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Mucky Old Bradford and The Bass Music Scene that Never Went Away

The story of underground music in Bradford, West Yorkshire is indeed a strange one.

As a world leader in industry throughout the 19th century, the burgeoning city of Bradford found itself reckoning with its newly found wealth and status, as well as a host of inequalities resulting from them. Textiles and wool made Bradford one of the wealthiest cities in the world, though not without significant human cost. Georg Weerth, a German writer and known friend to Karl Marx and Frederich Engels said of the city:

‘If anyone wants to feel how a poor sinner is tormented in purgatory, let him travel to Bradford.’

Manchester Road, Bradford
Manchester Road, Bradford

Pollution levels in Bradford were astronomical throughout the industrial revolution, and life expectancies were shockingly low, at around thirty years old. The dire conditions of the working population prompted certain industrialists, including Sir Titus Salt, to start building and lobbying against the grim effects of rapidly expanding industry. Indeed, Saltaire, a now world-famous village and UNESCO world heritage site, was entirely built for the workers of Salt’s Mill. The mill was the world’s largest industrial building at the time of its construction, and highlights the scale of the project undertaken to provide infrastructure for all of its workers. It is worth explicit mention that the relationship between worker and employer was, and still is, extraordinarily complex, and that philanthropic efforts on behalf of industrialists like Titus Salt were by no means structural solutions; rather, it is the exceptional nature of these philanthropic projects that highlights the dire state of day-to-day life for a member of the industrial working class at the time.

Around a hundred years after Georg Weerth’s stay in the city, Bradford, like many other cities in the North, began to experience post-industrial decline. A complex social and political landscape was underscored by racial tensions, unemployment and relatively low standards of living—a continued reflection of long-standing structural inequality. Despite this turbulent history, Bradford managed to retain a certain reputation for its music, a phenomenon firmly rooted in the polarised experiences of the city.  Venues such as St. George’s Hall and the Bradford Alhambra are enduring showpieces for Bradford’s claim to ‘high culture’;  other venues, such as the 1 in 12 Club, have been long-standing proponents of the DIY/grassroots ethic, and are recognised centres for radical politics. Somewhere in the middle, in the hinterlands between the city’s more recognised music cultures and scenes, sits bass music—a genre that has enjoyed consistent underground success in and around Bradford, but one that has encountered significant difficulty in finding a permanent home.

Pulled into the orbit of Niche’s success, Bradford from the 90s onwards became awash with all flavours of the club’s exports: ‘organ’, ‘speed garage’, ‘4×4’, ‘stompers’ and ‘wobblers’ all became part of the city’s lexicon, and everybody from boy racers to bankers were soon bobbing along to the genre. There was a definite heyday for these sounds, some time around the mid to late 00s, which soared on the highs of T2‘s commercial success; his classic anthem ‘Heartbroken’ reaching as high as number two in the charts.

This set the stage for further explorations into the genre for producers and listeners alike, and the indelible mark it left on the underground music culture in the city is clearly audible today. TS7, a Bradford-based producer who has met international success, is an appropriate personification of the strange relationship the city has with bass music: there’s a wealth of talent, alongside a crop of eager listeners, but there are few places to go locally. This discrepancy hasn’t stopped either side from holding up their end of the bargain, however. The success of acts like Bad Boy Chiller Crew have shown that there was never a need for Bradford to dilute its music in order to please a larger audience, they just needed the right kind of push.

I reached out to several artists in an effort to represent the different stages of bass music within the city. As three of the city’s more prominent artists, Bailey P, Dubz and NLMT were all kind enough to offer their thoughts, which I have included in full below.

In Their Words: Interviews with Dubz, NLMT & Bailey P

Dubz Interview:

As a more experienced scene figure, Dubz has witnessed a number of trends come and go in the city…

Dubz: Bradford to me is a city full of cultures, races and religions with a lot of differences and similarities alike. One thing we all seem to agree on is that Bassline and 4×4 is generally liked amongst all estates and postcodes within our town. You might hear a car drive past with a bit of organ blasting out in Holme Wood or a 4×4 warper from Leeds Road.

