Anniversaries are always a great excuse to celebrate, whether it’s the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee or two years since your mate passed out on top of a parked car. That’s why on Friday, October 14th, to mark their fifth birthday, Sheffield drum & bass powerhouses Displace are set to take over Hope Works with Friction, Break and Hybrid Minds taking centre stage. We were curious to find out what the story was behind Displace, a name that’s become synonymous with drum & bass in the Steel City. So, we got in touch with co-founders James Drain and Lucas Edwards to discover what was what, who was who, and why Displace is a name to remember.
Who was behind Displace's creation?
James: We founded Displace in our second year of uni back in 2011. It started off with three of us - me, Lucas and Sam (Cartwright) - and was that way for the first two years until Sam moved to Australia.
How did you guys all happen to meet?
James: I knew Sam from home. He was in his last year at Sheffield Hallam as I was going into my first, so I knew I was going to need to find another D&B fiend to spin some records with. My first week at halls was spent asking everyone I bumped into if they were into drum & bass, with no immediate luck...
Lucas: My first day in Sheffield was spent asking exactly the same thing, and it didn't take me long to hear that some other muppet had been doing the same and he lived in the flat below. Later that night I went to a flat party, and when James walked in someone mentioned he was the guy. So without hesitation I shouted across the room, "oi mate... are you that guy that likes drum & bass?!".
James: Lucas was sat there in a full on matching tracksuit and a snapback, and I couldn’t help but think, "ahh he's blatantly into jump up", haha! I straight away asked him what artists he was into, only to hear our tastes were pretty much exactly the same! We were meant to be going out that night - instead, the rest of the night (and the following six years) was spent mixing.
Haha, stereotypes aside that sounds like a bit of a fairy tale! What happened from there?
James: We had discovered Feedback (a Sheffield drum & bass night that ran from 2003), which seemed to be the only place we could find in Sheffield that supported the type of D&B we were into at the time. When we came back for our second year, Detonate and The Tuesday Club were putting on massive events but Feedback had stopped running the nights so we felt there was a part of the scene that wasn't getting showcased - not to mention no-one would book us, so we thought why not try and do it ourselves!
Lucas: Tif, James' girlfriend, blagged us a set at SHU Snow (the Sheffield Hallam Ski Society) at The Viper Rooms. In a chat with the manager after going to grab some needles for the turntables, we asked her if she would ever consider having a D&B night on the agenda. Much to our surprise, she replied, "yeah, actually - what you guys saying Monday in 2 weeks time?" Big up Lisa!!
We pretty much had about 10 days to really promote it, so we spent the lead up to the event telling anyone and everyone that The Viper Rooms Basement was the place to be that Monday. The event actually went really well! We all had a set, and our first guest we featured was the man like A-Kid, who we'd met at Subtitle (a dubstep night at Corporation) only a week or two before. Pretty sure The Viper Rooms had never before seen anything like the shapes that were getting thrown that night.
Wow, these days The Viper rooms is more double pop than double drop. How’d you guys move forward after that initial gig then?
James: You could say that! We ran another two nights there after that first one, but after that we moved it to Forward as we felt it was more appropriate as a venue. It was weekly at Forward every Wednesday for three months, before we decided to do them less frequently but with guests. For the first of the bigger ones we had Commix and Stray, which went off hard; we had Jubei down there for our first birthday, and then Marcus Intalex later that year. It wasn't until our second birthday, which we celebrated at DLS (now The Night Kitchen), that we've resided to the warehouses.
Big line-ups! You mentioned birthdays, which makes this as good a time as any to talk about your upcoming fifth. What picture did you have in your head when you originally planned this night?
James: We wanted to make a big thing of our birthday, as when we first started out we never saw it going this far. We thought for ages about a line-up that would not only reflect our tastes but also have a big impact, which meant Friction was an obvious choice. As one of the most widely recognised guys on the scene, we thought it was fitting to bring him down to one of Sheffield’s favourite underground venues and show him how we do things in the city. But we couldn’t just have one name on the bill so we had to come up with an artist that was going to bring the fire alongside him. Break has been a favourite of ours for years, and has always smashed his DJ sets so we felt he would fit be the perfect addition to our birthday line up. Hybrid Minds have been making some beautiful music lately, and they’ve never played in Sheffield so we thought this would be the perfect opportunity to bring them down. And finally, Commodo – we've always been a fan of the dubstep/140bpm sound, and he’s definitely one of the artists in the scene we feel reflects our taste the best .
All in all we’ve had a great reception for this event and are expecting a good turnout! It’s nice to see that Sheffield shares similar tastes to us nowadays and has been getting just as excited as we do at the thought of these artists!
Should be a wicked night, I’ll see you guys there! So you started out as a regular student run drum ‘n’ bass night, then you moved into less frequent nights but with bigger names. Tell me, how does the Dedication Audio sound system fit into all that?
Lucas: Being into bass-driven music we've always appreciated a heavy rig when we've heard one. It was during our second year, when we had a room in our basement where all the decks were set up, that we decided the next thing we wanted was some cheeky bass bins. We stumbled across the site speakerplans.com, which, for those that don't know, is the Holy Grail of speaker knowledge. We were hooked, and a year later Dedication Audio was born!
