The importance of the underground cannot be stressed enough. All art forms and social movements are a product of the context they find themselves in. But as well as mirroring the era, they serve to act it out, and instigate change. What happens when violent hegemonies form and hope begins to fade for society’s less fortunate citizens? A counter culture, emblemised by the underground, is forged in a blaze of anger, determination and radical ideas.
It is widely regarded that the late 1990s and 2000s, particularly in music, were pretty stagnant. When a genre like Brit Pop, the lager soaked, backwards-gazing sound of a spoilt youth, is the overbearing trend, you know things are going pretty swimmingly. It wasn’t inventive. It wasn’t interesting. But, in a way, it didn’t need to be. People didn’t have much to complain about. Blairism reigned, the economy was strong, things were looking up.
But now, things aren’t so great. Britain isn’t working, and it’s not fair, because the elite are only helping themselves. It’s no surprise that a figure like Jeremy Corbyn has experienced a meteoric rise. There’s a social revolution happening. And art, and the way we present it, is following suit. Our very own city of Leeds has been recognised as a community that has retained good socialist values, especially in its DIY scene. The interdependence that defines venues (or collectives) such as Wharf Chambers and CHUNK is a concept that shits on Cameron’s so called Big Society – a cadaver of a philosophy that Tories must have got trashed when they remembered it would mean sharing an incy wincy bit of wealth and power.
In Leeds, our music venues are lucky to enjoy a lot of freedom. Elsewhere, they are being squeezed like a spot and wiped away, especially in London. I see a link between this and the systematic shutting down of rave culture in the late 80s and early 90s. A right wing government is scared by that insatiable desire of the youth to simply enjoy themselves. It is so important that we maintain club culture, because it is a place for both engagement and escapism. By dancing, and by blasting tunes, we occupy a physical space. Remember the Occupy movement of a few years ago? It’s the same principle. The politics of dancing should not be underestimated.
Wire is one of the centres for this radical, positively antagonistic movement. As society becomes sickeningly commercial and corporate, this club steadfastly stays underground. And it has been doing this for 10 years now. The formula is simple: one dark, underground room, a disco ball and a fat sound system. There’s something secure about that bunker beneath Call Lane – but also something revolutionary. With sound and movement, you can shake life’s foundations from below, destabilising dominant ideologies. Most of all, you feel like an active part of a community. To see familiar faces at the bar or banging on the booth down at front left, then catching up at the top of the stairs, each week is edifying. It’s good for the soul. And although activity in the club isn’t quite as lewd as 20 and 30 years ago (I’ll leave it up to the imagination what the booths to the right were used for), having a venue like this is vital for counterculture in any city.
Musically, Wire is vehemently underground. Drum & Bass found its feet in Leeds at this venue in the mid 00s, and more recently dubstep and techno has been remarkably popular. Particularly when the Hessle Audio crew were cutting their teeth in Hyde Park, Wire was central to their development. Living below Pearson Sound in University halls was another of Leeds’ most beloved sons, Midland. He used to be a barman at Wire.
For Wire’s 10th birthday, we wanted to honour this tradition, but stress that it is still relevant today.
Part 1 this Friday, 29th January, Wire features Pearson Sound, Pangaea (Hessle) and Midland (Aus) playing b2b all night, with support from the club’s promotions manager Hamish Cole.
Part 2 is a Drum & Bass extravaganza the following day, run by Overflow and Central Beatz in collaboration, featuring the legend that is LTJ Bukem. Support comes from Los Contreras.
Images courtesy of Wire