Bradford has a big population of music lovers and that’s what  makes us stand out. Bassline aside you also hear a lot of Hip Hop, Bhangra and Slovak music so finding influence from other cultures isn’t that hard. When I started producing, Grime was the most dominant genre at the time. We were all kinda watching the scene in London develop and took a big influence from there but put a BFD (Bradford) spin on it. A lot of the MC’s in Bradford had a really gritty sound, so I felt like I had to make music to match their energy. I think the reason for this is because as a generation of kids we all had the same struggle really. Growing up in low income homes on council estates we all used music as an escape and at the time, Bradford had a very good club scene with various places staying open all night.

Speed Garage music started blowing up, and clubs like Lingards had their own following of bassline ravers, but it was definitely more organ/house based. Meanwhile the grime parties started turning into 4×4 raves—still bassline, but with a grimier feel to it. The general tempo and drum patterns were the same.

Those same ravers then grew up and had kids who are still pushing the bassline scene in Bradford today whilst putting their spin on it.

Dubz
Dubz

Jordan: And what jumps out when you think ‘music’ in Bradford?

Dubz: Variety. I manage a music studio in the city centre and there is a big range of people that come through. From gospel singers to death metal bands, I see it all on a daily basis and I’m proud to be a part of the scene here. I think music is such a big thing in Bradford as it’s an easy way to be creative and expressive. A few people have done well musically from Bradford too so others have been able to see for themselves that it is possible to make a career with music.

Jordan: Has there been any influences in the Bradford scene that led you to bass music?

Dubz: I was making grime at the time but listened to speed garage all the time, so the merge kinda came naturally to me anyway. My music has always been bass-heavy from the start so I’ve always just ran with that. Bass music wise, 1st Born used to tear down raves. He was a producer to me that stood out but still had that grimey sound. These days Shaun Dean was called Deckstar but had bangers in the same way. Ussy has a nice portfolio so does BO. The list goes on really.

Jordan: Where do you see the Bradford scene at the minute, especially considering the West Yorkshire scene more generally?

Dubz: Personally I think the scene is still going strong. With people like Bailey P on the come up and Ibby from Bradford we have some real good prospects for the next generation. Surrounding areas also have some real strong, influential guys in the scene such as T2, DJ Q and Jack Junior, all we need now is a club dedicated to bringing the West Yorkshire scene together to make the scene even stronger than it is now.

Jordan: What would you like to see change about the scene in BFD?

Dubz: More collaboration really. A lot of producers from here don’t reach out to one another and we could do a lot more together for the city. I’d love to see lots more events in BFD dedicated to bass music but not for all the dickheads that ruin it—thats where our scene fails. Another thing that I would love to see is a dedicated Bradford based urban radio station that pushes underground talent—a proper platform for us.

Jordan: Any comments/statements of your own to make?

Check out my Soundcloud @manlikedubz.

NLMT Interview:

For NLMT, growing up in Bradford meant experiencing each wave of bass music—first as a listener, then as a producer. This had a huge influence on his own music…

NLMT: Bradford is simply one of the most multicultural cities in the entire country, so in a way it’s surprising we aren’t a city that’s ‘known’ for music in the way that Bristol, London, or Manchester are. I remember growing up, I listened to and produced a lot of ‘organ bassline’ as it was known, which was just the standard Korg M1 organ at 140 bpm, and that seemed to be a Bradford-only thing. Bad Boy Chiller Crew have mastered that vibe and ran with it, and now look how that’s going for them!

 

NLMT
NLMT

People from all over the country suddenly want to tap into this Bradford sound haha! Seriously though I think it’s great that the Bradford sound I grew up on is suddenly finding its way all over the country and even the world, thanks to a few local lads just having fun with it. Long may it continue!

Jordan: Do you think the lifestyle of the city has influenced your sound?

NLMT: Oh yeah 100%. I’m not going to sit around and act like I’ve been through the school of hard knocks or had a rough upbringing or whatever, because that’d be a lie—but your surroundings, the things you see, the things people around you listen to, are all bound to have an impact on the music you make, be it consciously or subconsciously. The other thing I’d say as well is that a lot of my music—especially my UK Bass/Bassline/whatever you want to call it—is inherently ‘aggy’. Like a lot of the old dubstep YouTube comments about ‘booting your nan down the stairs’ or whatever can apply to the majority of my stuff.

I’d be lying if I said my surroundings and the city I live in don’t inspire that kind of vibe. I don’t think I have that much of an evil side naturally haha!

Jordan: Could you talk us through music culture in Bradford?

