Tuesday, 20 July 2010

[Feature] - Niche - The true story from Steve Baxendale

Naughty but Niche: Sheffield’s Subterranean Superbrand

The UKs urban music scene has become completely dominated with bassline and speed garage in the last few years. This explosion seemed to happen over night but as any ardent Niche fan will tell you, the story started much further back.

From humble beginnings as a Sheffield nightclub, Niche has evolved into a global entity. As the club grew and the music evolved, so too has the meaning of the word. With the development of speed garage and 4/4, the term ‘bassline house’ or just bassline, became increasingly prevalent and eventually the club was credited with the creation of this new sound. Some even refer to it simply as Niche. The most significant media on which the music was distributed was on the infamous ‘Niche Tapes’. These tapes we’re fundamental in getting the trademark pop tune bootlegs, underpinned by infectious and bouncy basslines, out to the public who seemed to have an insatiable appetite for them.

The Niche story is a rich one to say the least: Born out of the UK underground dance explosion, Tarnished by the authorities and branded a home for drugs and violence, Dramatically raided and closed down and then rising up from the ashes to become a clubbing empire and spawning the most popular UK urban genre of today. The club has gone full circle. Once a thorn in the side of South Yorkshire Police, now used by the authorities to demonstrate how to correctly run a club. It’s been an exciting 16 years to say the least.

The story begins with the birth of the early rave scene of the late 80s and early ninties. Sheffield was a perfect place for the rave music and culture to develop as this once thriving industrial city was ravaged by the Thatcher years and left desolate but overflowing with abandoned spaces of all sorts and sizes. The DIY mentality was allowed to flourish as people set out into the city with speaker boxes and wire-cutters.

One man who knows the true ins and outs of the history is Steve Baxendale, the godfather of the operation. I met the founding father of Niche at his new location ‘The Vibe’, another Sheffield club, now housing the whole organisation. The recently completed studios are gleaming with new equipment but I decided a darkened corner of the alcoved upstairs room of the club was a more apt setting to hear the chequered and colourful history of Niche from Steve Baxendale, its charismatic owner.

Where did it begin for you?

“It began in about 1992. The underground scene was coming along strong, led by the speed garage. All of a sudden underground raves we’re appearing in all the little warehouses, indiscriminate cellars and old units in the city. I sought out a cutlery warehouse, a little-mesters, which was derelict and decided to convert that into an underground rave. Everyone was sick of the commercial clubs (still essentially discos) and the military regime that they incorporated. They wanted throbbing underground music and to chill out in peace.”

Steve acknowledged also that there was a buzz in the air at this time. People had endured the 80s under Thatcher (not a pleasant experience in Sheff) and the Criminal Justice Act of 94 was round the corner. It was a time of change. Steve’s attitude to life is apparent soon after meeting him. Anything is achievable with a bit of hard graft. It was with this mentality that the original (Sylvester Street, Sheffield) club came into being.

‘We started with one side of the building, ripped a few walls out, put a soundsystem in and painted the walls black. We then used our underground messaging system to let the ravers know they should come and see us. From the second week we had queues, it kicked straight off.’

The music at this time was speed garage and a bit of house but it was the garage that would prevail as the most important sound. The police we’re quick to react to the rave’s by passing legislation and cracking down on the promoters.

‘We we’re up against the authorities from the off. The raids added an extra buzz. The kids loved being spread-eagled against a wall, star-fished and searched. They (the police) might find a bit of weed on them and then they’d go away and within an hour we’d be firing up again. So the police got a bit cute and started taking the sound systems (using new the laws) and all the equipment. From that time on, we always had spare systems knocking about. As soon as the police left with the first rig, the next one would come out and the party would start again. We knew they changed shift at 3am, once they’d raided us we’d start up again after 3, knowing that the new shift would not endure the paperwork of a second raid.’

3 years of continuous raids started to become a little tiring for the Baxendales and no doubt the novelty was wearing off for the punters too.

