John Digweed recently played at 303’s 5th birthday (part 2) and Hush Hush in Leeds the might prior. The Waveform Transmitter‘s Simon Huxtable travels the length of the country (twice) to bring you the details.
I do love a good Blur sing-a-long. There’s a particularly apt ditty from their classic ‘Parklife’ album which I regularly hum…
“Bank holiday comes six times a year.
Days of enjoyment to which everyone cheers!
Bank holiday comes with six-pack of beer,
Then it’s back to work A-G-A-I-N.”
The British bank holiday raveathon. I’ve had a few, written about them too, but this weekends adventures were different, it was a Digweedathon. My first back-to-back rave with King John of the Dark Beat leading the way. “He played the hardest I’ve ever heard for a while,” Dom tells me in the bar of the Hilton Leeds “Not heard him play like that since Space 2016.” He’s speaking of course, about Digweed’s incendiary performance at Fabric for Bedrock’s 20th Anniversary show.
It’s hard to imagine a time with John Digweed on the decks where I haven’t had the best night of my life. The man commands your attention from the first beat and you willingly give it, such is the magnetism of his personality through the music he chooses. But ask anyone about the man himself and you tend to draw a blank; an enigma to the many, he is great company I hear and the opposite of the deeply focused DJ you see on stage.
We glimpsed it at the Mint Club towards the end of his set as Hush Hush promoter, Andrew took over for the last hour and fluffed his first mix because Digweed’s filter settings on the ‘vortex machine’ (a Xone DB4 mixer to us mortals) are unique to the man – he cracked a smile as Andrew tapped him on the shoulder utterly baffled.
Leeds was the setting for Friday night’s fun. A city I’ve had a lot of good times in; a night of many firsts as it turned out. First time I’d been to that club, first time I’ve seen Guy J play live and the first time meeting many of the people I regularly interact with on social media. The train journey up had been horrible, mostly because I was bloody-minded and didn’t want anything to do with the rail replacement buses running from where I live to the nearest train station with actual trains in them.
London-bound and in good spirits, the rain wasn’t a deterrent at all. I was indoors after all and would be for the foreseeable. Time well spent, I began reading a book cataloguing famous music writers best work; Laurie Anderson waxing lyrical on Animal Collectives’ ‘Centipede Hz’, Velvet Underground’s Lou Reed giving a very honest and heartfelt examination of Kanye West’s ‘Yeezus’ and the great Paul Morley on a Joy Division show at University College London, were particularly compelling and equally unique in delivery.
London. The big smoke. I’m not a fan, sorry. Barely stopping for a pee, I rush through Paddington Station and onto Kings Cross for my next available connecting train out. The ticket seller is expectedly rude; one word answers before pulling his phone out and opening an app. God, I hate London…
Leeds. The train up was pleasant enough, it was early evening and I’ve been travelling a while. I was staying at a backpackers hostel for kicks mostly. Not really been one of those backpacker types – my travels have been from a home base somewhere – but it was cheap and the pictures of the rooms looked ok. The owner was pretty keyed up, he ran through his spiel at breakneck speed and I barely understood anything he told me. He writes down the wifi code, the door codes and I take a business card in case I’m too drunk and I need a taxi. Away I go to meet a pal, Dom who was out last night in London and is following Diggers around all weekend. He’s by no means the only one.
After a delightful few hours chatting, I arrange to meet him later and head off into the chilly night to catch another mate DJing at the pre-party for the Mint Club night. Ian Dillon is in his favourite place when I arrive at the Old Red Bus Station, behind the decks. Normally a shy and reserved fella, like many of us, he comes alive with a turntable in front of him and is as entertaining to watch as he is to hear. Tonight he’s being held back by Jonny Burg, his back to back partner. Only joking! The pair did fantastically well and the crowd are poised for a big night out.
The Mint club is a bit like Watergate in Berlin in so much as the lights are in a low-slung ceiling on the main dancefloor. It’s cool, I liked the vibe of the place; not too stuffy but classy enough to appeal to a wide cross section of Leeds clubbers ill at ease with the sticky carpet Ritzy crowd and beery-leary stags/hens that blight many cities weekends. The warm up guys are providing a sultry, energetic soundtrack that properly sets the mood. The club steadily fills up and the dancefloor is filled in about half an hour of my arrival. I’ve managed to catch up with Dale Middleton and his pals from Middlesbrough. We’ve raved many times and they’re good people. Messiness is in the post.
