Iration Steppas, Everyone Centre, 020404

The EveryOne Centre is a church-hall like community centre attached to a swimming baths in Heeley, with quite lovely 1920’s municipal architecture. It’s a short walk from my house, in a strange marginal area next to the railway line which is just being developed. For years there was an urban wasteland opposite the EveyOne Centre; now there’s a new Virgin Active health centre and some building sites. There’s is still a tangible sense of the area being a secret backwater, and lots of open space. I therefore had a very enjoyable walk down there late last night, which was Spring-warm, T-short weather, with a cloudless sky, and a gorgeous waxing moon hanging high in the sky. I love walking round Sheffield at night and I don’t do it nearly enough, so this made for a good night out even without any music.

I was on the borders of Nether Edge and Heeley, rather than being futher down the Chesterfield Road at the Earl of Arundel and Surrey, because my beloved Dust was cancelled late in the day by the Council, who alleged license problems at the venue. So no chthonic techno from Surgeon for the tribe of Dust, which must have disappointed a lot of people. But almost synchronistically, this meant I had the chance to see the Iration Steppas soundsystem, who I used to see regularly in London. The event was put on by HeadCharge, who run a big acid techno nigh in Sheffield (which I’d really like to get to some time). The crew there have started up a series of dub nights at the Everyone Centre and if last night was any indication it’s a fantastic and popular idea.

I got in about 23.30 and the Steppas were already playing, though they claimed it was just the sound check. It was half full already, with a crowd of hippy punks and the odd black face. There was a small bar area with plenty of seating which had a camo netting wall dividing it from the main dancefloor, which was an open-beamed 20s hall, not very large, strewn with Headcharge and Steppas wall hangings. At each end of the hall were the speaker stacks, which took up most of each side wall. Turning left at the cross-roads to walk to the venue, I was immediately aware of the ground vibrating with the bass; walking onto the floor I was greeted by waves of hair-raising, gut vibrating bass. The impact from Iration Steppa’s sound was much greater in this small space than at, for example the Brixton Rec. It was glorious. They were playing slower, rootsier digidub and the odd stepper when I arrived, and got going properly at midnight, by which point it was pretty full. The Steppas proceeded to drop a series of quite devastating digi / roots rhythms, building the intensity beautifully, with Mark adding progressively more MCing and live vocals to the mix. If you’ve not seen them before, their sound is harsh, pounding digital drums with varying amounts of horns and vocals, squelched and stretched to infinity with filters and EQ. Think DJ Sneak slowed down with ten times the freak power and you’re somewhere close. If you have seen them before, the difference I noticed in hearing them play was the focus and intention in how they played, expertly building peaks and troughs into the set, alternating relentless riddim sequencing with single cuts, varying the tempo to keep your interest. Because you were in such a confined space, you felt like you were enfolded in this monolithic sound, yet you never felt oppressed and could quite easily hold a conversation, even as the bass was slowly tugging your trousers down. And that bass… seismic is a word so overused it’s almost meaningless, but in this instance it’s unavoidable. The sound was so immense you felt like the earth itself was vibrating in harmony with the music — an image that’s a cliche, but I experienced it so intensely I can’t help but describe it as such. In full flight, Iration Steppas generate an unworldly sound where the bass is generating a universe of harmonic vibrations that sound and feel just wonderful. All the way the Irations were tweaking the fuck out of their system, which was just magnificent especially when they cut out everything but a heaving, distorted bass…

The crowd loved the techno-speed digi stuff but I thought it was a bit wooden, Drang without the Sturm, and found myself yearning for more roots or, better, some funky eighties dancehall. So I went out to the front garden, which with the moon filling the sky with a vast halo over it, was a delightful place to rest, especially with the floods of cool clean Peak District air and the Sheffield climate’s dampy, comfy mildness. There was a gentle crowd of chillers there, and at that point, the Everyone Centre seemed like the best club in the world.

I headed back in for another ear-full and it was even better, fantastically funky slices of modern Brit digi from their new LP. Everyone was smiling, even though the hall was now utterly rammed with scarcely any room to dance. When I headed back home, I reflected on how, given the frequency with which Iration Steppas play Sheffield, and how busy I will be when the new baby arrives, that this may have been the last time I see them for a very long time. I that’s the case, then that was a hell of a high note to go out on.

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