I sit in Beer Heroes, the new beer hall on Watergate Street, along with all the nuts you could ever want for a quid. The interior is all white walls with cork tables, lending the underground bar a modern, clean look that nicely contrasts the classic rock’n’roll tunes blasting out of the speakers. Across from me sit Andrew and Jim, the brains behind Nexus, one of Chester’s underground party promoters. Over the past year, they’ve carved a niche out of the Chester club scene, hosting techno nights at The Live Rooms, The Lock Keeper and Amber Lounge. After some banter (and a pint or two), we get down to business:
H: So, where did Nexus begin?
J: It’s funny actually, it started in a pub.
A: Yeah, it was your idea, wasn’t it?
H: Ah, that classic 3am, hey-let’s-start-a-business conversation?
J: (laughing) Yeah it was – more like ‘start a party’ – Chester didn’t have a techno night at that time, so in the best DIY tradition we hosted our first night at The Live Rooms in June 2017.
H: How did that go?
J: It went really well. We weren’t sure what would happen, but a good amount of people came down, lucky for us. We felt the pressure, for sure as there was a hefty hire cost, but we don’t look to profit off our nights, just to break even (which we did). We had a lineup of DJ’s from the local techno scene; one DJ called Claire came over from Bangor to do a set, which brought more people from North Wales. We kept the first slot open for any upcoming DJ’s, and a couple of guys got up and threw on some tunes. It was a great night.
H: Why did you pick Chester as the home for Nexus?
J: We’d been living in Chester for two years, and we became frustrated with the lack of variety. We saw a demand for it; from people we talked to we became aware that they wanted more choice. When we’ve visited Berlin and other parties around the country, we’ve seen what they did and we wanted to bring that over here. If people want to go for a rave, they often end up going to Manchester or Liverpool, and we wanted people to have that here. Chester’s going through a revival at the moment, and we thought why not?
A: We like the city, it’s a cool place to live. People don’t need to go to other places, Chester’s got awesome musical and other creative stuff going on, you just have to dig a little bit to find it.
H: Why do you think Chester is going through this revival?
J: Storyhouse seems to have brought a lot of attention to Chester. People are coming here more. Since it opened, it seems that more places are opening. Places seem to go through phases and it seems that Chester is on the up at the moment – at least with the independent scene.
A: It seems to have done a lot of good for the city.
H: Coming back to what you were saying about Berlin, what do they do over there that we don’t?
J: Well for starters, there’s no smoking ban over there. The smoking ban totally changed how clubbing went down in this country. I remember in the 90’s there were clubs where the air was so thick with cigarette smoke and the fog machines you couldn’t see the DJ! Berlin clubs are great and people from around the world rave about them, but they’re essentially not far off what UK clubbing was like in the 90s. No phones and indoor smoking.
H: Smoking inside a club makes a night more social?
J: Put it like this, you go to any big club in this country and there are nearly 200 people in the smoking area. Those are people who aren’t inside, dancing and having a good time. It’s the same with phones too; at the door in the clubs in Berlin, there’d be a bouncer who would put a sticker the front and back cameras on your phone. If you were caught taking pictures or videos, they’d kick you out. The change was massive. When you stood at the bar, waiting for a drink, you weren’t checking your Facebook, you’d start a conversation with the person next to you. Don’t get me wrong, we still have an Instagram and a Facebook page, but it’s about getting a balance. We ask people not to take photos when they’re here because we’ve seen the difference it makes.
H: Who are you looking to attract to your events?
J: We’re really clear about being LGBTQ+ friendly, but the door’s open to anyone who wants to have a good time, really. That’s kind of the point of Nexus, we want to bring people together of all kinds. That’s what we saw happening in Berlin. Over there it’s a real melting pot of different people. One time we walked into a club, Tuesday night, and by 3am there’s a guy in a sailor’s hat and not much else getting off with two women, and a bloke in his work suit dancing with another guy. It’s that element of surprise, you know? Not knowing what you’ll find is quite exciting.
H: What have been the challenges of putting a night on in Chester?
J: The main issue was finding a venue, to be honest. After Live Rooms, we did a few nights at The Lock Keeper, which was really cool – the staff there are great and they were pretty supportive – we didn’t have to charge on the door as there was no hire cost so it was really accessible for our dancers. Then the situation changed so we did one at the Vault / Amber Lounge, but then the management changed and we became homeless again! A lot of the places in Chester don’t have a license that goes on into the early hours, not in the middle of town anyway. We were looking into getting our own venue but the rent is ridiculous for a niche venue -so we’re a nomadic techno party. It’s about finding that sweet spot between licensing issues, affordability, and keeping it true to what we want it to be – a good night out for people. We’ve got a new venue coming up for the end of November that we’re really hoping to stick with. It’s a great space and the people behind it are into what we do.
A: One of the reasons why raves, the ones we used to go to anyway, were mainly in Liverpool and Manchester is because they have lots of derelict industrial site which is where raves happen. Chester doesn’t have those abandoned sites, so it doesn’t have that same rave history or space going spare. The use of space seems a lot more regulated here.
J: Yeah, some of the best places you go to are BYOB, no holds barred, and as much as we’d like to do that we can’t. Another problem was getting people to not hop on the train to somewhere else – one time we put on a night at The Lock Keeper and a group turned up at the start, saying it was ace, but then they were meeting mates in Liverpool and left. But then they came to the next one, and they brought their mates with them. That’s how you start to build a little family.
H: That’s what I’ve always found sets raves apart from going to clubs, this sense of community.
J: Absolutely. There are loads of folks that we see every time and have become friends: Claire, the DJ from Bangor, she’s a regular and has played a couple now. There’s a guy who’s older than most of our dancers, Dai, who turns up every single time and dances harder than anyone. He now does the artwork for most of our events and posters. That’s what we’re all about: our motto is techno for everyone, and it’s so great to see that in action – seeing people who’ve met at our nights start to chat and catch up outside our nights too. Even the name Nexus was chosen carefully- we hoped to become the hub of a creative community and if people want to get involved they can, or try stuff out. We make our events free or as cheap as we can, we just want people to have a good time. We’re also massively keen that the dance floors we create are really inclusive – everyone should feel free to come and have a dance, however you define or present yourself.
H: So what’s the future for Nexus? What’s coming up in the next few months?
J: We’ve got a monthly residency on Thursdays at The Saddle Inn at the back end of September, October and November, 8pm-12:30am and the first night in our new venue should be kicking off on Friday 23rd Nov (9-3am) and then we’re aiming for a monthly on that one. We’ve got our regular monthly radio show on techno.fm (7-10pm, second Friday of the month and then listen again), and on top of that we’re looking further afield. There’s a night we’re on at in London on 10th November which will be great, I’m doing an electro/postpunk/disco set (not my usual!) at the QueerCentric Music Night / Homotopia Festival in Liverpool on the 22nd Nov, and we’re doing our first Manchester event at Aatma on Jan 19th which will hopefully go bi-monthly.
H: Sounds like you’ve got a full plate up until 2019. Best of luck!
*All images by Dai Owen*