Since the early days of Dedication Audio we've been working closely with Mark Akid, who owns the <20Hz Sound System. In the past six months we've been working on amalgamating the two brands, into one company called Dedicated Event Management - or DEM. It's exciting times, every year we're finding ourselves getting busier and busier.
Awesome, it’s always good to see people combining naughty basslines with some business flair. How did your location affect Dedication Audio? Is Sheffield the place to be for sound systems?
James: Sheffield has a wicked sound system scene! There are a lot of rigs in the city. In our lock-up alone we have DEM, Sinai Sound System, one of the UK's fastest growing dub sound systems, Higher Fidelity, which is a speaker box building company, and Chief Pukka Sound System, another Sheffield-based dub/reggae sound system. That's in our lock-up alone - Liquid Steel Sound, KomatiK Audio, and Theta Productions to name a few are all making big movements.
Lucas: We're really lucky in Sheffield. Due to the nature of a lot of the warehouse venues, there's loads of opportunity for local systems to showcase their rigs, which in turn gets punters talking about what systems they like, what aspects of one system they prefer to another etc. We're spoilt here really, a lot of clubs in the UK don't take custom sound systems so we're lucky we've got such a good scene for it.
I definitely think one of the best ways for any scene to grow is collaboration on a local level. Who have you guys reached out to in the past?
James: Absolutely! It's one of the things that’s great about Sheffield - everyone works together to push things forward, and it constantly feels like the scene is growing every year. We collaborate regularly with Roots and Tumble Audio, but in the past have also worked with The Tuesday Club, Detonate, Liquid Steel Sound and Off Me Nut Records among many others.
We've also tried to bring some of the bigger record labels in the UK to the city for label nights - in the past we've been lucky enough to work with Critical, Soul:r, Dispatch Recordings and Metalheadz, among others. The next one we've got coming up is the 20 Years of Drum & Bass Arena celebration at The Night Kitchen.
A healthy scene is vital for nights like yours - how would you rate the drum ‘n’ bass scene in the UK right now? Has it changed since you started Displace?
James: Down South it's always been pretty strong - when we came up to Sheffield, as mentioned there wasn't really anyone doing that side of the scene apart from Feedback. Some big names passed through there in that first year we were in Sheffield, such as Calyx & Teebee, Loxy and Total Science, but it definitely seemed like names that would draw a crowd in our hometowns weren't generating the same amount of interest.
It was a hard slog at first trying to sell a small D&B night focusing on niche music, as the techy end of the scene wasn't really that popular then and the only D&B that really made it up to Sheffield was large scale Hospitality nights and the occasional Valve Sound System takeover. Whilst drum & bass has always been popular, it definitely seems like the end of the spectrum we've been pushing is getting bigger and bigger.
What do you think about this idea of a North-South divide? Is that something you agree with?
Lucas: Not hugely - whilst London has been considered the place where it's biggest, it’s the capital city so naturally all scenes for anything are just bigger. There's labels based all across the UK, both North and South, who've been churning out wicked music for an equally long time. A lot of the labels based up North hold regular label nights down South, some held residencies at Fabric, just like a lot of the labels down South make their way up North regularly for takeovers.
Any labels in particular that’ve caught your eye?
James: Metalheadz, Shogun, Exit, Dispatch Recordings, Soul:r, Spearhead, Symmetry Recordings, Cyberfunk, Flexout Audio, Invisible, Ingredients and Fokuz among many others. We’re also looking forward to hearing what Alix Perez will be putting out on his new label 1985 Music, along with Lenzman and the North Quarter.
Now we’re onto music, do you have any choice drum ‘n’ bass selections from this year so far?
James: Always a near impossible question to answer. Most of what Spearhead is releasing at the minute, and I absolutely love Lenzman's remix of 'Still Standing' which came out a few weeks ago. Also loved Technimatic's new album, Better Perspectives. I love mixing all the heavier, more rolling bits out, but I tend to listen to more liquid at home.
Lucas: There are far too many to choose just one. Calibre's Shelflife 4 LP had some wicked tunes, 'Space Time ft. Cleveland Watkiss' has to be a favourite off of the album. Alix Perez's Elephant Dreams EP, which featured Skeptical, is also one I've been playing a lot. Pretty much anything by Fre4knc has to get a mention, 'Tradecraft' on the recent Invisible 021 EP has been killing it as well. New Shogun signing Ed:it and Signal have been coming out with some absolute stormers too.
Finally, what have you guys learnt over the past five years, and what would you say to any current students thinking about taking the plunge and starting their own night?
James: Genuinely don't know where to begin with this one! We've learnt that Wednesday is not a great night for a weekly D&B night haha! We’ve also learnt the value of sticking to your guns and following something through if you are passionate about it. It took a while for drum & bass to reach the point it is now within the city - to begin with it wasn’t that well received, but we stuck at it and are now watching the scene go from strength to strength.
To anyone thinking about doing it: do it! It's hard graft, but ultimately very rewarding, just be prepared to put the work in to begin with as these things don’t happen overnight. Also, if you need a sound system - hit us up!
Words: Ben Hunter