The night-time economy, Night Czars, superclub revivals and the 24-hour city: if UK club culture is to thrive, it seems like it's only going to be possible on these superficially well-meaning but, let's be honest, purely economical and socially divisive terms. It's no coincidence that the elevation of clubbing to capitalised High Culture—see Berghain's new "high-art" nightclub status—coincides with the chorus of corporate panic currently emanating from big-wigs in British cities everywhere. "Oh fuck, we've closed down all the clubs and now nobody is spending any money! Who knew that was going to happen?"
Perhaps the writing has been scrawled on the Arts Council funded, Designated Graffiti Wall for much longer than we'd like to think. Club culture has been sleepwalking into the curatorial for quite some time. For fifteen quid—plus booking fee—we watch our favourite artists flick through a USB stick, and like the Sunday gallerists shuffling from the Manets to the Monets, we slouch on one hip, all facing the DJ, chin-stroking and nodding, phone in hand with track-ID software ready to see exactly what our special performer's delicate taste has in store for us.
And that's great news for our favourite DJs-turned-artists of course, and for big promoters, and everyone involved's bank accounts too, but unless the hallowed halls you once stalked on Saturday nights have been shut down already, it's likely that you've been priced out by the door fee; cast-out by the cis-het white men in their black t-shirts, or otherwise just plain bored out of your skull by homogenous line-ups, oversold rooms, and the rancid gimmickry employed by a dying industry to trick the gullible and susceptible into thinking everyone's ticking along nicely.
Now breathe deeply. Open your eyes. Before you lies the city of Leeds, its red-brick terraces stacked on top of one another, their chimneys stretching into the blue haze of a crisp 7am sunrise. The trees of Woodhouse Ridge are serene, completely still in the pale yellow mist. In Hyde Park, expired NOS canisters gather in the gutter, dew on chrome like the inscription of passed time. The whoosh of motorway traffic in the near distance mingles with bird song—and the warm kickdrum heartbeat from a nearby basement party.
This is the world of Brudenell Groove—the DIY party collective and DJ crew run by Oliver Walkden and Andrew Kemp. Seeking a respite from the relentless banality of hawking the club culture as corpse narrative, I spoke to the lads about communality, eternal after-parties, and the possibility of liberation on the dance-floor.
From their old Hyde Park house in Brudenell Grove—an area steeped in the saintly residential presence of Pearson Sound, Hessle Audio, and Butter Side Up—to the city of Leeds at large and its decades of dance pedigree, Brudenell Groove belong to a shared ancestry. In the past couple of years, what started as a group of friends sharing music together in the basements of the city's Hyde Park area has grown into an ever-growing extended family, with every member stepping up to offer their own unique take on the on the deep house-party sound the city has come to be renowned for.
"Deep house has been the Leeds sound for 25 years. Back to Basics made sure of that," says Walkden. "The after party sound of Leeds is something to behold. That's where you'll hear some of the deepest music around." Though the members of the Brudenell crew all hail from diverse reaches of identity, music and background, sharing a community in Leeds underpins their project together, and informs every part of their welcoming parties.
"I hope that people can feel as though it is their party, and not the promoters'. That's why we suggested the name Brudenell Groove. I used to live on Brudenell Grove in Hyde Park. I want it to feel as if you are coming home when you go out. That way, there is no pretence to the event," Walkden begins, before waxing about his home town Wigan's rich club culture, and its untimely end.
"First there was the Wigan Casino, the mothership of Northern Soul, and then there was Wigan Pier from the late 80s into the 2000s, when it had to be demolished. I never got to experience this heyday of club culture in the town, and, sadly, little semblance of it remains. There is no real dance music scene there now."
His love affair with dance music began in the unlikely way that intimate relationships often do, at folky Green Man festival. Whilst thousands of others were experiencing Jo Whiley-approved life-changing moments with Laura Marling, mulled cider, and a paper plate of coconut dhal, Oliver's epiphany came hearing 2 Bears drop Kings of Tomorrow's everlasting "Finally" to "a tent full of friendly ravers. It ceremoniously flicked the switch, and from that point on, I haven't stopped searching for dance music."
"When I think of Leeds," Andrew begins, "I think of the people who are using parties to foster a sense of community, which is a beautiful thing." Fatefully, it was the poor accountancy skills of his Shanghai-based landlord that helped provide a foundation for the Brudenell crew to begin their own community work. "Letting me off a month's rent for no apparent reason, that paid for the decks that me, Oli, and our fellow Brudenell resident Ranyue learnt to mix on."
By linking the community on the dancefloor to some of the most needy local communities and causes, Brudenell Groove strive to take their parties beyond hedonistic nights of aural bliss and spiritual transcendence, though they succeed on these counts, too.
"We just felt that taking home a wad of cash at the end of such a great party would be tasteless. We've found a way of making it work without having to make it cost a load of money. Everyone enjoys themselves a lot more when they know it's all for charity," Oli tells us.
Taking their cue from local loft-party legends and clubbers' pilgrimage stop, Cosmic Slop, the Brudenell crew recently donated all of their Halloween party profits to a string of local charities, all chosen by a democratised donation poll on the event's Facebook page. "It's a source of great pride that we have been able to donate so much to charities like Simon on the Streets, MAP, and Mind," Andrew explains, talking us through the joys of unity on the dancefloor. "I am so, so thankful to everyone who's contributed to that, because those kinds of community-oriented organisations represent the absolute best elements of our society. The buzz that I get from passing on our earnings to those kind of projects is something that every one of our friends and every one of our guests should get to share in."
Making meaningful, impassioned, and lasting connections with people and music is the Brudenell Groove philosophy, and it resounds in places much deeper than a couple of CDJs and a projector in a backroom somewhere can reach - much deeper indeed, than the fleeting superclub revival romances desperately being plugged as a cure-all answer to the UK's nightlife woes.
"Do you ever enjoy seeing a DJ more because there's an extra thousand people around you? I don't think so. Leeds does club nights that feel like really sick house parties, and it does them better than anywhere else I've been," Andrew adds. For the Brudenell crew, above everything, the power of intimacy in the dance is supreme.
With an ever-broadening bunch of gifted friends and DJs surrounding the Brudenell family, there's no need for big expensive bookings, just residents—new and old. "It's refreshing for dancers to go somewhere without expectations," suggests Oli, "and come away feeling just as excited about the music they heard, and with change in their pockets."
While we live through a time of divisive identity politics and a resurgence of ugly nationalism, just coming together in a dark room for six hours with friends and strangers then giving the profits back to your community, is not just a lot of fun, but nakedly political. As Andrew succinctly puts it, "There have been moments in the last few years where political events have made me feel like my connection with British society had been completely severed, but I've found solace in seeing people going out of their way to be really fucking great to each other."
We're yet to see how local councils, licensing boards, the police, the state, and business interests are going to have to cooperate and step in to 'save' the nightlife they've spent years dismantling, but while they are coming up with a plan, groups like Brudenell Groove and their friends are partying already, and with all the proceeds going to charity, they're redefining how it's done.
Oh, and everyone is welcome.
Their next party is Brudenell Groove's Bacchanalia, at Wire, Leeds, on the 3rd December. As always, it will be three quid entry.