Inner City Electronic took place in Leeds in June, and our favourite Yorkshireman, The Waveform Transmitter’s Niall Johnston, was on hand to soak up the sights and sounds at the one-day festival.
In recent years there has been a rise in the number of one day festivals that ditch the traditional formula of a single stage in a park -with a chronological billing that all attendees adhere to- in place of multi-venue, city-wide affairs. The greater degree of choice, and the chance to explore less well trodden areas of an urban environment has meant this new breed of festival has been a hit with punters across a wide demographic. Leeds’ take is called inner city electronic and had its inaugural run in 2018 to rave reviews. The first weekend in June saw the second edition, and we were only too keen to get involved again.
The day started for us at the Brudenell Social Club in the Hyde Park area of the city, a place which is consistently voted as one of the best small venues in the country. The Blue Dot festival curators put together the lineup here and it was in keeping with the cosmic and scientific themes of the festival. They showcased live-coded dance music collective Algorave and had talks about the making of the Dr Who Theme song, and the harbinger of electronic music who created it: Delia Derbyshire. As this venue is quite removed compared to most of the others at the festival, the crowd it attracted –Kraftwerk t-shirts, cupped pints of ale, slightly nodding heads- were clearly there with keen interest.
A big reason for them being there was likely the presence of starship controllers Galaxians, who closed the Blue Dot offering here. They brought sounds from the previous century; the 1970’s space-funk of Brian Bennett and Munich Machine - one of Giorgio Mororder’s early outfits- and overtones of melancholic italo-disco. The traditional drum kit the band employs was welcome, giving a more loose, flowing feel to the music that isn’t quite in the nature of a precisely stamped drum machine. The closing tracks featured flecks of chicago house organs, moving towards a more subterranean sound.
Next up was the Festival Hub, where Nightmares on Wax was playing a DJ set after his earlier ‘In Conversation’ at Sheaf St Cafeteria. The location was a previously unknown inner-city school playground which was playing host to the festival HQ where patrons picked up tickets and congregated with friends. This function as an open-air dance floor was for one day and one day only as the site is due to be developed in the coming months, which always brings an extra sense of novelty to the proceedings.
Nightmares on Wax’s set was a quintessential daytime party starter, full of low slung grooves and disco infused house, most notably the uplifting Soul Reductions – Got 2 Be Loved. One of Leeds’ best exports from the electronic scene, N.O.W didn’t forget his roots, getting on the mic at several points shouting ‘big up Leeds! ; shouts out to my Leeds crew!’ Etc. A nice touch. Joining him behind the decks for the latter 30 minutes was MCDE as he readied for his turn at the Festival Hub arena. With five minutes to go N.O.W dropped in with aplomb Purple Disco Machine – My House a track that I hadn’t heard in years and had near enough forgotten, but which sounded sweeter and deeper than I’d ever heard it before, bringing back great memories to me – and clearly to the crowds too.
Around 7 we moved down towards the lower lying end of town and the first stop was Distrikt, which this year had two areas with music. We flitted between the two, with dreamy, spaced out electro from Lijero & Kepler in the dive bar-esque basement, and Carl Finlow on the terrace i.e. smoking area. On paper like a slightly odd timetabling choice, but it made sense when you there; the space was well suited to the industrial, rolling 808’s of Finlow’s live performance – his space cosy and covered, blasting out to the lively dancers in the open air. Again, on paper the idea of dancing to electro on a very bright early evening in the centre of town seems slightly odd, but being there and doing it is a completely different thing. As night drew in, The Ghost would play a 3 hour long set here: a homage to all things UKG.
After the jars and jolts of Distrikt we cruised down to Sheaf St and handed the wheel to Craig Richards, who was rolling through a selection of melodic techno and house cuts. Nestled behind the old Tetley brewery on the outskirts of Leeds city centre, Sheaf St is a delightful little gem. Once a Victorian factory it’s now a multipurpose enterprise with a cafe, event space and outdoor ‘Yarden’ with fabulous sound quality, in addition to creative co-working and studio space. This made it a fitting place to hold masterclasses from respected producers in the industry Octave One and Afrodeutsche. Whilst the latter has only recently released her first album, Octave One released their seventh in 2018 and so have been on the scene, and influential, for over two decades.
