BEST ALBUM: BLAWAN ‘WET WILL ALWAYS DRY’ [TERNESC]
Berlin-based Yorkshireman Blawan has always been hailed for his uniquely twisted musical take, and his long-awaited, debut solo LP now triumphs in the Best Album category…
In 2012, Jamie Roberts knew he was ill and needed a break. He wasn’t making music, but he kept on touring until he was having to cancel more gigs than he was playing. It was only being hospitalised for minor surgery that made him finally admit that he needed time off. Up to that point, his career had been a whirlwind that started with Chef and Ramadanman, including his first ever track, ‘Fram’, on their ‘Dubstep Allstars: Vol.07’ mix.
Born in Doncaster, raised in Barnsley, but at University in Leeds at the time, Roberts had sent the track to the Hessle Audio co-founder — now known as Pearson Sound — on a whim. A year later it got its own full release and, before the enforced break, nine more EPs followed on labels like R&S, Clone and Hinge Finger. They were raw, banging techno tracks, with tongue-in-cheek industrial references, horror soundtrack stylings and plenty of visceral club appeal. As it happens, the success of the last one, ‘His He She & She,’ was pushing Blawan in a direction he didn’t feel comfortable with, so the break came at a useful time.
When he re-emerged in 2015, he was releasing music on his own label, Ternesc, with a much more considered analogue sound, mostly made on a modular synth set-up. His debut album, ‘Wet Will Always Dry’ — which is named in reference to growing up in South Yorkshire, where older generations “have these mad sayings and a lot of them don’t even mean anything” — reworks those earliest ideas with his more recent musical aesthetic, and results in something that lives up to the artist’s reputation as one of techno’s most interesting and innovative characters.
Roberts says he has started working on albums before, but never finished them as he found that taking even a small break meant he came back to the music with a shifted sound or technique. “I get bored. My mind wanders,” he’s explained. Instead, this one was written constantly, without a break, for two months straight, and means there is a distinct cohesiveness to it all. Unlike many artists, though, he didn’t use the longer format to explore outlier ideas or pad things out with ‘thoughtful’ concessions to home listening. In any case, he has other aliases for that, from his Karenn project with Pariah to lower tempo experiments as Bored Young Adults and Kilner.
“I was absolutely not tempted by any of that stuff,” he told The Quietus back at the time of release. “I wasn’t suddenly going to start doing something that I’d never done before. I just wanted to be truthful to what I’ve been doing for the past ten years.”
And he’s sure done that. Each track, as has been the case since his days drumming in post-punk and rock groups in Leeds, starts with the percussion. They are always rhythmically playful and firmly rooted to the floor. His synths, meanwhile, fizz and bring a sense of paranoia to ‘Klade’, add a ghoulishness to the hammering linear drive
of ‘Tasser’, and flesh out ‘Stell’ with late-night darkness.
The brilliantly unhinged synths of ’Nims’, meanwhile, prove that Roberts has fully got to grips with his modular kit. His own voice also features — albeit in heavily treated forms — on some of the tracks. “I’m only using it as another instrument,” he has said, but it’s one that adds human, emotional touches to his otherwise abstract tracks and keeps them from being quite as terrifying as they have been in the past. ‘Wet Will Always Dry’ goes way beyond the realm of techno and into plenty of fascinating new grey areas — it’s no wonder, then, that it’s been voted the year’s most essential British album.
WORDS: Kristan J Caryl
BEST REMIX: BICEP ‘OPAL (FOUR TET REMIX)’ [NINJA TUNE]
Four Tet does what only he can, making an already sublime track from Bicep even more beautiful, to win Best Remix…
To hike up the hugeness of the already enormous original must have taken some doing, but Four Tet’s remix of Bicep’s ‘Opal’ managed it. In its first incarnation, the tune by the Belfast duo of Andy Ferguson and Matt McBriar reconciled their twin appreciations for trance and swung out 2-step garage beats, in a tried-and-tested, opposites attract style that dates back to songs such as Zomby’s ‘Strange Fruit’. The respectful yet cranked up take from Kieran Hebden, by comparison, concentrated ‘Opal’’s melodic properties, finding plenty more mileage in its allusions to trance and the huge stadiums that style of music can inhabit.
Building the track slowly with the characteristic broken skip of the original, Four Tet looped up the riff for maximum impact, before adding an additional, live sounding breakbeat and four-four kick for something equally compatible with club sets and radio play on 6 Music, and with festival crowds.
