By Oscar Mortimer
At long last, after a summer spent away from anywhere north of the Watford Gap, we were back in Nottingham for the long-awaited Square One Fourth Birthday rave, and a very happy birthday it was indeed. Jayfor and the team had been teasing this one for a while, and we couldn’t wait to get our hands on the rail at the front of this one, with both a fucking ridiculous lineup and brand spanking new venue to tantalise our musical taste buds. I had been reviewing their previous events for roughly a year and they hold a special place in my heart, Square One is a homegrown Drum and Bass enterprise that lives and breathes the bass music culture that sweats out of every nook and cranny in Nottingham's nightlife, and their four years up until now has catalogued an exciting new chapter in the cities cultural history. But enough of that chat because I’ll start crying (where does the time go) let's get down to business, and talk about how they painted the town black…sun empire.
With so many epic nights having gone truly down in the hallowed halls of Stealth and Rescue rooms, it seemed almost a shame not having to make that mission from the station across the market square in the freezing cold evening to get really fucking sweaty in those venues, but the new one did not disappoint…not one bit. Square One have aged about 30 creative years in the space of four (must be all the late nights and pounding rhythms) and had managed to score an evening of drum delights in Nottingham contemporary art centre, aptly named Nottingham Contemporary, because they don’t mess around, and that was fine by me, because Drum and Bass is among our favoured contemporary movements.
The modern exterior with an expansive outdoor courtyard nestled in the centre of the city, gave way to two vast high ceiling’d halls, set side by side for room transitions that were as simple as counting to three. The smoking area even had tables and chairs for christ’s sake, which shows incredible guts from the owners, who had clearly never heard of A.M.C and had no idea what a bunch of adrenaline-fuelled ravers could do to an IKEA four-piece during one of his hooks. Strangely enough aside from being a really bloody cool place to put your dancing shoes on, the venue reminded us a lot of Tivoli Vredenburg in Utrecht, a place where I had raved a lot at during my year abroad yaaahh, and common place for Black Sun Empire to hold their eponymous Blackout events, how fitting.
Once the rest of us had gotten off the eight o’clock Megabus from London (only business class for Maneki) we all rendezvoused behind the curtain in the main room in what seemed like a scene from showgirls….except with way more Drum and Bass and slightly less sequin outfits, just as the Prototypes took to the stage as the first headliner. We jumped rigside to dive right into the action. They opened with their remix of Blood Sugar by Pendulum, which was by far and away one of our fave tunes to get dropped at Let It Roll. A masterful remix of an iconic tune that leaves all of the past glory whilst adding another PCP laced layer of madness.
It was at that moment that the whole ensemble, the lights, the space, the crowd, the DJ and the atmosphere all collided in harmony to forever raise the bar that Square One had already set so high. The Prototypes are the most dastardly duos on the scene for good reason made clear as day to see as tunes like Electric and Rocket Guns Blazing fired out of the sound-systems and likely shook the avant guard sketches on the wall in the room above. Infinite (Mothership) got dropped and it was like we had all fallen through the portal and were back in the blistering heat at Let It Roll. What an opener, and one that raised our collective pulses for the remainder of the night.
Black Sun Empire
Now the biggie, I would imagine this was Jayfor’s birthday present to himself booking Black Sun Empire, a trio that rival only Noisia for a definitive stake as kings of neurofunk. With Eatbrain already on the past visitors' list, all Square One need to do is book Mefjus and Emperor to complete the set. This was the set that I was most looking forward to, having spent a year in Holland seeing this three tear the house down at their label events, made me ever so keen to see a return. What came next was the filthiest thing to hit Nottingham since the plague of 1348 that wiped out half of the population (culture my friends, do you have it?).
I would try and tell you what tunes were noteworthy but it is honestly impossible to tell, listening to Black Sun Empire live is the audio equivalent of showing up to a boxing match as a spectator and then getting thrown underneath the ropes to fight in the 6th round, its just ducks and dives and blow after shattering blow until you head for the smoking area with your ears ringing, a massive grin on your face, totally fucking overwhelmed and half gassed because you had a wicked time and half relieved because you’ve managed to come out of it with two working collar bones.
At one point there was a break whilst the buildup to Scarab came in, I was standing on a sofa at that point trying to get the best shots of the pandemonium occurring front and centre and when it dropped I totally almost fell off and landed Maneki in four grands worth of camera debt. An astoundingly heavy set. At one point Faris turned to me on the balcony and said ‘I take it all back’, which I assume was a reference to the one time back in year twelve when he said that he quote unquote ‘didn’t really see what the fuss with Black Sun Empire’ was….well there it fucking is you bearded fool and don’t make a similar mistake again.
