Leeds was one of the championship contending club cities of the 90s and 00's. What shape is it in now?
Leeds has always been on the UK’s party map, from the early days of The Warehouse—which was one of the first clubs to have DJs mixing records rather than introducing each one on the mic—to the glory years of acid house and Back to Basics. Once famous for techno club The Orbit and dub haven the West Indian Centre, the city’s musical landscape is now so broad it caters to any and all tastes.
It has spawned labels like 2020 Vision, acts like Paul Woolford and Nightmares on Wax and incubated the likes of the now globally renowned Hessle Audio. To get an insider’s view of the state of the city in 2018, we speak to music writer and KMAH Radio founder Kristan J Caryl.
Paul Woolford playing at The Warehouse
Ibiza Voice - What is the state of the Leeds scene right now?
Kristan - In the 16 or 17 years I’ve been going out in the city, it’s never been better. In my early days there were just a couple of parties—most famously Back to Basics, which it has to be said is now rather a heritage night trading on reputation—worth going to and only a few venues. But in recent years there has been some real investment in quality, multi-purpose spaces which have added real energy and variation to the scene. It means there are now big warehouse events with huge names right down to small capacity DIY spaces that take risks on innovative DJs who are on the way up. There are safe spaces for the LGBTQ community, parties like Cosmic Slop that are old school in that they are built around residents and don’t announce any guests they might have (even if they’re huge) and still manage to have people queuing to get in by 11pm. It’s been a while since I’ve seen that. Belgrave and Headrow also have regular live music from acts on the cusp of blowing up from the worlds of jazz, hip hop, r&b and indie.
As someone at the older end of the spectrum there is also an increasing collection of quality bars to go to that offer cosy environments with good seating (like I said, I’m getting old) and weird and wonderful music well away from the house and techno standard… Outlaws, Brunswick, Belgave, Headrow. If you’re still a pill munching young ‘un, though, you are also covered by intense sweat boxes like Distrikt who manage to put on free parties with the likes of Moodymann and Octave One where the crowd goes fast and hard from early doors.
Leeds was once famous for legendary techno club, The Orbit
What is the sound of the city?
Primarily house, electro and techno I would say. Those genres are the ones most frequently heard each weekend, and the ones that city’s most renowned producers and labels deal in. But places like Hi Fi Club, Wardrobe, Brudenell Social Club, the West Indian Centre all offer dub, afro, salsa, northern soul, soca, Latin, hip hop and jazz parties with anyone from a hot young local collective to Roy Ayres or Awesome Tapes From Africa.
Is there a real rebel side to the city?
Oh sure. People in Leeds love getting fucked up and carrying on for days. There’s always an afters to go to whether it’s an official one or an overblown house party.
I can’t claim to know everything that goes on, but there is certainly one crew by the name of Hold the Relish who throw some very cheeky parties. Their latest—an annual affair—was by the side of a river somewhere in Leeds. They rock up with a bar and giant sound system and tons of local heads play tunes—weird disco, house, jazz, minimal—all day and night in a magical little location. They’ve also done various other events in a range of restaurants and somehow got the council to let them close off a street for a party to celebrate the royal wedding that had them set up a giant system out the side of a van. Madness.
Hold The Relish shut down the street for a royal wedding party
Are there opportunities for everyone?
I’d say there can be few better cities for young people who want to make their own mark. There are producer forums for people making beats—though I’m not sure how accessible studio space is for those who can’t afford their own gear—there’s KMAH Radio that welcomes budding talent, and plenty of venues in which new parties can pop up and thrive. With so many different events each weekend, there are also plenty of chances for DJs to get early gigs. I’ve seen it many times where this has happened, and people then get installed as resident and grow from there. There are also plenty of parties that seem to only book local DJs and still go off, which is always a good sign that people are in this for the right reasons.
Does everyone get on or is it dog eat dog with lots of politics?
You know what, I reckon it's pretty friendly. Most parties have their own sound and seem to stick to it, so most DJs who play the city tend to play the same party over and over. Some promoters who own a couple of different venues and run a couple of festivals have bigger budgets than others and I’ve heard in the past they can get a little punchy when someone dare try and book ‘their guy.’ Generally though, promoters all seem to get on and there’s a lot of cross pollination between residents who all tend to play each other’s parties.
Tribe Records has a varied selection of vinyl covering all bases
What does the city need more of?
Only a year ago the answer was record stores, but we now have plenty of excellent ones in Tribe, Paula's and Disque 72, which cover house and techno, bass and electro old and new, as well as curveball disco, world music, oddities and plenty more. There are also regular fairs round town that are fun for a dig.
Right now, we also seem to have a broad spread of venues that are staying open. We seem to have parties covering all sounds that all seem to be well attended. We have a mix of older heads putting on parties and younger, more energetic and risk-taking crews helping to drive things forwards. One thing we don’t have is a Sunday scene With so many students in the city who don’t really have a reason to get up on a Monday morning, it’s hard to work out why.
inner city electronic was also a welcome new addition to the Leeds scene this year
What does the city need less of?
With such a healthy scene and so many bars and clubs wanting to have DJs playing every night, it can sometimes feel like there is too much choice. Even though there are plenty of very good DJs, they all tend to play so often, at many different venues, that identities can get a little blurred and the whole scene becomes a little homogenised. It’s a bit like when you go on Netflix, spend ages looking for something to watch then sack it off and watch terrestrial TV… I suppose if you’re complaining at too much choice it can’t be all that bad, though.
Anything else to add?
The best way to get a window into the Leeds scene is by tuning into KMAH Radio, a city centre, online radio station that has representatives of most parties splaying each month. Bars, female only collectives, dub parties, fifty-year-old jazz specialists, blokes who sell records to Gilles Peterson and soundtrack salsa classes, teenage bedroom collectors… it’s a community for all that offers a great musical overview of the city.