Four Tet’s skillset is different to most other dance producers, having started out as a guitarist in post-rock band Fridge, and he wove in influences that might not otherwise make their way into the club. His genius was in the subtle additions: the tinkling bells that are a trademark touch; the looming synth undertow; the added percussive aspects towards the end; the weird bird song. All lent the ‘Opal’ remix huge emotional heft and a replay quality you just don’t get in the average banger. It was a dream match up, and a further indication of Hebden’s ability to make club tunes with a little more thought than the average tech- house cruncher.
WORDS: Ben Murphy
BEST FESTIVAL: JUNCTION 2
Fast-becoming a techno institution, London’s Junction 2 festival claims the Best Festival trophy for the second year in a row…
Junction 2 only started three years ago, but this year sees the festival retain its Best Of British award. “It is a labour of love for the whole team,” beams Director Paul Sobierajski, who is enjoying the fact the festival is already garnering an international reputation in record time.
One of the reasons for that is the location of the event. It plays out literally underneath a motorway junction in Boston Manor Park, where urban industrialism is offset by green fields, trickling rivers and woodland pathways making up the rest of the site. “It helps it feel special and very different to the rest of what is offered in London,” says Paul, quite rightly. Musically, Junction 2 has always been predominantly techno focused, while being informed by “what is resonating with us as a group of music lovers,” as Paul puts it.
The stage under the M4 motorway has quickly earned a reputation as an iconic one for some of the biggest DJs, with Carl Cox and Adam Beyer playing it this year, while the likes of Dixon and Nina Kraviz entertained in other arenas. Subtle behind-the-scenes tweaks like more security and stewards, and moving the Hex stage to help sound levels offsite, are also things that helped the festival win Best Festival for the second year running, keeping it in favour with ravers.
2019 will see some big changes including a complete redesign of the production under the bridge, stages being moved, and an extra day being added so that musical horizons can be expanded. Paul reckons keeping the locals happy and crowd movement are two ongoing challenges, while one of their biggest focuses is “tweaking the sound design to sound levels that are far beyond anything any other London festival can achieve”. This award proves it’s mission accomplished for the team once again.
WORDS: Kristan J Caryl
BEST MC: D DOUBLE E
With a voice like no other, the lyrical farda that is D Double E has remained a true grime patriot throughout the genre’s history, and now claims Best MC after one of his biggest year’s to date…
As one of grime’s founding fathers, few people can claim to have influenced an entire culture as much as this year’s Best MC winner, D Double E. Rooted in jungle and garage, Forest Gate’s finest quickly found himself at the forefront of a pioneering scene bursting at the seams with talent, as his distinctive diction, rapid-fire delivery and ability to craft bars that still get excited call-backs from crowds years on from their original debut, saw him rise above his peers to become one of the biggest names in the game.
And yet despite his status as one of grime’s most illustrious mic men, there was that one thing missing from his otherwise certified OG career: that long-awaited debut album. Arriving to much fanfare, the aptly titled ‘Jackuum!’ wheeled its way onto our playlists as the summer ended, simultaneously bringing the heat as the mercury began to drop, and removing what was the one blot on an otherwise unblemished copybook.
So with our praise ringing in his ears, how does D feel about being your MC of the year? “I’m mad proud,” he begins in his inimitable East London tones. “Seriously, I’m honoured to pick up this award as I’ve got mad love for DJ Mag and its readers for all their support on my journey. To get that level of recognition for all the work you’ve put in really is something special as an artist. It’s moments like these you just have to sit back and enjoy for a second before regaining focus and moving on to your next big ting.”
It’s this ability to stay humble and commitment to improving that has seen the former Nasty Crew member stay such an integral part of the grime landscape; his dedication to the cause never in question even during the scene’s more fallow years.
“Yeah, I just keep putting in the work,” the man born Darren Dixon smiles. “And this was a year when a lot of that paid off. 2018 was a benchmark year for me both in terms of my label Bluku Music and musically with my debut album dropping, with the whole build up to what felt like an explosion being a time I massively enjoyed. Y’know, it’s been a big season and now I’m looking to make 2019 even bigger as I kick down even more doors and achieve a lot more of my goals.”
So what are these doors his trainers will be booting down next year? “Well, firstly I want to go global,” he reveals. “Naturally I’m going to do UK and European tours, but the definite plan is to do dates in North America and Australasia too. Outside of that I want to up the levels again artistically, consistently delivering fresh content both in and out of music with a number of EPs being the tip of the iceberg.”
Can you tell us more about these plans outside of music, we ask? “Well I’m not meant to be talking about it yet, but yeah, I’m in talks with a couple of TV channels who are all over a couple of ideas I’ve got, so you’ll be seeing man on your screens next year no doubt,” he reveals. “I also really want to revisit some of my earlier work to get it re-recorded in proper studios, so my early tracks can stand up to the test of time as the scene continues to grow. It’s important that we have high-quality versions of the tracks that made grime what it is today.” A ‘Frontline’ reissue? We wouldn’t mind if we do: “Oooooer, ooooooer!”
