This was such a good party.
The Off Licence is the brainchild of my friends Ben Etherington and Alex Kelsall, who are also Schwein residents. They’d been talking about putting a night on themselves since before coming on board with the Schwein crew and it’s been awesome to see it take shape.
They asked me and Jonny Townsend, to warm up, CMYK played the main slot and Alex Kelsall was down to close.
A lot of thought and hard work went into the prep for the night, and the whole weekend was golden.
Eric Denis, who plays and produces under the moniker CMYK, has been running the Kommuna Tapes label and promoting events in Barcelona for a few years now, and has also made a name for himself as a collector and archivist of rare and wonderful records via his YouTube channel. He describes himself, rather over-modestly, as a wanna-be producer (check out the lovely Chicken Day on KT001 (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=J_PK3TIzti0) and Done With The Sun on KMN001 (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=T6ah8SKcNz8)
On the night, he spanned decades and genres with a beautiful immersive set – and he was a well sound guy as well – as most of our guests usually are. He stayed and partied with us through the weekend.
Every spare moment over the previous few weeks had been taken up with preparation for this and a couple of other events.
Bookings, flyering missions and mixing aside, me Ben and Kelsall had invested in enough timber to warrant a sponsorship deal from Wickes. Ben had come up with the idea of making sound diffusers and we decided that these would work as part of the decor for a stage at a festival we were playing and for this night.
Unfortunately, the diffusers were unusable at the festival as they did not pass fire regulations, but (having created them with – initially at least – mainly aesthetic purposes in mind) they were a great addition to The Off Licence.
The night before the event I’d gone straight round to Ben and Kelsall’s after work and we’d finished off the sound diffusers. It had been a glorious sunny day and I found them in the alley behind their house chopping bits of wood on the mother of all chopsaws which had been kindly lent by Ben’s dad.
Preparation continued until one am for me, and later for Ben and Kelsall, who had the next day off work. I had to be up again at half past six so decided that I should really be in bed for two.
A happy coincidence was that as I lugged my tunes onto the bus on the Friday morning, I ran into my mate Joey. After we reported various recent and upcoming goings on to each other, he said he would be coming to the gig. I’d had very little sleep but I felt brilliant.
Part of what made the event – and the whole weekend – so lovely was getting to catch up with so many good friends – quite a few of them don’t live in Leeds and I don’t get to see them all the time.
I was over the moon when someone came up to me during me and Jonny’s set and said ‘Crumbs and Joey are here!’ Crumbs is Joey’s collaborator in the Freaky Behaviour duo and Odour Recordings and doesn’t live nearby nowadays and I’d not been expecting him to come along. He did this at the Easter Schwein night too, and it was an excellent surprise.
I think me and Jonny’s set was ok. I’ve played better, but people seemed to enjoy it, and I always enjoy playing good tunes.
Jonny is a mint DJ and has put a lot of hard work into our Schwein events, and I think we work well together as DJs too, but unfortunately over the previous few weeks we’d barely seen each other due to events beyond our control and hadn’t managed to catch up for a mix, which was a shame.
Also, there were some glitches which hopefully as a punter I wouldn’t have noticed, but as a DJ I did. None of these glitches were down to the DJs or to Ben and Alex, they were issues with the set up which only came to light after we’d started playing.
The left deck was unusable for most of the night. Beyond a certain volume and beyond a certain amount of bass the vibrations were too much. This is something people need to be aware of when setting up sound systems as it seems to be a recurring theme lately.
Recently our crew took over a stage at a festival where two of the line up couldn’t play as the placing of the bass bins meant that the 1210s were unusable. The issue wasn’t a death sentence at Off Licence night as it wasn’t a problem to alternate between digital and vinyl between everyone. I don’t really mind what the music is played on as long as it’s good.
Kelsall was supposed to be playing the closing set, but as only one deck worked, Eric played back to back with him, which was sound. The music was sublime all night.
Pete Melba also played a few. Unbilled and most welcome. One of my favourite DJs in Leeds.
The only thing that I thought was a real shame was that Ben didn’t play at all all weekend. He’s an absolutely class DJ and him and Kelsall as a duo are mint. I get it though. Sometimes when you’ve spent a lot of time and effort preparing for an event, you feel like you’ve neglected the part you actually love the most – the music. I’ve felt that way recently myself.
