Event Focus – PROspec
It’s no secret that “drum and bass” is almost a dirty word these days, and this is possibly more true in Birmingham than anywhere else – where most weekends you can find at least one event comprised of the usual roster of aggressive jump-up, with more MCs than DJs, usually billed as somone’s “birthday bash”. That’s all well and good, and there is definitely a time and place for this sort of music, but for those more interested in the progressive, forward thinking side of things, options are few and far between in the second city.
Then, in 2010, a small group of like-minded drum and bass enthusiasts got together and set out to change this – throwing a small-scale party in the upstairs of Moseley pub the Bulls Head, they played host to the legendary and inimitable Doc Scott, and together with a team of excellent local residents, proceeded to put on one of the most memorable drum and bass nights I have ever witnessed. One thing was clear from the start – these guys we here to change the face of drum and bass in Birmingham.
Fast forward to 2014 and the last 4 years have seen the PROspec crew play host to the majority of the big names in the drum and bass scene. They’ve moved from their humble but intimate home to host a few larger scale events at the pub’s sister venue, the Hare and Hounds, before expanding again to now reside at one of Digbeth’s newest and most interesting nightlife spots, Next Door – where one of drum and bass’s most established MC’s, Con*Natural, has joined the team. After exploding into one of the city’s most renowned raving districts with possibly the most exciting drum and bass lineups Birmngham has seen in recent years, they are now close to holding their third event and show no signs of slowing down – this time they have invited Jubei, Ivy Lab, Klute and Darrison to join the party – this isn’t going to be one to miss out on, as I’m sure many of you are already aware.
We caught up with Leon and J-DOK (aka Jim) ahead of their next event to discuss the brand, their views on the local scene and the future of the PROspec brand!
Hello lads, let’s start off with a short introduction from each of you – tell us a little about yourselves and what you do.
Leon: Well I’ve been around the jungle scene since my first ‘Quest’ tape back in 1993, which is showing my age! Back in those days Birmingham and Wolverhampton were rife with strong weekly and big one off jungle nights so it seemed more of a way of life back then. I’ve been DJing and putting on my own promotions since 1998 around the Birmingham area and beyond, even having a weekly small night in Ibiza and a 3 week DJ gig in Vietnam last year.
J-DOK: I’m J-DOK, or James as my mum calls me, Birmingham born and bred I have been playing drum and bass for about 8 years. I help run and promote PROspec as well as being a resident there.
You popped up from nowhere, started putting on events, and it really seems like you’ve just gone from strength to strength and never looked back – has this been daunting for you at any point?
J-DOK: It’s all been hard work, and yes, daunting is definitely a word I’d use to describe the experience at times. It’s a strange city to promote this music in. You have to be very selective with who you book, just because a certain artist pulls in a large crowd in other cities doesn’t mean you will have the same result here. All you can do is promote it as best as you can, hope that you have made the right choice in your line up then keep your fingers crossed you get a return on your investment. So yes very daunting at times. We seem to have got it right most of the time, hence why we are almost 4 years strong now.
Leon: PROspec started really by listening to Doc Scott’s early ‘Future Beats’ series and being amazed for the first time in years by the sounds of the new drum and bass coming through, hence why we had to launch the night with the 31 Records don! From the start my good mate Matt Tilley was also involved with PROspec as well but unfortunately he recently had to step back from promoting due his commitments to running his own graphic design company. He’s created some brilliant flyers over the years though, and he still designs our promotional material to this day which I think has been a big factor in the perception of the brand. Yes we did seem to arrive on the scene pretty quickly, which I think was down to the consistently strong bookings we produced. I think every event so far has been daunting as we’ve never cut corners with line ups and budgets etc so we don’t help ourselves with leaving little room margins! The standout nights were hosting Metalheadz and Shogun label showcases which sold out in advance, Critical and hosting Arena 2 at Atomic Jam at the last ever Q Club (although this venue has now reopened yet again!)
The fact you’ve never cut corners with your bookings is a very valid point – you really paved the way for a lot of promoters in Birmingham to start pushing the envelope with the artists they are booking. It seemed to make a few promoters less anxious about pushing the music they really wanted to hear. How do you decide who to get down to play?