WORDS: Reiss de Bruin
BEST PRODUCER: REBEKAH
Birmingham-via-Berlin’s techno stalwart Rebekah has conquered her demons to become one of the most in-demand DJs and producers out there, and subsequently, the winner of our Best of British Best Producer award 2018…
“You need to put something back into the scene for it to grow. Why has techno been around for as long as it has? Because people come in and give a little bit back, that’s why I love it. There’s a new generation now, and it just continues to grow and evolve.”
For some years now, Rebekah has been inspiring a new generation of DJs and producers with her uncompromising sound, her revered Rinse FM show and her label Elements — which encompasses music, visuals and soon a clothing line. She’s played the world’s biggest events, such as Awakenings, and has been one of the figureheads leading the revival of industrial-strength techno, although her versatile DJ sets often include all manner of grooves, from acid and EBM to electro.
Alongside all this, she’s established herself as a peerless producer in her own right. After returning to college to study production, when her early career was stalling in the haze of partying and frustration at her musical direction, ‘Fear Paralysis’, her 2017 debut album for Soma, showcased a touch for techno’s melding of (wo)man and machine, pouring encoded emotion into an exoskeleton of four-four techno and broken beats. It’s an achievement that she’s followed by being voted Best Of British 2018’s Best Producer.
Over the last year, she has been delving into modular synthesis. Premiering a live show using
a modular set-up alongside loops of her tracks in Ableton at ADE, she’s still working out its full potential. “Sometimes you get a good day with the patch, sometimes you’re fighting against it. I like that unpredictability.”
And, in many ways, that unpredictability is what makes Rebekah one of the most exciting and important DJs and producers around. Congratulations!
WORDS: Joe Roberts
OUTSTANDING CONTRIBUTION: FATBOY SLIM
The normally self-effacing Norman Cook tells DJ Mag why he’s immensely proud of his achievements over the years…
“I’m very, very honoured,” says Norman Cook round his house one afternoon. “Everyone likes getting awards —you’re a liar if you pretend you don’t. “Over the years I’m happy that I’ve made a significant contribution to the world of dance music,” Norm continues. “It’s something I’m quite proud of. I’m prone to over-modesty, but I’m quite proud of my part in the story of how we got from Frankie Knuckles to Calvin Harris — I joined some of the dots along the way.”
Fatboy Slim is Norman Cook’s most famous alias, of course, but he’s had a whole heap of others over the years (Pizzaman, Mighty Dub Katz and so on). In fact, he holds the Guinness World Record for the most Top 40 hits under different names. “That’s the award for schizophrenia though, frankly,” he quips. “You’ll have to talk to my therapist about that.”
After No.1s with Freak Power, Beats International and indie band The Housemartins, Norm adopted the oxymoronic Fatboy Slim moniker in the mid-’90s and his amazing success (including a No.1 for ‘Praise You’) helped take credible dance music into the mainstream, and conquered America — opening doors for others to follow. “I have to acknowledge that Tom and Ed [from The Chems] and The Prodigy had opened a few doors that I got in through, and I forced them open a bit more,” he says. “It was weird, I cracked America by not playing the game, by actually saying ‘I don’t want to come over and play much’. I’d been aware from being in bands that if you try to break America it normally breaks you — or you break it, but by then you’ve split up. And I wasn’t ready to split up with myself.”
Norm wound up his American record company by delivering quirky, non-conformist promo videos — particularly for ‘Praise You’ — that MTV ended up loving. “Becoming an unlikely popstar was generally a license to be a bit gobby and confrontational, cheeky and irreverent, and make a career out of it,” he smirks. “When I started getting big with Fatboy Slim and somebody tried to slag me off by saying, ‘He just makes dance music for people who don’t like dance music’, I just took that as a compliment and thought, ‘Yeah, that’s exactly what I want to do’,” Norm continues. “The more people I can turn on to something that I think is really fun and cool and sexy, the better. I’ve always tried to make it accessible. I’ve always tried to have a pop hook to it, or something that just invites people in — rather than being cool. I’ve gone out my way sometimes to try to make a cool and moody track, and they never end up like that — they always end up with a catchy hook.
“The idea was to make cool-sounding music that had a catchy hook that would lure people in from other areas. And one of the things I’m most proud of is the number of souls, the number of notches on my bedpost of people who’ve come up and said ‘You’re the reason I started DJing’. Or people who either lost their virginity or met their future husband or wife through me.”
