Manchester report: Selective Hearing clubnight

02.02.11

It was my first time at the Selective Hearing clubnight last month, that made me want to write about those behind the night. It seemed to represent the best aspects of young bass music nights in Manchester: the passionate musical appreciation of Hoya:Hoya at the Roadhouse; the party atmosphere of Format at the Mint Lounge; the sticky-floored basement rumbles of Heavy Rain at Redrum. In the space of just a few hours I was a convert, and as Deadboy handed the decks to El-B, a look around at the faces around proved I wasn’t alone.

Talking to Hugo Monypenney, it’s difficult not to get excited about the music he promotes. He seems to radiate a refreshing excitement and passion for the acts he puts on, and the intricacies and technical detail of their music. The Leeds-born, Manchester-based promoter takes his job very seriously, and it’s that level of blog-scanning, Rinse FM fandom that reflects the crowd Selective Hearing draws: “People at our night, and nights like Format and Hoya Hoya, they’re a more educated audience – they go because they know about the music, and want to see the DJ, as opposed to just hearing something on the radio and going to get sweaty. It sounds cheesy, but it’s all about educating each other about new music and new sounds. I’d much rather people came to listen to the beat than just to pop a pill and get mashed.”

Together with Leeds-based resident Jamie Bamford, aka Bam, Monypenney creates the imaginative and exciting line-ups of Selective Hearing that represent the best of, in his words, “forward-thinking bass music”. Alongside the likes of Format and Drumclinic (which next month hosts a Zomby vs Actress back-to-back to celebrate its first birthday at Jabez Clegg), Selective Hearing carves out a niche in the murky waters of current electronic music, drawing on the myriad influences the genre holds and pulling together diverse and overlapping styles. “One minute, our line-up can be garage. The next, it can be house. Another one can be dubstep. And although they’re all bass music, they represent a really wide range of sounds and styles. I like to think we’re quite experimental. Our line-ups are certainly going more that way.”

That experimental nature has caused some problems though, with Monypenney finding much of the student community unwilling to try something new. “People are so eager to dismiss: if you haven’t got Nero or Skream, and it’s not [a giant night like] Hit and Run or Warehouse Project, people will just dismiss it without trying it.” Does he think it’s been harder work promoting the night than he expected? “Undoubtedly. I also thought there was more of a scene in Manchester, and I don’t think there really was for this kind of music [when he started]. The music that stays big is the techno and commercial house, which I think is due to the audience. The audience that we and Hoya:Hoya go for is more of a student crowd, and they’re always moving on. Whereas house music tends to appeal to an older audience who are already based here, so I think that’s why they seem to have a bigger following.”

Having been a part of the team behind Leeds jump-up dubstep night Rusty Bucket Bay, Monypenney’s love of bass music was what encouraged him to leave the bedroom in search of the venue. “I set up Selective Hearing when I was in my first year in Manchester, and no-one was booking the DJ’s I was listening to. I started by putting on Geiom and Guido at The Attic [a notorious dub and garage mecca, beneath Oxford Road train station] back in March.” Three months later he returned, with a bill that boasted Appleblim and the jarring two-step of Bristol-based Martin Kemp. And in November, with Monypenney entering his second year at college, he took the clubnight to the bigger – and better – student haunt Joshua Brooks, with Headhunter (Tony Williams, who also produces as Addison Groove) and Hessle producer Joe heading up a line-up that marked a high point in the clubnight’s ambitious expansion.

“There were too many restrictions [at The Attic]. I think Joshua Brooks is one of the best venues in the city, for what we need and what we do. The vibe and the atmosphere is all about the music; there are no egos. Everyone’s so laid back. Some places have so much pretence. It’s so much more chilled out at Joshua Brooks. And I quite like the idea of getting big names in an intimate venue.”

The first Selective Hearing of the new year was a Hotflush Recordings special, headlined by Scuba and with Manchester debuts for Sigha and Arkist. It represented something of a dream line-up for the night, with Hotflush being one of Hugo’s favourite labels: “I love Hotflush, it’s one of my favourite labels; it’s so progressive and always changing and it seems that’s true of Scuba too. I love the way his sound drifts in between techy and dubstep, with a whole range of sounds, but I also really like his techno influence, because I’m really getting into that at the moment.”

So does the change in venue signal a change in style?

“I do like the idea of going into the more techno direction too. We’ve got some collaborations coming up with Drumclinic, because we’re good friends. We’re planning a crossover night with them with dubstep in one room and techno in the other, and hopefully it’ll appeal to quite a wide audience. In March, we’re hoping to have Kode9 and DJ Stingray, and in May we’re putting on another collaboration with Drumclinic, through FutureEverything festival, hopefully with Martyn or Floating Points.

“I want to give people options. In February, we have Pariah [download his UK Garage mix here, Phaeleh and George Fitzgerald, and I think that gives people house and garage in George Fitzgerald, the pure two-step beats from Phaeleh and Pariah’s sounds too.”

And Monypenny’s ambition extends beyond the clubnight, with plans afoot to move into releasing new music of the acts he loves.

“We’re aiming to set up a record label this year, to showcase Manchester talent and talent from Leeds as well. My friends in Leeds set up a record label called Surely Bassy, releasing really deep techey two-step (Surely Bassy 001, featuring tracks by Glentron, Mepham, Isaac Martin and A. Ashdown, came out this week), and it’s something we’d like to do as well.” Like Hoya:Hoya, which has a city-wide dedicated fanbase, Selective Hearing’s ability to combine a strong aesthetic (video artist Bones contributes live visuals to every night’s proceedings) and meticulous curation have given the clubnight a recognizable identity.

Bass music seems, more than any other music, to have an overriding preoccupation with ‘the new’, and the concept of moving forward. Selective Hearing, and the ethos behind the night, represents the best of that approach, brimming with enthusiasm and ambition, and a finger on the pulse of the most innovative in new electronic music. Monypenney’s a fine ambassador for what remains one of Manchester’s most exciting underground treats, and with resident DJs Bam and Shadowfax sitting alongside hyped Manchester-based producers like XXXY, Selective Hearing could well, deservedly, become a focal point in a new period of Manchester club music.