J-DOK: That’s a nice thought if that is the case. The scene in Birmingham suffered a lot as a result of a couple of promoters holding all the cards on venues and booking agents. As these promoters events started to lose momentum all of a sudden artists and venues became available which was where we seized our opportunity. I think the reason why other events started to emerge with more abstract artists was due to the fact we are always willing to work with other promoters. We have always communicated and in some cases helped promote each others events. Made sense as we are all working towards the same goal which is to create a better music scene for the whole city.
Leon: I think it has to be 100% down to who you like as an artist – if you start chasing bookings just because they are top of the Beatport chart, I think the punters will see straight through you. I don’t think that means you can’t book so called ‘commercial’ artists if you are mixing it up with more underground names, trying to surprise people with something different is the main challenge in this game.
Whilst we are on the subject of “mixing it up”, you’ve gone through several venue changes as the night has expanded – how do you feel about Next Door as your current home? Do you think you’ll be continuing there for the foreseeable future, and how do you feel it compares to your first string of events at the Bulls Head?
Leon: Well we think Next*Door is one of the best venues in the Midlands, with one of the best sound systems (Martin Audio) and the amazing unique 3D visual mapping effects. As it was only launched a few months ago, the venue brand is still growing but being part of legendary ‘Rainbow Venues’ I’m sure this will be a well known club nationally within no time! With this modern feel, mixed an industrial vibe it’s a perfect fit for drum and bass so we hope we can grow something special here over the coming months. We really enjoyed our time at the Bulls Head and Hare And Hounds though, we had some great nights there it was just unfortunate the capacity limited us to what line ups we could put on.
J-DOK: We have a good relationship with the venue (Next*Door), it is quite a revolutionary place – the DJ booth is situated on the dance floor which I think gives a different vibe, like the DJ is there with you having a dance. The lighting in there with the 3D mapping software is something else (don’t stare too long if you been on the party treats, you’ll be off on one). It’s a completely different experience to our first events. The Bulls head only had a capacity of 150-180 which made it very intimate – the same could be said for the Hare and Hounds which we used when we had slightly bigger events on.
Personally I’ve really enjoyed the events at Next*Door, it feels like a great home for these larger scale events! Whilst a lot of the city’s drum and bass events tend to be quite insular and “cliquey”, often based around a small team of residents on rotation, you have always offered support slots to a lot of relatively new DJs and you’re constantly changing your roster of supporting acts, with new local names on the lineup for every event. Obviously, this is something we at Listening Sessions feel is really admirable and important for the local scene, so big respect for that! Was this a conscious decision from the start, or just something that’s happened almost by chance?
Leon: Absolutely, this was a strong belief from the start that the residents are as important to our nights as the guests. Our original residents Process and J-Dok have been immense and it’s great for them to know that they can play whatever they like, which we actively encourage, and not worry about losing their slot in the future! With the other guests we have down, we love to give them a break and we’ve never been disappointed with the depth of local talent. We have a strict policy on ego though, you could be the best DJ in the world but if you come with ego and an attitude then you aren’t for us.
J-DOK: Who gets to play is decided not just on talent and credentials. People who have been at the event and showed support, come and said hello and introduced themselves – this means more to us than how many double drops you can pull off. We have received many good mix tapes in the past, but if you haven’t supported us then fuck off.
Out of these local DJs you’ve had down, is there any that you would you like to mention as your locals to look out for?
Leon: Well obviously J-Dok and Process, who have been fantastic. M-Pathy has got some great productions out there, which Listening Sessions regulars will be aware of. With the rest of the local talent, there are just too many to mention here as they never disappoint – Birmingham really is looking strong at the moment.
J-DOK: There is a lot of local talent that we have discovered since starting PROspec, some people are too modest for their own good. Events like Listening Sessions have opened the door to a lot of DJs who not only are competent mixers but also very good producers, this gives our event a bit of exclusivity as well as showcasing people who deserve a bit of attention. Giving sets to people who continue to support us is our way of saying thank you really, it keeps a bond with our audience as well, it shows we listen to and value everyone that comes to our nights. Without them there wouldn’t be us.
