16 Aug 2011
The Steel City doesn’t strike many people as the first port of call when it comes to hip-hop. If it did then the long standing stereotype of hip-hop wouldn’t be bitches, fast cars and weed, but Henderson’s Relish, SuperTrams and Devonshire Chippy.
Rappers everywhere would be sipping blue pints in Corp instead of purple drank in the Three Six Mafia’s crib, and ‘Black and Yellow’ would be about Sheffield Wednesday’s 2010/11 away kit.
As appealing as all that sounds, it’s not the case for Hip Hop, and I can confidently say that it never will be. Despite this, in a city so heavily immersed in bass culture – which undoubtedly takes influence from Rap and Hip-Hop – there’s always going to the potential for this kind of club night to thrive.
Think back a few short months to the time before UGLY graced our Thursday nights. It was a bleak time. Sheffield had no dedicated Hip Hop night, no gin, no juice, and certainly nothing worth doing on a Thursday. But let’s not dwell on the past, for the fried chicken shaped void in the hearts of club goers across Sheffield has been filled.
It’s now been four months since UGLY launched and from day one it’s been packing out DQ’s Upstairs quicker than a north London JJB in a riot – and with two of Sheffield’s most prolific DJs behind the Hip Hop hootenanny, this is of no surprise to any of us at HuWho towers (i.e. my kitchen).
Wonky Ninja (a.k.a Austin Sherman), highly rated by Kissy Sell Out, is resident at Bigger Than Barry as well as Manchester’s Banana. Austin has DJ’d at just about every venue worth playing at in Sheffield and Manchester, and has racked up some air miles bringing some south Yorkshire ruckus to Poland.
Alongside the Ninja is fellow Bigger Than Barry resident Danny Beck, who has been seen on lineups featuring the likes of the Toddla T, Joy Orbison, Pariah, Midland and Lil’ Silva. Danny’s also a friggin’ awesome illustrator/graphic designer and his UGLY designs, based on hip hop iconography such as Wu Tang Clan’s logo, have been bouncing around the web like a beach ball at a Nickelback concert.
With Danny and Austin predominantly having backgrounds in Bass and Electro scenes across various cities, it begs the questions: ‘why a Hip-Hop night?’, ‘why Sheffield?’ and ‘why now?’. Well HuWho got the chance to meet up with UGLY co-founder Austin (Danny was out ordering chicken) to ask him just that. We also touched on the future of UGLY, the importance of branding, the state of Hip-Hop and the recent riots – because they definitely haven’t had enough media coverage over the last week.
Austin: Definitely, it’s totally to blame. I am the main instigator of the riots in Sheffield. I run a hip-hop night so I know all about that. Nah of course it isn’t, it’s ridiculous isn’t it. I mean Hip-Hop is so broad now. Back in the day, like with NWA Hip-Hop was very political and very motivated towards change but nowadays if it sounds good, if people can rhyme some words on top of it, it can be Hip-Hop.
Of course it’s not all about causing riots and violence, that’s ridiculous. Its just all middle class white men trying to put the blame on something. Something that’s not them, when it is their fault. Do you know what I mean?
HW: Yeah definitely. It wasn’t Hip-Hop, it was Grand Theft Auto..
A: Well San Andreas has Hip-Hop and it’s a video game. That’s the main culprit I’d say. Nah but really it’s just ridiculous.
HW: You DJ at quite a few different nights. Does that influence or alter the way you play, or the tracks you choose to play?
A: To a certain extent, I mean I play at quite a lot of commercial type nights so if there’s a tune that’s massive in the charts that’s ‘Hip-Hop’, by the time it comes round to doing Ugly I’m usually sick of it. For example, the Wiz Khalifa stuff. I do really like Wiz but stuff like ‘Black and Yellow’ had been rinsed so much by the time it came round to doing Ugly I was just like ‘’There’s no way I’m playin’ that’’. And we try and keep it an old school Hip-Hop night too. So yeah, playing other places influences me in that it makes me NOT want to play certain tracks.
HW: Do you ever test the water with certain things at other nights?
A: Yeah definitely. When we had it [UGLY] confirmed, but before the launch night, anywhere me and Danny played we’d just play Hip-Hop none stop just to see how it went down. And it went down well so we carried on with the the night.
HW: You said you try to keep it old school – do you think UGLY appeals to so many because there’s a nostalgic aspect to it?
A: Yeah sort of. The weird thing is when I say old school Hip-Hop, it’s stuff from the 80’s, 90’s and maybe the 70’s. I’d class old school Hip-Hop as being from that era. But the people who come to Ugly who are like 18/19, if we play something from late 90s/early 2000, they would probably class that as old school. So we have to try and keep everyone happy.
I mean there are only a few people out there still making proper Hip-Hop, and everyone kinda rags on him a bit, but I think 50 cent is still credible. You have Snoop who made that David Guetta song, which is losing that original Hip-Hop vibe. But people like 50 Cent who are still trying keep it original, there’s not many people doing that.
A: Well there is still a future. I mean there is a whole wave of new stuff coming out of America that I really like. Like Wiz, Mac Miller, Kid Cudi a couple years ago. I was never that deep into Hip-Hop back in the day, but its gone from a serious, political thing, to party tunes which is why it started getting a stigma of being about guns, bitches and hoe’s. Now there’s a whole wave of rappers that are young and talking about girls and being depressed. Its like a hybrid of the emo lyrics of post hardcore but with hip hop beats. Sometimes I sit and listen to Kid Cudi and think ‘you’re such a whiney bastard’ but I still really like it. No one wants to dance to someone talking about how they smoke weed all the time. So there are still Hip-Hop scenes, but there’s definitely only a finite amount because it’s unlike garage or an electro where there are people constantly producing stuff that’s identifiable as garage and electro. There is a finite amount of music and you just pick what you want from that really.