‘At that point we got a bit cute too and we had notices on the walls stating that all the equipment we’re on hire and therefore could not be touched by anyone who did not own it. We beat em with that one! Once the authorities realised that we weren’t going away they said that they would give me a license if I did things correctly.’

Steve began to tackle the red tape and the building was fitted out with all the necessary equipment to become legal. They gave it him with one restriction, no alcohol license. After a brief stint of punters going round the back into a van to get their booze, the police wised up to this. Steve believed that they didn’t think the club could be financially viable without alcohol on sale. Water sales we’re massive and kept the club afloat in the early legal days.

‘We never tolerated any dealing in the club but inevitably we couldn’t stop people taking things before they came. Water was all they needed to stay safe and hydrated, there was no violence. We had a great vibe because no-one was pissed up and wanting to fight, they we’re dancing around and enjoying the vibe. That was the ethos of the night.’

By the mid-ninties Niche was a thriving club with a large number of people attending every weekend. A significant change took place at this time.

‘The DJs asked if they could take the vocals out of the speed garage (pitched vocals, particularly female singers we’re a central point of the sound) and the house and just thump up the bass a bit. This led to a change from a predominantly white crowd to a predominantly black crowd. Bassline music was evolving. London never had bassline music as we had it here, they had the grime. It was our DJs, at the Niche, that created that sound. It went from an underground club with a smaller community to a massive UK wide thing with people coming from all over the country. It became a darker sound with thundering basslines. The Niche tapes were selling very strongly, selling out at each event. The queues we’re getting huge!’

‘The gangsters from other cities also started showing up at this point. They saw us as an easy target. They knew everyone was off their nuts and they could see an opportunity to move in. They knew that if they could latch onto a percentage of that market, they’d have a big chunk. So our war then was stopping these dealers coming in, on top of that, making sure the doorman stayed on the straight. The police were aware we had a battle going on but they didn’t appreciate the amount of work we put into stopping these people coming in, they thought we’d turned a blind eye. They (the dealers) wouldn’t throw their weight around with us because we would up our game plan. We had good lads, hard, working class lads that could handle a fight. The only thing the dealers understood was violence. It was dog eat dog at this time, we had to survive because we had a good club. The law didn’t like us because we had our own rule book which was contrary to theirs.’

More new legislation was on the cards which brought mixed blessings for Niche. The extended drinking hours brought an increase in revenue and the club finally, got a liquor license. The clientele had changed from off-their-head ravers to people who enjoyed the image of drinking brandy and champagne, this became their biggest seller.

‘When the police finally got the power (at a similar time) to not have to go to court and run around to make an inspection. The inspector achieved the power to enter the club at will. It was racism. They decided that because we were attracting a black audience they would come down hard on us.’

The police report into the raid and closure of Niche at Sylvester Street in 2005 said that they were attracting an undesirable crowd of members from the black gangland community who were bringing their ways to the city and cementing links with other gangs from major cities. There had been a shooting incident outside the club around this time. The shutdown by the police was called ‘Operation Repatriation’. The fact that a club with a perceived black crowd had a white owner meant that the police could close it without fear of the race card being used in defence. The writing was on the wall, the police wanted it shut and they got their way.

This was another important moment in the evolution of Niche. Although it was already being used to describe the genre, Niche lost its attachment to one particular club. Though this was a sad loss for the ravers (Steve even opened it up to the public after the shutdown and let punters take mementos from the building to aid their grief) it allowed Niche to become a global music brand by allowing listeners from further a field to see Niche as more than just a club. After a brief period of running events at The Limit, Niche moved into its current home in The Vibe. The police still won’t allow Steve to call a club ‘Niche’ but The Vibe is home to Niche Recordings, Bhangra Niche and hosts the online radio station.

