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How Leeds’ Nightlife Returned

What is Leeds without its nightlife? The city is practically synonymous with dance music and going out to have a superb time, with a flourishing local scene of DJs and producers. If you talk about Leeds to anyone, it’s pretty much a guarantee that someone will mention that it’s a ‘great night out’ within the first 30 seconds.

That’s why clubs finally reopening after 483 days of anxiety, uncertainty, and anticipation felt like a big moment for the city. But after such a long break, how did venues take to the easing of restrictions? On the week beginning July 19th, venues across the city opened their doors to ecstatic dancers, as the moment many of us have been dreaming of was finally upon us.

Sheaf St celebrated its first weekend back with a club show from the always-euphoric A Love From Outer Space, not long after the venue’s reveal of an art tribute to the late Andrew Weatherall. James Donnelly, who co-runs the venue with Laura Wellington, praised the atmosphere of the nights since - ‘the energy, enthusiasm, and appreciation from the crowd’s who have been out has been fantastic. People are so happy to be dancing again, to be able to bump into old friends and to enjoy music nice and loud’. The space has put a lot of work in during restrictions, hosting live streams, charity events and closed door open decks, but ‘opening the doors to have really dancing bodies in the space was a great feeling’

Wire, a club that’s been close to the hearts of dancers around the country for 15 years, opened its doors quite literally as soon as possible when the clock struck midnight July 19th. The party opened with local heroes and Wire veterans Josh Bayat & Simon Scott, before resident Peach joined the excellent Saoirse for a rare b2b. Local DJ and dancer Will Druid praised the sensation of hearing dance music in a club again, saying how ‘once you went inside you couldn’t help but put things to the side for a few hours and make up for a few lost two-steps’. After a successful summer, the club reopens its doors with lineups consisting of the likes of Batu, or:la and Joy Orbison - not bad.

Around the corner, Distrikt continues to put on lineups consisting largely of local DJ’s. Matt Bowles, the club’s booker and co-runner of Limit, spoke about lineups focusing on local artists - ‘I wanted to make this a main priority of the parties moving forward. Through lockdown, people talked about taking things back to their roots, so I planned all our lineups to give maximum exposure to the residents playing alongside our headliners’ . With the plethora of talent in and around the area, it’s a great initiative to showcase just how exciting Leeds is at the moment. He said ’at the first Limit party back at Distrikt, the energy and the thrill of being back was higher than ever and that first party really set it off for us- every party since has just been better and better’.

Celebrations continued later on in the week, including Old Red Bus Station’s ‘Old Red Festival’ taking place at the venue and Mint Warehouse. Videos show Sherelle, one of the most exciting, prominent and simply ridiculous DJs in the world right now taking on Mint Warehouse to a raucous crowd lapping up every kick, bassline and break that came through the soundsystem. The lineup was huge, consisting of 30+ artists including Leeds locals NikNak, Northern Division, Papa Nugs and much more, over 11 hours, and was by all accounts a resounding success during this electric weekend.

So what next? Having been out to parties, my personal experience is that crowds are livelier than ever before and DJ’s are more up for it then ever, with that connection between the DJ and dancers feeling much closer and intimate. The relaxing of restrictions on the 19th July as Covid rates peaked across the country understandably led to some anxieties amongst the public - James describes the conditions as ‘far from ideal’. It’s important to remember still that getting back into a packed crowd can be a seriously nerve wracking experience after such a long time away from that environment, it’s a marathon, not a sprint. It will take a long time before these things feel normal and completely safe again, although some venues have been requiring proof of negative tests at the door to ease some nerves and provide the safest environment possible.

Wherever the next few months take us, we can expect for them to be full of ups and downs, and it’s important to support these places however you can. As James puts it - ‘​​Just because your favourite space might be able to be open again now, it doesn’t mean they are out of the woods, these times are still very difficult. So if you like a space, appreciate what they do then vote with your feet and with your voice, show up when you can, share their content, recommend to your friends, etc. Places have been closed for so long just simply reopening doesn’t solve the issues along the way – look after the spaces and parties you love, you will really miss them if they’ve gone’. Look after one another, test yourself before you go out, and enjoy every second and step you take in these places we’ve all missed for so long.

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