Guy J’s arrival is more of a continuation of the status quo rather than the fanfare I had expected. Patiently he built the energy and thankfully the crowd are happy to respond and give him the time to work his magic. Avoiding the obvious, each track segued perfectly, it was like he was almost warming up after the warm ups, deftly offering a hint of a classic here and a known melody there; teasing us like a good lover can. Eventually the payoff comes with the big hitters as Digger takes to the decks amid a flurry of excited cheering and simultaneous video recording – its always the opening track they want to record!
To say he was masterful would be to underplay Digweeds performance criminally. He is, bar none, the single best DJ on the planet. Hardly raising his head, deep in concentration, John Digweed’s vibe is never a linear experience. Cut him open and he would bleed progressive house with “Renaissance” written across him like a giant stick of Blackpool rock. Holding back somewhat from the previous evenings outing – maybe the cupcakes had something to do with it, maybe the vodka – this was Digweed at his introspective best. Deep swathes of melody accompanied gut-shaking bass as he patiently ran through the gears whipping us all into a maelstrom of swirling bodies: God’s music in God’s country.
I don’t remember leaving. I wasn’t drunk, at least not from the rather excellent 3 for £10 beers I was drinking. I was punch drunk from the music, my favourite drunk. I think I slept about 3 hours before I had to get the train to Liverpool for round two.
I love crossing the Pennines. If you haven’t experienced it from a train, you’re missing something truly wonderful. It’s a short 2 hours (with the briefest of stops halfway changing trains) across the country but worlds apart in terms of the people and cities. Liverpool is easily in my top 5 places to live (okay, my ex-girlfriend lived there, but I thought it was cool) even the sketchy bits have this romantic glow to me, naively I know. I’d booked the closest hotel to Lime Street, literally opposite the train station.
The club we were going to be at that night was a new one on me – Invisible Wind Factory – but it seems to have garnered good reports, one chap even saying it was “the best venue in Liverpool” on Skiddle. On the map it looked a bit ‘out of the way’ so I opted for a taxi. I need not have worried, walking back – SORT IT OUT LIVERPOOL TAXIS!!! FFS – it only took me about half an hour to cover the two miles, thanks to the 3 hot (actual) police women I met that directed me away from the back streets my phone GPS was sending me.
But I’ve skipped the best bit… 303 V. Before I tell you, some background – this might take a while, best put a brew on.
When I was a younger man, living in the North West and working as a Nurse, I had this crazy plan with some friends to start a magazine. Somehow, in preparation for the grand opening, we had got chatting to Oliver Lieb… the actual Oliver Lieb! He was looking for backing for an album project and we, well, I was sent to Liverpool to sell him on the idea of our mag running the story exclusively. He was there for 303 headlining with Justin Robertson and I’m fairly sure it was their first night. Anyway, we chat for 3 hours. He bought me coffees and I finally landed him for the mag. Success! He offered me guestlist for the show that night but I think I was working next day so politely declined like an idiot. I kept an eye out for 303 and true to form they smashed it every show.
Fast forward five years and here we are with 303 “eaking it out” – as promoter Stuart Hodson says – with birthday celebrations lasting several months. And why not? They deserve their time in the sun. 303 parties are a lot like Cream ones. Friendly up-for-it clubbers of all ages and from miles around getting together for a proper knees up. Keen to keep up standards, they are careful who they book meaning the regulars can almost treat the headlining guests as residents. On steroids.
Inside the venue, all feels very familiar. I do enjoy a good warehouse for a rave, but older me kinda felt the portaloo toilets and dude with bag of deodorants was a bit shit. Frankly. 2 years in and they still haven’t paid for plumbing, that’s inexcusable really. Hardly a massive put off, the space is perfect for the kind of thunderous bass lines Diggers loves to unleash on Liverpool and this was no exception. The real surprise for me was Patrice Baumel who played a blinder before King John took up the throne. Taking over from ex-Cream resident Steve Parry, the former Trouw resident showed us all why he’s such an in-demand DJ with an exemplary display of light and dark, hard and soft, deep and powerful.
To be fair, when he finished, I’d have been happy to go home satisfied but Digweed had other ideas and over the next few hours, pummeled us with ever-tougher techno beats and steely sonics like Renato Cohen’s ‘80 Energy in the Sauna’ and Steve Parry’s acidic ‘303V’. Closing the show with one of his own, Crazy Diamond, every hand was pointed toward the sky; all in unison, all in love… A proper finale to a brilliant weekend. It hurt leaving early Sunday and not tweely because my heart will forever be Liverpool’s, two days raving had shot my liver to pieces and I had what turned out to be an epic 9 hour journey home on 5 trains. All to avoid the rail replacement buses… next time, I’ll drive.
303 will be holding part 3 of their 5th birthday celebrations with a very special all-night-long event, featuring Nick Warren behind the wheels. Get involved and grab some tickets, here.