Little mesters is a term you'll only come across in Sheffield and the surrounding areas. Coined in the 18th century, it was the name given to self-employed craftsmen, typically metalworkers, who made a living producing tools or cutlery from rented spaces in factories or independently-run workshops. What was once a thriving industry has all but died out today, though that DIY spirit has come to characterise the city and, by extension, its approach to the arts. Electronic music acts like Cabaret Voltaire and The Black Dog, as well as world-renowned label Warp Records, were all born from this climate of resolute individualism.
Combine this punky outlook with a large student population and an abundance of disused warehouses, and you've got all the ingredients for a killer dance music scene. Hope Works, a party and venue run by long-standing denizen Liam O'Shea (AKA the techno artist Lo Shea), is one of today's strongest offerings. The building sits in the city's functioning industrial zone, flanked by a huge circular gas tank on one side and a tall smoking chimney on the other. For Saturday's fourth birthday, imposing replicas of a steel press and two metal pourers framed the DJ booth in the homely main space, blank canvases for an endless churn of mind-bending visuals from local artists. Paintings splashed the walls and dangled from the ceiling, swaying gently over an annexed lair of tatty couches. The walls never stopped rattling from the bass. "I can have a massive Void Incubus soundsystem shaking the building to its foundations all night long and not bother anyone," O'Shea told RA last year.
O'Shea books all sorts of acts, from Bicep and Nina Kraviz to earners like Floating Points, but rugged UK techno and UK bass are where his heart's at. Even during Saturday's more linear spells, there was always the comforting threat of a rude breakbeat or some other rhythmic shift lurking round the corner. Lee Gamble opened the main space, loosening up the crowd with a wicked, textured spray of dubby electronics, dubstep and jungle. The drums on some of his early tracks were so splintered there was no telling if he was beatmatching perfectly or clanging the mix (either way, it didn't matter).
Tucked away on the other side of the outside area was the party's loud, intimate back room, Mesters. A shimmering green laser provided the only light, lending the triangular space a thrilling feel, like you'd just wandered into a random afterhours in someone's garage. Leif played the set of the night in here, blending warm, scruffy house (Junes' "Shift State") with bombs like Pearson Sound's "XLB," Asusu's "Serra" and Roman Flugel's "Brian Le Bon." To my right, a raver with his head in the speakers cut exaggerated shapes, while someone behind me let out groans of satisfaction that in another context might've been a cause for concern.
The rest of the night passed by in a flurry of kicks and snares. Tessela and James Ruskin had been brought in last-minute to replace Blawan, who pulled out due to illness. Both threw it down in typically fierce fashion, with Ruskin smoothing the edges on Tessela's hell-for-leather performance with punchy, catchy hooks. By this point, the room had thinned a little, leaving only a loose crowd of wide-eyed 20-somethings and a handful of conspicuously older folk. One woman—blonde, in her 30s—danced with no shoes on. At some point, the night's final DJ, Sunil Sharpe, dropped Paul Johnson's "Muthafucka." One-by-one, several dozy ravers peeled themselves off the sofas and joined the fray for one last dance.
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