In the early noughties Norm took the scene to the beaches of Brighton and Brazil, and continued to relish playing unusual gigs. “You get bored if you do the same thing over and over again, and with DJing you pretty much are doing the same thing over and over again, so the only real thing you can change is the environment. It makes you giggle when you look around and think ‘How the hell did we get here? How are we allowed to do this?’.
“After 33 years of doing this, you don’t just want to repeat yourself — you want to keep it fun for you,” he adds. “Also, you can’t just keep getting bigger. I think I got to a point with the beach party in Rio — once you get up to 300,000 people, it’s impossible to entertain all of them. So then you decide you don’t want to play a bigger show just so you can say ‘I’ve played a bigger show than that’, so then we just started going sideways — and seeing how much fun we could have with it.”
He talks about playing the Houses Of Parliament, and every major stage at Glastonbury, and how he decides which gigs to accept these days. “Have you heard about the Five Fs?” he asks DJ Mag. “To cherry-pick gigs, if they can fulfil three of the five Fs then it’s worth doing. Fun is one. A first. Favour for a friend. Finance — everyone has their price. And food — if there’s a really good restaurant in that city that I want to go to, I’m more likely to play a gig there — just to go to that restaurant. So they’re my criteria now — when I was younger the Fs might have been some other things.”
Another thing Fatboy Slim is best known for is being the ultimate DJ showman — waving, gesticulating, enjoying it as much as the crowd… “Again, I didn’t start that — I based my character on 50% Carl Cox, 50% Jon Carter,” he says. “There was the enjoying it as much as everyone — if not more — of Carl, and the swagger and panache of Jon Carter. It definitely works getting crowds’ attention. If crowds were bein gmoody I’d literally shout ‘Come on you fuckers!’ until they did what they were told!”
“When I started DJing you were just in a little serving hatch in the corner; you weren’t normally lit; you didn’t have monitors… it’s been wonderful watching how much better we get treated these days,” he continues. “Nowadays we’ve got big screens and things like that, but in those days we had no production. When we did the really big one on the beach [in Brighton in 2002, when a quarter of a million people turned up], I looked at some film of it the other day and the production we had was absolutely pitiful. There was a screen about the size of my telly! And a load of visuals that weren’t in-sync with the music — it was just Tim at the back putting videos on. The show was all about the crowd and the music.”
‘SHALL WE WAVE AT THE BOATS?’ — Norm wrote this on a record sleeve during Big Beach Boutique 2, and got the whole crowd to wave at the boats in the sea. During his recent live stream on the i360 Tower in Brighton he switched it up slightly – ’SHALL WE WAVE AT THE DRONE?’ These spontaneous creative motifs are another Fatboy DJ innovation, going beyond just wearing a t-shirt with a message or playing a certain track at a certain time.
DJ Mag wants to know what it is about the immediacy of the moment — the ‘Right Here, Right Now’ of it, if you like — that Norm still loves. He starts talking about different ways of communicating, initiating sing-alongs, climbing out of the booth, and dancing in the crowd — breaking the ‘fourth wall’ between audience and performer. “However we all ended up at the gig, at that moment we have a common purpose, which is to feel as removed from reality and as high and as sexy and as free as we can, and at that moment we all become one big melting pot trying to do that — by any means necessary. It’s a two-way thing — I wouldn’t do it if I didn’t get as much back from the crowd. So writing on the record sleeves was the perfect way of getting a slogan or a message across.”
Your hack suggests that there’s a dissertation to be written about ‘Right Here, Right Now’ and a typical Fatboy dancefloor, involving gestalt psychology and humanistic theory, shared emotions, and living in the moment with notions of empathy and trust. “Fill that out a bit and it’d be my mission statement — that’s what I’m trying to do,” he posits. “Did I have that in mind when I used that sample on ‘Right Here, Right Now’? No, I think it was probably more about drugs — more about that feeling, the empathy, I’m so high, this moment; I’ve never been so happy, or I’m so in love with you…”
Norm talks about how the track is so enduring and can still give him goosebumps — “For a tune that you make to do that is very rare” — and how he was trying to make a track as emotive as ‘Unfinished Sympathy’ by Massive Attack. “Collective euphoria is more powerful than the sum of its parts,” he believes. “You often forget that when you’ve been in the DJ booth — cos you don’t get a lot of collective euphoria in the DJ booth; you get egos, drunk people and spilt drinks — but if collective euphoria can reach the DJ booth, you know you’ve had a good night.”
