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IN ARMS: New Charity Compilation from 199 Features Rising Producers from Around the World

Set up by Richard Byers, aka Front Bench, during his time at university, 199 is a Leeds-based night that seeks to showcase the growing talents of local DJs and producers. Since lockdown has inevitably affected their ability to throw parties, the team have taken it upon themselves to keep the party going in the form of compilations albums sold to raise money for charity. The most recent of these is '199 PRESENTS: IN ARMS', an 21 track VA album that features sharp high- energy bops from producers in both Leeds around the world. From garage to electro, this compilation really packs a punch, with tracks from Front Bench, Bakey, Papa Nugs and many others. The profits of this album will be raising money for @toms_fight, which helps fund treatment for their friend Tom Lazarides who suffered a life-changing spinal cord injury earlier this year. We had a chat with Richard all about 199, how the recent coronavirus restrictions have affected the ways things are run, and how 'In Arms' was put together.

You can download the album HERE.

How did 199 first come to be?

My housemate and life-long friend Alex Galloway and I had wanted to set up a night since we started uni, but wanted to do it at the right time (once our music taste had matured enough and we knew we wouldn’t embarrass ourselves). So we spent a bit of time DJing house parties and quite close-group events to gauge the support level and get people excited. Then, when we realised how many of our friends were keen for the kind of nights we had planned (that we felt weren’t happening that much in Leeds at the time), we knew we had to take it somewhere and do it properly. I got an email from IOM (Identification Of Music) inviting me to a conference at Sheaf Street, just because I was on their mailing list. I went and took a few friends along and got chatting to one of the panellists after the talk. I explained to him that I’d been producing and DJing for a really long time and now that I’m in Leeds at uni I wanted to actually do something with it, and he put me in touch with Distrikt, which is a really good, free club space right in the city centre. So we struck up a relationship with the guys at Distrikt and got our night going. We did one resident only party in January and then hosted Breaka in March, both unexpectedly crazy parties, and off the back of those we got quite a lot of interest from other clubs. We scheduled a date at Wire, and venues in Liverpool and Bristol as well. For the early success we basically just have our amazing friends to thank. People were so supportive and took it upon themselves to make sure the club was full at all times, so we’re so grateful to them.

So we were really gassed about those two parties and we had a real sky is the limit attitude towards the rest of the year. And as well as the parties, we were doing digital record releases, trying to harbour a really tight group of producers as well, including me and a few friends that I’ve made in the process.

How did lockdown affect you?

So just as it felt like we were really gathering momentum, we got told we had to pack up and go home and we didn’t know when we would be back. Wire got cancelled, Liverpool got cancelled, Bristol got cancelled. It was horrible because we felt like we were at a stage in our development where our name was known but could have easily be forgotten completely if we weren’t back in the clubs quickly. We hadn’t done enough parties to cement ourselves in any real way and all the early momentum we’d built could have just been for nothing. And we’d waited for so long to get 199 off the ground in the first place that we couldn’t let that happen. So we needed to make the most of online ventures and social media, and that’s where the compilation albums, the magazine, and the mix series come in.

Tell us about your first compilation release, '199 PRESENTS: THE LOCK IN' from March.

So in March as we were entering lockdown, I had the idea to do a Various Artists album to raise money for the Red Cross’ Coronavirus Fund, and reach out to some of the friends I’d made through 199 over the previous few months for tracks. We were really lucky in how quickly and easily it came together. Myself (Front Bench), and an old friend from school (Disaffected), provided the bulk of the tunes straight away and from there we were able to attract other talent. All it took were a few posts on Leeds Producer Forum on Facebook, a few DMs to Leeds-based groups like Brudenell Groove to see who might be interested, and then a series of messages and emails to the artists directly. I was amazed at how obliging everyone was and how quickly we were able to get 15 really good tracks together. Within about three weeks from conception we were ready to release, and the response was amazing. I think doing something collaborative during a really uncertain time was so valuable, both for us and for the artists that were involved. Coming together and doing something for charity that involves communicating with one another and sharing ideas just felt like the most positive thing to do at that time. A few months later we had raised nearly £2,000 for the British Red Cross and sold over 250 copies of the album. That album really launched us, and gave us our base following on Soundcloud (before that album we didn’t even have a Soundcloud page). From there we were able to do our mix series, and grow even more online. In this sense, lockdown has been the making of us. We’ve been forced to expand basically straight away from doing events into other things, and we’ve taken to it well. We’ve probably showed as a label that we’ve got more strings to our bow than just putting on nights, and that was made possible by this lockdown. So in a weird way, we have to be grateful for that. Hopefully it won’t go on for too much longer though because we’re all going slightly insane now.

What is 'In Arms' all about, and how did you put it together?

As for the most recent compilation, going into it felt like a different process. Instead of trying really hard to scrape songs together from people we barely knew, and form new relationships, we were wading through folders of demos from people all over the world. It felt like a bigger responsibility as we were taking on bigger artists, and involving premiere sites and other labels. But, as such, the quality of tracks was incredibly high and we are really proud of it, and we’re really excited by the early response. The motivation for it from a creative perspective was just to arm people with as much club-ready audio as we could in the hope that they’d be able to use it soon when they’re back open.

We knew, as with the last album, that we wanted to use this album to raise money for a cause, and that we should try and continue to use our platform to do positive things, and as we were coming to the end of creating it, it became suddenly very clear what we needed to do. Tom Lazarides, a boy that went to school in our area in Kent, and with whom we have many close mutual friends, dived into a pool and fractured his neck in two places, causing serious damage to his spinal chord. He’s a student at Durham University, a big Liverpool FC fan, and a Leicester Tigers fan. Tom loves his sport and music like so many of our friends, and upon hearing of the incident, even beginning to grapple with the reality of no longer having the use of your body when there are so many active things you love doing just broke our hearts. What he and his family are going through currently is unimaginable so we felt that at the very least, we could use this album to raise awareness of his injury and his condition, and raise money to contribute to his treatment in the hope that he can make as full a recovery as possible. Again, the artists involved in the album have been phenomenal at sharing the message and taking the support beyond 199 and into their circles as well. The activity over on the ‘Tom’s Fight’ (@toms_fight) Instagram page has been utterly inspiring, and with his network of friends and family we are convinced he can recover. This album hopefully can contribute to that, and we’re so proud to be a part of it.

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