Art Is Hard Records may only just be old enough to start primary school but they've had a pretty busy last five years. From humble beginnings releasing purely south west based bands to becoming one of the UK's most influential DIY record labels. It is no surprise then, that last Saturday's fifth birthday party, hosted over three stages at the Exchange and the Stag and Hound in Bristol, had everything.
The afternoon began in the cosy, and perhaps fittingly modest, bar of the Stag and Hound where Exeter's Skeleton Frames drenched the room in a spectacularly dark and dingy shoe gaze. After a quick nip round the corner to the Exchange it was time to see Caramel, a band I'd heard about but not listened to before the gig. Featuring members from the brilliant Joanna Gruesome, including Owen Williams (also of Grubs), the Cardiff and Bristol based band really impressed with their lively punk riffs and shouty vocals.
Sadly an awkward hotel check-in time meant we missed a few bands sets. Luckily however we were back in time for Manchester's brilliant Fruit Bomb. The four-piece treated the growing Exchange crowd to tracks like 'Normcore Girlfriend', released as part of Art Is Hard's Family Portrait compilation, and recent single 'Goin' Home'.
Fruit Bomb where not the only Family Portrait artists to bring their rowdy sounds to the party. Abattoir Blues and Bruising also made appearances at the Exchange, the latter of whom proving just why they are one of the most talked about DIY bands around at the moment despite a slight delay due to new guitar troubles.
Grubs, who are set to release their debut album on September 11th, were next on. Despite some troubles remembering their own songs the band whistled through a set that had all the charm we've come to expect from the trio and which was finished off in style with a raucous rendition of 'Gym Shame'.
Soon afterwards we found ourselves upstairs in the Stag and Hound awaiting a second set from Roxy of Grubs this time however as her own project Two White Cranes. It was a set to remember as every song was met with what seemed like endless woops from friends and fans alike. The set contained great tracks from both her debut and recently released second album and was described as her "favourite ever set" on Two White Cranes' Facebook.
After a quick ear rest it was time for the noise to really start with a string of heavy bands all in quick succession. First Birdskulls unleashed their ever darkening sound on the Stag and Hound with tracks from their imminent debut Trickle. Soon after being involved in Birdskull's very rough and sweaty mosh, Bloody Knees exploded into action in the Exchange swamping the room with the sludgy pop punk sound that has made them favourites with the likes of the NME and DIY magazine.
In a day of amazing sets it was the next that would really take my breath away. Nai Harvest, the night's special guests began with an empty looking room as people slowly stumbled in from the pummelling of Bloody Knees. That soon changed. A set that featured tune after tune from debut album Hairball and a cover of Teenage Fanclub's 'Ain't That Enough' that even got me singing along; strong praise indeed I assure you. The mesmerising set ended with a rapturous singalong to 'Buttercups' before singer Ben Thompson leapt onto bandmate Lew Currie's bass drum, taking in the crowd's sticky excitment as he flung his guitar to the ground.
As the night drew to a close there was just one question on everyone's lips: Trust Fund or The Black Tambourines? We decided to compromise, Trust Fund first then catch the end of The Black Tambs'.
A crowded Exchange eagerly awaited the much hyped Trust Fund and he didn't let his home crowd down. Shapes were thrown and lyrics were sung by a buzzing crowd. It seemed as though there was not a person in the room who wasn't loving the icon of Bristols DIY scene. A hypnotic rendition of 'Cut Me Out' glued us to the Exchange until the end of the set.
As the final bars echoed out we were on the run around the corner for The Black Tambourines. Total chaos awaited. Bodies flew around the small room. Feet swooped past heads. As the set came to an end a microphone disappeared into the crowd, then another before guitarist Josh Spencer-Fletcher was dragged above the crowd, still slashing at the strings of his guitar. The finale proved too much for bassist Jake Willbourne who found himself disappearing over the drum kit and onto the floor. And they say punk is dead!
From mellow beginnings to dazzling glory, the Art Is Hard 5th Birthday Party pretty much summed up the label's short history. It was brilliant.