The talks and masterclasses at ICE are just another of its facets and something which although not floods of people engage with, bring an extra element for a dedicated few; providing opportunities to celebrate and to learn from peers. Examples include the Equaliser talk ‘Celebrating Queer Spaces’ and ‘Parties For A Purpose’ which spoke of the great charitable work carried out alongside its event nights. On the learning side was ‘Releasing Records & Getting Signed’, mental health charity Mind with ‘How To Survive & Thrive In The Music Industry’ and ‘Do It Yourself’, amongst others including a keynote from Kelly Lee Owens.
Meanwhile, Craig Richard’s set continued, hypnotic and evolving, until the close of the Sheaf St ‘Yarden’ at 9pm. A stand out track for us was the Dexter & Steffi production Kopstoot, a B1 on their 2017 EP release for Klaxson.
After a pit stop to rest legs and consume cheaper drinks, we hit Wire. Resident Advisor hosted this year and last, with the licence to bring true show – stoppers to the decks – Helena Hauff and Midland in 2018 and Ben UFO, bookmarked by Shanti Celeste and Josey Rebelle this time around. Also on the bill at Wire was Ralph Lawson who opened – his second set of the day.
Lawson has played a key role in ICE’s conception first and foremost as its curator, but secondly through his dedication to Leeds’ electronic music scene over the past twenty years. Resident DJ since 1991 at infamous club night Back 2 Basics (the longest running in Europe) he’s seen the city develop and start to receive recognition as to place to visit and to party in. The curation combines his in-depth local knowledge and pride with a selection of in-demand names from across the world. At the opposite end of the scale to the show-stoppers, lots of time is given to young Leeds-based producers and DJs. Added to this, small independent venues are supported like Hyde Park Book Club, Open Source Arts and Hope House which works with Cosmic Slop to help inner city kids get qualifications in music production -the ‘parties with a purpose’ mentioned above.
Lawson’s purpose at this point however, was to ease dancers into what felt like the second chapter of the festival, with the moon in place and a band of selectors who peddle faster, darker music ready to start. He bridged the gap nicely with some 1990’s house tracks, before presenting perennial favourite Claro Intellecto – Peace of Mind. As the melancholic chords rang through the basement he had a moment of clear enjoyment and bliss to himself; well deserved too.
The remainder of our night was spent at the Old Red Bus Station and Freedom Mills, where the space to dance was much welcomed after the sweaty -well soundtracked- riot that is Wire. The Old Red Bus Station pumped out a mixture of unruly rhythms and textures across its three rooms, spanning bass, breaks, dubstep, slippery techno and a healthy dose of the sound of the moment, jungle. Mor Elian dropping the experimental grime inspired, uncategorizable Bone Head – Soft Power released on Warp sub-label Arcola, typified the vibe there.
Freedom Mills on the other hand was an all electro affair. Afrodeutsche wove together her own spacious, Drexicyian-esque productions with terser, more obsessively detailed tracks, with a set that could have been longer. Later, Craig Richards returned for his second slot, transitions smooth as ever, priming the crowd for the master, DJ Stingray to close the night for us in the manner that has seen him elevated to upper echelons of dance music society.
In total we managed to dance in seven of the twelve venues that the festival had to offer, getting a great tour of Leeds and indulging in sounds from right across the electronic music spectrum in the process. Moving from venue to venue it really felt like an event that has been put on by locals, people who had knowledge of the spaces and groups who should be given airtime and invested in to sustain the scene there. It also demonstrated, in the face of London’s seemingly unshakeable, unrivaled magnetism, the strengths that smaller cities can, and should, exploit. The feasibility of traveling by foot to nearly all the venues, the accessibility and the feeling of community is something you would struggle to replicate at an event in London. However similar events to inner city electronic have been pulled off in places such as Liverpool, Sheffield and Manchester and hopefully these success will serve as an encouragement to towns and cities across the country to follow suit and celebrate their own scenes.