All this week on Noisey, we’ll be falling arse-backwards into the state of UK music in a special series of articles about scenes outside the capital: from club closures to brain drains to free parties to local legends. Follow all the content on our Fuck London hub here.
Newcastle is a famously insular and parochial city, with a great deal of regional pride, whether misplaced or not. Frankly, we know how great our city is, and we don’t give too much of a fuck if you don’t recognise it, it’s ours.
On one hand, this gives us a tremendous sense of community and means you’re never more than 2 or 3 degrees of separation away from anyone in the city. The flipside is that we’re also one of the most easily caricatured cultures in the UK. Spend a few minutes watching Geordie Shore and it's easy to think youth culture in Newcastle extends only as far as veet-chested jabronis strawpedoing vodka Red Bulls and getting down to funky house. But, amazingly, a TV show featuring a bunch of people from Middlesbrough attending the same 3 nightclubs every week doesn’t actually do a very good job of representing our city.
One of the most important yet perennially ignored youth cultures in Newcastle revolves around makina, a form of Spanish techno characterised by hard trance synths bouncing along at breakneck speed. And I’m not exaggerating when I say that makina is a genuine youth culture phenomenon in Newcastle and the North East in general, much like grime has been in London, or bassline in Sheffield.
As a teenager, I’d hear makina being played at parties. It banged out from cars passing on the high street, kids swapped verses with each other (or stole lesser-known ones and claimed them as their own) and even my local barber sold bootlegged rave tapes. At school, dodgy recordings were bluetoothed around phones, with MC Bouncin’s ridiculously cheesy “Metro Mission” being a favourite, even among those of us who weren’t fans. If you were lucky, maybe some lads in your school put together a video as well-choreographed as the Benwell Raving Crew’s magnum opus below, which comes across like the glory days of Backstreet Boys, through the medium of potato quality visuals and cut-price sportswear.
While working in one of those barely-legal, commission-only call centres, I found myself banned from a local Japanese restaurant because, at a staff party, a few of our sales advisors and one of the managers took over the downstairs karaoke bar and hosted an impromptu makina rave. Needless to say, the scouse hen party who had actually paid to rent ouf the room did not approve.
For me and other people my age, it wasn’t ever actually called “makina”, though. It was known as “new monkey”, which, despite sounding like some lad-rags desperate name for a wimperingly revolutionary masturbation technique, was named after the club of the same name in nearby Sunderland, one of the scene’s hubs at the time. In an interview with Mixmag, Geordie hitmaker Patrick Topping even claimed his early interest in dance music was sparked by The New Monkey.
“It’s important to remember that a whole host of people hate makina but will still know it as the North East’s sound,” claims Fred Phethean, who MCs under the name Drop Dead Fred. “It’s definitely part of the identity of a certain kind of person,” he tells me, “and the voice of the MC is a true representation of the life they lead. Most of the lyrics are about partying, but they also talk about stealing cars, doing drugs and getting chased by the police. Nobody talks about Rolexes, shifting drugs, or pulling women.”
While grime is still having its moments in the mainstream spotlight, and can count a number of hits to its name, as well as artists who went on to fame and fortune, nobody ever got rich at The New Monkey, and nobody ever got rich selling audio recordings of the raves at local market stalls. Nobody ever seemed like they wanted to either, mind, because that’s not what it was about. There was absolutely no chance of these young "charvers" swapping in their Air Max 95s and McKenzie jumpers for Gucci buckles or those godawful Prada shoes with the air bubble in the heel. You could go to these raves in clothes that would get you knocked back from even the city’s worst clubs.
In a recent article, makina was very reverentially described as “cross-generational folk music”, an eloquent description, but one that fetishises the roots of the genre, and would probably be greeted with the rolling of eyes from people involved in the scene. Simply put, makina is the sound of the working-class North East, the sound of mobile phone speakers at the back of the bus, the sound of a late-night Metro. Makina is the sound of North Shields, Meadow Well, and Percy Main.
For a good few years The New Monkey in Sunderland held weekly events, which were even open to under 18s. There was no bar in the entire venue, although you could get water out of the taps. That alone should tell you all you need to know, really. Unsurprisingly, the Monkey was shut down in 2006 after being raided by the police, an event which is immortalised by MC Impulse’s “Raid Rhyme”.
