Birmingham has an evergreen music scene, with strange new off shoots popping up on a regular basis. However, finding a meeting point for innovators is not always easy, and it can be all too common to find artists working away in frustrated isolation.
However, 2 intrepid music heads decided to do something about that. “Listening Sessions” started life as a facebook group and eventually evolved into a clubnight that books acts from across the country and has a pioneering multi genre approach. This weekend they celebrate two years of Listening Sessions with their monthly Listening Session tonight at PST and a bigger party with out of town guests on Saturday (also at PST) . We spoke to the organisers Mat Goose and Tom Hayes to find out more.
To start with, could you both give a brief introduction to who you both are and what relationship you have with the Birmingham music scene?
Tom – I’m Tom, I’ve been DJing around Birmingham and making music under the name Elkie for a fair few years now. I’ve been involved in organising events under a few brand names with different groups of people – previously Shelter and more recently Listening Sessions and Astrx.
Matt – Hi I’m Mat and I produce and Dj under the alias Goosensei. I fell in love with the music scene here on my first ever weekend out in Birmingham in 2008; Custard Factory on the Friday night at Eardrum and then Saturday night at the old Rainbow Warehouse at a night called The Big Dirty 2. I have been involved with running a handful of music events here in Birmingham and now the driving force being Listening Sessions.
What sort of music do you usually work with?
Tom – My primary love has always been drum and bass, but recently I’ve been getting really excited by the footwork/juke halftime crossover sort of sound. I’m also a big fan of earlier dubstep, grime and the darker side of garage (Horsepower Productions, El-B etc), but I rarely play it out these days. Running Listening Sessions has really opened up my outlook on music again though after a few years of being quite zoned-in on that limited spectrum – we get so much wicked music from producers operating in other genres that it’s impossible to ignore!
Mat – Personally I DJ and produce Reggae/dub and other genres in the electronic music spectrum. There are too many individual names to mention !
What was the inspiration behind the listening sessions and how does it all work?
Tom – The idea stemmed from the realisation that although a lot of people often complained about a lack of a real “scene” for this sort of music in Birmingham, there was a lot of people making great music around the city, but they just had no real outlet for it. A while before Listening Sessions materialised, I started a group on Facebook called “Birmingham Producers Community”, which was just for people to share production tips, useful articles and to discuss music production in general. When this group quickly increased in size, we decided it would be good for us all to meet and share the music we were making with each other and get to know each other face to face. The first event we put on was a bit of a gamble as we weren’t really sure how it would play out, but it definitely paid off and the family has been expanding ever since!
Basically, our showcase events work on a rotation sort of system – we have a list where producers can sign up on a first-come-first-served basis (I think it’s important to mention here there’s no “quality control” here – we don’t vet the artists in any way, if you want to play your music you are more than welcome to), and the artists on this list all play three tunes each per session, in rotation – so everyone plays their first track, then everyone plays their second, and so on. This serves two purposes really – it means everyone sticks around to hear everyone else’s music, and it keeps the styles varied – so for instance, we might have a drum and bass track, followed by a techno track, then a hiphop track. It means there’s always something coming up that you might be feeling even if what’s on right now isn’t exactly your cup of tea.
Mat – I feel the inspiration for Listening Sessions came through a collective desire to have a way to connect with one another and share our productions, check out other local producers’ work and have a place where we could do this on a nice club sound-system in a supportive environment. The format we use for the showcase events came about after our first event at Club PST and I was thinking about how to have a fluid way to have as many producers together to play their productions within the amount of time we had on the night at each session.
Does the different genres ever seem jarring, and is the atmosphere between the producers always amicable?
Tom – The way our usual crowd is based on music producers, who tend to be people who are truly passionate about music, means that the genre-hopping is never really an issue – if people truly love music, then they love it as a whole, in all of it’s forms and styles. I could be completely wrong but I’ve never felt any sort of a divide between the different “groups” of producers of different genres – everybody respects each other’s craftsmanship and appreciates what they are bringing to the table.
There’s never been any sort of standoff or upset between producers – we occasionally stage beat battles that pit producers against each other (in fact we have a “Jungle War” coming up this Thursday!) but it’s all strictly for fun, and everyone who takes part knows that’s the case.
Mat –The vibe at Listening Sessions is extremely supportive for many reasons. Most people who attend our showcase events are there because they are either playing their own music or know someone who is, or they are interested in whats being created in their local electronic music scene, and for some people who attend its all of the above. So taking that as a starting point to answer your question, when a tune gets played that is in a different style compared to the tune played before it, personally I feel this adds to the make-up of each showcase event which makes it unique in itself and as always, is a direct reflection of what is being cooked up here in Birmingham by local producers, which in a way transcends the idea of genres. Also as each producer brings a selection of their productions to play at each showcase event, the artists can choose what they play next so to speak. To cut a long answer short, I think all the showcases have a great natural flow to them.
Mat -on the 3rd of December (Thursday) we have our monthly showcase event at PST marking the 2nd “Birthday” of Listening Sessions with a special section on the night dedicated to the “Jungle War” which is a bit like a classic “sound-clash” with producers making special Jungle (the genre) tunes that are made with a “clash” in mind. We held our first Listening Sessions “Jungle War” last year which was a local response to the international “Jungle War” that randomly happened when producers like Sully, Etch and Epoch started making these ‘battle’ tracks aimed at each other in the style of original “old school” Jungle. A list with most of the producers (we are squeezing more in) who will be playing their tunes this Thursday at the showcase can be found here: http://listeningsessions.co.uk/listening-sessions-showcase-31215-2/We’ve all literally been looking forward to this Saturday since our previous Rupture Vs Skutta night last June. Its a real honour to have Rupture coming to Birmingham and bringing their sound to the city with absolute heavy weights playing at this. Every time I go to one of their events in London its truly inspiring, anyone who has been to their events I guarantee will say the same. L A Johnson & Baddesley who run Skutta Records have been bringing their productions to our showcase events from the start. Skutta Records has an amazing back-catalogue of releases and are very supportive of producers from the Listening Sessions family and in March released Slaine’s self titled “Slaine EP”. Club PST is set to be another center for incredible music this Saturday and I’ve got to mention… the massive Creative Hertz “BINARY” sound-system is going to be giving the main room some serious sonic justice!!! The full list of artists playing in the main room and rooftop can be found here:http://listeningsessions.co.uk/rupture-vs-skutta-round-2/ .
For more information, go to http://listeningsessions.co.uk/ .
Written by Johnny Kowalski
Photos by B Harvey Photography. (contact details and more images can be found here) .