The old location for Niche was on the outskirts of the city centre whereas its current home at The Vibe is very much in the centre of Sheffield. The police forced this move, which could have provoked a lot of trouble in the city centre. Steve chose however to embrace the police’s demands for strict door policies and cameras and this has brought the club back to its trouble-free roots. Steve keeps his doormen out of view inside the club but at the slightest flare-up of trouble they are silently alerted to any area by buzzers and a patented system of illuminated switchboards which light up to indicate where they should go. Police who once fought to close him down bring copies of Niche compilations for Steve to sign for their kids. The police have a presence in the club and they’re happy that it’s run correctly. Although the current Sheffield gang problem is something for Steve to be aware of, he knows the gangs (mostly of youths) and knows how to control them.

A more recent benchmark moment was selling 100,000 copies of the CD compilation ‘The Sound of Bassline’ in 2007. A collaboration with Ministry Sound that could be bought in your local Tesco’s. This indicates just how much hype there is around the music that was forged in the old redundant workshops of Sheffield. The original Niche lover identity was a northern, working-class raver. With the popularity of the music this has grown to include all ethnicities and even increasing interest from middle-class listeners. Steve reacted to the appreciation for Niche music by young British Asians by introducing Bhangra Niche. In order to ensure authenticity, this was done with business partners fully versed in Asian music. The fusion of classic Bollywood songs and tearing Niche basslines is the ultimate UK fusion music. Steve showed me a video from the Bradford Mela which showed literally thousands of youngsters going absolutely insane with excitement as soon as they heard their first Bhangra Niche tune. The first album was launched last year and is selling out faster that Steve can press them.

Niche is the most significant urban contribution from Sheffield ever and is a huge export for the city. Musically Niche still caters for the classic tracks that were first played all those years ago but the 4/4, the Bhangra and Desi Niche and all the other sub-genres are where the youths interest is. Proudest of all would be Steve’s brother, Mick, who lost his life defending the club he loved.

By Alex Deadman - January 2009

(Since this article was written, Club Vibe has been rebranded as Niche)

Friday, 26 March 2010

[Mix] Rogue State & Alex Deadman present - Snowed Under - March 2010

The first R8 mix of 2010 from Rogue State & Alex Deadman, featuring vocals from Walker Dubzee. This was conceived during the deep freeze in Sheffield. Once things started to warm up we could get the MCs out of hibernation and finish it off.  With so much going on musically it’s sometimes hard to cram everything in but that’s what we’ve tried to do. Hope you like the result.

1hr 15 mins - 27 tracks - 192 Kbps - DOWNLOAD HERE

Artist – Track – Label
1. Rogue State & Vandal AKA – Time to let go – R8 dub
2. DJ Deadbeat – 1 Finger Skank – R8 dub
3. Rogue State – Kained Sonic – R8 dub
4. Buraka Som Sistema – IC19 – Mad Decent
5. Dutty Dan – Bumbaclaart – R8 dub
6. Rogue State – Very Tribal – R8 dub
7. Rogue State – Personal – R8 dub
8. Squire of Gothos – Bounty Ice-Cream (Vandal AKA Rmx) – Off Me Nutt Records
9. Caspa & Rusko – The Terminator (Benga Rmx) – dub
10. Foreign Beggars – 7 Figure Swagger (Bar 9 Rmx) – Dented Records
11. Vandal AKA – Disappearing – R8 digi018 (unreleased)
12. Rogue State & Vandal AKA – Chant – R8 dub
13. Rogue State – No Retreat, No Surrender – R8 dub
14. Hard House Banton – Sirens – Spoilt Rotton
15. Rogue State ft. Charra Love – What Goes Around (145 Rmx) – R8 dub
16. Dutty Dan – Moving it Large – R8 dub
17. Bernie & Barker – Big Bad Bernie (DJ Deadbeat Rmx) - Planet Terror Records
18. Little Jinder – Youth Blood – Squire of Gothos Rmx – Trouble & Bass Records
19. TKR – Polar – dub
20. DJ Deadbeat – Dark Light - dub
21. Pacman (aka Kid Lib) – India Arie Rmx – dub
22. Arie – Somtime After – R8LP1
23. Rogue State – Only Sound – R8 dub
24. DJ Deadbeat – The G-Spot – dub
25. Pacman (AKA Kid Lib) & DJ Deadbeat – Dis Your Likkle Sound – dub
26. Vandal AKA (with vocals & sax from Rachel Edmonson) – Green Smoke – R8digi018
27. Arie – Seasons – R8LP1

Monday, 1 March 2010

[News] Huddersfield Dubstep Revolution!