Of course we couldn’t agree more when it comes to the local artists in Birmingham at the minute – it’s great to see more traditional promoters such as yourselves offering opportunities to the homegrown talent! You’ve also had a wide range of headline artists across the drum and bass spectrum at your events, from the true originators of the scene like Doc Scott and dBridge right through to the new blood like Enei and Dub Phizix back when he was relatively new to the scene – who’s been your favourite act and why?
Leon: Honestly there’s only been one act that has been disappointing that I can think of over the years, everyone seems to up their game at PROspec which is great! I guess the first time we had Goldie down for an hour set and he played for nearly 2.5 hours was pretty special, especially finishing off with Nirvana – Smells Like Team Spirit! As it’s fresh in the memory, Dub Phizix and dBridge in May was pretty special too though, most of the feedback was that this was our best one to date.
J-DOK: I can’t pick one, impossible haha. dBridge was definitely a highlight as we have been after him since the start – he is an ever evolving producer, he has never got stagnant and his sets are always legendary. Dub Phizix and Strategy just for the energy aggression and humour in their sets, plus they are two of the soundest people in the scene, they stayed till the end of our last event just partying with the ravers, things like that make a difference. And as Leon mentioned, our first booking of Goldie at the Hare and Hounds, he obliterated the place, he had such a good time he went over the allocated slot time, then finished with Smells Like Teen Spirit just because he could. The whole event was just nuts, start to finish!
The Goldie event was really something special, the atmosphere there was electric! There’s always a really warm friendly vibe at your events, and it feels like there’s almost a PROspec “family”, where everyone knows everyone, people just leave their egos at the door and just have a good time – is this something you have attempted to nurture or just a result of starting as a smaller night and gradually expanding to a larger venue?
J-DOK: It’s nice to hear that being said, and it’s definitely something we always try and uphold. Leon, Jack, June and myself always try and personally thank everyone at the event, besides we are usually in a worse state than some of the raver’s at our event, we are there having a party with everyone. If you are a moody promoter stood on the sides more concerned over your takings, then that is the vibe people get off you. We don’t really appeal to the type of fashionable ego driven crowd that seem to occupy other genres. People that come to our event are there for the music and a good time, this makes it easy to relate to them which is why it does feel like a close family community.
Leon: I’ve also been a regular at other types of dance music over the years, whether it be House, Techno, Garage clubs etc with Ibiza springing to mind and all the best clubs in my experience have that family friendly vibe whatever size they are so yes we strongly believe in this. I’m sure starting off at the Bulls Head has helped though and I can’t think of one instance in all of the years where we’ve had any trouble or issues which speaks for itself.
That’s a really good point – there’s never any aggro at your events, which goes completely against what most people expect for drum and bass nights in Birmingham, as sad as it is to say. In my experience, the impromptu “afterparties” have always been a very entertaining part of the whole event – is there any funny stories from these you’d like to share?
Leon: Ha ha, yes the after parties have been legendary over the years and usually any crazy antics usually involve myself or J-Dok so I might pass on that one! What’s great is some of our headliners have joined us after their sets which is always good fun.
J-DOK: Hahaha! Too many. I can’t disclose too much on this so I will just bullet point some topics.
- Leon hitting on a certain vocalist back at our house (Sorry Leon)
- A certain A list DJ necking nearly a litre of rum, neat
- Same A list DJ going a bit mental then passing out on our sofa
- Wandering the streets disorientated early Sunday morning in Groucho disguises
- Wandering the streets disorientated in a different disguise
- Many more which I’m glad I can’t remember!
Haha, too many fond memories! In the beginning there was never any MCs at PROspec, but for the last few events you’ve got one of the best in the game on board – the one and only Con*Natural. How did this come about, and what made you decide to drop the no MCs policy?
Leon: Yes anyone who’s been coming to PROspec since the start will know that we had a no MC policy until recently. This was a conscious decision as an antithesis to the usual DNB nights around as we felt the standard of MC was not great, and with the djs we booked their music spoke for itself. Moving to a bigger venue though, and finishing at 5am we felt there needed to be a host to keep things bubbling. The only one that was in my mind was the legendary Con*Natural (formerly MC Conrad) who now resides in Birmingham and we were over the moon that he accepted our invitation to be our new resident. Anyone who has listened to an LTJ Bukem and Conrad set over the years will know he’s easily the best DNB MC on the planet so this ranks as one of our proudest bookings.