The amount of effort and love these guys put into the night, though, really reaffirmed my faith in everything. Every aspect of the night was thought about carefully. A huge board that Ben and his girlfriend Katie had sprayed up to go in front of the decks provided some hilarity as we headed down to the venue after an excellent meal from The Cat’s Pyjamas.
The issue with this board was that it was so huge that it wouldn’t fit in anybody’s car. In the end, me, Ben and Marcus Kitchen – who had been helping Ben and Alex out all day – had to walk down to Blueberry Hill Studios with it. If you’d have seen us from the right hand side you’d have just seen a huge board and three pairs of feet. We had to cross Burley Road and Kirkstall Road like that. You couldn’t see past the board unless you were the person at the front. It was like something out of The Two Ronnies.
As well as the obvious thing of the night being programmed right – so the music works and is a journey – all the decor was thought about really carefully. This is something I’m always in favour of – it adds to the atmosphere, which is important.
I’ve been part of other projects where I’ve ended up feeling really depressed because it’s seemed like nobody gives a shit and they expect it all to fall out of the sky, and it doesn’t – it takes time and hard work.
If you’re doing something like this and you live and breathe it and if you’re working with people who don’t then you end up feeling really shitty about everything and harbouring a lot of resentment towards people who are your friends. It suddenly it is a burden and not a labour of love any longer.
It’s a weird one. You don’t want to end up being angry with your best friends. You genuinely love these people. But when you’ve taken on the majority of work involved in something – mainly because otherwise it wouldn’t get done; and the majority of the financial burden – with others saying things like ‘I’d put in extra if I could afford it’ and then showing a picture of the new jacket they’ve bought, while you’re going to be eating noodles until the next time you get paid… well that makes it difficult not to feel disheartened.
Also, there can be a case of too many cooks. You don’t need a huge team of people to put on a night. That can work counter-productively. You don’t all necessarily have the same mindset. You find yourself feeling like you’re banging your head against a wall trying to explain to someone that it’s not just a case of ticking boxes. If you’re putting on events, for the larger events at least, you want to showcase acts you love who are not local to your area and no it won’t do to just book a local tech house DJ for the sake of putting on a night. Then you have another member of the collective who understands perfectly about who to book and how to program the night – but to actually get them to put any work into the preliminary stages is – again – like banging your head against a wall. Not to say that they didn’t acknowledge that I put more work in, or even to say that they didn’t say thanks. But I wasn’t after being thanked. I just wanted to work with people who had the same passion as me.
Also, you’d have to deal with people saying things like ‘I would put more time in, but I’m really busy’ and then they’d start telling you about all the stuff they’d been watching recently on Netflix. Now I’m not saying people shouldn’t have any chill time, but I also don’t accept that most people really understand the true meaning of the word ‘busy’. And obviously, your job or degree or whatever you do 9-5 can’t suffer, but if you just want to do that and then chill the rest of the time, then don’t take on loads of extra curricular activities.
Also, for me, this is not and has never been a hobby. And it would annoy me when I’d be stood with one of my co-promoters and they’d be saying to someone ‘Well, it’s just a hobby’, especially when they’d been talking to you days before and said that they were completely serious about it. It undermines it all completely.
And all of that – as pathetic as this may sound – it almost breaks your heart, because in the moment, at the height of the afterparty, your friend says to you:
“See, when we all get together, there’s a magic.” And yes there is. But there’s a lot more to it than that. It takes a lot of passion and graft to make the magic happen.
Anyway, I digress…
Going back to the highs and lows of the weekend and departing from the highs and lows of my life, the only other moot point were the rather over-zealous bouncers at Blueberry Hill Studios. There was the rather odd moment when they decided to ID a girl who was 29 (!) My friend James came to get me to see if there was anything I could do, but obviously it was down to their jurisdiction and not something I could influence. A more positive ending to all that is that she went home and got her ID and we got speaking at the afterparty and she was a good person to meet.
This was another great thing about the weekend – meeting some awesome folks who I’d somehow never run into before on the Leeds scene. That and seeing old friends made it all magical.
My mate Nigel also managed to get over – and like Crumbs and Joey, it’s always wonderful to catch up with him. Nigel was our guest, along with Cottam, at the first ever Schwein night at Wire and has been massively supportive of all of our ventures.