NLMT: Obviously Zayn Malik, Gareth Gates and Kimberley Walsh… Seriously though, in terms of underground music, everyone just seems to want to spit bars or sing—obviously I mentioned BBCC earlier, Haze da Martian is due to blow very soon, Blazer Boccle has been on bars for years, S Dog is building a good name for himself. But you still don’t see a lot of producers and DJs coming out of Bradford in my opinion, certainly not for the size of the city, anyway. I always wonder if a lot of it is to do with the lack of events in and around the city, like I couldn’t even tell you the last time I went out in Bradford. When I first turned 18, the city actually had a decent nightlife, and a good number of clubs/venues which were busy every weekend, playing good tunes and that can be all it takes to inspire someone to get into DJing and/or producing. I don’t think we have that at the minute sadly.

Jordan: Have there been a particular artist/set of artists that inspired you to make music?

NLMT: Yeah for sure, the first one that always comes to mind is TS7 without doubt. I remember listening to all of his tunes back when I first started off, and thinking ‘Yeah this is the kinda music I want to make’. The levels he’s gotten to with singles in the charts and whatnot are astronomical—I hope I can replicate them one day!

Growing up I listened to quite a bit of Deckstar too (Shaun Dean in today’s money), so those two definitely had a big inspiration on my sound and sorta led me down the path of bass music. I’d like to think I’ve carved my own path from there though. I’d hate to hang onto someone else’s coattails, or copy another producer’s sound.

Jordan: Would you say the Bradford scene is healthy at the moment?

NLMT: Weirdly, I think it’s probably as healthy as I’ve ever known it. Obviously with the success that BBCC have had, if you conjured up a 5,000 cap venue and planted it in the city, they’d sell it out in a heartbeat. And you could probably stick some nice local talent on the warm-ups as well, and make it a bit of a bass music showcase for Bradford. There’s the ‘Bradford Live’ project going on at the moment to convert the old Odeon into a 4,000 cap venue, which is finally going to give us a venue with a chance of attracting some big names and established artists to perform in the city, which would give the entire music scene in Bradford a shot in the arm, in my opinion. We just need some really good club venues to support that now, with good sound systems and good crowds.

Jordan: Is there anything you’d like to see change?

NLMT: Like I said earlier, more DJs for sure. I’d genuinely struggle to sit here and tell you who’s breaking through and really making their mark in the UK Bass scene out of Bradford at the minute, apart from maybe Bailey P – who’s doing all the right things and developing at a rate of knots. I’d like to see a diverse crop of talented DJs/producers as well—the music industry is so male-dominated, and I’d like to see that balanced a bit personally. Plus like I said earlier, Bradford is a cultural melting-pot of a city, I’d love to see that represented properly across the bass music scene round here.

Bailey P Interview

As an exciting up-and-comer, whose music and online presence are generating a significant amount of buzz, Bailey P represents the new school of producers coming out of Bradford…

Jordan: Ey up 3000, I’m here speaking with Bailey P—he’s got a load of bangers out there and I’ve called him up to ask some questions about the Bradford scene. What do you think is the most important thing about Bradford’s music?

Bailey P: I think it’s the melodies that we create in Bradford. People like DJ Hasan create melodies, proper organ melodies! People like him and TS7 show that we’ve got a lot unique, to be honest.

Jordan: Do you think that the melodic approach to bass music is something that stemmed from the bassline house/organ days in Bradford?

 

Bailey P
Bailey P

Bailey P:  Yeah definitely. Like Chris Gresswell with the jackin stuff—the Labrinth remix he did, that’s what got me into this style of music! I got into jackin’ from there which was followed up by that ‘Certified Jackin’ album coming out, which was actually the first one I ever bought. I carried on listening to that sort of music from there really.

Jordan: It’s interesting that you mention jackin actually, because jackin was definitely my route into bassline as well. You hear stuff growing up, the classic ‘back of the bus’ tunes, obvious ones like ‘Heartbroken’—

Bailey P: Actually, I lie! My aunt used to babysit me and that tune was in the charts. That’s the first ever bassline tune I heard and I had that on repeat! It was the Chris Gresswell tune that got me thinking: ‘I need to learn about this style of music.’ Sorry for interrupting.

Jordan: Don’t be sorry mate! I feel like hearing that stuff growing up, it sticks with you, and there are those uptempo garage tunes as well: ‘Sweet Like Chocolate’ if you remember that one.

Bailey P: Tune!

Jordan: Yeah, trust me!

