Weatherall at Dust Social Club, Sheffield

I’ve tried three times so far to write something cogent about Dust on
Saturday and I just can’t so you’ll have to put up with the usual random
wibbling.

Dust is a techno club. It’s rapidly becoming a bit of an institution, not because it’s big and successful and creating a big coke-addled career for the people doing it, but because it goes out of its way to reject careerist, corporate clubbing codswallop. Instead, we’re talking 200 people in the back room of a pub or working men’s club HAVING IT RIGHT OFF to really classy, funky, deep techno played by mostly underground but extremely good DJs. More importantly, we’re talking about a SCENE — people go there and meet people and connect. This is largely driven by the Little Detroit forum, which the Dust collective runs. A lot of techno fans have gravitated to Little Dteroit and it’s probably one of the three or four leading techno forums in the world, certainly the most influential of those not affiliated with any of the big techno record labels. They tend to meet up at Lost, Haywire parties, Sonar, and now Dust.

Dust’s inspiration, or at least its closest historical parallel, is northern soul: the tagline for Dust is “Northern Electronic Soul”, and the logo features the classic clenched fist emblem. The similarities are obvious. When “real” 6Ts soul was out of the charts, consigned to landfill and ballast, ignored and reviled, there was a die hard scene of real soul fans who found that the more the commercial value of soul withered, the better the records were, the purer the scene, the sweeter the buzz. I think it’s axiomatic that commercial decline or marginalisation tends to create better music. For one thing, the poeple making it know they’re not going to be getting more than a few quid out of it, so their motivation is stronger. Of course this is a pretty elitist phenomenon, but so what; this form of elitism implies no contempt for the masses.

Dust therefore has a buzz, and it’s a real phenomenon, which is catching the attention of people who care about really good parties (and techno). Including Andy Weatherall. I don’t know about the rest of you but I still really rate him. His records (with Radioactive Man) still rock. And I’m interested in looking back to the pre-diaspora state of dance music; hipsters (including pretty much the whole of blogdom) turned their back on techno in favour of jungle. And fair enough. But I never totally lost interest in 4×4 modernism. And getting Weatherall to play a pub on the outskirts of Sheffield to 250 paying punters (no guest list, 250 tickets only…) is an achievement. It means Dust has assembled a scene of some vigour and great preciousness that allows the techno aristocracy to, as they say, return to the source. Weatherall is headlining a 10,000 capacity arena next month in Manchester; but he’s playing a pub in Sheffield because he knows he’s going to get a rare old buzz out of it.

It took a bit of effort to get there, not because it was far away — the pub is ten minutes from my house — but because my wife was away on a long weekend in Berlin, so I was already knackered having been looking after our toddler for a few days alone. But I parked him with the childminder overnight with no problem — he even told me to have a nice time. My mate from UK-Dance and house producer Ross was coming up from Derby. He showed up having battled both steel city’s insane road system — it can best be described as “hermetic” — and my almost totally non-functional directions, and I poured cold curry and warm lager down his neck. We cadged a lift from the pub with some mad women in a rickety car with no suspension to speak of and arrived at the venue, which is not “in town”. Well, nowhere in Sheffield is that far from town, but the Earl of Arundel is in a “mixed use” area opposite a builders yard and a boarded up terrace. Marginal. Liminal, even. Perfect for that space-between-worlds vibe which is the Dust trademark: techno’s synaesthesia mixed with Sheffield’s everyday weirdness. The atmosphere was intensified by a low-hanging ripe full moon rising over the Peak District.

Dust had sold out the week before — unheard of in Sheffield in recent times. I’d been to see the club’s main man Martin Dust that afternoon to pick up my tickets and basked in the reflected glow of a man who knew he was about to make Sheffield clubbing history. At the club we were greeted by pounding funky electro seeping out the door and Martin’s cool, happy face. He was resplendent in his flash leather coat, he’s always liked his nifty threads has our Martin. Happily for him he’d found a spot where he could watch the door and the DJ booth, which was just as well cos he was stuck there all night. The Dust residents, Aitcho, Bionika and Ian Orto played the best I’ve heard them, dropping sparkling groovy electro and dirty, high energy house, no looped-up bangers as at all as far as I could tell.

Then Weatherall was on — definitely on time, maybe even early, which was welcome — and dropped loads of electroclash-tinged, inventive 130bpm tracks that were’nt quite techno, or house, or breaks, but somehow squidged the best bits of each into whomping big chunks of beats and hooks. It was great music — really danceable, REALLY noisy, but smart and diverting too. Bit too much electroclash linearity at times for me but the flow was fantastic. Weatherall took things in a tougher techno direction at just the right points, making the sound rock-hard, but never head-banging. Even better was the crowd — it was packed but friendly, no meatheads, everybody going for it and whooping, lots of party atmosphere. One of the things that makes Dust special is that while it’s aimed directly at real techno fans, it’s not an exclusive techno fan-boy zone. There were scarcely any personality-free spotters but loads of party people and loads of women. And the crowd went mad. There are pictures in this thread.

After an hour I needed a break, but when I got back he was dropping the most sublime hard funky acid you can imagine. It was quite heavenly and I had a real techno epihpany; I decided that Weatherall really is God. I spent some time at the DJ booth — something I never do normally — and stood three feet from him, amazed at both his dextrous timing and his minimalism — he was never doing that much but god was it effective. It was just crossfader and FX abuse but he was genuinely making completely new tracks from what he was playing and most importantly it just made you want to scream. He looked superbly cool — minimal rocker style, neat pressed black slacks and shirt, teeny little quiff — nothing like the steretype techno DJ. Somehow he contrived to be unaffected by either the stained spotter clinging to one Technics, or the ludicrously insensitive raver swinging his arms constantly over the other.

But this wasn’t just another pub set through fart-o-matic PA. The sound was excellent, fat and clear and exciting. I suspect this was a lot to do with the laptop-based digital eq. The Dust crew were constantly tweaking the sound — led by a dyed-in-the-wool bearded hippy who stood there radiating warmth to everyone with his little smiles all night. I’ve heard better — the
Fletcher Munson sound system in the second room at UKDX sounded unbelievably liquid when Rich was tweaking it — but it was phenomenal for a small venue.

Eventually fatigue caught up with us but we’d caught most of the set and had a royally good time. Looking back it was so much more than just a great DJ set: it was a landmark, an icon. Music that good played to a crowd that sweet and up for it in a venue that relaxed (there was a police raid that closed the bar and I didn’t even notice) made this one of those really special clubbing moments you treasure in your memory forever. Maximum respect to the Dust crew and especially to Martin for making it happen, against all the odds. Next up is Surgeon on 2nd April… can’t wait.

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