“Growing up in the UK in the 90’s, the Essential Mix was the be all and end all to my teenage years, it’s a dance music institution worldwide. So to be asked to do it yourself is a genuinely special honour” – PBR Streetgang

Bonar Bradberry and Tom Thorpe were christened PBR Streetgang after a long trip to Ibiza. Tom and Bonar met through the infamous circus of the Leeds nightlife. Honing their craft at the legendary Asylum, which took the clubbing template and spans it musically round its little finger. The duo shared that very booth with some of the finest acts dance music has to offer, from Jazzy Jeff to Ricardo Villalobos.

The pair earned great respect across the musical spectrum with fans such as Crazy P, Greg Wilson, The Unabombers, Clive Henry and Ralph Lawson. Their unique musical approach, never failing to connect with the crowd, threading Larry’s New York sound to the Jacking underground beats of their Yorkshire roots.

The pair has released productions on labels like 2020 Vision, Red Music, Futureboogie, E.A.R, ISM, Wolf Music, and many more. Decoded Magazine grabbed a few minutes with the lads to talk about their history in the scene, their productions, and what they are up to for the remainder of 2018.

When I spoke to the pair they had been up since 2:30 am after catching a flight to Greece where they would then drive to Skopje in Macedonia. Quite a drive if you ask me!!! That evening they were due to feature on a radio show in the former Yugoslavia TV & Radio centre. I first asked the lads who had been some of their musical influences over the year and Tom dived into answer the question… “Where to start with this one! I grew up listening to likes of ‘The Cure’, ‘The The’ and ‘Talking Heads’, which all had a massive influence and still do! Bonar went down the ‘Prince’ and ‘Stevie Wonder’ route. Then when I was old enough, I started going to nights such as ‘Up Yer Ronson’ and ‘Hard Times’ – the later had a huge American influence which got me fascinated with US House music and Disco. Disco especially has always been a massive part of PBR roots, you can hear this running through a lot of our production.”

I had to ask the guys about the name and how it came about. I am sure they have been asked this a thousand times by now but thought what the hell… Bonar answered…

“We’re both big fans of the film Apocalypse Now and we were watching it one night with our friend John St John (so good they named him twice, true story…) after a particularly long weekend. As the final scene was playing, he said “thats what you should be called – PBR Streetgang” as that was the name of the boat in the film. We’d been DJing together a bit before that, but we were still thinking of a good name, and that one stuck!”

As mentioned earlier the pair honed their craft as DJs in and around the nightlife of Leeds which has had some incredible club events over the years. I asked Bonar and Tom what their thoughts were on how the nightlife has now changed and the closure of some big clubs? Bonar answered… “well it’s in a state flux really. In one way, it’s pretty sad to see places that should be considered as national institutions like The Mint Club (which is one of the best small clubs anywhere) announcing it will be closing after 20 years. And on a bigger scale, Canal Mills is also shutting its doors for good at the end of the year, both to making way for ‘Development’. On the other side of things, there are some genuinely excellent parties that would stand up anywhere in the world with the likes of Cosmic Slop, Love Muscle, ButterSideUp, The Equaliser and so many more… so its just as thriving as its ever been, despite the squeeze on venues.”

Being DJ’s first and producers second, I asked if they thought it has helped to do things in that order… Bonar said, “I don’t know if it helped necessarily, but it definitely shaped my outlook on music and how I approach it, as I had no formal education or training.”

The pair were recently asked to compile a Radio 1 Essential Mix which is no doubt the highest honour for many a DJ. I asked Bonar what his thoughts were when he first got the request… “can I swear…? My first thoughts were something like… AHHHHHHH HOLY SH!T, HOLY SH!T, HOLY SH!T, and then the next day I calmed down a bit, and it started to truly sink in.” I think we can all forgive a little swearing at a moment like this!!! Bonar went on to add…

“growing up in the UK in the 90’s, the Essential mix was the be all and end all to my teenage years, it’s a dance music institution worldwide. So to be asked to do it yourself is a genuinely special honour.”

I asked Tom how they pair went about compiling the mix for Pete Tong… “we both had this kind of secret bank of tracks in our mind of what we would both like to include if we were asked to make an Essential Mix, these were the foundations. Once we talked and established these key records, it wasn’t too difficult to thread others with them. It’s so easy to make a mix on your mac these days, but we always wanted to record it like a traditional mix: on turntables, CDJ’s and a nice mixer – it didn’t feel right doing it any other way!”

