Words by Joe Ronan
The build up to a night out is, some say, the best bit. Personally, I believe it depends on the night. If the excitement is building, if there is anticipation, if there is a headline draw, then the hours before are inevitably charged with a little more energy.
So, it was on Friday, as my friends and I sat around running through a selection of Alec Falconer's productions on Youtube (‘New Junk City’ is a standout) in our living room. Based in France, although originally from Britain, Falconer's music and selection drifts between genres, drawing from 2-Step, garage heroes like Anthill Mob, breaks, techno, electro, house and everything undefinable in between. In the main, though, they are up-tempo and uplifting - music to dance to. Music, it should also be noted, that he was mixing on vinyl, in an enviously deft and skilful manner.
This sonic positivity was reflected by the atmosphere at the venue itself. Blueberry Hill Studios is set back from Kirkstall Road, in a warehouse opposite Pirate Studios. Drinks were accessibly priced (for once), and revellers were greeted by friendly faces upon entry. Couple this to the music, and the night had a genuinely relaxed, open feel.
Perhaps too relaxed and open. As an individual whose personal preference is for dark, subterranean club spaces with minimal lighting, spaces that let the sound system, and the music, do the talking (like the Leeds institution Wire) Blueberry Hill felt a little roomy, a little bright, a little open, a little quiet.
This was undoubtedly eventuated by the fact the event did not sell out, and was, as a result, comfortably bustling rather than rammed.
Nevertheless, if the slight absence of numbers speaks to anything, it is the continually competitive nature of nights in Leeds, the relatively underrated status of Alec falconer as DJ, and, it could be said, the utter lack of taste of those electing to attend Fruity instead.
Fundamentally, the basis of any good night is high quality music. In that regard, Roundabout delivered the goods. A word must go to James Trigwell, a Roundabout resident, and Joe Stevenson of Dance Disease, who set the tone on the decks perfectly early doors, unperturbed by complications with the sound system.
Following them the music was mainly 2step garage, progressing towards a more techno and house direction (although one is always wary of labelling anything tech-house, for fear it is associated with the bait, repetitive and unimaginative mainstream of that sub-genre).
All in all, it was a night of unpolished potential, not without its hiccups but enjoyable, nonetheless. For Roundabout, this was a positive entry into the Leeds scene, an evening of good vibes to the soundtrack of good music – who could complain about that?
Photo credit http://www.spiritpgh.com/
22 year old MC, Producer and Multi-instrumentalist Blind Mic has been stirring up the north west waves since breaking through in 2017. Born and bred in Manchester, Blind Mic is here to demonstrate the best of Jazz-Hop and Trap-Soul, with the vision to navigate his hometown estuary’s and touch the mainstream.
His latest project ‘Love & Retribution’ is an atmospheric, introspective and lyrically inspiring piece, showcasing the finest of Manchester’s recording talent and his own creative drive, it also SLAPS.
We met up at his studio to find out more,
Blinds studio space, a stone’s throw from Strangeways prison, is a prime slice of what Manchester has become known for being able to offer young creatives and musicians in 2019, a large former warehouse in the North of the City, shared with other local honcho P1Caps. The building catalyses creativity and networking among hustlers and grinders of all creeds and ambitions. His room, filled with drums, couches, a piano and various other instruments is used to produce, rehearse and generally knock about, and makes the ideal setting to best understand the place where both he and his music are coming from.
Blind Mic hit the scene in 2017 after dropping his Codeine Bluez EP, and has gone on to surf his own wave with performances at Gottwood and Boomtown.
How old were you when you started making music?
“About 9? No lie, I had never picked up an instrument when I knew I wanted to be a musician. I watched School of Rock and I think I got a guitar the Christmas that year. I didn’t start MC’ing until I got to High School, so around 11 or 12, which consisted mostly of just clashing and terroring kids in the playground with wordplay. People knew I could rap, but I never had any plans to take it too seriously until I got out of school and started chilling with some friends in the Free Wize Men crew (also check them out).
I always had quite a good ear for music, so with keys and bass I was able to teach myself, which nowadays helps me quite a lot with writing and coming up with ideas.
What was your first setup?
Haha, the guitar? To be honest most of the stuff I have now, same soundcard same monitor and that, I’ve updated software etc as I’ve moved on in production through house to the beats I make now, but more-or-less the same setup. My studio space has always been more of a place to come up with ideas instead of working. I like having the separation between where I’m creative and where I go to record.
Is there any point at which you’ll feel content with where you are in the industry?
Ah bro, I’ll be making music long after anyone’s listening to me. Thing is you can set yourself boxes that you wanna tick but as soon as you reach them you just keep making new ones. As soon as I playat Glastonbury that’s me done, and now everything I do is just to be able to take care of meself, get a scran, maybe a bag of weed now and then, couple of holidays a year? I just love the process and doing it man. I think there’s definitely a time where you should stop pursuing it as a dream maybe, like you don’t wanna be 35 and trying to be a rapper bro, like if you’re doing it cool but there’s a time where you should stop trying to push it in peoples faces.
