The Bristol Hip Hop scene that emerged from the post-colonial spaces like Revolver Records and The Dug Out combined to produce Bristol’s greatest artists.
In the early 80’s the members of Massive Attack started a Hip-Hop group called the Wild Bunch, and later Banksy began spraying the streets of Bristol with a graffiti collective called the DryBreadz Crew. By the 90’s Bristol was world-renowned for its music scene and its interpretation of Hip-Hop known as ‘Trip Hop’. With the release of Blue Lines in 1991 The Face magazine described Massive Attack as the ‘sound of the 90’s’. In 1995 Tricky’s album Maxinquaye was voted the best album of the year by the NME, and by 1996 Portishead’s record Dummy had sold 600,000 copies, going double-platinum in the album sales.
Given the centrality of post-colonial sound towards Bristolian culture it is bizarre that the major concert hall, Colston Hall, should be branded with the name of Edward Colston, a 17th century slave owner responsible for exporting 100,000 people from Africa. Following the toppling of the Edward Colston statue on the 7th of June, Colston Hall reasserted their commitment towards changing the concert hall’s name.
In Jane Jacob’s Edge of Empire post-colonial space is defined as being created when ‘British labour markets’ brought ‘the Other of the imperial self-back home’. In 1948 the SS Empire Windrush began the first wave of migration from the Caribbean to Britain. West Indian migration to St Pauls then created a post-colonial space, which in turn was formative in the construction of the Bristol Hip-Hop network as Hip-Hop culture became an instrument of Bristol’s multi-racial post-colonial identity.
The decision to remove Colston’s name is an act of condemnation towards Britain’s colonial past. It would therefore be a logical decision to award a name that celebrates Bristol’s post-colonial present. I will put forward the case for renaming Colston Hall either to Revolver Hall, after the record shop that helped form Smith and Mighty, Massive Attack and introduced Clifton towards the sounds of West Indian migration, or The Dug Out, after the club that created a post-colonial space that encouraged the performance of Bristol Hip Hop and Graffiti.
Situated on Queens Row next to a notoriously good kebab shop Revolver Records shows no sign of its cultural heritage. On my last visit the building was empty, the paint was peeling and the ‘to let’ sign had malted with age, rendering the estate agent’s number unrecognisable.
According to former Revolver Records worker Massive Attack’s Grant Marshall, it was the only shop that imported records, and thus, held the city’s most extensive collection of Hip Hop. Mark Stewart, lead singer of the Pop Group, Bristol’s biggest Punk band, said that ‘every Friday we’d go to Revolver to listen to new Reggae pre-releases. The shop didn’t just house post-colonial sounds it also produced them investing heavily in Smith and Mighty’s ‘Three Stripe Label’, which would go on to release some of biggest Bristol anthems such as Walk On, Anyone.
Revolver Records provided the Bristol Hip Hop scenes most important space for networking. Robert Del Naja, Grant Marshall and Andrew Voles, the key members of Massive Attack, all met in Revolver Records. Marshall met Vowles when the latter saw stickers for the ‘Wild Bunch’ in Revolver Records and asked who they were, Marshall replied: ‘I am the Wild Bunch’. Marshall also met Del Naja, then a graffiti artist, because of his ‘esoteric knowledge’ of music. This group would then go on to, with Blue Lines (1991), to create the ‘sleekest most Urban LP of 1991’ (NME).
The Dug Out
At 54 Park Row, there is a pub called the White Harte. During the 1980’s this was the sight of The Dug Out – formerly the most popular night club in Bristol. The Dug Out, now the storage basement of the White Harte, is forgotten with bar staff believing it to have once been ‘a strip joint’.
Phil Johnson, writing in Straight Outta Bristol, wrote that St Pauls ‘came’ to the city ‘through the Dug Out whose overall ambience was largely shaped by black culture. Similarly, Mark Stewart claims that the Dug Out’s ‘Hip Hop tradition’ of 1982 helped educate Bristolians on Hip Hop, thus encouraging the art forms adopted by artists like Banksy. Wild Bunch, the group that would later lead to Massive Attack, played regularly at the Dug Out. Milo Johnson, the group’s founder describes playing Reggae numbers and ‘modern stuff’ like ‘Run DMC, Eric B and Rakim and Slick Rick’. Pictures from Beezers book Wild Dayz immortalise the early Wild Bunch performances.
Le Febvre’s 1990 text The Production of Space argues that ‘any social existence aspiring or claiming to be real, but failing to produce space’ would be ‘unable to escape from… the ‘cultural’ realm’. The Dug Out provided a space where St.Pauls and Clifton could meet over the shared joy of exotic, non bourgeois and modern culture. This was a space were colonial hierarchies were removed. Musical performances were convened by second generation West Indian migrants. Ethnic and subcultural identities could frequent and black art forms like Hip Hop or Reggae were celebrated. Remembering the 70’s, Gareth Sager, the guitarist of the Pop Group, emphasised the club’s distinct subcultural diversity housing ‘punks’, ‘football casuals’, ‘really smart black dudes’ and hippies’.
‘Buda Dread ‘’Nuff Said’ Graffiti found on the site of the Dug Out. A conclusive piece of evidence that it was not, as the owners had insisted, a strip club.
Today, the Dug Out is the storeroom of a pub and Revolver Records is currently being furnished into luxury apartments, nonetheless, these post-colonial sites are two of the most important cultural spaces Bristol has ever known. Modern Bristol is the city of Sound System Culture, Roni Size and Goldie. To rename Colston Hall either Revolver Hall or The Dug Out would celebrate the gifts of post-colonial Bristol while undermining the racist attitudes that drove British colonialism. The hall name would replace memories of slavery with those of Banksy’s wall pieces and Massive Attack’s Unfinished Symphony.