If I knew when I woke up, I was about to witness one of John Digweeds best sets ever, I’d have probably thought, I was still dreaming. The day had started fairly mundanely, I had worked on a few articles for TIP, did some shopping, washed some clothes and made a lovely lunch of pork chop, baked beans and mash. By about 4pm I was pretty bored and my original plan of going out late had gone on the window!
After a few phone calls, I meet fellow A&R man Ian French and his best mate Dave for some food before the main event. We meet at an off the beaten track gastro pub, in the Northern Quarter called Pie & Ale. A quirky place with a quirky mix of students, arty types and office workers, enjoying a post work beer before the long journey home. There we meet another friend – Ian, who used to work for Renaissance back in the day. We exchange stories over a few beers and a delicious plate of gourmet pie and mash before we are finally met by the party queen herself Lisa. We head off to another bar in Deansgate, a short taxi ride away. Elixir is a swanky upmarket cocktail bar. The kind of place where there aren’t any prices on the menus because money isn’t an issue for the cliental. This is known as a hangout for footballers in Manchester. We are there to meet the owner who is a friend of Ians. He greets us at the door and escorts us to a table at the back. Next to us sit two immaculately dressed blonde girls, in their early 20s accompanied by their suited and booted city type boyfriends. What catches our eye is the ornate bird cage sat in the middle of their table, acting as a drinks holder for their cocktails… this is gunna be my kinda gaff! We quaff expensive gin an tonics and talk changes to the evenings festivities. The venue Gorilla is another taxi ride away and we start to plan how long we can stay here…not long it turns out. As we leave the bar staff say good night and the owner shakes us all by the hand. People look to see if they recognise us, of course they don’t, but that adds to the mystery of it!
We jump into another taxi onwards to the third venue. Gorilla is fast becoming one of Manchesters hidden secrets. Bar/restaurant by day, its cavernous back room, which has been transformed in the evenings, into a pretty formidable venue playing host all manner of DJs and bands. Everyone from PBR Streetgang to The Handsome Family have graced the stage here. Its the simplicity of the space that works so well. The stage takes up only the room it needs, there is no unnecessary furniture to fall over and the bars are well spaced with fast paced staff who work all night. The warm up act for the night are Pirate Copy. Now you’ll be forgiven if you don’t recognise the name, I didn’t, but the Kaluki signed local boys did a great job of creating a tension in the room with undulating deep tech rhythms and the odd well known classic. As Digweed walked on stage the crowd erupted. The love generated on his arrival must have inspired him that night. I have never seen him play better in my 17 years of clubbing. By track 3 he had entranced the entire room, no-one needed a cigarette and everyones bladders were still. We didn’t want to miss a second of this… John was playing for 4 hours, a task many DJs find difficult these days, but not Mr Digweed. The pedigree he holds and the experience from past residencies like Renaissance, Twilo and his own night Bedrock have thought him how to manipulate the crowds, whether it be a long or short set. The music pulsed from the speakers, weaving an intricate and relentless story. On a little wander around, I bump into TIP guest DJ Dale Middleton. The beaming smile across his face all the proof I need, I’m not imagining how good this night is. He introduces me to another big star – Matt Thomas aka King Unique. I’m not one to mix business and pleasure, so our conversation is kept very brief only to be interrupted by one of Matts remixes! Menace by Kastis Torrau and Amber Long is by far my favourite record of 2014 so far. John plays both the original and Matts breaks versions back to back. The crowd goes wild! A wry smile creeps on to Matts face, yeah its a banger alright.
As the evening draws to a close I hear Carpicorn – 20Hz wash in. This R&S classic, is probably as old as many of the people attending tonight, but they embrace it as if it were brand new. This is a fitting end to a brilliant, faultless performance. I head for the exit before the crowds, grab my coat and help a mate with some flyering for a night I’m playing at. Wafting from the open doors, the blissful sonic assault continues reaching a climatic conclusion with Joris Voorns’ epic remix of Rina Mushonga’s Eastern Highlands. This simultaneously makes the entire crowd break out in emotive, sweaty embraces, and as the audience leaves, its easy to see the joy on their faces. This is why we do what we do, for nights like this, perfect music, like minded friends and an ambience of peace and love. I meet up with everyone again and we head off to an after party. But thats another story for another day… Thank you John and thank you Gorilla. The best night in Manchester for a long while.
Photography by Jack Kirwin