The last time we saw CTRL Sound in Leeds, we would never have associated them with the avant-garde of European techno. Yet, after several of years throwing huge 140bpm events in London, and after many more inspiring nights, festivals and conversations, this is exactly where they have ended up: on the brink of giving a Leeds debut to Ilian Tape’s Zenker Brothers and Skee Mask. These are two acts that have been sending serious ripples through the ocean of contemporary techno. They stand out as accomplished producers with fiercely musical minds, making tracks that turn heads (even against their will) in the club.
It is not hard to see how they caught the attention of Babak Faraji and his CTRL Sound crew. We chatted to him ahead of the party this Friday to discuss their shift in sound amongst other things.
First of all, how did the CTRL Sound crew come together? And what was the context in which you started doing your events?
We met about 6 years ago through mutual friends and discovered how much we had in common, especially music-wise. We were going to a lot of nights and festivals at the time and played a lot of fifa (of course) but the initial interest in throwing our own parties was after the first party we’d been to. It was Swamp81 on New Year’s Eve at Lightbox back in 2012. Loefah, Boddika, Zed Bias, Pinch etc in room 1 then room 2 was the likes of Shadow Child, Tessela, Benton, Barely Legal. Shadow Child was actually mixing with iPhone headphones which was a highlight. It was at the time when I’d begun my Engineering degree at university in Nottingham. Like most students, I soon come to the realisation that I was broke within the first term and wanted to make some cash like any other student. I wasn’t too sure where to start but all the crew at the time had started bedroom djing so I decided to book a function room (100 capacity) in Harrow which was back home. £3 Entry all night long. It was experimental and fun. The venture into London kicked off after a few more shows in Harrow really.
Looking at your previous events, it is clear that you have never really settled into a home for your nights in London, but moved around a lot. Was this intentional? Or out of necessity? Do you enjoy using many different venues?
You’re completely spot on with this one. We’ve been trying to find a home for our parties for the last 3 years or so. The problem we’ve experienced most is sound restrictions which the main reason to why we’ve been on the move constantly. It’s just one of them things though, you can’t do much about because of neighbours and all that sort of stuff you know. It’s just London. Corsica Studios is an important venue for us. Not once we’ve experienced bad sound quality there, it’s always on point. Fortunately, we got to throw a party there but never got around to securing some dates. Obviously it’s been a great experience working with different venues and different people (sometimes) but ideally, the plan is to find and settle into a home as we don’t enjoy moving about constantly. The Pickle Factory is one of my favourite spaces. It’s somewhere I’m really keen on.
You aim to create a ‘unique’ experience for punters. What is the key aspect of achieving this? And what is difficult about it? Is it difficult to do this in such a saturated city as London?
You got to be doing something that no one else is really doing and it’s easy to say of course but you realise these ‘unique’ parties are a lot harder to execute than originally thought. Our ‘vinyl only’ series was around the idea of having our favourite DJs delve deep into their record collection, bringing back pioneers such as D1 for a 2003-05 set, rare b2b sets (Mala b2b Joe Nice). We even had the likes of Tunnidge, Goth-trad and Compa cutting dubs especially for these events which was really cool. We were lucky enough to add the RC1 sound system to our final ‘vinyl only’ of the series which was incredible for London and the 140 scene, especially considering the usual sound restrictions.
All this said, London can be very difficult in terms of the whole organisation from start to finish including booking a space to booking artists and driving ticket sales. There’s just a lot more competition in London which is simply down to the large number of promoters you have, compared to a university campus.
I also found that during certain times of the year it’s even more difficult to organise a successful event in London, no matter how big the line-up is. There’s various factors that you need to consider during the planning process. For example, I noticed a few years ago how our ticket sales during the summer season were dropping dramatically – this was due to popularity of rooftop and outdoor venues during the season. Another significant factor is artist residencies, exclusivity, and London day festivals. It’s already a known thing but I’ll say it again. Many other companies have exclusivity of certain DJs (e.g. due festivals, residencies, one-off shows) and I’m sure many other promoters are reading this and can relate – the standard email from an agent saying “We’re currently not looking for anymore London shows until 2019”. Sometimes it’s not even exclusively though, promoters make double to triple bookings a year so the agent can’t take anymore. It’s all understandable though in terms of strategy.