[Both sing chorus of ‘Sweet Like Chocolate’]

Jordan: Everyone knows about going to the ice rinks, for some reason, and tunes like that would be playing. Do you think that the lifestyle of Bradford has influenced your sounds and tastes in some way?

Bailey P: Yeah so, my best mate Sunny, we used to chill with his older brother and he used to show us organ tunes. He wouldn’t tell us what they were! They were bangers, but he would never tell us what the tunes were. Hearing the energy and searching for the melody online and not being able to find it, that gets you interested. It’s how I got listening to the organ sounding tunes, because we were searching for them but we could never find them. People would always have a shitty bluetooth speaker with some organ tune playing on it and its some ‘Show Me Love’ remix.

[Jordan laughs]

Bailey P: [Laughs] See, you know!

Jordan: That’s what I find interesting about Bradford, generally speaking, and I’ve written about it a little bit. All communities, regardless of grouping, seem to have a shared identity around that music. It was asian lads, for example, who showed me a lot of the early bassline stuff.

Bailey P: Yeah, I had a best mate called Hasan Bashrat, who I met in Year 6. We both went to Beckfoot [secondary school] and I—

Jordan: So you were at Beckfoot as well?

Bailey P: Listen bro, let’s not talk about it because I got kicked out of about three or four schools—school was never the one for me!  When I’m intrigued, I’ll excel at something, which I could see with music and stuff like geography. I’m crazy about music, it’s all I think or talk about, to the point where I’m over-the-top with it. Anyway, we’d be sat in history, and at Beckfoot you were allowed to sit with your earphones in, so we’d sit next to each other and he’d show me DJ Hasan—his tunes banged!

Jordan: I know we’ve covered this a bit, including with the other artists, but… What jumps out to you when we’re talking about ‘Bradford’ music?

Bailey P: I was on the phone with Jack Junior the other day—

Jordan: Big up.

Bailey P: Hold tight yeah, proper boyo. Anyway we were chatting and I showed him some of my stuff, and he said: ‘You can hear the Bradford in it.’ The melodies that I make are just from my headtop, I don’t know how I make them. My brain says: ‘Bailey, put that note in there ya dickhead.’

[Jordan Laughs]

I feel like Bradford is very underrated for music. The people who are sick at music here maybe don’t rep it enough. I’m a big believer that everyone in Bradford should work together and push our sound! Let’s do a massive Bradford compilation album and show the rest of the UK what Bradford’s about! I don’t know, there’s always politics.

Jordan: And there doesn’t have to be bro! If there’s something I’ve learned in purposefully avoiding that negative type of scene politics, it’s that you can be a positive influence in enabling people to move past their differences.

Bailey P: This is the thing. I feel like everyone from Bradford needs to show the UK what we’re about. Bad Boy Chiller Crew are doing bits right now, there’s no question about it and fair play to them, they’re doing it off their own back, so respect! I feel like we need to come together, especially for music, because we don’t rep it enough.

I did that thing on Tik Tok: ‘How to Make a Charver Tune’. I posted it and it went viral! People were commenting on it,  specifically mentioning the fact I’d put ‘#Bradford’. This is what I feel I have to do: to show the UK what Bradford is capable of for music.

@baileyp_officialHow to make an up north charva tune 😎 #fyp #nodivvysroundheremush #bradford #leeds #yorkshire #westyorkshire #charva #ganglife♬ original sound – BAILEYP

Jordan: It’s reassuring to hear you say it! I won’t lie, for people like me and loads of others, growing up in Bradford was often difficult. So there was definitely reluctance to rep it on a personal level.

Bailey P: These things shape you who you are though bro—those things can be gifts. They can shape you into the best version of you!

Jordan: Definitely! The fact that you have that vision and drive so early on, that’s inspiring.

Bailey P: Danny T did First Direct Arena didn’t he? Bradford council had best get building a stadium. Fuck it, we’ll get some decks, set them up in City Park, and we’ll show them what time it is. Get everyone to jump in the fountains!

[Both laugh]

I’ll rep Bradford and Leeds. Bradford is my home, but Leeds feels that way too. I feel like we could have a partnership, is it just me?

Jordan: In my young, naive brain I always viewed it as a rivalry. That’s not to say I took it especially serious, I would just see Leeds as the place everyone fled to. It’s where all the money, all the opportunities, all the activity seemed to be.

