Clubs | RBMA Leeds sessions with techno pioneer Derrick May

Photo: Kieran Doyle

Last Thursday Leeds played to host to a truly special event as grime/ dubstep and house DJ T. Williams and techno legend Derrick May of the infamous ‘Belleville Three’ came to the Belgrave Music Hall to perform for Leeds party goers. The event was hosted by the Red Bull Music Academy in light of their annual global session which is this year being held in Tokyo. As a prominent institution in the world of electronic music with a lofty reputation, this was an event not to be missed.

Far from being just your average DJ session, the event featured guest lectures from the two renowned artists as well as Alt-J’s Thom Green, the drummer from the indie rock band that formed at Leeds University.

I arrived at the venue early for a few words with John Williams of DJ Mag’s Best Of British nominee Flux, and a quick pint of one of Belgrave’s outstanding collection of Yorkshire pale ale’s. As one of the organisers for the event he told me that the night had been designed to be both intimate and interactive. The aim being to break down the barrier between artist and fan, arguably at its peak in the dark and sweaty confines of nightclubs.


captivating, stimulating and intimidating


An interview with T. Williams opened the nights proceedings with some insights into his transition from his residency at BBC 1Xtra through to Radio 1. The London born DJ brought some home truths to the table when he named So Solid Crew’s ’21 Seconds’ as his all time favourite guilty record, and when asked what he would play to his Auntie given the choice, he answered with a giggle, “yeah probably just garage bruv.”

Whilst the interview with T. Williams was engaging, it was Derrick May who quite literally stole the limelight of the show when ten minutes in, he grabbed the interviewers questions out of his hands after losing interest in where the conversation was going. May spent the next hour captivating, stimulating and intimidating the second floor of the Belgrave, recounting his time spent with Juan Atkins and Kevin Saunderson and smashing the myths of starry-eyed Detroit enthusiasts in the room. To sit and listen to May recount the conversation he had with Atkins as to what to call techno was nothing short of mesmerising.

May, in-between sips of beer says, “I hate the word techno. We needed something to call this music, I said well why don’t we we call it high-tech soul? Juan said no man that’s too much. He said look, were gunna call this thing techno. It was a lock. Here we sit today with this music called techno, but we don’t own the patent so don’t clap too much.”


“I hate the word techno”


May goes on to share general thoughts on the scene, “Electronic music has prevailed. Like it or not, love it or not it has. I consider myself an influence and a mentor and I love the fact there’s so much good music out there. You get overwhelmed with all of it, I mean, how can you go through a thousand hits of music a day? If you’ve got a girlfriend, you’re busted boy.”

As May left the interview sofa and went backstage to prepare for his set, Alt-J’s Thom Green took centre stage to share details on his own influences. Whether it was the near-impossible task of stealing the crowds attention away from one of the pioneers of techno, or the over-abundance of cranberry red bull alongside any free spirits being dished out at the bar, the atmosphere in the room grew impatient for the chairs to be swept away and the nights sessions to start.

Perhaps it was that the lecture hall was essentially filled with a bunch of music nerds as opposed to the crowd you’d expect to find at a T. Williams set, but something seemed slightly off-key with the crowds reception of Williams as he laid out an hour of house-heavy tunes.  This being said, as soon as May hit the decks the atmosphere completely changed. His confidence throughout the interview followed him onstage as May lived true to his reputation as one of the worlds most revered crate-diggers, and people seemed to leave the venue with the feeling that they’d been part of something truly special.


“If you’ve got a girlfriend, you’re busted boy.”


The only negative criticism to draw from the event was that the line between lecture and interview was quite blurred, but for an event that was put on with free drinks, free pizza and a stellar line-up, no one seemed too fussed.

James Andersen

T. Williams – ‘Can’t Get Enough’ [PMR Records]




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