Norm picks out the Brighton beach gigs — “if I’m allowed to lump all six of them together” — as his absolute career highlight up to now (“They cemented my relationship with the city I live in”), and talks openly about the times when he questioned whether he should still be DJing. He admits looking into getting a job as a fireman in the early ‘90s before the Fatboy thing took off (“I thought it was time to get a job that paid”), and how one time he had a wobble while playing a daytime gig in shorts. “I looked down at my legs and I saw a 45-year-old man’s
legs and I thought ‘Who are you kidding? You’re standing here in front of all these kids’, and I had a little moment. But I got through the gig and decided that I’d just wear long trousers from now on.”
Incredibly, he admits that he still listens to every promo he gets sent — around 80 a day. “There’s a fresh supply of really good records every week, and when you find that little gem, you just can’t wait
to get out and play it,” he says. “Sometimes it’s laborious, but it beats plucking chickens. I’m just listening to music — and I get paid for it. Best job ever. I genuinely love what I do — it genuinely does turn me on and make me giggle. No matter how old and tired I feel, the minute I step onstage I’ve got the mind of a seven-year-old — and the behaviour of a nine-year-old. It’s great!”
Pioneer, record-breaker, showman, door-opener, creator of a million and more ’moments’, and genuinely one of the nicest people in the biz, DJ Mag thanks Fatboy Slim for his outstanding contribution so far. We’ve come a long, long way together…
WORDS: Carl Loben
BREAKTHROUGH LABEL: FEMME CULTURE
Promoting female-identifying talent through a full range of artistic outlets, London collective Femme Culture are this year’s Breakthrough Label…
When we call Femme Culture to tell them they’ve won the title of Best Breakthrough Label in DJ Mag’s Best Of British Awards 2018, they’re hanging out at Reprezent Radio. The London-based collective’s co-founder, Elkka, has a residency at the station and, today, she is to perform live for the first time, live on air.
It marks a positive, hopeful day in what has been a turbulent year for the ambitious collective, formed by Ludo Guerrieri and Elkka in 2016. Amid redundancies and personal ups and downs, the growing collective have worked tirelessly to become one of the UK’s most vital this year, championing female-identifying artists and promoting equal opportunities across all formats through club-nights, DJ sets, art exhibitions and superb releases on their flagship label.
In May, the group were commissioned by UN women to put together a compilation in aid of the HeForShe charity. Featuring artists like Octo Octa, Anastasia Kristensen and Ariel Zetina as well as label members like Ehua and Elkka herself, it was a triumphant and versatile collection that showcased their status as tastemakers and champions of a vital and progressive underground.
2018 also saw Femme Culture releasing two EPs: Elkka’s atmospheric, vibrant and club-ready ‘Full Circle’ and Ehua’s gqom-inspired ‘Diplozoon’, which worked heady percussive workouts with wavey synths and sampled vocal flourishes.
A well-earned win then, and one which feels significant given the tremendous work they’ve put in. “This is such a nice way to end the year,” Guerrieri explains shortly after being told the good news. “To feel like we’ve done something right, that something has gone the right way. Honestly, getting to the point where we got to was such a struggle with so many things… It’s been a wild ride, 2018. This has been really heartwarming.”
And they are showing no signs of slowing down as they move into 2019. They’ve got a regular slot locked on brand new station Foundation.FM — itself, a female-led venture — and have new releases lined up from a French producer, a US singer/rapper and from Elkka herself. Elkka will also be stepping further into the live sphere with another performance locked for February.
Femme Culture will also be releasing Vol.2 of the HeForShe compilation for UN Women for International Women’s Day in March. That, and with plenty more club-nights and parties in the pipeline both within and outside of the UK, the future is Femme Culture’s for the taking.
WORDS: Eoin Murray
BEST TRACK: WEISS ‘FEEL MY NEEDS’ [TOOLROOM RECORDS]
An unashamed party banger, ‘Feel My Needs’ has been blowing up festivals and clubs all year with its feel-good piano riffs and sing-along vocal, and now it’s scooped Best Track too…
“It did feel special,” remembers Weiss about the writing sessions that gave rise to your favourite British tune of the year. “But you can never know how well your tracks are actually going to do until they’re released.”
The answer is: very well, because Richard Dinsdale has been around for more than a decade but never made a tune as ubiquitous as ‘Feel My Needs.’ The hands-in-the-air house gem landed on Toolroom in May under the Weiss alias he has been using since 2013. It follows many others on the label, and for the likes of This Ain’t Bristol and Play It Down, but none have connected as immediately as this timeless bit of house, which has been played far and wide by DJs across the musical spectrum.
