A Guide to Underground Electronic Music in Leeds

Perhaps more often known for their use as club spaces, many of Leeds’ DIY venues are also home to an exciting underground electronic music scene. Thomas Carroll offers an insight to the community, which favours ‘horrid sounds’ and audience participation.

With as many gigs going on at CHUNK and Wharf Chambers as you can shake a stick at, how do you know what‘s what? With events going on all the time ranging from the lightest, airiest ambient to the biggest noise walls, Dada percussion and found object bashing, this guide will provide some insight into this world.

A lot of gigs in this DIY space are not as well promoted as other rock gigs such as those featured in adverts on Facebook or glossy posters around campus. However, some amazing posters are up and around if you‘ve got an eye out for them. At the venues such as Wharf Chambers, CHUNK, Hyde Park Book Club, and other hubs for music (e.g. the Leeds Union Music Library located on floor 2 of LUU), there are often fliers or posters advertising these events.

When attending these sorts of events, it‘s quite easy to be intimidated by the idea that the music is ‘out there’ and outside your comfort zone, with the audiences often tending to be quite small. However, the community is very inclusive and happy to talk (or not, if that‘s your thing). In addition to this, a lot of people attending will often be musicians themselves (sometimes performing that night), and will happily tell you about how they make sounds and what motivates them, etc. Often people will be recording the music through audio, video and photography, becoming part of the performance themselves in some ways. Audience participation is sometimes part of acts, with the barrier between artist and audience being shattered, thus leading to the terminology ‘No Audience Underground’. Personally, I‘ve found this interaction inspiring, with it leading me to create more and more music of my own (see pcrv.neocities.org).

A lot of these bands might seem very serious from posters and Facebook event descriptions, but a lot may be parodic and very un-serious. A few of the best events I‘ve attended have had the crowds in fits of laughter, especially those which use found objects to make unexpected noises. Furthermore, events exist which re-contextualise serious music by presenting them in spaces that are unexpected. For example, LUUMS composers‘ ensemble took to Hyde Park Book Club‘s basement last March to perform pieces that would traditionally be played in a stuffy concert hall, transforming the atmosphere and providing a space for the work to flow better. This year, they‘ve teamed up with MME Society to hold another event in the same space on the 28th of March (it‘s for charity so make sure you get down there!).

Rocking up at a gig with a 4-pack of the beer that you bought before turning up (gigs at CHUNK are usually BYOB), and getting ready for a night of horrid sounds can be quite comforting, I think, as a form of catharsis or even just a connection with people who are there for similar reasons. Venues-wise, there are some interesting spaces also being used for these events. An example is the (literally) seasonal ’Drone for the Season‘ event that takes place in Burley Park at the bandstand around the equinoxes and solstices of each season. Again, in line with the idea of ’No Audience Underground‘, there‘s almost always a level playing field created; most acts use tables on the floor, and stages are sometimes used as part of the act as a subtle, ironic nod towards the idea of ’separation‘. A lot of gigs are also inclusive in the financial sense, with most operating a ‘no one turned away for lack of funds’ or ‘pay as you feel’ policy. Of course, this is down to the promoter, but it‘s nice to know that you can see bands even if you‘re not so well-off.