Club venues across the country continue to disappear at an alarming rate, institutions that were once at the heart of UK club culture are now gone without a trace. Turnmills. Matter. Cable. SE1. Hidden. Area. The End. Even Fabric had a near death experience, which took a swift public intervention to save the world famous night spot and eventually allow it to retain its license.
But it’s not just London, Manchester has lost another House music haven Venus after nearly 20 years as well as the Hacienda, Sankeys and Antwerp Mansion. Bristol has said goodbye to The Depot, Native, Syndicate and The Tube (founded by Massive Attack). So, the question is, can music that was once born and bred in clubs, still thrive and survive with fewer and fewer venues open to foster the culture?
In the 2nd part of our #BeatCulture series we sit down with 2-step revivalist Conducta, breakout producer JD Reid and Drum n’ Bass staple Wilkinson to explore how music is impacted when venues disappear.
“There’s quite a lot of posing, I think, that goes on nowadays”
Camden native JD. Reid has just dropped his brand new mixtape ‘Tree’. Across 15 tracks, JD. weaves some of the best known underground voices in amongst some new up-and-coming energies. The first release on his ‘Baby Gravy’ imprint, ‘Tree’ marks the growth in JD’s journey so far and speaks to the interconnected roots at the heart of his music. Slowthai, Oscar Worldpeace D Double E, Ghetts, Bossman Birdie and the experimental electronics of Mr. Mitch and Henry Wu are all present and correct on the new release.
A lot of people make beats for artists and they don’t get shouted out
We sit down a week before his work on Mabel’s ‘Finders Keepers’ goes platinum in the UK. It’s a feat that has launched the name JD. Reid onto another level of critical acclaim and wider recognition, “a lot of people make beats for artists and they don’t get shouted out,” he tells me when I ask about the realities of being a producer in London. “You have to make a lot of music, make a lot of beats, talk to a lot of people before you as a producer can actually start to be recognised. I’d like people to recognise, that’s me, that’s his music, and this is what it is.”
JD’s start in music came through his cousin Daniel who was in fact the original gatekeeper. Daniel introduced JD to Cubase and he was instantly hooked. But, growing up in London – a global city with endless cultures entwined in one space – JD also found inspiration in the club scene around him. “A big part of my inspiration has come from just being out in London over the years – being in clubs. I was a regular at Plastic People back in the day, [I] used to go FWD every Thursday and that was like – that was the first place that I went to that was a big inspiration for me. Purely because.. we just went into this dark basement downstairs and the soundsystem was sick, and it wasn’t really about anybody else who you were in there partying with. It was just you and your music. And then, since then I’ve gone on to go to different clubs and I’ll be in a certain place at a certain time – the music is correct, the vibe is correct, the lighting is correct and it stays as an image in my head. Then, I’ll go studio and that feeling that I had in that moment, I’ll try put that into the music that I make.”
FWD at Plastic People played a huge role in the emergence of Dubstep, after two decades it closed for good in 2016. Club founder Ade Fakile was an owner determined to give the DJ’s a system they just had to tell their friends about. Plastic People hosted the first ever Daft Punk gig in London. It was a venue that not only delivered classic sets time after time, it was a place that cultivated an air of limitless possibilities, and Plastic People was of course the place Dubstep met Grime. “British raving is sick,” JD says bringing things back to the present “we’ve got a lot of variety, we’re a bit a spoilt for choice I think. So I think sometimes that can make the London crowd a little bit – [it] can be a bit stoosh. It’s a bit stiff at times but I like that we got a wide selection of things to go and listen to. The closing down of clubs in London is obviously not a good thing. I also think there’s a lack of those smaller, more intimate venues that have a sick soundsystem and it’s more just about the vibe, rather than it being a big name place that everybody should go raving to, because that’s the spot to go to. I do think there’s a lack of that here down to the restrictions that have been put on the city. And I dunno, it’s weird one. I’d like to see there be more places like Plastic People come back but I don’t know if that’s necessarily going to happen anytime soon.”
“There’s certain music I want to play at this venue because I want to test out my tune on this system.”
Born in Bristol in 1994, and the eldest of four children, Collins ‘Conducta’ Nemi has made a name for himself as a prominent revivalist of the UKG and 2-step genres. Far from being the only producer continuing to innovate these classic styles; Conducta is instead one of the fastest rising names, “Me and my cousins uploaded our first track to BBC Bristol Introducing and it ended up being played by MistaJam on 1XTRA. That really gave me the bug.” Conducta found his feet in music but not before being an academic high achiever, and after studying at SOAS – the only Higher Education institution in Europe specialising in the study of Asia, Africa and the Near and Middle East.
I love moving back 20/30 years to hear grooves, and then incorporating them into a modern sound.
As a producer, Conducta found UKG by way of Grime, R’n’B and New Jack Swing “I love moving back 20/30 years to hear grooves, and then incorporating them into a modern sound. I’d say that my music is bubbly, club orientated music: upbeat. That’s what I’d describe my music – it’s weird describing it as Garage, because people’s interpretation of Garage is different and people kinda get emotional. Like, ‘ah but it doesn’t sound like from there or here…’ but I think it’s upbeat, skippy club music. Which is just fun and you can dance to.”
Since his first release in 2012, Conducta has found himself to be the ‘go-to’ Garage remix guy, reinventions for Chase & Status, J Hus, Shura, Jorja Smith, Cadenza, Ray BLK, OWSLA and Wilkinson have seen Conducta carve out his own lane as a relatively new name in UK production.