It’s an impossibly feelgood piano house tune with big throwback chords, anthemic female vocals and effective drums driving it all forwards. From being the last tune in small clubs to the highlight of sets on festival main stages, it works just about anywhere. And that was certainly the aim, with Richard — a former Ministry Of Sound resident and producer of everything from techno to electro- house in his time — admitting that he felt plenty of pressure in the studio while thinking, “I really need to make a track that connects with everyone.” He sure did that, because ’Feel My Needs’ started to blow up before its official release, with Dinsdale saying DJs were getting great reactions to it from the off. It’s the sort of universally appealing tune that works for techno, house and bass DJs; for underground heads looking for a big injection of immediate charm and for more commercial DJs looking for some old school authenticity.
After it initially did the rounds between Richard’s DJ friends, Toolroom signed it and Annie Mac made it Hottest Record on her BBC Radio 1 show. “Then I started thinking, ‘Oh, I think we might have something here!’” says Richard. And even now, months after release and long after the sun has set on the warmer months of the year, it is still getting hammered, with remixes from Purple Disco Machine and Gorgon City having followed more recently.
The hugely effective track was written at home in his studio — “like every track I do” — and is unashamedly influenced by the ‘90s. “I set out to do a summer piano house track and, after a few days of working hard, I eventually got there,” he says, before adding that the whole thing is original apart from the soaring diva vocal hooks which were re-sung especially for the track.
Rather than feeling more pressure once he got back in the studio after the tune took off, Dinsdale reckons the success of ‘Feel My Needs’ has actually given him the confidence to write what he wants, how he wants. As such, you can expect plenty more big tunes from the man in 2019.
WORDS: Kristan J Caryl
BEST RESIDENT: ELLIE COCKS [ABODE]
UK tech-house institution Abode has built a tight family of top class residents, and after a huge year at home and abroad, their own Ellie Cocks scoops the Best Resident award…
Abode is one of London’s biggest recent success stories. In 2018 alone it has held sell-out parties across London, a one-day festival in Finsbury Park, multi-day festival on an island off Malta, and had a huge debut residency at Amnesia in Ibiza. The energetic young party is very much built around a core team of residents, and Ellie Cocks has been one of them since first being talent-spotted at Fire and Lightbox by founder Kai four years ago.
“It’s your job to be part of the brand, embrace it and interact with the regular people you have coming to support you and the party,” says Ellie, who played every week in Ibiza this summer, and really made the world famous Terrace her own with a distinctive brand of chunky, driving tech- house. “I always try and come with new tracks each and every time I play,” she says, though she also takes her mum’s advice to “throw in a classic”, with a particular recent favourite being Aly Us’ uplifting ‘Follow Me.’
Because of the number of shows she plays with Abode, Cocks always has to switch things up. Like any real resident, this means she is capable of warming up early doors, maintaining energy levels at peak-time or “finishing things with a bang.” She recognises the need to be versatile and “to read the room and the crowd”, and says she learns something new each and every time she plays.
For that reason, she has been one of the most reliable residents in the country this year; always there to put the needs of the crowd and the party first, rather than further herself. But in doing so, she has earned a deserving reputation as one of the best in the game.
WORDS: Kristan J Caryl
BEST SMALL CLUB: PHONOX, LONDON
Offering a counter to the large- capacity venues which have come to dominate Brixton, Phonox’s focus on community and quality bookings has netted a well-deserved Best Small Club win…
Clubs would be nothing without clubbers, and the best way to ensure regular punters through the door is to build a true community around a venue. One that in years to come, people will still talk about fondly. This is exactly what this year’s Best Small Club, Phonox, has achieved. “We’re super grateful to everyone that passes through our doors for a dance,” says Ryan Phillips, Head of Music for club owners Columbo Group.
“One of our proudest achievements since opening Phonox is the sense of community around the venue. This is especially felt on Saturday nights where I regularly see the same faces coming back week in, week out.”
The biggest factor contributing to this tight-knit feel has to be Phonox’s Saturday night residents. At the start of the year was eclectic Aussie import HAAi, who “would greet our regulars like old friends” and has often referred to the staff as family. A few months ago, South African DJ Esa took the reins, and Phillips says he can see the same positive pattern forming with him already.
Elsewhere the club has packed heat with fresh line-ups every Friday, and the Sundays At Phonox series has delivered excellent extended sets from the likes of Objekt and Dax J. “No booking is confirmed without a unanimous agreement between the team,” Phillips explains of the club’s discerning selections. “I think this more collaborative approach has seen bookings continue to get better and better.”
Heading into 2019, Phillips promises the best Sunday series yet, alongside a few four-week Friday residencies, the first of which — with Jayda G throughout February — had just been announced at the time of writing.
