The Warehouse Project, Manchester, September 29
A taxi stops somewhere along an a road outside Manchester. There’s barely a pavement, so hundreds of kids clutching bottles of clear spirits are weaving between traffic and balancing on railings. There’s a queue that snakes around the block, arriving at a disused factory straight out of a slasher film. After five years under the arches in Piccadilly, The Warehouse Project has moved to a new venue in Trafford Park, and this is the opening night. Some were worried the move might gentrify the dance music institution, but the girls going round the crowd selling poppers and the bar guys selling 63 per cent proof spirits would probably disagree.
It’s also a massive night for Rinse FM, tonight’s curators, who are celebrating the radio station’s 18th birthday. During their early years they’d often be broadcasting to a handful of people in east London – or none at all, when the makeshift transmitter stopped working. Now they’re playing to 2,000 IRL people in a city they don’t even broadcast to. T Williams is a DJ who’s symbolic of the direction Rinse is heading. His early-doors Room 2 set combines jackin’ house, carnival riddims and soul samples. Undeterred by genre, his set demonstrates the inclusive, anything-goes, free-hugs attitude of underground music in recent years.
We wander into Room 1 with its huge screen and giant lighting rigs that make superclubs like Fabric look small and grotty. The first of a quartet of headliners is Diplo, probably the biggest non-dreadful DJ in the world, who uses his midnight set to gee up the crowd by playing electro re-fixes of dancehall hits. He tags in Zinc, Rinse’s elder statesman, who keeps things funky, until Skream arrives with a bruising 45 minutes including a spectacular remix of Burns’ ‘Lies’, its taser-like synth sending shockwaves through the warehouse.
Next it’s Katy B, who started out as a vocalist at Rinse raves and whose rise to stardom is intimately linked with the station’s recent successes. In a dress that could double up as psychedelic glitterball, she performs an old-school rave PA, playing just five of her biggest hits with only a DJ and a hype man for backing. She begins with the bruising beats of ‘Broken Record’ before launching into ‘Tell Me What You Came For’, her recent single with Mosca.
“We’re here to celebrate 18 years,” she shouts at the crowd. “Now, you need three things at a birthday party. First, good company, so make some noise if you’re with your best mate.” The crowd responds with bullish yells. “Second, you need some alcoholic bevera…”; a second, far louder scream comes from the crowd. “And third, you need good music.” She giggles before launching into ‘Perfect Stranger’, a song about drunken lust on a night just like this one.
Then something weird happens. Unannounced, Example pops up onstage. Yeah, that Example, the one who soundtracks The Only Way Is Essex and your spinning class. He does a whole set of his biggest hits, and people go nuts for it. It’s a sign of the teetering place underground music is in at the moment that the same guy can headline V Festival and a Rinse rave. But the real highlights of the evening come dotted around the headliners, when Rinse’s new guard – Royal-T, Elijah & Skiliam and Jackmaster – play messed-up sets from across the spectrum of bass, from trendy house to grime. As ever, you sense that in two years’ time Rinse will sound nothing like it did two years ago.
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At some godforsaken hour we fall out from the Manchester sunrise into a world where burger vans are blasting dubstep. Conventional wisdom says that things like this just aren’t supposed to happen any more, that great nights out ended with the Criminal Justice Act of 1994 and Los Del Rio. But for 18 years of Rinse and seven years of The Warehouse Project, conventional wisdom has been shattered. Long may it continue.