Mathew Jonson and Jane Fitz in Birmingham

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  • It was pissing with rain in Birmingham. Outside The Rainbow Venues, punters made a dash for cover, their jackets pulled tight over their heads. That most familiar of rave battlecries sailed through the air, reverberating through the rows and rows of gloomy-looking warehouses: "Oli oli oli—OI OI OI." Judging by the muffled snap of two-step breaks that came with it, I figured this might be DJ EZ—on the train from London someone had mentioned he was playing elsewhere in the sprawling complex. But I was here for something more low-key: a new house and techno night called Chord. The party was initially meant to run across three rooms. In the end, because of slow ticket sales, it was more or less confined to one (there was a second room, The Roof Terrace, but the rain fell so heavily it was basically off-limits). This served the night well, placing the four guests—Nicolas Lutz, Jane Fitz, Mathew Jonson, Daniel Bell—one after another in The Black Box, The Rainbow Venues' gritty, low-ceilinged club room. (The night's original headliner, Magda, cancelled.) It's a wicked space, just the right size, with a pumping Martin Audio soundsystem, roomy floor-level booth and little glow-worms of light that crawl along the walls. Lutz went first, charging the night with early energy. Directly opposite him, a man with long, lank hair, baggy cargo trousers and a jumper tied round his waist danced for his life. At times, both his feet were off the ground. He was an extreme case, but the crowd were generally of that sort: older locals with plenty of mileage on the rave clock. Unlike a lot of parties I've been to around the UK this year, there weren't many students. "This is pretty much everyone in Birmingham that's into this music," Patrick Lopaski, a local DJ, producer and promoter, told me. (The party he co-owns, Evolve, had a hand in running Chord.) Fitz started off playing bright, groovy house, dropping tunes like Carl Finlow's "Islands." Towards the end of her set, the music was darker, tougher and more cosmic, though with the same percussive detail and punchy swing. She had people bouncing off the walls; the kinds of whoops and hollers that usually die out after five or ten seconds roared on for several minutes. Jonson, playing live, was trippier and more melodic, deploying beautiful, snaking synth lines that seemed to drag their feet. The basslines were fluid and tonally rich. There was a spot of humour in there, too: "I'm the cookie monster, give me my cookies," sang one gruff voice. Bell closed the room. By this point, around 4 AM, half of the dance floor had been cordoned off as a result of the paddling pool-sized puddle that had formed inside. Water was cascading down one of the speakers. Those who remained huddled closer together to keep warm, dancing extra hard to Bell's deep, rolling cuts. Many of his tunes were excellent, but it was hard not feel that he'd missed a trick: Fitz and Jonson had whipped the room into a frenzy, and his performance felt flat by comparison. At 6 AM, the party moved down the road to Spotlight, another Rainbow-owned venue. It was only a 30-second walk, but my girlfriend and I were soaked to the bone by the time we arrived. Photo credit / Evie Williams for Here & Now