We meet Conducta at his West London studio, he arrives all smiles and energy; his latest single ‘Only U’ is set to drop that day and the mood is good. I ask Conducta how he feels about venues closing their doors, and ask how he feels it will affect the music he makes, “they’re actually closing loads in Bristol, the situation in London with clubs being closed, and nightlife in general I think across the UK, it can be seen as alarming. I mean, there’s so many things at the roots of it but I think the problem is, is that when you’re like, an up-and-coming DJ; there’s certain music I want to play at this venue because I want to test out my tune on this system and I remember feeling that about Fabric. The night I played Fabric was actually the night it got shut down – when it got temporarily closed and lost its license. I remember playing the soundsystem and Fabric was always something you’d see people talk about or people tweet about like, ‘ah the Fabric soundsystem is amazing’ and it was something I didn’t really process or understand until I was actually in room one and playing my tunes.”
The response to the temporary closure of Fabric was swift and heartfelt – Carl Craig, Jackmaster, Novelist, Daniel Avery and Skream all made their feelings known. Simply put, it was a mistake. Council meetings, petitions, roundtable discussions all served to apply the right kind of pressure and, eventually the license at Fabric was reinstated. It demonstrated though, just how integral a nightclub can be to both music subcultures and a city’s night time economy.
But London is not the only place to lose these important night spots, Conducta tells me more about how the land lies in his hometown of Bristol, “In terms of testing music, it’s a shame lots of club spaces are being shut down for what you’d say is student accommodation or student flats and stuff like that. Like, in Bristol, the situation now that Timbuk2 is being closed and lots of other clubs is being closed as well and it’s being replaced by student accommodation and it’s actually students who go and listen to the music at these kinds of places. So the problem that has is that it saturates things. Not only for DJs but also for promoters cos then they’re stuck trying to put on nights in places they might not want to put on and they’re competing with people. Like, underground culture just suffers.” Clubs like The End and Club Colosseum were both home to the infamous Twice as Nice. It’s hard to imagine where London’s UKG scene would have stemmed from were it not for venues like these acting as incubators.
“Fabric was for me the club that was like my Uni.”
Wilkinson discovered his passion for Dance music when he was just 14 years old, he spent years refining his skillset as a producer and eventually passed a few songs on to Hospital Records via Cyantific, which led to his first release on Hospital’s ‘Sick Music 2’ compilation. A few months later he sent a folder of tunes to Ram Records and within days received a phone call from Andy C inviting him for a meeting at the Ram HQ. Fast forward a few years more and Wilkinson (now signed to RAM Records/ Virgin EMI) is considered one of the most successful musicians in Drum N Bass, after his 2013 hit single ‘Afterglow’ became a top 5 hit on the UK Chart, selling 500,000 copies, and to date he’s sold a mighty 1.1 million singles.
The last four years has seen Wilkinson build a formidable reputation for his live show set up and we manage to steal some time with him after his soundcheck and before his meet and greet on the night of his sold out Brixton Academy show. “I think when I got into [production] in like 2006, and I came into it through Hospital Records sort of like listening to High Contrast and got given a Radio 1 Essential Mix from my brother, listened to that going to college and sort of first got hooked on the tempo. Fabric was for me, the club that was like my Uni because it was like I went to school, went to college, never went to Uni. But, I sort of signed to RAM when I was 21, so I was brought into this world that was like, you start in room three and then you work your way up and then you might one day get a slot in room one. And that happened over a series of years, then we were doing, sort of, bi-monthly shows there and it was just wicked. Being able to jump on the train and just be able to go there and hang out and spend the whole night listening to all the other DJs, giving each other tunes, chatting about what everyone’s working on and discussing collabs and things like that. I was lucky to be here, definitely.”
The communities that are built up around nightclubs have long been considered safe spaces for marginalised communities – whether they’re minority ethnic or LGBT. But for the musicians, promoters, door staff and engineers they often become a home away from home. For producers, clubs can be vital audition stages for new music and many have helped push entire genres forward. “I never went to The End unfortunately, but I heard amazing things about that. I went to Cable, played there a few times and, for me, that was like a really nice small club that you could go to. I remember doing new year’s eve there and it was so sick. Like, going in there, being in the booth, having people right up close to you and that atmosphere is so good. You see the reaction, you know? I do a lot of festivals now which is massive, but you can’t tell the reaction. You can see the reaction but a lot of people – that’s like, people socially following other people’s lead. If someone puts their hand in the air they kind of all do it. But in a club it’s more heads down you can just seen genuine reactions.”
So what happens to the music when these clubs begin to disappear? “I think the more these clubs sort of, close down – it’s a bit damaging in that respect. When Cable went down I was like – you kind of realise that will never happen again. Those moments that we had in there, that’ll never sort of, be restarted. Then, when Fabric went down, I was sort of like, ‘this is mad’ cause it was my sort of, stomping ground. [I] had so many moments there and learnt so much there. From other DJs, and performing and testing out tunes – going there, getting Andy [C] to play my tunes. You’d send [new music] to him and Andy would be like, right okay, I’m going to play it – and I was doing a 10pm set in room 3 – no one knew who I was then so I could get in the crowd and just like, be in it and see Andy drop the tune, look around like ‘oh okay this is cool’ or sometimes ‘uh oh this one’s not very good’ that whole thing is really important to clubbing.”
Time and time again, producers show us the resilient nature of music. Driven by an innate love of sound, producers like these continue to adapt. Interests of the establishment – driven by profit – mean nightclubs are being erased with no thought given to the culture. But producers prove music is irrepressible, it evolves in line with our consumption whether we have commercial walls to house it or not.