The first weekend in June saw Leeds paying tribute to its electronic music heritage with a brand new one-day conference-cum-festival. Here's how it went...
A map would have helped. With no printed programme, the only way for non-Leeds dwellers to navigate their way around was using a smartphone and the map links from each venue's listing on the ICE website, and while this worked perfectly well in terms of actually finding places, a simple A4 map would have avoided a few "Right, what's next, Venue X, okay so that's... oh, bloody hell, that's right back where we've just walked from" moments.
Thought I'd best mention that - it's the reviewer's job to be objective, after all, and if I didn't the rest of this piece would read like gushing fanboy drivel. Because that's our single, solitary grumble - pretty much everything else about Inner City Electronic absolutely rocked. 20 hours, 11 venues and one roaring, unqualified success.
After picking up our wristbands at the Corn Exchange, iDJ's day started at noon, at Belgrave Music Hall, where dance music historian par excellence (and some-time iDJ scribe) Bill Brewster was quizzing scene veteran Ian Dewhirst - best known these days for his many compilation albums, including most of the Mastercuts and BackBeats series - on his days as resident DJ at one of Leeds' most legendary nightspots, The Warehouse.
Ian recalled the night in 1980 when the club's owner had encouraged him to dig out some of his old northern soul records (because soul/R&B band The Q-Tips were playing), and how on hearing Gloria Jones' Tainted Love the cloakroom attendant, one Marc Almond, had come rushing up to the booth to find out what it was. And how the latter then turned up one night a few months later clutching a 12-inch acetate of his own band's cover version. You may have heard it...
After several similarly fascinating trips down Mr Dewhirst's personal memory lane, including his role in the formation of Shalamar (something we never knew about), it was time to look to the future, as an all-female panel including Lucy Scarisbrick (Equaliser/ex-Speed Queen), Emma Zillman (Bluedot festival) and Jag K (Mixmag) discussed The Future Of Women In Music, and efforts to address gender inequality in the dance music industry.
Scarisbrick pointed out that women, trans and non-binary individuals have played key roles in our culture since its earliest days, yet when it comes to the telling of its history, are often overlooked in favour of their male counterparts. The panel also discussed the recent pledge signed by many UK festivals to achieve 50:50 gender representation on their line-ups by 2022. Zillman acknowledged that in certain genres this may be harder to achieve, and that she'd rather not be booking acts on the basis of their anatomy. But as she said, at least these issues are finally being discussed now, and that's definitely a good thing - hopefully pushing us towards a more level playing field where we don't even have to think about it.
Got any gear?
The next panel discussion, on organising festivals, no doubt followed on nicely. But for iDJ it was down to Sheaf St, which was where various hardware manufacturers and retailers were displaying their wares. It was good to see the usual suspects such as Roland, Pioneer, Rane and Denon joined by some smaller players here, including specialist synth retailers London Modular and Master Sounds, makers of the very fine (and very expensive!) Radius mixers, while in the courtyard you could take a break from the knob-twiddling and soak up some disco, house and Balearic sounds in the sunshine.
We'd love to tell you who was playing at the Doghouse, the Old Red Bus Station and at Headrow House, where iDJ whiled away the rest of the afternoon, but as we said earlier, there was no printed programme and unfortunately ICE have taken that info down from their website now! Still, cool house vibes were in abundance and we managed to get a bit of gentle afternoon grooving in before it was off to Wardrobe, where iDJ's own Matt Anniss was hosting the Dub Roots panel, an exploration of how the UK's longstanding reggae soundsystem culture influenced the early days of acid house and techno.
DJ Martin (LFO) recalled his experience of early 80s dub soundclashes and blues parties, and how that inspired the 'bleep' movement he helped to create later in the decade, while the effervescent and outspoken Mark Ital from Iration Steppas had the audience in stitches several times with similar stories. Third panellist Prince Fatty was a tad quieter, but really came alive during his Dub Masterclass, which came next, sharing some of his studio secrets when it comes to the creation of big, fat bass.
Multi-roomed arts space Hope House lay a short stroll away, so that's where we headed next. Inside its pitch-black interior, the heavyweight soundsystem was in the hands of the unannounced 'special guest' who turned out to be none other than Joy Orbison, laying down some heavy, bassy grooves. Once his hour was up, iDJ then headed to Distrikt, back in the city centre, where we caught one of our favourite performances of the day, as Nicolas Lutz served up chunky, funk-fuelled tech-house with a distinctly mid-90s feel. Boogie-ing ensued, but before long we had to hit the road again because Radioactive Man was playing at Belgrave Music Hall.
Into the night
After the long walk, we rested up in the downstairs bar where Balearic Social were spinning some fine upfront house music, with In Flagranti's Zhivago Zhivago and The Dangerfeel Newbies' What Am I Here For? particular highlights, before heading upstairs to join the throng getting down to a live set that fused electro, house and techno into one glorious, bodyrockin' call to the dancefloor.
We'd have liked to hang on for the mighty Andrew Weatherall, but we had a mountain to climb - okay, the long, steep road up to the university district - and Church to go to. Somewhere around the Merrion Centre we found a pile of fancy dress outfits, presumably abandoned by a stag or hen party, among which lurked a giant crucifix, which definitely felt like an omen!
This was our first time at Church, which it has to be said is a stunning venue. If you've been there you'll know what we mean, and if you haven't been there, then go there and see for yourself! KiNK had the main room properly rammed and rocking, but our tired legs sought sanctuary upstairs, where we found sofas and the Truelove collective, who we last enountered in a back room at Tramlines last year and whose house and disco set impressed us that time, too!
We considered calling it a night at that point, until we realised that Wire, which was the latest-opening of the 11 venues, was pretty much on the way back to our Airbnb, and that if we left now we could catch Paul Woolford. Woolly managed to work The O'Jays and Prince into his house set, which seemed to bring things to an appropriate coda for us oldies! So, some 15 hours and nine venues (one of them twice) after we started, we left the younger element to it just after 3am - disappointed to be missing Midland and Helena Hauff, but conscious of the seven-hour journey home that awaited in just a few hours' time...
So that was our day... but what a day it was! Over the course of some 24 years writing about dance music, this writer has been to the first year of more conferences and festivals than he cares to remember, and usually they're A) poorly organised B) woefully under-attended or C) both! Inner City Electronic, on the other hand, was neither.
Everything ran on time, all the venues were full without being stupidly over-crammed, the door staff were without exception friendly and, most importantly, we heard an absolute shedload of quality house and techno everywhere we went! Ralph Lawson and his crew are to be heartily commended for pulling off what was, we're delighted to report, an absolute blinder of a one-dayer that we hope very much to attend again next year.
We'd still have liked a map, though.
Words: Russell Deeks Pictures: Rash Yaman
Tags: Inner City Electronic, ICE 2018, Bill Brewster, Ian Dewhirst, women in dance music, Equaliser, Lucy Scarisbrick, Roland, Pioneer, Rane, Denon, London Modular, Master Sounds, DJ Martin, LFO, Iration Steppas, Prince Fatty, Joy Orbison, Nicolas Lutz, Radioactive Man, Andrew Weatherall, Balearic Social, KiNK, Truelove, Paul Woolford, Helena Hauff, Midland