Moving on to the guy’s production work, they have had a string of successful releases on labels including 2020 Vision, Red Music, Futureboogie, E.A.R, ISM, and Wolf Music. The pair seems very accomplished in their sound so I asked Bonar and Tom how long it took them to feel at ease with their own sound…

“The beauty of making music, especially with two people involved, is you both bring different aspects and influences to the table. These outside factors have a big impact when approaching and making music in the studio. With that, we always knew that there wasn’t going to be one specific ‘PBR’ sound as such. We come at things from two angles when thinking of ideas and bouncing off one another, I think this is what makes us most happy and comfortable. Also, I feel it shows in the number of labels we’ve released on over the years. It’s definitely a fun place to be!” – Tom Thorpe

Whilst talking about their style and productions I asked how they go about laying down a track… Bonar answered, “It depends from session to session really. Sometimes its a sample, sometimes its just creating drums, other times its starting with some piano chords; its whatever the inspiration is at the time. It’s all about taking a kernel of an idea and constructing it into a track that has a life of its own, well that the goal anyway.”

I asked Tom what some of his favourite gadgets in the studio are… “We tend to go through cycles of using different machines depending on what we’re working on. It’s easy to use one particular piece of kit because you’re used to it, so we try to experiment with everything we have as it keeps us both engaged.”

The pair has just released ‘THNKLV’ on Skint Records which is a huge track. I asked what else we can expect from the pair in 2018? Bonar answered, “later on, this year, we have a deluxe version of the Album coming out with some very special remixes by some of our favourite artists and unreleased versions.”

Bonar and Tom recently had the opportunity to DJ at Pikes Hotel in Ibiza which is a place of legendary parties. I asked the pair how the gig went? Tom answered, “it’s such a special place! Not only the heritage of the hotel, and of course playing in the ‘Freddie’s suite’, but for us, its got the great recipe: intimate space, great sound and, a lovely crowd – perfect really. We had a nice four hour run at things meaning you can really play anything, which is totally what we love to do.”

Whilst on the subject of gigs I asked the lads what they were looking forward to over the coming weeks… Bonar listed off the following:

19/10 – Cirque Du Soul, Birmingham
20/10 – DBE’s 10th Birthday, Loughborough – Tickets available here
27/10 – In Motion, Bristol
03/11 – Knee Deep In Sound at The Warehouse Project, Manchester
08/11 – Si Lounge, Romania
10/11 – Asylum at The Mint Club, Leeds
17/11 – Shut The Front Door: 6 Years Of Disco at Brixton Jamm, London
01/12 – La Discotheque at Canal Mills, Leeds
21/12 – The Old Queens Head, London

“Its a really good run of gigs so it’s difficult to pick a winner, can’t wait for all of them really! Sorry if that sounds a little diplomatic…” Not diplomatic at all, they all look superb to me!!!

There has been much talk about how mobile devices are often impacting on live music and gigs with people trying to film and take pics of everything. I asked the pair their thoughts on this topic… Bonar answered, “well it’s nice to take the odd photo, but when you’re on the thing the whole night, you’re not really there are you? You’ve attended, but you’re not present. I am from a different generation, so I’m going to be biased. Taking an actual camera with you is one thing, but smartphones themselves, they carry your life with them – the good and the bad. For me, going to a club is about leaving all of that behind at the door and escaping, so that little device makes it pretty hard to do that.”

All this talk of phones and social media lead me to ask the pair what their thoughts were about social media’s impact on the electronic music scene and on life in general… positive or negative? Bonar answered, in honesty, it’s both, isn’t it?! Its allowed people to connect that otherwise would never have had the chance to, and share experiences they otherwise would not, but on the flip side, it has meant more of a disconnect with people and a growing problem of comparing your life to the images you see on social media. This just isn’t healthy and can be an aide to depression, so like with anything in life, its about striking a balance. How easier the is in reality, I’m not so sure.” It is certainly something we all need to consider as we move forward, the impact on ourselves and those around us.

As experienced DJs/Producers the pair will have had their ups and downs, especially when travelling. I asked the pair what had been some of the hardest things to overcome whilst in the scene…

“There’s a lot of talk at the moment about the physical and mental pressures of being a touring DJ, it genuinely can be tough if you’re constantly moving around. Looking after yourself is something you need to be conscious of, especially if you want to last a long time in this game.” – Tom Thorpe

I then asked the pair what some of their highlights had been over the years… Tom added, “we’re grateful, there’s been a few… the obvious ones are getting to play the likes of Fabric, Panorama Bar, Glastonbury, and Love International but I think closing Space terrace for the ‘We Love’ closing fiesta back in 2013 was particularly special. We played the very last set in the club and we managed to play an extra two hours as the room was so packed – I’ll never forget that party!”

I like to end on a high and I don’t think we could top closing the party at ‘We Love’ for the last time. What an honour! I would like to thank the guys for their time, it was great to chat. All the best for 2018 and the future from all of us here at Decoded Magazine.

Ian French
About the Author

Director and DJ, Ian French (Naif) is passionate about every genre of music from Breakbeat, to Drum & Bass, to Techno and Progressive House. If he was to describe his preferred style of music he would probably describe it simply as electronic music. Besides his love for music and DJing his other passions are fine cuisine, wine, and travel.