As the city that gave the world acts such as Portishead, Roni Size and Massive Attack, Bristol has a well-deserved reputation for an incredibly varied, thriving music scene.

From legendary artists playing in iconic concert halls, to bluegrass twanging under Banksy-decorated walls, music lovers are pretty much guaranteed to find gigs that float their musical boat during a visit here. The city is also host to an eclectic selection of music festivals that take place all year-round.

While you could probably just turn up, study the promo flyer-covered city walls and follow your ears to some quality tunes, our music lover's guide to Bristol will help you get to grips with the local scene before you visit.

Jungle performing on the stage at Bristol Sounds with audience in foreground - credit Bristol Sounds
Image - Bristol Sounds, credit Paul Box

Bristol’s music history

Bristol hasn’t always been a hotbed of musicians and cool venues. Rumblings of sonic change started back in the sixties with the rise of sound system culture and underground clubs, as people from the Caribbean islands settled in the city. Reggae, dub and ska became a familiar sound in neighbourhoods like St Pauls and Easton.  

In the late eighties, against a counterculture backdrop of battles with the police, activism and a growing graffiti scene, artists were fusing those Caribbean-inspired genres with hip-hop, punk and electronica into a unique psychedelic style. This was later coined the Bristol Sound (aka trip-hop).

Trip-hop peaked in the nineties, led by pioneering Bristol artists like Massive Attack, Portishead and Tricky. The Bristol Sound also influenced drum and bass, which hit the mainstream in 1997 when legendary Bristol producer Roni Size and his group Reprazent won the Mercury Prize for New Forms.

Massive Attack performing on stage - Credit
Image - Massive Attack on The Downs, September 2016

Fast forward to today and the city is shaping successful artists playing all kinds of genres – post-punk rock band IDLES, indie singer-songwriter Katy J Pearson, BIMM student turned pop star George Ezra and acapella trailblazers The Longest Johns, to name a handful. There’s still a thumping underground scene too, with world-class clubs, epic club night line-ups and respected labels attracting DJs and ravers.

Where to watch live music in Bristol

Bristol’s music venues span sweatbox basement stages to vast auditoriums. For a grand concert hall experience and cracking acoustics, visit the beautiful St George’s Bristol and catch renowned performers of classical, chamber, world, folk, blues and jazz. Bristol Beacon would usually be another go-to for major names in a concert hall setting but until its renovation is complete in 2023, enjoy their programme of gigs in the foyer and around the city instead.

Performance in the foyer at Bristol Beacon - credit Soul Media
Image - Bristol Beacon

Church turned arts venue Trinity Centre, one of the spiritual homes of the Bristol Sound, welcomes a line-up of consistently class acts. You might find anyone from a dub legend to rising indie rock stars on the stage. For a deep dive into more Bristol venues, see our rundown of 10 of the best featuring a jazz pub, a German boat turned gig venue and more.

Bristol hosts heaps of music festivals and gigs in unique outdoor settings too. Dance lovers flock to Love Saves The Day, foodies dine and boogie lakeside at Valley Fest and outdoor concert goers pop up a camping chair in the wondrous Westonbirt Arboretum for Forest Live. Cast an eye over our unmissable live music this year and see what takes your fancy.

The stage at Love Saves The Day with an audience in the foreground - credit Love Saves The Day
Image - Love Saves The Day

Bristol nightclubs

Bristol loves to party and exciting DJs and event organisers in the city ensure the late-night, early-morning soundtrack is something special. If electronic music and all its sub-genres are your vibe, you’ll be in your element at nightclubs like Lakota. This Stokes Croft stalwart of the local nightlife scene (it's celebrating its 30th anniversary in 2022) has booked countless major acts over the years as well as celebrating new talent. 

Audience inside Bristol's Lakota nightclub with confetti raining down - credit Lakota Bristol
Image - Lakota

Then there’s Motion, the superclub that’s regularly namechecked as one of the best in the world. Expect globally respected names of the dance world on the programme, as well as live music at adjoining venue the Marble Factory.

For sound clashes and club nights, Trinity Centre has been hosting a huge range of live music and community events for the last 40 years in this reimagined church in the Old Market area of town. Old Market is also known as one of the LGBTQ+ areas of Bristol, as well as West End, with several hugely popular nightclubs and vibrant bars including The Old Market Assembly, OMG and Queenshilling. 

Subterranean nightclub Basement 45 is one of the city's most popular drum and bass venues, but also hosts a variety of other club nights, from garage to techno, and special events.

A group of people in a club - Credit Motion
Image - Motion

On Bristol’s much-loved Harbourside is PRYZM, a stylish and popular nightclub boasting three themed dance arenas, VIP booths and a pre-club cocktail bar. The Attic Bar, The Love Inn, No. 51 Stokes Croft, The Black Swan and Cosies are just a handful of the other late-night clubs and bars where you’ll find DJs of an excellent calibre on the bill. 

More things to do for music lovers

Brush up on some more of Bristol’s music history at M Shed, the Harbourside museum telling the story of the city’s people and places. They have exhibits on Creating Music and Going to Gigs, as well as local festivals such as the iconic St Pauls Carnival.

Exterior of Bristol's M Shed local history museum - credit Quintin Lake
Image - M Shed, credit Quintin Lake Photography

Visit much-loved venues and locations in over 20 stops on an in-person Rock and Roll walking tour of Bristol. Passing The Locarno, Hippodrome, Louisiana, The Fleece - hear all about the famous acts who played there. From The Beatles, Sinatra, to Rolling Stones and Bob Dylan, these stars' greatness knows no end. Stop by Dug Out on Park Row where in the mid-80s, the Bristol music scene kicked off with Wild Bunch and Daddy G. 

If you’re always looking to top up your vinyl collection, go crate-dipping in Bristol’s many record shops. There are some gems spread across the city, whether you’re looking for the latest 12-inch dance cuts or a niche decades-old LP. Visit Rough Trade for some vinyl gems, where you can also catch signings and gigs.  

For a proper Bristolian experience, catch a ride with Bristol Ferry Boats down the River Avon to Beeses, the riverside café and bar where bands play every Friday night. Tickets include dinner at the venue.

Matilda off to Hotwells with Arnolfini in the background - credit Bristol Ferry
Image - Bristol Ferry Boats

Start exploring Bristol’s music scene right now…

Treat your ears to some Bristol sounds from wherever you’re reading. Give our Bristol Music Playlist a spin and get to know your Raleigh Ritchie from your Tricky.

You can also get under the skin of the local scene by flicking through music mag LOUD Bristol, which runs interviews with artists and those working behind the scenes, like venue and label owners. 

Find your next Bristol gig: