This week our Student Spotlight falls on Off Beat, four University of Manchester students who throw parties that emphasise two things: eclecticism and authenticity.
With three all-vinyl DJs and an MC, there are no passengers on the Off Beat team, and if you’ve attended one of their nights before you know it’s an all-in kind of party. In anticipation of their upcoming Antwerp Mansion debut on Thursday the 23rd, I caught up with Lawrence, Zephyr, Jack and Edouard to find out what it is that makes Off Beat stand out from the nightlife crowd.
“Back in Oak House, playing at Koh Tao seemed like a big deal”. Zephyr is looking back at the origins of the Off Beat crew, when he and Lawrence would spend Friday and Saturday nights (and the odd weekday) dashing about the Owens Park campus with a shopping trolley full of cables, turntables and records, setting up flat parties and playing cat-and-mouse with the security team.
Both had been mixing vinyl before university: Lawrence was introduced to it by a manager who had been a resident DJ in Amsterdam, and Zephyr’s neighbour used to sell him “gassed, free-party jungle” white-labels for a pound a go. They soon got to know each other and started pooling their record crates and know-how, playing back-to-back sets spanning from jungle, through drum and bass, and right through to dancehall (Jack recalls being blown away by Zephyr’s prodigious collection of Vybz Kartel singles).
This influence of Afro-Caribbean music runs deep in Off Beat’s creative makeup, which can be traced back to University of Manchester’s Reggae Society nights on Thursdays at the Ram last year, where Edouard (AKA Off Beat hypeman MC Easyy), made a name for himself on the microphone.
Channelling dub & reggae influences like Buju Banton and Pupajim, Ed’s energised performances bring the vibe of soundsystem culture to Manchester. Known to finish Off Beat parties drenched in sweat with his voice reduced to a raspy whisper, you can be sure he’ll keep the energy levels higher than Bunny Wailer on 4/20.
However, Thursday’s offering from the Off Beat crew won’t be limited to the heavier end of the music spectrum; Sailor Jack (as he’s known on their characteristic promotional material) will be on hand upstairs to deliver some funkier stuff, with plenty of soul and disco for those who prefer a boogie to a full-on skank out.
The most recent addition to the team, he’s been on a mission to collect “all the Bee-Gees singles that matter” and his slick, groove-driven sets in Koh Tao’s upstairs bar have been a welcome addition to the madness going on in the basement.
As well as the Off Beat residents, Thursday night will see Antwerp Mansion play host to two massive guest bookings. Top billing goes to Benny Page, a legend who’s been tearing raves up since he debuted on Shy FX’s Digital Soundboy label back in 2005; check out the anthemic ‘Turn Down The Lights’ if you want a taste of how this ‘champion selecta’ handles business (links to all tunes below).
In addition, Off Beat are bringing another heavyweight of the UK scene, 2016 Jungle DJ of the year Aries – check out ‘Run For Your Life’, a good example of Aries’ dub-heavy production style.
As well as these two master junglists, Off Beat have recruited omnipresent local talent Fox to handle microphone duties, who you may know from his work with Manchester crews like Mouse Outfit and LEVELZ, as well as guest spots for the likes of My Nu Leng. Check out ‘Step Steadier’ for laid-back lyrical funkiness, or ‘Masterplan’ if you want to hear how Fox sounds over something a bit heavier.
As if this wasn’t enough, upstairs will see residents from Riddim Division, Family Tree and Manchester Audio Academy provide a showcase of student DJ talent throughout the night.
If you’ve seen any of Off Beat’s flyers, posters or stickers around then you’ll remember the cheeky grin of their mascot, he’s a charming and unpretentious figure, thumbs up, ready for a good time. This is the ethos under which Off Beat operate.
Playing on wax means they’re invested more than most in the tunes they play — there’s no option just to plug in a USB and have access to thousands of tracks. Ed believes this connects more with the audience – “we’re just people who like music, bringing what we love to other people”.
Sounds fair enough. Tickets for Thursday night are available on Skiddle, see the link below.