Leeds knows how to throw a party. Anyone that comes through the city as a student or worker acquires some of that special wisdom, whether it be in selecting records, promoting or just dancing. Toby Nicholas has occupied all three roles in his time on both sides of the Pennines, and is now flying with a sweet role helping with the bookings at the intimate Pickle Factory club in London. He’s part of a new school of influential heads that has grown out of West Yorkshire in the past few years. We caught up with him ahead of his warm-up set at Butter Side Up this weekend.
How did you become friends with the Butter Side Up guys in Leeds?
Through Louche – my brother Josh and mate Brinsley’s old night in Leeds. Hamish and Hugh used to be ticket sellers, and I guess I met them through that – back when I was a fairly clueless 16-17 year old. Louche was a great party, but its main legacy, I think, was bringing a big group of us together, many of who I’d now call my very best mates. So much stems from some hazy 5am chats in Mint Club’s smoking area.
Your group of friends and relatives is dominating large swathes of club culture at the moment, or is at least reservedly bubbling underground, gently pushing things in the right direction. Did you always know this would be the case? Did you think that there could be a career in it?
Ha! I don’t think I’d call it ‘dominating large swathes of club culture’ – but it is funny that many of us who met through Louche are now quietly doing our own things within the dance music world. Josh now runs a mobile record shop in Berlin called The Ghost with our buddy Jimbo. Hamish, Hugh and Jonny do Butter Side Up / Wire Club. Lorcan and Jamie run Bixon in London – which is where Josh met his mrs, to give you an idea of the complex cross-polination of it all… Stockell and Midge do Hold The Relish in Leeds (and Midge is a super talented producer), Dylan writes a bit for RA and is a general man-about-town in Berlin. Phil who’s a Bixon resident, is now fighting the good fight writing for XLR8R. I feel particularly grateful because I met two of my v best pals Ciaran and Pman through going out in Leeds, which is how our party in Manchester, Dog Eat Dog, came to be. As a party, it’s a far cry from the slick affairs that Louche once was – but Dog Eat Dog wouldn’t exist without it. Thanks bro! I don’t think any of us ever thought there’d be a career in collecting records – we just all fucking love it! If you’re passionate enough about something, you’ll figure out a way to get by off it. There really is nothing better than listening to your favourite music, surrounded by your favourite people. It’s magic.
How do you reflect on your previous Leeds clubbing experiences?
They were a lot of fun. You know, our group of mates didn’t always used to be into 90s tech house, £1 bangers and Discogs rarities. Music tastes change and develop over time, and back in the day, not many of us were yet into the good shit. Old skool Leeds clubbing experiences were just fun – no one took themselves too seriously, which can be a big problem with the London party scene.
Tell us about promoting up north, and what your aims were when you started Dog Eat Dog, which is one of the most respected underground house music events in Manchester.
Very nice of you to say that. To be honest, there’s now five of us that run Dog Eat Dog, and we’re under no illusions as to where we stand in Manchester’s house & techno scene. We push a sound that is not necessarily popular this side of the M62. Whereas in Leeds, a lot of students stick around, mature and get into better music, in Manchester, by the time students have realised the popular parties are completely turd, they’re finished at uni and back home down South. That said, every Dog Eat Dog’s been mint craic, we have a small dedicated crowd that comes out every month – big headliner or not – and actually Manchester is slowly, slowly getting there. Zutekh just booked Maggie Dygas for example…stuff like that is cool to see.
The Dog Eat Dog style is very distinctive, and clearly takes cues from the big minimal DJs who are doing the rounds at the minute such as Lutz, Zip, Ricardo and the Slow Life crew. What were your early musical influences that led you to this scene?
I don’t think anyone’s influenced me and Pman more in this regard than the OG Mad Dog, Ciaran Hansen. Back when most of our pals were peddling not-so-sweet dance music, Ciaran was already buying the good stuff and buzzing his wee tits off to Zip and the rest. He put me and Pman onto the nu-skool lot – Lutz, Andrew, Binh etc. Actually, our two quietest parties were with Nico Lutz in our first year, and Binh last year. How funny is that? In 5-10 years time they’ll be superstars, and it’ll make for a good story.
What’s the most memorable Dog Eat Dog party you put on?
Hmmm….DJ Sotofett was great of course, he always is. The first time we booked Andrew James Gustav was a lot of fun. Franny Del Garda for our 1st Birthday was our busiest party, back when we ran DED in Q Cavern, this queer little gaff round the corner from Roadhouse. Having lovely Laurine up for our 2nd Birthday was a pleasure. Jane Fitz rocked it all night long last year. It’s hard to choose a favourite to be honest.
Could you give us a little history of The Pickle Factory? How have you found working there? What are the ups and downs of running a venue in London?
Well, it doesn’t have a huge amount of history as a club, as we’ve only been open since last October. Prior to that, it really was a pickle factory. Now, it’s a 250 cap venue with, honestly, the best soundsystem outside of Fabric Rm1 in the UK. It’s really a special little club, in many ways it reminds me of how Plastic People was back when it was one big room – but with even better sound. I’ve loved working here. I started just as a general assistant last year, but I’ve been lucky enough to be promoted into a booking position, and now I share Friday nights with my boss. There are some issues with running a venue in London – the competition’s intense, the crowds can be fickle, everything costs more than you’d think – a lot of the things you hear people say are true. We’re fortunate to have a good relationship with our local council, so license-wise we’re all good, which is the main problem London clubs face.
How is The Pickle Factory different from its mother venue Oval Space?
It’s a lot smaller, so much more intimate. My cup of tea.
Wire and The Pickle Factory are quite similar venues in that they are small and dark with a refined bookings policy. What do you look for in a club when you go out? What have been your most lasting clubbing experiences?
Aw thanks! As in-house promoters, and when booking in external promoters, us in the Music Team try to put on a broad spectrum of live and electronic music, but only the very best from within each little bit of that spectrum. It’s easier said than done, but we’re getting there. In terms of lasting clubbing experiences… the usual spots – CDV and Hoppetosse. Lots of good times in Pickle, Wire, and Fabric back when they had a door policy. I’m still yet to break my Robert Johnson duck. Actually, I went to Berghain with my girlfriend a couple months ago. The music on both floors was a bit naff, but it was her first time there, and she loves techno as much as I do…it was super special.
What’s next for you and the Pickle Factory?
For Pickle, lots and lots of good stuff. I’m very proud of the parties we have lined up in Autumn / Winter, and can’t wait to announce. Then we have Pickle’s 1st Birthday Party in October which will be extra special. For me, it’s the first Dog Eat Dog I’ve ever had to miss this weekend in Manchester – sure the boys will smash it up in my absence – then I’m playing at Wire for Butter Side Up on 12th August, and warming up Daniel Bell at Pickle at the end of the month. First things first, I’ve a few long overdue mixes to record. Time to get off my arse.