This weekend saw the launch of Birmingham’s daring new melodic techno brand, Magnify, promising a music and vibe oriented policy above all else, and a desire to prioritise bringing different sounds to the second city, rather than opting for safe bookings that guarantee easy ticket sales. To that end, Saturday night brought two Birmingham debutants to town: Undercatt and Third Son, along with Magnify residents Walking With Kings and Obscured. This sounded like exactly the kind of thing I wanted to be a part of, so my dancing shoes and I made the short trip from London to check it out.
The site for Saturday night’s festivities was Lab11 in Digbeth. This was my first time visiting the venue and I liked what I saw. As industrial settings go, Lab11 is about as raw as it gets; a brick box with a steel door, with a smoking area situated underneath a railway bridge. In the 300 capacity main room, four massive Funktion-One monitors sit in front of the brick DJ booth. The bar is brick. The ticket booth is brick. It’s a back-to-basics venue, and the perfect setting for a back-to-basics party like Magnify.
With doors open at 10pm, Obscured handled the early proceedings, warming up the thunderous Funktion-One system with some equally thunderous, yet pensive and brooding techno. With only a small crowd to play to, Obscured let his tracks stretch out for 5 minutes or more while maintaining a steady tempo, slowly building the energy in the room for Third Son to take over. Third Son took the reins at 11.15pm as the crowd began to flow in. Not letting the early time slot hold him back, Third Son picked up from Obscured’s momentum and came in hard from the get-go with a very dominant set. Thumping kick drums lacerated by winding organ melodies and eerie synth. I also recall hearing Shall Ocin’s The Cliff, one of my favourite recent Hotflush tracks, with its menacing industrial vibe.
The boys from Undercatt arrived at Lab11 early during Third Son’s set. When I had the pleasure of meeting Elia and Luca earlier in the evening, they proudly announced that they had come here to party. Upon arrival, they made good on their promise, slipping out into the crowd and dancing away like maniacs with the rest of the punters. There’s many reasons I prefer small events over big ones, and seeing the very down-to-earth headliners dancing in the crowd before they play is definitely one of them! I was having so much fun that Third Son’s set seemed to last seconds, but before long it was 1am and time for Undercatt to lead us through the peak of this pulsating musical journey. If anyone was wondering if they could possibly take us any higher than Third Son already had, Undercatt quickly dispelled any such thoughts as they raced out of the blocks with some absolutely blistering techno. Lab11’s brick walls bulged under the weight of the pounding bass, while terrifying synth blasts had people looking at each other with wide-eyed horror and wondering if the Devil himself had taken over at the decks.
For 2 hours, Undercatt carried us on a mystical journey through time and space; as beatifully melodic as it was ferociously heavy, a visceral masterclass of everything great about the darker, more ominous side of techno music. The level of sonic satisfaction among the smallish but dedicated crowd was high, and now it was time for local boys Walking With Kings to step up and cast their euphonious spell on us to finish the night off. Walking With Kings delivered a semi-live set, with Father John (the musician) laying down beats and melodies, while Morpheus (the engineer) handled the mixing. Things were getting very wavy by this point, as Walking With Kings lifted us to beat Nirvana as the first Magnify drew to a close. If you haven’t heard of Walking With Kings yet, I can assure you that they are an absolute class act, both as live performers and producers (their debut EP, Telluric People, is out Feb 29th on Inward Records). They are the perfect residents for an event such as Magnify.
Overall, the first Magnify was a resounding success. The crowd peaked at around 150 people, which meant plenty of room to move in the 300 capacity venue, but nonetheless an excellent turnout for a brave new venture in the Birmingham nightlife world. More importantly, the music was absolutely impeccable from start to finish. As word gets out about this fantastic party, attendances will surely grow, and I trust that Magnify will write itself into second city folklore in months and years to come.