After the event, we all headed back to Ben and Kelsall’s for the afters and stayed there most of the weekend – various people left to go to Inner City Electronic and then came back, and I had to head out on Saturday at midday to first of all meet up with Al Bradley to discuss a Schwein and 3am collab, and then to play a set for Throw Down and FiftyFifty at 212. All that was pretty amusing. Chris Kitchen did a really lovely thing and tried to round up a load of folks to come into town and support me. Obviously, this wasn’t going to happen – people get settled into afterparties – and I didn’t expect them to come with us – I’d happily have gone on my own – but it was nice of my mate to do that.
212 was funny. When we got there, there was some ridiculous drama going on at Brewery Wharf – some girl was off her nut shouting random weird things at strangers. They’d had the music blasting out outside as well, but Stu (owner of 212) had turned it off because it had made her come over and start dancing in the 212 outside area. I asked if she’d been happier then (she was shouting quite angry things at the passers by) and Stu said yes, so I suggested that he turn the speakers back on.
As funny as it was, it was also quite dark really. The guys at 212 had called the police, but they didn’t really do anything and then some paramedics came down and this guy the girl was with, who was about 50, and who had given her something to smoke a few minutes earlier, suddenly walked off and sat miles away, as if he was nothing to do with it all. She was probably around 20. It was a sad thing to watch.
As Chris Kitchen had done a dead sound thing and come down to the gig with me, I was happy for him to play back to back with me, and it ended up being me, Chris, Ziggy and Lewis Laycock playing one tune each back to back. It mostly went well. There was a moment where it suddenly hit me that I was actually out in the world and not in the cocoon of the afterparty and I said to Chris ‘I’ve just realised – we’re actually entertaining the public!’ which made us both laugh.
It was decent playing back to back with the FiftyFifty guys – they have some excellent tunes. Eventually, I fluffed a mix and felt at that point like I was done in terms of entertaining the public. Not my finest moment.
It was, I have to say, nice to get back to he safe haven of the afterparty. Plus, we had Eric over for the whole weekend and it was nice to hang out with our guest and all the people who’d come over for the night who I hadn’t seen for ages. Very good times.
There were a lot of great tunes played, a lot of hilarious moments, and a lot of love in the room. One friend, who’d travelled over to Leeds for the party, said how proud she was of Ben and Kelsall for making it happen: ‘I remember a year ago they said they were going to put a night on, and it’s great to see that it’s happened and that it’s been so good.’ Indeed.
As always, the afterparty brought along more people who hadn’t actually been to the night, and although it would have been even better if they’d managed to make it on the Friday night, it was good to see some more old faces roll in on the Sunday morning.
Also, back in September we put on Harry McCanna (another great guest on all fronts), and he’d just flown back from Barcelona when he played our gig and had said he’d been staying on a couch and partying for the previous few days. Anyway, the person in Barcelona who’s couch Harry had been staying on was Eric’s. We’d been hoping to get Harry on again this summer, but a series of misfortunes have meant that it’s not been able to happen.
One of the great things about doing this is the worldwide community of people who share a passion for great music, and who generally are pretty sound. Putting on nights and playing music, you get to meet so many people who are like part of your crew after you’ve known them for a couple of hours, and in cases where there’s a language barrier, that becomes irrelevant because you share the universal language of the mix and the laughter and camaraderie of the sesh.
My friend was right. What happens at certain times is magic. You get the right combination of music and people and the right setting and something golden comes out of it.
You can’t force the magic. It’s not always there. I’ve been to some horrendous afterparties. But when it does all come together, it’s wonderful. The magic was there that weekend and I was still basking in the afterglow nearly a week later.
And not to say the good times don’t take their toll. After five weeks of gigs every weekend, work all week and evenings spent preparing for the various events, the weekend after I was decimated. Even with time, stamina and a genuine love for everything you’re doing on your side, there’s only so much no sleep you can have.
Also, I am currently (and temporarily – this has happened before) deaf as a post and feel like the left side of my head has a huge weight in it. That makes mixing difficult, social interactions awkward and the side of my head hurt.
It’s been worth it though.
And after one more quiet weekend, I look forward to diving back into several weeks of music and mayhem and ruining myself again.
So xoxo from a KO’d me to everyone until the next time…
Words: Roya Brehl