a throbbing hub for jungle and drum and bass.

The exhibition brings together photographer Mark Simmons’ live events coverage and his studio portraits of artists since the 1980s, drawing on a collection of roughly 20,000 music-based images (his wider archive is over 100,000 images strong).

Among the photographs in the show are close-up studio portraits, classic line-up shots, and DJs and producers at work both in the studio and on stage, including members of Massive Attack and Roni Size.

It also features his visceral photographs of crowds and dancers brimming with sticky energy. “When taking (action) photos you’ve got to be in the eye of the storm to really capture that moment and Mark has always been that guy,” said Massive Attack founding member Daddy G.

Yet Simmons also manages to find the fleeting moments of calm. His photograph of DJ John Stapleton huddled over a turntable, adjusting the needle with his back to the band and stage, proves that with the right access, there is space for quiet even when the volume is turned up.

John Stapleton
RESPEC radio
Daddy G and Mushroom
Lupine Howl
Free Festival
Speaker stack

High Volume: Bristol Sounds runs at Strange Brew, Bristol until October 30. The accompanying book is published by RRB Photobooksl;