Studio and rehearsal room access for as little as £4 per hour. No, you're not have a 90s flashback: this is 2018, it's happening across the UK and it's an exciting prospect for any DJ, producer or band. Dave Jenkins dons his eyepatch and peg leg…
You have an amazing vocalist in town who's up for a recording session, but your studio is in your bedroom and the only sheets you have are your old Power Rangers ones. You've got a release out and you want to promote it with a live stream, but your living room smells of damp and your pants are drying on the radiator. You want to sample live musicians, but your neighbours would complain about a bongo player, let alone a full-on five-piece drumkit. Or, quite simply, you've only ever mixed on your mate's decks and you want to practise on a professional set-up and record a mix.
Pirate Studios have got you. Most studios have got you in these instances, to be fair, but few are quite so accessible, widespread or fast-growing as this relatively new Bristol-based operation. Since launching in January 2016 with six studio spaces, Pirate Studios now has over 300 facilities based in 20 cities, largely across the UK but now with additional bases in Berlin and New York City. They have rehearsal rooms (with drums, mics, PAs and amps), recording studios, production studios and DJ studios, with an industry standard set-up and plug n' play tech for live streaming direct from your own social media channels.
They're also open 24/7, they're unmanned so you've got no twitchy technician silently judging you, they've launched several initiatives to find talent, curated festival stages and helped bands gain management and recording contracts. They're becoming increasingly popular with professional artists, and they're genuinely affordable: £10 per hour peak-time and as little as £4 per hour off-peak. Access to professional equipment at such a reasonable price like this hasn't been seen since the days of youth clubs and community arts centres.
"It was either youth clubs with decks or your mate's decks if you were lucky," agrees Plastician, respected selector, broadcaster and producer. Now electronic and urban music A&R for Pirate Studios, he spent last month inviting the likes of Eats Everything, Kyrist and Sgt Pokes to host live broadcasts from Pirate Studios. "There's been nothing like that for kids or anyone wanting a go for a long time. And the equipment is really expensive now: even a secondhand pair of top CDJs and you're looking at a few grand. A lot of professional DJs don't even have that type of equipment at home!"
In the beginning
Jumping aboard in January, Plastician's role is a relatively new chapter in the Pirate Studios story. To get the full yarn, we need to sail back three years to when drummer David Borrie's band split up - leaving him with an expensive studio and no real reason to use it. Working with Pirate co-founder Michael Hammerton, they split the space and devised a time-share schedule between a few local bands, before teaming up with a third co-founder, Matus Maar, and establishing the pay-by-the-hour model that's gradually taking over the world and appealing to artists of all levels, genres and styles.
"When we first started the concept, it was just band rooms," explains Borrie. "Affordable but of a certain quality that people can do what they need to in there professionally. But Mikey, my co-founder, was a DJ so the DJ rooms were a logical progression, and they took off in a way none of us expected. Suddenly we have this huge growing community of DJs and it's interesting: whereas with band studios we have people who've been in bands and played for a while, with DJs we're seeing people who've never had the opportunity to play this equipment."
Bands are still at the heart of the Pirate Studios community, and this year's Pirate Prodigy talent search saw over 2,000 of them compete for festival shows and mentorship. But the electronic side of their community is fast-growing and appealing to DJs of all levels: from school pupils for their DJ academy classes (that come with a free school pick-up) to high-level DJs such as Plastician for live streams.
"The live streaming thing was massive for me," says Plastician. "You could be the best technical DJ but might not know how to sync up with Twitch or Facebook. With this, you just log in and it links you all up. It's a much better space, too - you're not inviting randoms into your Mum and Dad's house. If you want to collaborate and hook up with a producer and meet up there, you can bring your laptop down and share that space. It's super useful for people of all walks of their musical journey."
Each equipped with three Pioneer CDJ-2000NXS2 decks and DJM-900NXS2 mixer, audio reactive lighting and full broadcast functionality, Pirate Studios now has 150 DJ studios around the UK, as well as in Berlin and NYC. Plastician also points out that the broadcasts made from the studio are recorded and belong solely to the DJ.
"It's not like being on a radio station," he says. "You're not slogging away over something that the station owns the content of and decides how it's used. It's about giving artists people power and total control over what they broadcast, how they broadcast... there's no rules."
Artist-focused, professional resources, affordable price… it almost sounds too good to be true. But the reasons behind these major plus points are just as impressive. Borrie and his team focus on repurposing abandoned industrial spaces and have developed a model where their team construct the studios on-site in Bristol and flatpack them out to the studio locations. With Brexit looming, any story of a thriving British business is always pleasing to hear.
"We tend to seek out buildings no one else wants," says Borrie. "We're often going into buildings where there's no natural daylight, or they're in need of some repair so the landlord is looking to get rid of it. That means we can do what we like to it and the rates and bills are much cheaper and we can pass that saving onto the community."
He's not just throwing the C-word around willy-nilly: community does seem key to Pirate Studios as they continue to develop. This summer they hosted stages at Isle Of Wight Festival, Sound City and Simple Things, and they have connections with nationwide promoters too, offering opportunities to play on their weekly Pirate Live stream. Next year will see this open up to DJs and producers as well.
"It's definitely much more than just a rehearsal studio," grins Borrie, who admits he now has access to more drum kits than he could dream of but no time to play them. "We want to offer as much industry support as possible. If you work with us and create with us, then hopefully we can give you a next step in your career."
Words: Dave Jenkins
To find a Pirate Studio space near you, visit their website