“It’s going to be such an important year for Esa,” he adds. “We’re also now doing regular soundsystem parties on a Thursday which are a totally different vibe to our weekend programme. A free party for Brixton locals, these nights give us a chance to connect with and celebrate South London’s rich soundsystem culture.”
Looks like that Phonox community spirit will only continue to flourish…
WORDS: Ben Hindle
BEST CLUB EVENT: ALFRESCO DISCO
Offering the mystery and adventurous spirit of free parties, alongside some outlandish locations, Bristol’s Alfresco Disco earns this year’s Best Club Event award…
Alfresco Disco never announce headliners or where their parties will be, but still manage to sell 2,000 tickets before the first beat is dropped. It’s an old school approach where the focus is on the party rather than the DJ, and that trust has been built up over the last ten years.
In 2018, the team partied in a city centre adventure playground “full of amazing treehouses you could dance in,” says Tom Hodgson, one of the six brains behind the operation. “We were pinching ourselves throughout the day as we couldn’t quite believe we had pulled it off.” That event also raised thousands for the charity that runs the playground, and in the past they have partied in woods, quarries, old court rooms, music studios, car parks and country manors. Each party is decked out with lavish production to suit the theme, from adult ball pools to hot tubs to retro exercise bikes that generate visuals. “Searching for locations is fun and has become a bit of an obsession!” laughs Tom.
This summer, the Alfresco Disco crew also DJ’d and hosted various festival stages around the UK, before launching a temporary club space, T E M P L E, which proved another big success across four events so far. Some of the previous secret guests have included Shanti Celeste, Axel Boman and Jeremy Underground.
Alfresco Disco began life as an outdoor free party rave, so keeping locations private stems from that fact. “During these early years lots of well-known DJs and live acts would turn up and play and it became a nice surprise at each party,” says Tom, who has used buses to convoy people to parties at places like Weston Super Mare in the past. Truly, then, there ain’t no disco like an Alfresco Disco.
WORDS: Kristan J Caryl
BEST LARGE CLUB: MOTION, BRISTOL
Bristol’s cutting-edge club scene owes a lot to the city’s beloved venues, and right at the centre of that culture stands the mighty Motion, this year’s Best Large Club…
“We couldn’t be prouder to have won this year’s it’s great to see so many West Country nominees in the other categories too,” says Jack Scales, Head of Programming at Motion.
As Bristol’s most prolific dancing destination, the crew are clearly just as proud to support the local scene as they are to walk away with one of the industry’s most coveted trophies. A nocturnal beacon for the entire region, Motion has made a name for itself by pulling in the biggest international names, while giving a platform to rising stars from the UK’s ever-growing talent pool.
“This year’s In:Motion series has been the biggest to date with some of the best artists the venue has seen in a long time, including Flying Lotus, Above & Beyond, Deadmau5 and Groove Armada,” Scales replies, when asked what some of the highlights have been from the last 12 months at the club. There have been changes to the club itself, too, in that time, as Scales explains: “Motion is continuously developing; it doesn’t feel like we’ve ever run two events in the same way. We’ve just completely re-developed the Marble Factory, offering a new 1,500-capacity venue to Bristol. The sheer size of our rooms is what really sets us apart and with that comes well-thought-out production, which leaves a lasting impression.”
As for the future, plans are already in place for 2019, a year set to be defined by monumental celebrations, as Motion prepares to turn ten years young. All of which makes the venue’s Best Large Club win a fitting way to box off the first decade of decadence at the Bristol institution.
WORDS: Martin Guttridge-Hewitt
BEST CLUB SERIES: WAREHOUSE PROJECT, MANCHESTER
Closing out their last season at spiritual home Store Street, Manchester institution The Warehouse Project mark the end of an era with a triumphant Best Club Series win…
Take one former air raid shelter-cum-carpark beneath one of the UK’s busiest train stations, chuck the autos out, bring in mind-blowing lighting and sound rigs, and add 12 consecutive weeks of parties boasting the biggest names in global dance music. The result is The Warehouse Project, Manchester.
Welcoming hedonists since 2006, the location of this autumn and winter throwdown has changed twice during that time, but Store Street, its current address, has long been considered headquarters. Not for much longer, though. 2018 has seen the celebrated series leapfrog well beyond its one-millionth ticket sale, deliver one-off events and gigs in other sites across the city, and host everyone from Underworld to Sven Väth, Four Tet to Gilles Peterson, Omar-S to Amelie Lens in a truly historic season at base camp.
But once the lights come up on the annual New Year’s Day event it’s finally time to move on, with the area around the venue earmarked for redevelopment on
a massive scale. Winning Best Of British Best Club Series therefore means going out with a bang.