Bailey P: Yeah, I’ve got family there which maybe helps me feel a bit more comfortable repping it. I’m proper passionate about bringing Bradford back. If you had to list cities that were killing it for bassline right now, who would it be?

Jordan: I’d say there are a few cities in fairness.

Bailey P: I’d say Nottingham is definitely up there and you’ve got Sheffield as well, but Bradford should be up there! Nobody would ever put it in that category. I think we need to start appreciating that everyone needs to eat, everyone needs to be fair. It’s not just about me, it’s about us!

Jordan: Where do you see the Bradford and West Yorkshire scene more generally?

Bailey P: I’ll start by saying NLMT is very underrated. He’s been on this for time. Bradford especially is slept on; if you look for it, we’ve got it. We’ve got DJ Hasan on organ vibes, you’ve got Ibby from Bradford doing bits with house and bassline beats, you’ve got me making garage, house, bassline, Dubz on bassline, 4×4, garage—there are so many people! Big shout out to Dubz actually: he took me to the studio and collaborated with me in the early days, so hold tight to Dubz! I know 1st Born wants to do a big project for Bradford too and we’ve got trap MC’s, drill MC’s. We’ve got everything!

I just know we can do it. We’ve even got people coming to Bradford for their photo shoots, which shows Bradford is a hub! We need the council to stop shutting our efforts down. Instead of the council asking: ‘How can we make it safe?’ they’re looking at it from the angle of ‘They’re just going to cause trouble.’ You’re always gonna have the odd dickhead, but where doesn’t have that? It feels they’re more after controlling us than letting us level up.

Jordan: Is there anybody you’d like to shoutout and have you got any words for musicians in the scene right now?

Bailey P: Hold tight to my manager, Darka as well, Dubz, Forca, Sunny Marceli, and NLMT for putting us in contact!

In regards to the music: make your stuff melodic and I’ll love it! I’m working with a lass called ‘Lucy’ at the minute for example—she’s a singer and her voice is beautiful. I’ve got a lot coming this year, and I don’t think people understand; I like to keep things quiet and put stuff out as it’s ready!

The Future of Bradford’s Scene

Throughout the course of my writing, it became even more clear that Bradford’s bass music scene was in a strange spot. Rather than there being some clear picture of the scene’s health, it seemed as though there was a pattern of mixed success. The scene seemed bottlenecked by a significant divide between the ‘very successful’ and the ‘lesser-known’ or ‘emerging’ talents. At one end stood the international artists, at the other, a crop of equally talented and passionate individuals, who had yet to find local channels to match and encourage their blossoming craft.

It indeed seemed fitting that a city like Bradford, with its history of inequality, would see those patterns repeated in its underground music culture. That is not to say that there isn’t still a concerted effort by many of the city’s artists to support and encourage growth amongst one another—many of my interactions with scene members have shown the extent of the enthusiasm and the desire to support people at various stages of their musical career. It remained pertinent, however, that more of this could be done, especially at the institutional level. Bradford city council seem  averse to creating or facilitating such spaces, despite how influential and celebrated the culture is.

Bass and bassline music have long been culturally associated within and without Bradford, which, in turn, has unfortunately come to be associated with the working class and perceptions of antisocial behaviour. It seems that much of the reluctance to afford bass music a dedicated space stems from the worry that bass music will encourage violence, an attitude which does little to acknowledge the complex reality, let alone the great joy that the genre brings to millions around the world. In an increasingly atomised society, dance music spaces are some of the last available refuges for communities to gather and share in the appreciation of something larger than themselves.

Pertaining to the above, a desire for unity and a spirit of persistence were both common threads that seemed to unify each of the people in the scene that I spoke to—there was a willingness to battle through the barriers in order to participate in their music culture. Working against bureaucracy, Covid-19 and brain drain, the path ahead appears to be a difficult one, but it’s nothing that the people of Mucky Old Bradford can’t take in their stride.

I would know as well as anyone: there’s summert different about us up North.

Socials

Bailey P Soundcloud – https://soundcloud.com/djbaileyp

Bailey P Instagram – https://www.instagram.com/baileyp_uk/

Dubz Soundcloud – https://soundcloud.com/manlikedubz/

Dubz Instagram – https://www.instagram.com/man_like_dubz/

NLMT Soundcloud – https://soundcloud.com/nlmt

NLMT Instagram – https://www.instagram.com/nlmt_music/