It’s 2007 and deep in a basement in the West Yorkshire town of Huddersfield, a powerful new movement is beginning. This is the start of ‘Powah’, an event which has brought together artists, sound system and a love of dubstep to explosive effect. 

In 2008 they left their formative basement and moved to Bar1.22 where they promoted the first proper dubstep night in Huddersfield. The event featured Kromestar, Distinction, Exodus and the Bass Junkies on the mighty Axis Sound. Promoter Dave Cowan described these sessions. 

‘It was fantastic, we had acts such as Luke Envoy, RSD and Mrk1. But when the roof started falling down we knew we’d outgrown our first home and moved to our new setting, Legends. This club is in an arch under the railway viaduct in a quiet industrial part of Huddersfield, away from anyone disturbed by sound. The ethic of the night is based around a true underground ethos, taking the values of roots music forward into progressive electronic music and sound system culture.’ 

All the artists, promoters and sound men involved work together as a family. There’s a strong influence from dub and roots reggae. The members include Ras Sis, Red J, City Skank, Iko, Rootikal D, Andy G and the most recent additions, Celt Islam and Connectionist. Their next event will raise money for the Haiti relief effort. Dave stated that they were -  ‘Really proud to bring Bobby Friction from Radio1 who despite playing in some very conventional settings thouroughly enjoys getting his hands dirty and playing some grimey dubstep in an underground setting.’  The event takes place at Legends in Huddersfield on Sat 24th April. Check the ‘Powah Dubstep Revolution’ Facebook group for more info.

This article appears in the forthcoming issue of ATM Magazine (ATM88 - March/April). ATM is stuffed with the latest news, interviews and features from the underground music scene - Check it in your local record shop or in larger WHSmiths.


Tuesday, 23 February 2010

[Event Listing] - Wee Bit Mean 6 - 2 Part Sheffield Dubstep spectacular

'Wee Bit Mean' has been running in Sheffield for over a year and has played host to some real deep and experimental dubstep artists. As MC host for Wee Bit Mean I've had the pleasure of working with Headhunter, Starkey & Syncro, Pangea, Luke Envoy, Sukh Knight, Marcus Intalex and a number of local artists including Montrave, Kidnap, Commodo, Jack Opus, Rogue State and Vandal.

The vibe at Wee Bit Mean is always very energetic with a good mix of lads and lasses but the music tends  to steer away from jump up and crowd pleasing stuff. It's a great combination, I'm still get the tingling feeling when a big crowd of ravers is mesmerised and immersed by a really, really deep drop. Reminds me of the early days back at Exodus, like the first time I saw Distance and he played the Vex'd version of 'Fallen', very meditative. 

Here's the full press release from Wee Bit Mean:

Jeez Guys n Gals, it’s been a while. We have a two part special, two WBM's in the space of 7 days. Deliberations as to whether it was too much for us went on late into the night but here we are. Sticking to the same format for both nights we're going to hold both of the Thursday night showcases at everyone’s favorite joint, DQ.

Across both shows we have booked artists that we tip for 2010.

For Pt 1 we have;

Darkstar (Hyperdub)
With an upcoming album on the same label that brought you Burial, these guys have got the attention of music lovers across the genres right now. Darkstar really represent some of Britain’s finest current musical prospects. After releases such as 'need you' were placed inside Pitchforks top 500 tracks of the last decade and Fact Mag rated the amazing 'aidy's girl is a computer' 6th best track of last year, as well as counting their upcoming album as one of the top ten to watch for 2010, these guys are clearly on it. Not to be missed.
(Anyway, anything on Hyperdub is reliably quality, we should all trust in an old Scotsman’s taste.)