If you had to combine two animals, and the personality of a third what would be your creation?
Pelican Shark. Shark body Pelican face. Personality wise? Not sure, what animals like safe? A grizzly bear. Yeah Pelican Shark with a Grizzly bear attitude.
It’s clear throughout our time in the studio how invested in Manchester Blind Mic is, its easy to see why. Love and Retribution, his latest release was produced with Zed Bias, and features local hardhitters IAMDDB and July7, and some of the finest recording musicians we’ve ever heard on a UK project, all of whom are based in the city. Love and Retribution is as much a testament to the ear and knack for catchy yet musically hard-hitting arrangements and hooks that Blind Mic has, as it is a snapshot of the future UK underground sound combining jazz/trap/hip-hop and grime based in the north-west.
This album, long in the works, is the perfect self-advertisement for the brain behind it, and the city which it calls home. Expect to see a lot more of Blind Mic in the near future.
Nestled on the north western tip of the Adriatic coast, the 19th century Fort Christo Punta hosted Dimensions festival for the eighth and last time this year. The younger, smaller sister of Drum and Bass festival Outlook, has become renowned for the high quality of techno, house, electro and breakbeat curated by organisers in recent years; helping to ignite a now vibrant and healthy festival scene in Croatia.
Thanks to a 120 year old Austro-Hungarian fort sitting on a small peninsula just outside the Croatian city of Pula; Dimensions has boasted some of the most idyllic settings any dance music festival can offer for the best part of a decade. Dimensions will potentially part with this advantage next year as they prepare to move to a new location away from Pula. Numerous rumours circulate about the organisers motivation to do so, with disgruntled locals and corrupt officials being the most commonly whispered. Whatever the true reasoning behind the move, it is a fact that this year was the last time Dimensions would be able to call Fort Christo Punta home, and those in attendance will consider themselves lucky to have seen the event in such a unique and beautiful venue.
Despite the picturesque location of Dimensions, a lineup that is rarely matched and a globally recognised brand name, the cost of a festival ticket has remained extremely reasonable throughout the years. Tickets can be bought for £130, or £100 in a buy 3 get 1 free deal. Those willing to torment their bodies for a continuous 2 weeks are able to buy a joint ticket for both Dimensions and Outlook for only £150. This figure seems better value than a pound shop once you see the extent of both line ups.
Whilst the pricing of the festival itself increased accessibility, the price for flights was a different story. Those organised enough to buy their tickets into Pula several months in advance could get theirs for around £150 return from Manchester. Those who left it late paid in excess of £300, with many having to transfer to Venice airport or the country’s capital. The festival organisers took the edge off this loss, providing reasonably priced coach transfers to several airports in and around Croatia.
Music began on Wednesday with Alex T performing The Beach stage’s inaugural set. The selection of artists for this stage created a perfectly fitting vibe throughout the week. Acts such as Children of Zeus, Nu Guinea Dj & Live Keys and Dam-Funk (live) kept spirits high right up until Sunday night. These acts provided a different element to those of the evening, rejuvenating energy and mending broken bonds from the night before. A similar consequence materialised from the Pachino bar lineup, located to the far left hand side of the beach, with Manchester's Dj Kilo and Marcus Vitelli representing Channels on the final day. Helping to fend off any end of festival lull with continuous bops and grooves for an hour and a half.
As slow Reggae and Dubby notes filled the bay on Wednesday, punters lying on the beach and draping themselves over the flat rocks were relaxed yet clearly in anticipation of something special to come. That something special found form later that night. The 2000 year old Pula Amphitheatre has been home to the festival's opening concert since 2014 and has attracted an abundance of names varying in genre and style. From Massive attack in 2014 to Objekt, Anderson Paak, Hunee, Jeff Mills and Tony Allen this year, the opening concert is a celebration of unique style and pristine music. One of the world's largest Roman amphitheatres filled with Objekts experimental electronic sounds - backed up by an awe inspiring light show courtesy of Ezra Miller - was quite the spectacle. Pula arena is no stranger to humanity’s timeless efforts to flex with great displays and showcases fit for divine appeasement. The ancient amphitheatre, designed for the steel-clad gladiator, now finds purpose in allowing the modern warrior to revel in bass which echoes through the ages. Organisers will certainly struggle to replicate such a space in their future endeavours away from Pula.