Yeah definitely, the guy is at the top of his game! Jim, you’ve been working on a lot of your own music recently, and you’ve made a few appearances down at Listening Sessions to showcase some of your work, as well as playing at one of our Live events. I also know you recently signed a tune over to local label Terabyte. How’s that going? Have you got anything else in the pipeline?
J-DOK: Yes, thank you for having me down there. I have signed a track over to Terabyte – Her Tears, which I believe is due out next year. Big up to Auzi at Terabyte, he has some big releases due out and has been very supportive of unsigned producers. I have quite a few colab pieces which I have done with M:Pathy which are receiving local support as well as a few pieces which when finished will be sent of to labels and fingers crossed will get signed.
Yeah for sure – it’s only a matter of time until something gets snapped up by a label now! Leon, you also run a ticket selling website called Gigboo – would you like to tell us a bit about that?
Leon: Yes I launched a new music website ‘Gigboo’ a few months ago. Whether you are a dj/artist, venue, promoter or agency – I wanted to create a site where you could create your profile page and have all your social media streams all updating live on one page. Currently each profile can display live feeds for Facebook and Twitter and also YouTube and Soundcloud clips, with Mixcloud coming soon. It also functions as a ticket site, and I’ve tried to make it as transparent and easy to use as possible so I’ve not added things like ‘transaction fees’ which usually are added to the booking fee once you’ve checked out! It’s been built and designed 100% from Birmingham and is still in its infancy so if there are any budding promoter etc out there, it would be great to show your support and get your events uploaded on there (shameless plug!).
You’ve got an event this coming Saturday, featuring a really high calibre lineup. Could you tell us a bit more about that?
Leon: Yes, we have the return of Jubei headlining who smashed it last time so we are really looking forward to this. We also have Ivy Lab and Klute performing at PROspec for the first time – Ivy Lab are definitely one to watch out for over the next few months, we think they could do big things. Buzzing to host Klute as well, one of the true dons of the scene. We’ve also got guest MC Darrison all the way from Brighton and our resident MC Con*Natural so we think we’ve programmed the perfect mix of artists for this one!
J-DOK: I’m personally very excited for the next one. Ivy Lab really have made an impact on the scene since they formed. Their music is so crucial right now in an age where engineering seems to over shadow actual musical content, these guys combine soulfulness with technological production techniques which I believe really define this genre. Jubei’s sets are so dynamic, he’ll take it everywhere, from rollers to steppers. His productions are so energetic and unique, he is a busy producer as well which means he is always armed with fresh artillery. Klute is quite hard to catch these days, especially around the ends. But anyone who has seen him knows what to expect, he is honestly one of the most underrated DJ’s in the scene. I saw him at Sun and Bass in 2009 and I stood there middle of his set and I was like “Fucking hell”. Don’t really know what he does, just one of those special DJ’s. Not forgetting we still have the legendary Con-natural on mic duties along with Darrison making his debut for us. What more reason do you need to go really?
I can’t even put into words how much I’m looking forward to seeing Ivy Lab! After this event, what have you got lined up next? Any plans for the next event yet?
Leon: Unfortunately after previous experiences we now keep any future things in the pipeline close to our chest until things have been signed on the dotted line as we’ve shot ourselves in the foot before due to copycats! I guess I’ll have to finish on the cliché of ‘watch this space’!
J-DOK: Yeah, things are still in the sorting out process at the moment, but keep your eyes peeled, you’ll see us!
Leon: I have to say I love what you guys are doing at Listening Sessions too, it’s a great concept and I can see a lot of the local artists who have played at PROspec over the years are now having these great productions playing at your event. I’ve recently been working on a few bits and pieces myself so you may be hearing something from me down there very soon! It’s just what Birmingham needs right now to get the second city back on the map so keep up the good work!
Thanks a lot, and thanks for taking the time to talk to us too! See you on the 2nd – it can’t come soon enough now!
You can catch the next PROspec event down at next door this Saturday (2nd August), with Jubei, Ivy Lab and Klute, supported by Listening Sessions regular artists J-DOK, Mathieson and Apartment:9732 amonst others, hosted by Con*Natural and Darrison – click the flyer for a link to the Facebook event page. You can buy tickets from Gigboo here.