After we had finished getting absolutely double Dutched by Black Sun Empire, crushed under the weight of the imperial neurofunk march, whilst we were still nursing our wounds….the prince of darkness made his way on stage. At often times I think that A.M.C isn't even real, that he is actually just a fictional being that was dreamt up by a stimulant addict who once got way too hammered at a Prodigy concert back in the mid-nineties. The energy that this guy brings is just awe-inspiring, the person doing the most dancing at his sets is him for fuck-sake, the guy can hardly contain his own excitement at the sound of the music that he himself is in the process of playing.
We caught him at Let It Roll in substitution of Andy C and hold no regrets, his partnership with Turno is one of the most exciting collaborations that the scene has to offer at the moment and he is arguably the most talented DJ in the business right now. Tunes like his incredible remix of Bomb Squad by the late great Dominator, The Fever and Alliance punctuated the raw energy that he blasted into the crowd when he performed, and it was hard to pick them out as his style is so versatile. He switched from tune to tune at a breakneck speed in a way that kept the audience on their toes constantly guessing for the entire hour.
Listening A.M.C for a full hour is about the most relentless cardio that you can do whilst wearing jeans and a pair of AirMax 95’s. Put simply, his sets are like being caught in the sensation you feel when your favourite tune drops, where you are just going hell for leather, but then that sensation just hangs there for a full 60 minutes of euphoria. An absolute rascal of a DJ and the perfect send-off for the headliners that sent seismic shocks down my calves that were so severe, I could still feel them on the cycle to work Monday morning.
With all the headliners done, it turned to the prodigal son to bring the night to a sad but spectacular end in token energetic Square One fashion. With roughly 80% of the crowd remaining, the remaining 20 had all headed to the hospital to receive key-hole surgery on their knees, Jayfor stepped up. As he began to play, I shirked the responsibility of the camera to Aaron as I just love watching this boy play, and I firmly believe he is one of the best live DJs you’ll find in the Midlands.
He opened with some crushing neuro in order to emulate the last three sets perfectly but also found time to mix in some of the more well-known genre classics and naughty jump up numbers. Most notably Noisia’s remix of Asteroids made an appearance, a glitchy affair that makes you feel as though you are grooving around inside an 8-bit video game. As he reached the climax he switched the vibe for some seminal singalong vibes, throwing in ‘Afterglow’, with the sensational tune ‘I’ll Be There For You’ by Culture Shock, and also the tearjerking tune ‘Touch’ by Hybrid Minds, an emotional end to an incredible celebration of four years of Square One, and a fitting end at that, we spent the whole evening snarling, so we may as-well leave singing.
With all of the mayhem of room one, it was nigh impossible to keep up with the beautiful beats that were being laid down just a couple of steps away in the second boudoirs of Nottingham Contemporary, the second room that straddled the bar and backed out onto the smoking area played host to some of Nottingham’s freshest homegrown talent, and when we weren't getting the figurative shit kicked out of us by the headliners, we were in there grooving to a blend of rollers, dance floor, jump up and minimal that was pleasing the punters in there.
Our hats go off to all the DJs who played in there because it was an absolute vibe! And you can tell because there was a pumped-up Slovakian drum purist shuffling about front right for almost the full duration the stage was open, and the whole set up was a breath of fresh air. Sub Antics b2b Raphael was wicked. These two gelled incredibly well over the course of their set, playing some propper knee droppers throughout, and often causing us to double take and then go and have a little skank before getting back to the task at hand. Malaney Blaze was also a crowd pleaser as well, playing roller aplenty, he had the bar jumping like the opening race at Royal Ascot. Our favourite moment came when he dropped ‘Retreat’ by Chase and Status and then the whole smoking area emptied as everyone ran inside to catch the naughty drop.
Once again another brilliant year marked by Square One, Ive been going to them for over a full year and I have to say this was hands down the best, and that is saying something given the calibre that this event is known to provide. A night like this is true testament to why Square One is the proud flag bearer for Drum and Bass in the Midlands. Be sure to get down to the next one if you are reading this and reckon you might be able to put up with the muscle cramps, you will see no better production, lineup or resident talent this side of the M25. Happy Birthday Square One!