Hyetal (Punch Drunk)
This Bristolian earned his stripes in 2009, his versatile production style won him great acclaim from tastemakers like Mary Ann Hobbs. Tracks like 'we should start a fire' and his 'don't sleep/ice cream' collaboration with WBM favorite 'Shortstuff' were slammed on dance floors across the country... Bloody class!

Rudi Zygadlo (Planet Mu)
Hailing from Glasgow and named after a pair of Russian ballet dancers, Rudi is an affiliate of the illustrious LuckyMe Crew and is set for a huge 2010. Despite limited releases, his production quality and personal style means that he won’t be able to hide from the spotlight too much longer. You'll be bragging that you saw him before he was massive.

James Montrave (WBM)
Monty reps. If you’re expecting dink from our residents, be warned. The sets are tight and the tunes are groovy.

Reuben (LSS)
Representing the LSS nationwide outfit Reuben is one of the best DJ's out there. Coming at us with a funky flavor, expect it deeper than your average (he’s been on it longer than the bandwagons been about.)

Hosted by ALEX DEADMAN, R8 Records boss, surely you all know now?

So... head to DQ for 10pm, I’m sick of pushing the early thing but it’s important. The drinks are always dirt cheap midweek, come on.
£5adv, £6otd before 12. Tickets for both parts can be bought together for £8, but there are only 150. Bargain. Tickets should be in shops by the end of the week.

For Pt 2. we're dishing out a Hemlock Recordings showcase;

Untold (Hemlock, Hessle Audio, Hotflush)
Untold is one of the most exciting DJ's on earth right now. 2009 was the year this producer broke boundaries and genre definitions beyond recognition. Taking the advice of the legendary guru Fat Joe, Untold 'switched his style up,' incorporating stabbing synths and a tropical afro-rhythm. His sound has become ominously recognizable and made him one of 2009's firm favorites. This will surely be a Sheffield debut that no one will want to miss.

James Blake (Hemlock)
James Blake has been a WBM favorite for a while now and it don’t take a genius to see why it's not just us who feel that way. With releases that were among the best of any music form, anywhere, the 'stop what your doing' refix and the 'air and lack thereof' had people shook. This guy's is tipped by all to become 'lord of the dance' and trust us were backing em. This is one fella you should definitely start following on twitter.
P.S He sings, I know what your thinking dubstep producers singing, memories of Stenchman's attempt to springs to mind? Nah, not like that it's something else. Check 'unluck'.

James Montrave (WBM)
Culprit & Scapegoat - Back to back these guys have been running riot across Sheffield's party scene. Now they’re bringing the party to you.

hosted by ALEX DEADMAN

£5adv, £6otd before 12.
If you buy both pt1 & pt2 tickets the price is £4 each for the first 150 only.

Friday, 19 February 2010

FREE TRACKS - Rogue State drops a promo EP on R8 Records - R8DUBS002

R8 Records have put out a number of free mixes over the years and also some free tracks.

Label partner Rogue State has always got more material than we have room for on our normal release schedule and in the past, some fantastic tunes have fallen by the wayside. In steps R8 DUBS, an offshoot of R8 Records dedicated to giving out older material for free in high quality mp3 format.
Last year we put together the 'Head Gone' EP and now we present 'Draw Fer Dubs', a rare selection from the R8 vault.

1. Go - Rogue State Bootleg Rmx
2. Labba Labba Duck
3. Draw
4. Move it Gal - Rogue State Bootleg Rmx

- Download and listen to the tracks individually on Rogue States Soundcloud page
- Download a .zip file containing the 4 tracks

Check out a quick vid of Rogue State performing alongside Parly B at Dark Crystal on Sat Feb 13th 2010. The crowd goes mental when new dubplate 'Axion' is played. Big up the Sheffield crew! We filmed in HD (standard!) but unfortunately that means the video is a bit too wide for my blog.