On this note, what do you think is the best event you have ever put on?
It’s got be our last party of the ‘vinyl only’ series where we teamed up with GetDarker to celebrate their 10-year anniversary. 1000+ in the dance. Everyone was talking about this party, before and after.
I’m interested in the Dalston Roof parties you have been putting on. You don’t really make a headline booking for these. Does this come out of a strong community of friends, and a desire for a different kind of event? In Leeds we have seen a rise in popularity in resident-focussed nights.
We have a strong following in London and a community of friends who party with us. I feel like these smaller events allow us to display our resident’s versatility through longer sets than usual. We’ve always liked the idea of getting residents from other nights and upcoming DJs/producers to join us. I like how Brotherhood do it in Leeds. It’s original but experimental at the same time. The majority of friends we’ve made in music have come from these type of events.
You have curated a very unique line-up for your first event in Leeds – something the city has never seen before. Why did you decide to make the journey up here to put on an event?
Thanks! We have quite a few friends who are still studying in Leeds so we occasionally make the trip up. A few years ago we threw two mid-week parties at Wire and Hifi which went down well. People really enjoyed it so we were always keen to book a Friday. After checking out many other clubs around the UK in recent years, Wire was still up there with our favourite so it made sense to pursue the Friday night. The basement is always a unique experience, it’s very intimate. The soundsytem is incredible too which is very important for us.
Could you talk about the shift in style for this event? You usually focus on 140bpm music. Where has this Ilian Tape collaboration come from? Is it in an attempt to join the dots between genres that weren’t fully visible before? Your sound previously was almost solely UK-based, while this is a very European line-up. What has drawn you to this new sound?
Ctrl Sound initially started with a strong focus on 140bpm but over the last few years we began showing a personal interest in 125-135 Detroit House and Techno and it was probably after a few trips to Amsterdam and Berlin where our interest in these genres grew, increasingly. I’m glad you ask where the Ilian Tape collaboration came from as it’s a message I’d like to demonstrate to other promoters and music-lovers. We’ve been following the label for quite some time but it was back in September 2017 when we were in Amsterdam and checked out RADION, where Zenker Brothers, Skee Mask and Stenny were all playing. They literally joined all the dots between genres; house, techno, breakbeat to jungle. It all sounded very natural. Solely based on DJ sets, it was probably one of our favourite parties in years. We wanted to create the opportunity for everyone in the UK to experience the sounds we experienced in Amsterdam. These line-ups don’t happen often over here, especially in a club with one of the best sound systems around. The line-up came very naturally to us.
Is this a permanent move to techno for you? Are you negotiating a full rebrand now?
Nothing is ever permanent but for now, we’ll be focusing on these sounds as it feels like the right time and sits well with our current interests.
Do you have any recommendations for London, both musical and other?
Sure! At this moment in time, I’d recommend some of the parties that Tief, Make Me and Tesselate are throwing. Ben UFO’s 13-week residency, every Friday from April 6th – June, The Pickle Factory and of course Corsica Studios. Behind This Wall bar in Hackney is a must. You won’t find any better cocktails around! Other recommendations…Morley’s. There’s one down the road from Phonox actually.
You form part of the duo Bashik – could you tell us a bit about your sound? Do you produce music?
Yes! Myself and Sheik form Bashik. We both started solo projects years ago, experimenting with dubstep, grime and jungle breaks. We’ve both had a decent run with air plays on NTS, Rinse, Subtle FM, SubFM and more from a range of DJs including Moxie, Slimzee, N-type. Sheik recently had a guest mix on Rinse France which you should check out! It was probably after making the ‘trip’ to Dekmantel a few years ago, that initiated the Bashik project. I went with a few friends including Sheik but I genuinely didn’t know about 80% of the line-up which was probably why I enjoyed it so much (Sheik did ha). I discovered a whole new love for this sort of music. A part of me couldn’t wait to get home actually just so I could experiment with all these new sounds and ideas. I began to focus on drums a lot more and sound design. We’re starting to use various pieces of hardware and slowly creating our own sound in the studio. We have a lot of finished projects coming out this year. Sheik’s techno inspirations and influences come from Jeff Mills, Deniro and Greg Beato. Mine stem from labels such as Disko B, Metroplex, Chain Reaction, Warp Records and artists like Kraftwerk and Drexciya.