Leeds was described by Conde Nast magazine in 2004 to be the,"UKs best city for nightlife". I have been part of that nightlife in the city since 1990, mainly through my residency at back to basics club. I have seen many peak moments for the city, espcially through the boom years of the 90s, and it does deserve to be a famous location for clubs but the last few years for me have been uninspiring. I have watched as most of my friends have moved down to London or further afield. I have seen many new nights start and keep the torch glowing here for electronic music such as Mono_Cult, Louche, and Flux but there have been too many new start ups and it has become harder and harder in the city to keep a stable healthy scene going as nights compete on the same dates and cut into each others fan bases. There has also been a lack of new venues that are on a par with Manchester's Warehouse Project or the seemingly endless supply of spaces in East London. A visitor to Leeds would still be shocked at the amount of unused or derelict city centre buildings and 'to let' signs. The recession has hit hard here in many ways.
But recently my hope has returned and I am genuinely excited by development in the city. Not one but several cool new music venues have opened recently - Nation Of Shopkeepers (catering for up and coming bands), Mint Warehouse, The Garage, Beaverworks, Full Circle and Canal Mills. I visited the Mint Warehouse for a Loco Dice Desolat show and was impressed with the sound and the space, espcially the potential for outdoor events in the summer. The Garage is a really exciting project on the other side of town from Call Lane, which has been the hub for Leeds bars since 1992. The venue houses Waxwerks record store, which is the first underground record store to open (rather than close) in the city in the last 10 years. It's genius marketing niche is that it also has a bar and lounge area so music lovers can hang out while perusing their products. It also turns into a second room for the Garage venue at night.
Feeling stuck in a rut in Leeds a couple of years ago I started 2020Vision events in London when the opportunity arose with another ex-pat Leeds lad Danny Raper. After the success of the London shows we really wanted to come home and do shows in Leeds but I couldn't see the space for us in an overcrowded scene or find the right spaces that would suit our style of one off warehouse parties. The cool thing about Leeds is that it's small enough to know everyone doing cool stuff and so I started to get wind of Canal Mills from friends; Simon Morrell, who runs Fina records and the Sound Channel guys Dan & Steve, who also run Wax On and Hideout festival. I could see that it had massive potential. Dan invited us to do the third ever show at the venue with Maya Jane Coles, Crazy P, Simon Baker, PBR Streetgang, Death On The Balcony and Danny Raper on October 20th 2012.
I'd say Canal Mills would be at home in Berlin, London or New York but thinking on, it wouldn't, as it's character is uniquely Yorkshire. It is a large old textile mill sitting on the Leeds - Liverpool canal that runs through Armley. Opened as a music venue but also as a space for Art Exhibitions and installations it has three large rooms that leave the interior rough and ready but provide scope for creative use. As with any new space it takes time to get the sound and lighting right and I made sure to go to the opening night for ideas. I felt the sound needed work especially so we changed the rig and tweaked it with advice from Roberto Pieroni, our London sound tech, and the Sound Channel guys. We brought in our own visual director to create the video work we expect at our London events and got busy on the promo. It was great to see that, when asked, other Leeds crews (Wax On, Mono_Cult, Flux and Asylum) got right behind us and helped spread the word. It has always been about bringing the whole scene up together for me, it's always a shame when it gets competitive and the original house music message of unity gets lost. I guess I'm old school like that.
I'm not going to review our own night so you can find a review here and more photos here. I can however say that we had 1500 people that looked very happy through the doors and I massively enjoyed the show myself and all the artists played out of their skins. The Leeds Arena opens next year and I have been hearing some other very promising develoment news from major players in the city but I can't splill the beans yet. Maybe I can persuade my remaining friends to stay in the city for a while...