6.30am and the basement of Wire is packed. Behind the decks Helena Hauff is surrounded by an atmospheric cloud of smoke. Everyone is in lively spirits, twirling through the dry ice and occasional sunbeam which streaks through the fire exit. Later this morning I’m meant to be catching a Megabus back to Birmingham, a feat that right now seems highly unlikely. Hauff’s staccato, Gothic acid and techno makes for a strange epilogue: the party is showing no signs of ending.
Rewind to 20 hours earlier, and Inner City Electronic is just setting off. A queue snakes its way out of the Corn Exchange ticket office through the Saturday shoppers. The weather is heavily humid and patrons are fanning themselves with the broadsheet programme. Timed perfectly to meet the end of the exam period, the populous is mostly bleary-eyed students who look like they haven’t seen sunlight for weeks.
Inner City Electronic is a celebration of underground music. A day and night of performances across a multitude of venues as well as master classes, Q&A sessions and a showcase of the latest in new technology. This is an ambitious venture, but anyone who has spent any time in Leeds knows it as a monolithic repository of dance culture. Far smaller than its Northern cousins Liverpool or Manchester, the city has a hedonistic vibe which is perforated by its intimate venue spaces. Briefly crowned the Clubbing Capital of Britain in the 1980’s, Leeds is home of the UK’s longest running weekly House night Back To Basics. Scratch the surface, and there’s a flurry of underground activity constantly going on.
“Leeds is compact, and in my experience easy to connect with great minds” Lucy Locket of Equaliser (the all women, trans and non-binary DJ collective) muses. This is the exact collaborative ethos which spearheaded Inner City. The brainchild of local, young promoter Ben Thompson, the event is curated by one of Leeds’s longest serving resident DJs Ralph Lawson and produced by Bluedot Festival proponent Ben Robinson. Amongst the Big Names footing the bill, there’s also an extensive repertoire of up and coming Yorkshire-based talent.
DJ Lucy Locket speaking at ‘The Future of Women in Music’ talk
First stop is Hyde Park Book Club which is clad in snazzy beach themed décor complete with gigantic paddling pool and blow-up flamingos. DJs Alex Lewis and Rufus Stewart of Baba&Ganoush are playing a funky soul and disco set which is the ideal accomplice to a cold ale and the Club’s famous vegan “BLT” sandwich. The duo released their first EP The Earth and Back six months ago and have quickly risen as subculture stars, well known for their versatile style and unparalleled collection of first-rate records.
Jumping onto the number 1 bus takes us directly back into town. Leeds’ small size again comes in handy for moving about, but a bit of faff is encountered whilst in search of Sheaf St Bar. After wandering around the station, we realise that the venue is hidden out behind the Tetley Gallery. Day festivals often garter the problem of getting between stages with due time to catch each act. For those not familiar with the city’s streets a map and set times would have been a welcome addition.
Nonetheless we arrive just in time to witness mix-master KiNK setting up a hefty array of machinery for his DJing demonstration. The showcase is off to a late start as none of the equipment is working. “So this is what goes on behind the scenes”, the softly spoken Bulgarian laughs. “Being a DJ… you think it’s one non-stop party, but not so much!” After some more unfruitful unplugging and reloading it becomes clear that only the tools available will be a drum machine and a laptop. Despite this barrier KiNK sequences an intricate loop using nothing but a hi-hat. The tune has the room grooving and cheering ecstatically. It’s this sort of improvised techno wizardry which has cemented KiNK’s place as the Best Live Electronic Act in the World (RA, 2016).
KiNK’s Mix Master Class at Sheaf St
In recent times “Live” sets have become something of a buzzword. Popular pressures have pushed DJs towards generating original music on stage, with mixed results. Undeniably it is incredibly difficult to create innovative, danceable tracks on the spot whilst avoiding sounding formulaic. However, after being somewhat of a sceptic, Inner City Electronic has changed me into true enthusiast for this style of performance. Alongside KiNK, Radioactive Man delivered an unforgettable live set at Belgrave Music Hall. His self titled album, released nearly 20 years ago, has lost none of its potency. “Uranium“, perhaps the defining track of his career, was met with a surge of cheers from the crowd. Radioactive Man is a bucket list DJ for any lover of electro.
A trek uphill towards Church at midnight is well rewarded. The grade two listed building, with its cavernous entrance and incredible stain glass windows, never fails to disappoint. At the pulpit Joy Orbison is on top form, transitioning between widely conflicting genres and bpms seamlessly. Euphoric tribal samples give way to techno, then squelchy acid before hurtling towards bumping trap and garage. Somehow I find myself bopping to a dancehall song – Brave’s “Dynamite” – a style of music I usually loathe. Crashing onto the scene back in 2009 with dubstep hit “Hyph Mngo” Orbison’s clearly lost none of his relevance and passion.
Helena Hauff performing a closing set at Wire
Perhaps it is because I have sadly moved away from Leeds, the bastion of my own personal introduction to electronic music. But Inner City was a festival full of both sentimental and exceptional moments. From the beautiful sunset atop Headrow House roof terrace accompanied Lux’s ambient rhythms, to parting sunrise handshakes with strangers. No one can party quite like Northerners. Midland’s 4-6am set was a treasure of a penultimate finisher. For the University of Leeds graduate who used to serve drinks behind the bar, it must have been a jubilant homecoming. “Metropolis” – Kuba Sojka was one of the final tracks, and made for a dreamy epilogue without compromising on energy. In the words of one articulate Skiddle reviewer, Inner City Electronic is “the best thing to happen to Leeds since Tony Yeboah”. I strongly encourage attending next years instalment, which will hopefully be delivered again in 2019.