HW: Do you think its gone to a different place now? It seems to be quite ‘hipster’ at the moment…
A: Oh yeah definitely. All the emo kids love it, its definitely got a hipster vibe. And the old school stuff seems to be coo tool. It seems to be coming back, but people aren’t producing new stuff like it used to be. You don’t have people making anything new, except those that are making it different.
HW: Will it reach a point where you have to start diluting what you play ?
A: It is gonna be difficult. We’re trying to think of fresh ideas for Ugly because there’s only so much you can play and only a certain amount you can, but there is still a lot there. So if you start a night at 11, you can fill 4 or 5 hours easily. You can always mix it up by doing stuff like East Coast vs West Coast nights, having certain producers etc, the same kind of thing as Juicy in Manchester.
HW: Have you thought about having live MC’s?
A: We have thought about it, but the thing is I don’t know a lot about the UK Hip-Hop scene. The stuff that I know of is grime orientated, and that urban dubstep scene, rather than Hip-Hop. There are people like Jehst who’s killing it, making actual Hip-Hop. And the thing is, when I speak to someone who’s into it, they mention someone I’ve never heard of, and think I should probably get into them to be honest.
Its difficult trying to keep a balance between credible, good underground stuff, and then keeping it on a level where it can continue to be successful. Because not that many people know about that side of it so you have to play stuff like Fat Joe, DMX and other big party tunes, to try and keep people that aren’t that deep into it interested in coming.
HW: You mentioned Juicy, any influence there?
A: Oh massively, we got the idea entirely from them. A cheap as possible night, and just play Hip-Hop tunes. Its nowhere near as successful as they are, but its early days.
I played at Juicy a couple of times, and realised that I could mix Hip-Hop. Then I moved to Sheffield and thought ‘why not try it here?’.
HW: Why do you think it’s taken off so well here?
A: Its probably the same as Manchester in that all the other Hip-Hop nights are too underground. Or they’re the opposite and are too commercial. We try and keep that balance and keep everyone fairly happy. There can be students that don’t know that much about it, and every couple of songs they might hear a tune they don’t know. But they’ll know enough to have a good night at the time. And the fact that’s its free entry, and double gin n juice is one fifty, and there’s free chicken there. You can’t really complain, you’re not gonna have a bad night. Hip-Hop’s that kind of music where its just a good vibe, especially when you’re playing it. I mean I do like deeper Hip-Hop, but I’d never play it out, you just keep the party vibe. I think everyone can relate to it on some level. I’m pretty sure everyone had a hip-hop phase at some point.
HW: Going back to the point you made earlier about the songs you do know and those you don’t, it feels like it’s more acceptable now to like songs you wouldn’t have liked at the time.
A: Yeah I mean like ‘Amerie’, I felt a bit guilty liking that at the time but you play it now and people go mad for it. I’m sure everyone felt the same about it, it’s a girl singing, I shouldn’t really like this, but actually its really fucking good. And Christina Milian’s ‘Dip It Low’, I fucking loved that tune!
A: Definitely. There’s other things I wanna do, but mainly promoting and DJ-ing. We have a few ideas, we’re gonna keep the club night going, weekly when the fresher’s are back. We have a few one offs set up. We have one coming up at Bungalows and Bears, The Forum, The Great Gatsby. We’ll make them more than just Ugly at a different venue, we’re going to make them different. Some sort of crowd participation, like if its East Coast vs West Coast, make the crowd decide which one by tweeting in or something.
HW: Or wearing different coloured clothes.
A: Well yeah, I was just thinking song by song but they could come as Crips and Bloods.
HW: And just watch it all unfold! Are there other genres you want to explore?
A: I think I’d like to get more reggae stuff in, but if we keep it as a Hip-Hop night and just ease other genres in, it’s the best way to go about it really. I don’t think I could fill a full night with it though. It would be good as an ‘Ugly presents…’, but I’d want to keep it as ‘Ugly’ so people recognise it.
HW: This leads on nicely, how important is branding to you?
A: I’m massive on branding, we want a banner so if we do an out-of-house thing again, like at the all day BBQ [where they hosted the Tramlines Sunday day/night at The Great Gatsby], people will know its Ugly. We’ve had an idea about getting the Hantu guys down to sell some t-shirts and do some break dancing, but if we’ve got a big fucking banner, they see Ugly and they start recognising it and maybe look it up. Its massively important to me. Which is why, like I said, if I did an off-shoot night I’d make it ‘Ugly presents’ rather than a separate thing. So long as it’s all related though obviously.
HW: You mentioned the Tramlines BBQ at The Great Gatsby – Do you do those sort of things to help raise UGLY’s profile or just for the fun and to get more people involved?
A: Both really. With the all day BBQ thing we were approached with that, but it worked really well. It seemed really obvious, just listen to some chilled out Hip-Hop, summery songs and some good food. I think summertime by Fresh Prince got rinsed about 7 times. It just made sense. It started off slow, not many people around in the day, but that wasn’t the aim. It was about chillin’ out with some good tunes and good food. It picked up about half ten, eleven at night and it went really well. And without sounding big headed that’s how it seems to be. Since we started Ugly we don’t go too hard, we don’t go into the whole gangster thing, we don’t scare people away. We just party.
You can see what all the fuss is about with Ugly every other Thursday up until September when it shall be every week. You lucky people.
Check it out on Facebook too.
Written & edited by Alex Pegg & Jack Needham
Photo’s by Ash Wilson