With its bi-monthly nights at Hyde Park Book Club and now Belgrave Music Hall, as well as a regular ambient show on KMAH radio, audio-visual collective Think Tank is currently pushing the boundaries of what is possible for the Leeds club scene.
Think Tank feels like the kind of night we all need in our lives. Through its cathartic mantra of creating an antidote for the post-party blues, it seeks to reframe the more hedonistic aspects of club culture; creating a safe space for creatives and party-goers alike to relax, introspect and engage with a whole other side of electronic music. Starting back in July 2017, the night is predominantly focused around ambient, drone and new age sounds – genres which have all witnessed a well-documented resurgence in recent years. Underscoring this is the purpose of increasing awareness for the mental health issues that can so often plague the clubbing community, with any profits from the night going to local mental health charity, Leeds Mind. Given that Sunday parties exist elsewhere in the UK and across Europe, its presence feels like a necessary evolution for our scene here in Leeds.
The night is something of a personal project for its founder and resident, Paddy H-K, better known in Leeds as Padawan Sound. After experiencing a series of anxiety attacks, something he attributes to creative pressures and feelings of burning-out from excessive gigging, Paddy decided to take a step back, finding solace playing at Hyde Park Book Club’s open turntable night. Out of the mix of ambient, dub and jazz records he selected on the night, one stands out from the rest with regards to the evolution of Think Tank; Susumu Yakota’s stunning album ‘Sakura’. Captivated by the freedom the experience had provided, the possibility of putting on an all-ambient night was quickly proposed to the venue and Think Tank soon emerged. By putting on the night, Paddy sought to provide a relief for like-minded artists; pushing DJs to explore the other side of their personas we don’t perhaps see in the club at 3am.
Attending my first Think Tank, the space felt akin to that of a chill-out room more often associated with progressive clubbing cities like Berlin. Upon arrival, we were encouraged to lie or sit on an array of bean-bags and bespoke pillows, the latter handmade by artist and friend of Think Tank, Bobbi Rae. Looming over the gathering of sprawled bodies hung a large, three-panelled screen displaying constantly evolving visuals that complemented and matched each of the sets on the night, helping to cultivate a sense of introspection. It is this visual element, curated by in-house resident artist Lauren Harrison, who Paddy describes as a ‘singular talent’, that plays such an important role in what makes Think Tank so special. As for the music, this moved from a beautifully orchestrated live ambient performance from saxophonist Lara Jones, a personal highlight, to something darker, dronier and more club-oriented from BFTT; ultimately culminating in a remarkable, genre-defying set from the experimental Manchester producer LOFT. Overall, there was a sense that Think Tank had achieved what all great nights should set out to do; first establishing a safe-space, before proceeding to provoke and challenge its audience.
Beyond the events at Belgrave, Think Tank Radio is quickly becoming one of the most refreshing shows on Leeds’ KMAH. Drawing on a broad spectrum of music, a great deal of the show’s lure comes from its focus on the more introspective aspects of genres such as techno or dubstep that are so often neglected. Recently, Paddy has also shed light on the ambient music’s rich history, playing music from the wamono compilation LP ‘Kankyo Ongaku’, which charts the development of Japan’s minimal and ambient scene from the 1980s. There is similarly a focus on more up-and-coming artists from here in Leeds, including Think Tank regulars Mike Drones, Us and It and Phrixus, as well as those from further afield, helping to establish the show as an important platform for ambient artists to flourish and grow.
It is also important to note the sense of prescience surrounding Think Tank, namely in terms of leading the way for similar nights to emerge. When I ask Paddy about his awareness of other Think Tank-style events, he is aware of only one: Plant Life, put on by friends of his who were inspired to create something similar for the Liverpool scene, with a unique emphasis on using natural elements to help listeners escape the pressures of the concrete jungle. With its normative approach to club culture, the night has also arrived at a time where mental health problems among both students and society as a whole have reached a crisis point, rendering the need for nights like Think Tank as urgent as ever.
Looking ahead to the future, Paddy sees starting a record label as the next logical step for Think Tank, with festival takeovers and collaborations with local collectives also set in his sights. Given the overwhelmingly positive response, and the prospect of a rare ambient set from Pariah at the next event to look forward to, it is clear that whatever comes next, Think Tank will continue to challenge and push the boundaries of what can be achieved both for our scene here in Leeds and across the UK.
Think Tank returns to Belgrave Music Hall with Pariah this Sunday. Tickets are available here
(Image credit: Lam-Clark media)