“It feels great, a fitting tribute to our time at Store Street,” Promotions Manager, Oliver Ryder, says of winning this year’s coveted award.
“Our time at Store Street comes to a natural conclusion, many emotions arise at the thought of parting ways with what has been our spiritual home for over a decade but it’s time for the next chapter,” he continues. “The Warehouse Project will always remain a forward-thinking institution and we’re excited to reveal the next phase of our journey.”
The future is theirs for the making — where from here is anyone’s guess, but the smart money is on more international-scale sessions packed with unforgettable production, and destined to make another million or so memories.
WORDS: Martin Guttridge-Hewitt
INNOVATION AND EXCELLENCE: THE LOOP
For their pioneering harm minimisation work, DJ Mag has given the Innovation & Excellence award this year to The Loop, headed up by Professor Fiona Measham…
If there’s one organisation that deserves as much recognition as possible for innovation and excellence in the world of clubs and festivals, it’s The Loop. You might have seen its banner at events such as Boomtown, Boardmasters, Secret Garden and Made Up in recent years. You might have even used its services.
Dedicated to making our scene a safer and more well-informed place since 2013, the Manchester not-for-profit organisation provides a number of services: it allows people to confidentially test their drugs without any fear of arrest, it circulates information about dangerously strong or harmfully adulterated drugs going around, and it provides welfare.
Most importantly, whether it’s at events or not, The Loop provides real education and information about substances, recreational drug culture and its dangers. It’s a far cry from the scaremongering copper who’d come to your school and tell you that you’d all die if you so much as looked at a dealer, The Loop’s team actually know what they’re talking about. They understand and accept that recreational drugs are part of electronic music culture, and want to face the issue head on, rather than sweeping it under the carpet or creating even heavier punishments for people who aren’t criminals in any other aspect of their lives.
It’s working — in July 2018, The Loop set a new precedent, as Police Minister Nick Hurd said in Parliament that the government, “are not standing in the way”. This is a quantum leap in drug reform, and it’s good news on the ground, too, as events where The Loop is present consistently see less drugs misuse or hospitalisations.
“Festival medics regularly report that drug related problems decrease when The Loop is providing [a] Multi Agency Safety Testing service on site,” explains The Loop founder Professor Fiona Measham, who is a clubber herself and has been studying UK nightlife for over 25 years.
“There’s a number of possible reasons this might happen. We provide harm reduction advice directly to people coming to our service; they pass on harm reduction advice to their mates; we put out warnings on social media, and people present [themselves] early to the medics if they have a problem. Also, emergency services report being more confident to deal with emergencies onsite when we test samples that their patients have consumed, as they know what they are dealing with.”
Essentially this means that any medical incidents that do arise at events are likely to be less serious, because The Loop has clued everyone up; the user, the medics and the emergency services. Its Multi Agency Safety Testing teams comprise a whole raft of expert volunteers such as postdoc chemists and healthcare professionals, such as GPs, psychiatrists and other medics.
“What that means is that they can pool their specialist knowledge and experience,” says Measham. “They do this to provide the very best test results and advice to service users within as short a space of time as possible.”
The result is one of the most progressive things to ever happen in UK club and rave culture. And it’s needed, for while the purity of drugs has generally increased in recent years (meaning they are dangerously potent and should always be done by quarters or halves), there’s still evidence of dangerous adulterants such as n-ethylpentylone being mis-sold as MDMA. It’s a relatively new stimulant that, Fiona explains, can causes anxiety, paranoia, insomnia and potentially psychotic episodes. Looking and smelling almost identical to MDMA, even regular users who feel they know what they’re taking would have trouble identifying n-ethylpentylone, reminding us that no matter how much of a seasoned raver you are, you don’t know everything, and you really ought to check out what you’re taking.
It’s clear that promoters are accepting this too. And while it’s much easier to stamp down a zero tolerance rule and keep stakeholders happy, and ticket sales up, The Loop is welcome at more and more events every year, especially in the UK.
“I am very pleased to say that this generally isn’t the case in the UK, but it definitely is the case in other countries that I have visited,” says Measham. “Most UK events and police at those events accept that some people will manage to smuggle drugs into a venue, regardless of the level of security at ingress, so there still needs to be appropriate medical, welfare and harm reduction support services onsite.”
Not just onsite, too — The Loop now has testing centres in Bristol and Durham, where substances can be tested any time of year (and not just at events), and have also launched a sister organisation, The Loop Australia. With plans to develop this throughout 2019, and to continue to push drug reform higher and higher up the agenda, The Loop really does deserve as much recognition and support as possible.
WORDS: Dave Jenkins