Sunday, 14 February 2010

1st Post! - Welcome to Deadman's blog

Music is my passion in life and this blog will reflect that.

I live in Sheffield and have been an active DJ/MC on the circuit for the last ten years. Initially this began with Junglist Alliance (playing/promoting old skool) and more recently (2005 onwards) I began playing dubstep sets and founded a dubstep record label, R8 Records with Rogue State and Hood-E.

I've also spent several years performing with a reggae band, I-Witness alongside Junglist Alliance partner, Tim Walker. Reggae is also very important to me, I think that it's often under represented in the UK underground music press, particularly the still thriving sound system culture and it's associated dub music. Occasionally I find myself selecting for reggae artists including Daddy Freddy, Bongo Chilli, YT, Dan Man and D Bo General.

In 2006 I wrote a piece about the emerging dubstep scene for ATM Worldwide Magazine. I was driven by a real desire to understand the origins of this new, captivating music and in the process I interviewed a fair number of people including Benga, Blackdown, Kode-9, Mala, Mark One (Mrk1), Mary-Ann Hobbs, Oris-J and Youngsta. After the piece was published, ATM invited me to stay with the mag and I've worked for them ever since as the news editor and online culture specialist.

I've always wanted a place to collate my written work and that is the purpose of this blog. I recently took on a job writing local urban/dance news for a new Sheffield magazine, Acoustic Shave. My work with ATM does not call for vast quantities of Sheffield based news stories but working with a local publication made me realise just how much was going on here and how little of it is reported anywhere. Hopefully I can change this.

In the next few weeks I'll upload some of my older work, filed under the date it was originally published and plenty of new stories. Last Saturday (Feb 13th 2010) was the 4th birthday of my dubstep event, Dark Crystal and was headlined by Si Kryptic Minds. I was lucky enough to grab an interview with him which, once edited, will be the first feature created exclusively for Deadman's Blog.

Alex Deadman

Friday, 12 June 2009

Junglist Dancing at Rototom 2009

In 2009 the Junglist Alliance had the pleasure of organising the first ever ragga jungle line-up for Europe's largest reggae festival, Rototom Reggae Sunsplash in Italy.

The festival took place over 9 days at the start of July. Every day the main stage was graced by artists such as Beenie Man, Capleton, Buju Banton, Bunny Wailer and Anthony B. When the main stage finished, the huge dancehall tent opened up. Most nights it was controlled by some of the world's heaviest sounds including Bass Oddessy from Jamaica.

On 9th July, the Junglist Alliance showcased their UK ragga jungle lineup in the dancehall tent with Kenny Ken and The Ragga Twins joining the JA boys for a blistering 5 hours. Although the 500+ English ravers were well aware of jungle and how to enjoy it, the vast number of Italian and Slovenians in attendance had never seen proper, original jungle at a large scale event. The result was explosive.

Everyday of the festival, at 4pm, the dancehall arena (with its specially designed wooden floor) was used as a dance workshop where professional Jamaican choreographer crew, Sick 'n' Head, who taught all the latest dances to the European fans. We all went down every day to try and refine our 'gully skank' (impossible!) and to check out the girls learning moves like the 'tic-toc' dance.

We started the jungle event in the same arena at about midnight. The male dancer from Sik 'n' Head had been kipping on a sofa in the backstage chill area. He awoke to the sound of Kenny Ken tearing it up with Flinty Badman and Deman Rockers aka The Ragga Twins on the mic. He'd never heard jungle before but as a natural dancer, he was clearly drawn to the music's rhythm. Gradually he moved closer to the stage, Tim and myself were convinced that with some encouragement he would be persuaded to throw down some dance moves for the crowd. Eventually he could resist it no more, the video below captures this wonderful moment. Somehow, we were able to create a vaguely synchronised routine after the Sik 'n' Head dancer quickly copied my oafish 'Pek Step'. Big up to Nye (Mr. Meerkat) from Dubcentral for taking the vid.

Check out Sick 'n' Head performing the 'Chicken Head dance' back home in Jamaica!