The team behind North Yorkshire based Beacons Festival announced in early 2015 that they were going to start putting on a series of events in a previously unused Leeds space, rather than carrying on their annual three day festival. This was lamented by some, as it was arguably the north’s finest boutique festival and almost certainly its best curated. However, it was possible to understand their reasoning; the inaugural 2011 edition of the festival was rained off, and in 2014 parts of the site had to be closed. Even in August, it is not possible to gamble thousands of pounds and a year’s worth of round-the-clock work on North Yorkshire weather conditions.
Their series is called Beacons Metro, and most of the events have been located at Headrow House. Just like the festival itself, they have booked a wide spectrum of acts: up and coming Chicago rapper Mick Jenkins, Manchester art rockers Everything Everything, and Glaswegian post-punk electronic dub enthusiasts Golden Teacher are just some of the artists who have pitched up in their concert hall in the series’ first two months. While these live acts have been fantastic, there has been a clamour among the people of Leeds to see how the venue functioned as a club, and the date most people have been circling on their calendars was 20th November, where Volte-Face and Daniel Avery were handed the reigns from 10:00-05:00.
The night sold out, which was unsurprising considering Avery’s weighty pull. The crossover success his 2013 debut album – ‘Drone Logic’ – received is testament to his musicality, considering the potentially alienating bleeding acid tones that were painted in broad strokes across the record. His fellow performer, Volte-Face, is the main man at London techno label BleeD, and for those in the know his set was as much of a selling point as Avery’s.
Volte-Face was playing from the beginning, and upon my arrival at 11:40 was shifting up a gear from the brooding ambience of his opening hour. The music space at Headrow House had been suitably darkened and filled with smoke, and Volte-Face cut a shadowy figure in front of the colourful light boxes designed by local artist Benjamin Watkins which illuminate the stage. Not long after my arrival, the light boxes were shut off and the crowd were plunged into darkness as Volte-Face’s selections became more loopy and muscular.
Volte-Face’s set was about as hard as a warm up can be, I’m pretty sure he dropped Donato Dozzy’s ‘Gol’ only shortly after midnight. But one of the advantages of Beacons’ in-house bookings meant that there were no residents, which let the artists on the bill take us where they wanted us to go. As Volte-Face & Avery are good friends and occasional collaborators, they knew what sort of music they wanted to play and when, meaning they did not have to try find a synergy with a DJ they had never met before.
And if Volte-Face’s selections were uncompromising, the crowd certainly wasn’t. The ever increasing number volume of bodies in the front row was testament to their wide-eyed engagement with his unorthodox introduction. When Avery took control, the room was ready to see where his musical headspace was now. His release schedule has been sparse since the release of Drone Logic, but the remixes that have been commissioned show that he is interested in artists across the broad spectrum of techno, ranging from the austere brutalism of Rødhåd to the krautrock inspired wizardry of Roman Flügel.
He announced himself by teasing in album cut ‘All I Need’. Flügel’s remix of this in 2014 had been one of the year’s biggest tracks, and its now anthemic vocal line generated even more energy from the crowd. Avery’s set circumnavigated different strands of techno, shifting effortlessly from Ilian Tape-style linearity into synapse-punishing drum tracks via face-melting acid numbers without ever losing focus. The variety within his set meant that there was something to cater for all the heads in attendance, while not descending into the recursive loopy four-by-four patterns that may ostracise the uninitiated.
The only time his set did lose its thread is when a fire alarm caused the music to stop for a few smoky and confused seconds, before he calmly put the next tune on and normal service resumed. Rather than being a hiccup, it felt like a pretty funny interlude. Another great moment was when the first snow of the winter fell in the smoking area, providing a dreamy remit for those wanting a breather. Toward the end of the night, the light boxes flashed intermittently back on, illuminating the shadows of Avery and Volte-Face who were now going back to back. Their chemistry was apparent, and it looked a bit like a couple of mates trying to one up each other at a house party, except with mind bending techno being the order of the day. I had to leave before the grand finale, but did so confident in the knowledge that Beacons had found a great new home, and Leeds a great new club space.