Inner City Electronic will be celebrating the third instalment of their multi venue city centre festival in 2020. We caught up with director Ben Thompson ahead of the proceedings.
Hi Ben, thanks so much for involving both ourselves and our sister venue Hifi in your festival programme once again this year. We can’t wait to do it all again, congrats on making it your third year on the trot. We’ve worked with your partner in crime Ralph Lawson many times, but inner city electronic has been extra special. How did you meet him and what has it been like working with him over the years?
I first met Ralph through a friend who I used to do shows with whilst at uni, we actually did our very first show at Wire so the venues always been a special one for me. We ended up promoting parties for 20/20 Vision when Headrow House first opened and Ralph had recommended us to Dave Beer when they we’re looking for people to come on board for Church. We all ended up working on shows at The venue. When Church closed I was looking to try and get inner city electronic off the ground and had a chat with him about assisting with curation, he was also looking for a new label manager at the time so asked If I wanted to take it on in the same conversation. 3 years later and we’re here, 25 years of 2020 Vision and our 3rd year of inner city electronic!
It’s a fantastic concept. How did the initial idea spark? Did you feel there was a niche in Leeds that hadn’t been addressed?
Thanks guys, I guess it came from a bunch of things, working on shows like Bluedot that involved talks and conference style activity alongside music, seeing Live At Leeds grow and realising there’s nothing like it for electronic music in the city, then other shows over seassuch as Sonar and ADE that also have a strong focus on activity beyond music… I guess it all simultaneously developed from there.
Would you say Leeds as a city, with a fairly compact city centre, lends itself well for this?
100% we went over to ADE last year which was incredible and operates at a phenomenal scale across the city, we came back realising how lucky we were with the compact layout of Leeds and the fact there’s so many great spaces, I’d spent a fortune on taxis going between venues, in hindsight I should have probably got a bike like Ralph did, but imagine I’d be a liability biking between clubs at 4am!
How would you compare Leeds underground music scene to that of Londons and Manchesters, and around the globe?
I guess everywhere’s different but what stands out for me about Leeds is there’s a real sense of community around it, with the city being relatively small in comparison to Manchester & London, the more you go out the more people you meet, and you start to see those people regularly within the cities electronic music scene, I think that helps create something special here. Plus the city has always been up for a good party!
What have been the biggest challenges running a festival in the middle of a city centre. How does it differ to running a normal club night in each of these venues?
I guess the biggest differences and challenges come down to fact it isn’t contained, a normal club night is centralised in a venue making it easier to manage. With inner city there’s a variety of things happening simultaneously across the city and you can’t be everywhere at once. You have to put trust in the team to pull things off, luckily we have a great team of people involved and work with incredible venues like Wire which help make things run as smoothly as possible.
Leeds has seen a few closures of cherished venues over the years, as well some new ones gaining popularity. How has this affected you guys?
The constant shifts in the city mean we need to be flexible and really keep an eye on whats going on with the landscape, not just in the moment but for the future. We need to be able to adapt with the city, as one door closes it just becomes a case of finding another one, this can be easier said than done at times though! It would obviously be great to see less closures not just in the city but across the UK, it’s definitely a continuing problem that needs more thought from all aspects of the industry.
What has been the most rewarding moment so far?
For me it would be seeing the event in full swing in our first year, it was the moment those spreadsheets, posters and flyers become a living thing. To go from conception to something actually happening is always the most rewarding part of a project for me, it all becomes tangible and real, add a fantastic atmosphere to that and it’s a real sense of fulfilment.
Could you pick a favourite set(s) so far?
It’s a tough one, but off the top of my head and in no particular order i’d go with, KiNk at Church Leeds Y1, Helena Hauff at Wire Y1, Andrew Weatherall & Craig Richards at Belgrave Y1, then Octave One & Nina Kraviz at Church Leeds Y2, Motor City Drum Ensemble & Nightmares On Wax at our festival hub Y2, DJ Stingray at Freedom Mills Y2 and Ben UFO at Wire Y2.
And finally, where do you want to see I.C.E progress over the next few years? Any sneak peeks…
There’s still a long list of artists we’re yet to invite, spaces we’d like to use and ideas for further developing the programme that we’re yet to implement. Hopefully the project can continue to grow and become even more integrated with the city and people within it. Other than that, i guess we’ll have to wait and see.
I.C.E 2020 takes place in Leeds on Saturday 7th March. For more information and available tickets, head to www.innercityelectronic.com