Fred Phethean believes the closure of the New Monkey could potentially have been a fatal blow to a lively, but underground scene. “The New Monkey was the last bastion of that 90s rave culture with big overnight raves and no alcohol on sale, just kids partying in a warehouse, so the scene could have collapsed because of it closing,” he tells me. “There were a good few years where there weren’t really many events at all, but the YouTube generation have kept it vibrant and relevant”
One of the people most actively involved in the resurgence of makina music in the North East is Lee Davison, the director of Monta Musica, which he set up with a friend while serving in Afghanistan. Operating as a label and also promoting events across the city, Monta Musica has become such an influential force in the region that makina is now commonly referred to as "monta" among younger fans who never experienced The New Monkey.
“The scene’s got a different look now,” he says, “from when it used to be tracksuit bottoms and caps in the Monkey to now where it’s just like a night out now." As part of Monta Musica, Lee has organised and sold out events at some of Newcastle’s biggest venues, and has recently started working with Newcastle University to put on regular nights. “I know now I can go to pretty much any club and get it because of our portfolio of events from the last 2 years,” he tells me. “[Makina] has a bad name but there’s no bother with us, the students and rugby players are 10 times worse.”
This is a far cry from just a few years ago, when most clubs and bars in Newcastle wouldn’t touch the genre for a number of reasons. At one point, the best you could hope for were nomadic, haphazardly-organised club nights which turned up in the spare rooms of pubs until the landlords got sick and banned them. The staff of a certain Newcastle pub with a basement venue still laugh about the time a few lads booked the space for a makina night and turned up on the day with no mics, no decks and having done no promotion, spent about 20 minutes spitting acapella to each other before sneaking out, too embarrassed to ask for their deposit back. One of the few clubs in Newcastle which did host semi-regular makina nights was The Pig and Whistle, a club that was used as the example of how shit British clubs are in that famous "Scandinavian Clubs Vs British Clubs” video. To put it simply, Lee and Monta Musica have done and continue to do amazing work for the credibility of the genre around the city.
Monta Musica is also helping rejuvenate the sound of makina, with a team of 12 producers consistently releasing new music through the label's website. Until recently, the genre had stagnated, with most nights dining out on tracks from the 90s and early 2000s, brought over from Italy and Spain. Thanks to Monta, the home scene is resuscitated. “All the main producers in the North East for the style are ours,” he tells me, “DJ Static and Triple XL are 2 of the best producers in Britain.” A mighty claim, but you have to admire the pride.
Aside from Monta Musica, there are labels such as Rewired Records, and plenty of other DJs and MCs who have been ever-present in the scene. Legendary MCs such as Stretch, Tazzo and Ace enjoy cult reputations in the North East, similar to Flirta D in London, or Devilman in Birmingham, while DJs Scott, Matrix and Chrissy G were all hugely influential in bringing the sound to clubs in the region in the first place. To illustrate the influence that a DJ’s name has locally, Fred Phethean tells me about his friend excitedly debuting a new tune during one of his sets, only for it to absolutely clear the dancefloor. “Then he sold the tune to DJ Matrix who played it at the Monkey with MC Stompin on the mic,” he laughs, “overnight the tune was worth hundreds.”
MCs now break via YouTube as well as at raves, the biggest of these probably being MC Rockeye (pictured below) and Genno D, while crossover artists such as Davey Blast can also be seen regularly at rap and grime events around the region. DJ Jaw-D is also working on pushing makina on a national scale, by combining the North East sound with UK hardcore elements and taking it to clubs around the country.
Newcastle is home to over 50,000 students, which means that a significant proportion of the city’s nightlife is targeted at this market. To survive, a genre such as makina has to maintain its appeal to under-18s, which it has managed now for well over a decade. The under-18 events are still detonating, and makina remains a big part of the cultural DNA of the North East’s youth. YouTube has helped it maintain its relevance, getting the sound of the MCs to the hyperactive kids who are still too young to be hitting the raves. And Phethean works with young MCs and artists as part of Sage Gateshead’s CoMusica Program, giving them a chance to shine. All of this has helped build a newly-empowered scene, with a sense of direction, ambition and professionalism that was previously lacking, values which might actually see it transcened its status as a mad thing that goes off up North.
However, no matter how much the scene spreads from the North East, it will still be held in the same regard as it always has been among the youth of its spiritual home. “The last under-18 night we did ended up me being in front of the police and the Licensing Officer because kids were fighting on the Metro,” says Lee before adding with a laugh, “but it was ok, because the Police Officer told me he used to go the Monkey too.”
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