inner city electronic in Leeds neatly avoids "difficult second conference" syndrome
Regular readers might recall that when iDJ went to the inaugural inner city electronic conference/festival in Leeds last year, our only grumble was that there was no map supplied, leaving conference attendees (or at least us!) trekking unnecessary miles between venues. Well, this year they took our advice and supplied said map, so we'll have to have a think and come up with something else to have a moan about. We'll get back to you on that...
In the meantime, we're pleased to report that the Ralph Lawson-helmed one-day event returned to Leeds in fine style on Saturday 1 June, and iDJ once more had a ball!
Without having access to last year's full programme it's hard to say for sure, but it seemed there was perhaps a little more emphasis on night-time events this year, with many of the festival's 13 venues not opening until the evening. Daytime conference-type activities centred around the Hope House arts centre, Sheaf St and The Wardrobe, but there was still a decent choice of venues for simply listening and dancing during the day, with DJs playing all day at The Old Red Bus Station, The Doghouse, Distrikt terrace and the all-new Festival Hub, an outdoor stage located in what appeared to be an old Victorian schoolyard, between Woodhouse Lane and The Headrow.
iDJ's day started at Hope House, where a panel hosted by Sayang from Flesh In Tension/Our Space and featuring Mandy & Friends, plugkeisha and Leeds scene veteran Lucy Locket, all from Equaliser, and Michael Upson from Love Muscle, discussed queer clubbing.
After a brief discussion of the LGBT+/queer community's founding role in the development of dance music and club culture as we know it today, the conversation moved on to more current issues, such as the importance of not excluding masculine-presenting gay men from queer spaces, the problem with Berlin-style door policies, awareness training for security, door and bar staff, and why it's vital for brands that aren't queer-owned to fully involve the community when planning and hosting "LGBT+ friendly" events, rather than simply slapping a rainbow flag on the flyer and carrying on as normal.
We headed next to a panel on artist management at Wardrobe with Sarah Frenchy from Grade Management and Kazim Rashid, manager of Nightmares On Wax, but as that kicked off late we could only catch the start because the latter were actually playing at the Festival Hub! We made whistle-stops there (catching parts of both Ralph Lawson and Nightmares On Wax's sets) and at The Old Red Bus Station, before heading down to Sheaf St for what was definitely one of the day's highlights, a live performance masterclass from the legendary Octave One.
The brothers Burden talked us through their live set-up, known as The Mothership, and explained how it's built for maximum flexibility, as befits a touring schedule that sees them playing alongside the biggest names in house and techno alike. They then gave a live demonstration of how multiple synths and soundbanks make it possible for them to play the same song in either a house or techno style, depending on the club – which they described as "a challenge, but it's fun!" – before discussing the importance, for up-and-coming artists, of discovering your own unique sound rather than simply following musical trends.
After Octave One's lecture/live show finished, we spent a little while in the Sheaf St courtyard checking out Craig Richards' set, then headed back to the Festival Hub for some Motor City Drum Ensemble action before taking a couple of hours out for some food and a quick disco nap back at the hotel.
The night's fun and games centred, early on, around the triangle of venues at the corner of Boar Lane and Vicar Lane – Distrikt, Hi-Fi and Wired. Distrikt's a great little venue but the Terrace was so jammed for The Ghost's set that you could hardly move, so we hung out in the Bar downstairs where Mariin B2B Bobby were laying down some nice chunky house grooves. We also caught Serene in action at Hi-Fi and Shanti Celeste (and a bit more of Mr Lawson) at Wire, before heading up to the weekend's other top billed event: Octave One (live) and Nina Kraviz playing the last ever night at the stunning Church.
Church wasn't as jam-packed as we expected – there was certainly more space to move than there was for KiNK's headline set last year, but that's no bad thing! After our second dose of live Octave One action of the day, Ms Kraviz impressed greatly, staying strictly in the techno realm but nevertheless dropping as funk-fuelled and house-y a set as we've heard from her, much of it (purists will be pleased to hear) on vinyl. Meanwhile there was actual house and disco (oh, and The Eurythmics) in the back room, Chapel, which was hosted by Truelove, who seem to host 50 per cent of the back rooms iDJ ever finds itself in! RIP Church, you will be missed.
By now daylight had dawned, but our weary, ageing legs had just enough life left in them to round off the night back at Wire, where Ben UFO was playing an impressively eclectic set that joined the dots between experimental bass music, minimal and the deepest house and techno, all through a wonked-out 5am filter. Or maybe that was just, y'know, us.
Okay, so hands up, we wimped out and missed Josey Rebelle's hotly-tipped 6am-9am closing slot. But we'd still had a 15-hour blast, so thanks once again to Ralph and the rest of the crew for staging a great event that helps keep West Yorkshire (where this writer just happens to have grown up…) firmly on the clubbing map.
As for this year's moan? Nah, can't think of owt. As they say in Leeds.
Words: Russell Deeks Pictures: Rash Yaman
Tags: inner city electronic, ICE, Ralph Lawson, Nina Kraviz, Nightmares On Wax, Motor City Drum Ensemble, Octave One, Equaliser, queer clubbing, Ben UFO, Truelove, Shanti Celeste, The Ghost, Craig Richards,