Saturday, 26 January 2008

End of the Electric Chair

In some ways, the relationship you have with a special club night can be like the one you have with a good friend. It’s a fact of life that people can change and so ideas and attitudes alter, which can sometimes test or even break friendships. In a similar way, club nights change in relation to musical fashions and nightlife dynamics, in order to avoid becoming stale, or even worse, irrelevant. This can alienate devotees, but attracts new blood, which is vital for extending the lifespan of said night. However, in one way, the relationship you have with a good friend and a club night differs. You would hope never to lose a good friendship, as long as you had not drifted too far apart or developed irreconcilable differences. As far as a relationship with a club night was concerned, the knowledge is there that the relationship will end. Whether this is because you decide to stop attending that nighterie because it or you have changed too much, or because the people who run the club night have chosen to kill it.

The end of the Electric Chair has been on the cards for a while, so the announcement that January 2008 would be the last ’execution’, followed by a ’wake’ didn’t come as a huge shock. However, there was still a twinge of sadness at the announcement for those who’d been moved by magical experiences at this spirited club night during its monumental, near thirteen year history. A club can only ’move with the times’ for so long, before it loses its sense of being and one wonders whether this inspirational monthly, which spawned mini-Chair’s and multitudinous musically similar events stopped serving its purpose a little while ago. In some ways the Chair are victims of their own success, with some of the nights they’ve helped build crowds for in the city and beyond have stolen some of their thunder.

The nightlife of Manchester and the city itself has changed significantly since the Electric Chair first opened its doors at the Roadhouse back in summer 1995. In the twelve plus years that the Chair has existed, the popularity of ’clubbing’ and interest in ’dance music’ has expanded and diminished, with recent times seeing competitors unafraid to put their money on the table giving the elderly Chair and others a hard time. The rise of the internet has also taken place since the night opened and has changed the way we receive information about club nights, with the Electric Chair’s own website and lively internet forum bringing more people through the doors in later years. Maybe the way to have gone would have been to end the executions on the 10th birthday, a truly electrifying peak, but that would have always led to questions of what could have been. Announcing its passing months before the end was an astute move, which gave people a number of chances to pay their last respects. This certainly reinvigorated the night itself in its last few months and made parties with the Kabal crew and Danny Krivit rather special.

For Luke Cowdrey and Justin Crawford, better known as The Unabombers, now is the perfect time to call it a day on regular Chair parties. Manchester may still be their home, but the pair most definitely have their eyes on different things. A few years ago, a Chair session missing even one of The Unabombers would have been unheard of, but an August bank holiday party without either of them shows that their heart isn’t in it anymore. Unfortunately for them, this means that the party is well and truly over, as the Chair was fuelled by a love for music and a passion for putting on breathtaking parties. Their enthusiasm saw them start putting on parties in a difficult and at times dangerous clubland environment and ultimately succeed with their dream. Their passion was displayed in their DJ bookings and the Electric City fanzine, where Luke blabbered about what was ve ve right and ve ve wrong with the world, but also talked a lot of sense and listed the names of the artists that were inspiring the duo. Putting on illicit and later Frodsham based Electric Souls parties to mixed financial results and wrestling with huge end of year and summer ‘riots’ showed perhaps an unhealthy amount of enthusiasm from a business point of view, but despite their desire to put on profitable events, the passion and excitement has always been the driving force. True, Electriks, the company responsible for the running of The Chair, Nish Nash Nosh and various other interests, hasn’t been a two man team for a large number of years, but without the direction of The Unabombers, there would be no Electric Chair.

Luke and Justin’s DJ stock has risen steadily in the last decade, but due to the appearance of Electric Chair inspired compilations and the shrewd PR and management moves taken in the last few years, they’ve gone from a having healthy DJ diary as a duo with a number of solo spinning appearances, to a full diary as a twosome that has included all manner of summer festivals and jet-setting jaunts. Bemusingly, this has also spawned a radio show on Manchester’s XFM, which has exposed the pair’s comic genius, as well as broad musical tastes. This Londoncentric Indie focussed station has ignored many local musical tastemakers, despite helping to push bands left, right and centre, so the ’Bombers were lucky to have been given the show. Both Luke and Justin have reached middle age, so maybe clubs don’t hold the power they once did.

The loss of the Chair commitment frees up a weekend and preparation time for them every month, so they can concentrate on studio work, which has led them to previously uncharted waters. In the past, Justin did his thing as ’Only Child’ and the pair dabbled in the occasional remix alongside hush hush Disco reformulations, long before every man and his dog decided they could do their own re-edits. However, The Unabombers recently have been re-born as The Elektrons, a soulful production outfit that makes records that have the same positive musical ethos as the records spun at the Chair, but without the same electrifying passion. There is little to quibble about the talent of guest vocalists such as Eska, Mpho Skeef and Pete Simpson and there is nothing technically wrong with the Dave ’Zed Bias’ Jones assisted sanitised sound of their debut album, “Red Light Don’t Stop ”. There are actually three tracks on the album that could be considered proper ’Chair Records’; which are the bouncing “Get Up” (12“ version), gorgeous warm-up fodder “Be With You” and “Joy”, an ecstatic Housefloor end of nighter, but the passion doesn’t run through the album.

In interviews the duo exclaim how the album represents ‘British music’ and their transition from DJ/club set-up to studio in the tradition of Soul II Soul. The problem is that you can’t help feeling the spirit of the Chair has got lost somewhere in the transition and therefore they are unnecessarily turning their back on 13 years of hard work. However, maybe the move to The Elektrons is more of an evolution and that Cowdrey and Crawford craved to start anew under this name. As well as the no-no of using their DJ guise as a name for commercial purposes in a world where the worry of terrorism looms high, another reason they opted for the name change was to show that this project is completely separate from The Unabombers persona. They now have a proper live band, which they’ve taken on the road, with Justin on Bass (perhaps a nod to his day in the New Fads), and Luke on Turntables and hopefully microphone. Whatever the reaction of the Chair faithful to the Elektrons album, it seems to getting them useful exposure. “Red Light Don’t Stop ” has garnered a lot of press coverage for the duo and the repulsive “Dirty Basement” single even went number one in South Africa, suggesting they could even become popstars. However, despite these developments, Luke’s excellent ’Elektrons Tour Diary’, readable on the group’s myspace page, suggests that he’s still got his feet on the ground.

With an ever expanding play list focusing on uplifting soul-kissed music and emotive electronic tunes, The Unabombers will certainly survive as a DJ duo without the Chair. They will always have a trusty collection of ‘Chair Records’ that they threatened to overplay in their Manchester club. This may be the end of their monthly executions, but the spirit fostered at the Chair will live on through Unabombers sets the world over, even though Luke won’t be able to get on the mike and shout ‘Inside…The Electric Chair’ anymore. ’The Elektrons’ project is set to take them off in a different direction, but time will tell how far they stray from their basement roots, especially as there are plans afoot for the occasional intimate party in Mancunia.


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