Submerge Festival

As Bristol’s newest festival prepares to descend on the city this weekend, we caught up with festival director Mike Pony (of beloved queer night Horseplay) to find out what unique offerings Submerge has in store and why Bristol needs more arts festivals…

mike pony

Mike Pony

Sum up Submerge for us in one pithy tagline

Sensational live performance, pretty lights and sexy bass beats.

Why did you decide to make the visual aspect of the festival so central?

It’s a sensory festival. I want audiences to be stimulated at all times from all directions, in every sensory orifice. Images in your eyes, sounds in your ears and sub-bass in your belly!


You’ve programmed a dazzling array of artists from different disciplines… who was the hardest to pin down (for whatever reason)?

We’re really lucky to have Olivier de Sagazan performing Transfiguration. He’s a world renowned performance artist who has just been in the Shanghai Biennial and also recently performed with FKA Twigs. It’s an amazing show – dark and visceral. It also got featured in the art movie Samsara!

We’re also really lucky to have AV artist Stefan Goodchild. He recently made live, analogue visuals for the LCD Soundsystem tour, and he’s doing the same for us at The Ascent… and doing a lighting design too! The club is going to be amazing.


What’s the most unique event that’s happening over the course of the festival?

The whole festival is a big sensory mashup of musicians, performance artists, light artists and installations. It’s hard to choose one event… but if I had to, it’s probably Rrose, Hellen Burrough, Philip Bedwell and Olivier de Sagazan as part of Ghosts at St Thomas The Martyr Church. It’s a really amazing building and we are very lucky to be able to use it for these shows. That event is definitely going to be one of the highlights of the festival. I’m also really excited about hearing Fis perform his new album From Patterns To Details in pitch black, in the old morgue.


You’ve got trans DJ Octo Octa playing alongside Rrose. Was it always your intention to have an LGBT element of the festival or did this just naturally occur in the programming?

octo octo

We have a really diverse variety of artists in the festival. I had this in mind when I programmed the work, but they weren’t chosen specifically for being diverse; they were chosen for being awesome. Nearly 50% of the artists are female, and some performances in the festival comment on queer, trans, feminist and black issues. I think having such a diverse mix of artists creates potential for some great exchanges.


Bristol is known for its unique venues… how do you intend to maximize them for effect for the festival?

The festival happens in some crazy places, like the old Coroners Court and morgue in Stokes Croft, or the former ash pits under Temple Meads railway station (aka The Loco Klub). Part of the joy of Submerge is the juxtaposition of artists and musicians in strange and edgy venues. At times it might feel like quite an unlikely mix. I think that’s quite exciting. It’s all a bit experimental!


You’ve got a few free events, and some priced at just £5. Was it your intention to create a more accessible festival?

There are some cheaper events (Into The Deep £7, The Lost City, £6) and some free events (Room Dynamics, Exist). The events are priced to be as accessible as possible, but there is some more expensive work in the festival such as The Well by Koreless, which is £16.50 but features a hugely impressive laser mirror. The cheapest way to see the whole festival is a £50 festival pass (plus b.fee). It you want to see more than 3 events, a festival pass is the way to go.  

Why do you think a festival like Submerge works well within a city like Bristol?

We have such a great city, full of diverse people who are open to new experiences. There’s a really exciting culture here of trying new things, and it’s a city that LOVES festivals. There isn’t a weekend that goes by in Bristol without a big festival or event, and it’s a city which really puts value in the arts. It’s the perfect place for a festival like Submerge.

If you could recommend the readers only one event, which would it be?

Dive at Colston Hall opens the festival. The event is headlined by Koreless, with an immersive laser light and ambient electronic show called The Well. It’s a real spectacle, and uses lasers in a really exciting way that most people won’t have ever seen. The music is gorgeous, ambient loops and electronic samples which build hypnotically and whoosh around. Expect a lot of smoke, and to be right in the firing line of a big tunnel of laser!

What are the plans for the next Submerge?

The priority right now is making sure that everyone knows about this one, and supports it. If people don’t come, I’m toast! The festival is partially supported by Arts Council England but reliant on ticket sales to make it a success. If it takes off, I want to come back with an even more ambitious festival. I’ve already looked at some artists I’d like to include… and next time, I plan to step away from the apocalyptic ocean theme and towards something much more positive. Maybe something to do with colour and light.

Submerge Festival takes place in various venues across Bristol from 18-20th November. For more information and tickets visit

Professional party girl Rachael Williams wears many different nightlife hats. Door girl, DJ, promoter, music journalist, propper-up-of-bars and fountain of DJ knowledge and gossip. She’s written for Resident Advisor, Ibiza Voice, Pulse Radio and ran legendary London gay bar Dalston Superstore’s online magazine for over three years.

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