On top of the festival itself and the opening concert, Dimensions offer numerous boat parties starting Thursday and finishing Sunday. We opted for the ‘Fold’ boat party, which featured sets from Voicedrone, Imogen and Jensen Interceptor. Voicedrone kicked things off with an explosive set, favouring heavy kickdrums which hovered around the 140 - 160 BPM mark, if those on board were looking for a light set to ease them into the festival, they had almost certainly come to the wrong place. Imogen, in a similar fashion, let rip to an hour long set consisting of heavy and high paced industrial techno, littered with breaks. These sets may have been more fitting for one of the later boat parties, which set sail at 8pm rather than midday.
Jensen Interceptor provided a more fitting set than his predecessors that afternoon. Whilst the industrial tracks found in Imogen and Voicedrone’s sets did not entirely disappear, they definitely took a backseat in favour of more melodic and punchy rhythms, paired perfectly with the hot Croatian sun and cocktails served below deck. This is not to take away from the quality of the sets before, which succeeded in dragging everyone out onto the deck.
By the time we hopped off the boat, Horror stories about the festivals security had already began to circulate. These tales proved to be no myth, with undercover security guards actively entrapping festival goers who were non the wiser. The dread of being tricked into a fine of £400 was a fear at the back of everyone's mind for the entire duration of the festival. A mutual friend of ours was fined on the first day for an empty baggy found in his wallet, searches clearly more thorough than those at stansted airport. Gossip began to circulate that the reason for Joy Orbison missing his Saturday set was because of a similar run in with security, but that remains to be proven. It’s nice to think that the reason for the festivals departure from Pula is to stop this sort of corruption, a £400 tax taken from your holiday fund for something as trivial as a bit of plastic really is a killjoy and something many wouldn't be able to afford.
Thursday night’s lineup commanded the likes of Commodo, Eris Drew, Objekt, Mala, Jeff Mills and Nina Kraviz but a personal favourite came in the form of US techno duo Octave One. Listening to the brothers shell down their second wave Detroit sound at The Clearing, a vast and open space backed by the necessary sound system, you would have never guessed it was a live set. The maturity the pair hold in the industry became almost immediately apparent, with proficient mixing and production, correctly predicting each others every move and thus working like a well oiled machine. Whilst at first glimpse The Clearing may have seemed nothing more than a huge stage to accommodate big artists, it also gave revellers the chance to take a seat and watch sets from afar whilst still providing enough sound to satisfy; definitely holding its own amongst the festivals other stages that may attract more praise.
Perhaps the antithesis of The Clearing stage ‘The Ballroom’ - found in the very far corner of the festivals arena - offered a much different experience. After witnessing the break driven set by Skee Mask on Friday, which blended techno, hip hop and and 180BPM sounds with ease, we headed to the Ballroom unsure of what to expect. After queueing for around 20 minutes and seemingly walking down a pathway to heaven, we found a small, spherical, roofless room inside the fort itself; the capacity for this stage had been set by organisers at 60. Leeds producer and DJ Eliphino, buried into the high walls above, favoured a heavy dub set. An intimate and unforgettable experience.
A special note should be made on the functioning of the festival’s queues and stages at this point. No matter how long the line, nor how big the act, the wait was always bearable. At no stage did we have to wait longer than 25 minutes in a standoff between each side of the fence. Staff were constantly monitoring the number of those leaving, ensuring that people were in with their friends and all in reasonable time. No stage at any point felt uncomfortable or inadequate and all were matched with striking, bold light displays and decorations. This was illustrated no better than on the last night. Sunday in the Moat, yes the stage was actually inside the forts moat, brought with it a 4 hour set from Hessle Audio. Despite the lineup that undoubtedly would attract a large following, we only queued for a mere 20 minutes. Although the stage was of a smaller size, the lack of a bar meant there was a constant flow of people going in and out. I can only assume that this was the desired consequence of not installing a bar, considering the caliber of names that played throughout the week.
Admittedly I had been apprehensive about the Hessle audio set, big names with lots of hype disappoint all too often at festivals, cue Ben UFO b2b Blawan at Dekmantel, but this was 100% the highlight of the week. For the fourth and final time Ben UFO, Pangaea and Pearson Sound commanded The Moat together, blending effortlessly between punchy house, dubstep, grime and other irregular grooves. As the sun began to peak out from the horizon and the clock hit 6.30AM end of festival fatigue was something felt by a minority of attendees.
Our Dimensions experience ended with a beach afterparty, just outside the festival, that went on well into Monday afternoon. Cold draft beer on tap and a more than adequate sound system were both provided by local Croats who were keen to shell down some minimal tech and make the most out of “the last dance”.
You can’t help but feel disheartened that from next year onwards the local residents of Pula will be void of two events; that have massively stimulated the city’s economy, undoubtedly energised the local counter culture and entertained the younger population. Wherever the festival finds itself next year, though, I am confident organisers won't struggle to attract a following. Sun, a lineup of that calibre and excellent organisation is a hard combination to come by these days.