The duo also known as Heavy Feet on a new co-operative spirit in Manchester's underground music community
Manchester has been a consistently bubbling hotbed of musical creativity since the acid house days. From The Hacienda and Konspiracy to the Warehouse Project and Sankeys by way of Luvdup, Most Excellent, Electric Chair and Robodisco, the city has always sported a fine line of influential venues, parties, collectives and labels championing every style and subgenre: Rob's Records to Music Is Love, Fat City/Grand Central to Inner City Recordings and Kaluki, MRK1 and Virus Syndicate to Dub Phizix, Gorilla to Chimpo.
But according to Mike Burgess - who, with James Medina, co-runs Night Shift Sound, is half of house act Metro Club and has a long history of floor-flattening as Heavy Feet - the city hasn't always been great at working together. Cliques stayed in cliques and next-to-nowt betwixt. Everyone did their thing. Until now…
In deepest, darkest Ancoats lies a creative space that's in the centre of a musical free-for-all. From notorious grime crew Levelz to indie band Everything Everything and NTS Radio, the studio complex (which is also home to two clubs) is thriving, with crews beginning to help each other out by sharing resources, knowledge and even vocals.
For two years Mike and James's bass-heavy, groove-focused house label Night Shift Sound has played a key role in this movement. Focusing on local talent - Wrangle, Bang Tidy and Essro, to name but a few - and issuing them with industry knowledge and studio time, Night Shift Sound has a decidedly traditional approach. It seems to be working; Zinc, DJ EZ, My Nu Leng, Shadow Child are just some of the premiership fans of the label. Check the label's debut compilation Northern Power House when it drops on 30 September and you might be, too.
Read on to hear why Manchester is in an exciting place right now, why Night Shift Sound are looking to the past for future development and why Calvin Harris is not a fan of their work....
How's Manchester looking right now?
"In terms of people working together and getting involved in what each other are doing, it's in the best place it's been in my generation."
MCs seem to be playing a big role in this: DRS opening the Northern Power House compilation, Fox featuring on all styles from house to D&B...
"They are. DRS, for example, has been investing in future talent with Estate Recordings and has brought so many people together. Crews like Levelz break serious boundaries. It's an interesting time. We're really proud of collectively what's going on up here and want people to know about it.
The north/south divide still runs deep?
"We've joked about it in our promo material but it's a reality. There's so much stuff going on up here - not just in Manchester but every other city outside London. Every now and again you get articles saying ‘Manchester's having its moment' or ‘Bristol is having its moment' but it almost fetishises it and makes it a novelty. But we're always having moments, it's what cities do."
But the difference seems to be, right now, the extra cross-pollination between you all?
"Yes. The building we're based in is a great example. DRS put me onto it several years back and from there a lot of the spaces have been filled between us. The building is full of bands, collectives, artists, labels, photographers, radio stations, etc. We also have two club spaces here with some really interesting parties happening. It's a hub with a real vibe and energy.
"The cross-pollination has taken a while, though. For years it really felt like people were in their corners saying, ‘I'm doing this here, don't look at what I'm doing, this is my thing,' Whether it's the internet or societal changes, people are a lot more open to collaborating, sharing spaces and creating together. This has influenced the label and the way we operate, too."
In what way?
"We're going back to the old school A&R approach. It's not about land-grab signings, jumping on something in case it gets big. It's about working with the right people, respecting what they want to achieve in the future and offering any opportunities we can; they can use our studio for free, get out of their bedroom and work on a shit-hot pair of speakers really loud and not piss neighbours off.
"We also teach them about the industry; what things like remixes or licensing agreements should be like. We also create our own PR, video content and graphics and really develop the package. It's going back to the old days when big labels wouldn't waste vinyl on something that wasn't going to work and would really invest and create something special. It feels a lot of that is missing right now."
Does this leave you with any time to be an artist yourself?
"Sometimes! James and I now work as Metro Club but we haven't put it in a pressure cooker, making expectations of ourselves. We write when we feel like it. I'm enjoying the managerial, mentoring and A&Ring side just as much, if not more these days. For me, it's another form of creativity."
And more important now that every budding producer has access to ears.
"Exactly. The younger guys I speak to consider putting a track on Soundcloud ‘a release'. There's no concept of A&R, radio, print press, blogs, licensing, clearing, promotion. Just putting a track out and trying to get as many plays possible. That's great, but for longevity and any type of true body of work you need to be more strategic than that."
Amen. Final question... I hear you pissed off Calvin Harris?
"Oh dear. When we started Night Shift Sound we took somewhat an anti-EDM tone. One of the press releases named a few names and poked fun at the yacht party culture it seems to have become. Unfortunately Calvin was one of the DJs we called out - and he's also on our promo database. Let's just say he wasn't best pleased. Ultimately, we had to reflect on that, because even playful negativity isn't really appropriate in this game. It's about positivity and full inclusion - even if it is EDM, guys!"
At least Calvin's checking your promos!
"Well, he hadn't responded to any promos for years before that... and he hasn't since!"
Northern Power House is out on Night Shift Sound on 30 September. Preview a limited edition merch bundle here.
Words: Dave Jenkins Pic: Andy Nicholson/Two Gold Teeth