In an era of streamed sets, headphone hot-takes and endless scrolling screen time it can be easy for music writers to drift away from dancefloors and the crowds on them. This isn’t the case with our own Jim Ottewill, who’s always got one ear to the (sticky dance)floor, and the other listening to what crowds have to say about their favourite DIY spaces.
After the success of Out of Space, why did a newsletter seem like the best follow-up?
Good question – how do you follow up a book? I don’t know how other writers have felt after something like this gets published but I was definitely a little bit lost. Out of Space took some years to write, and was a peak for me in terms of ambitions – and afterwards, there was a void that the freelance features I was getting commissioned to write at the time weren’t filling.
After the book’s publication, amid the mild delirium of getting it out there, there was still a lot of energy bobbing around it from myself, on social media and some of the messages or comments that came through. Once the dust settled on the book promotion and tour, it felt like there were still conversations to be had and people to speak with, particularly as the story moved on almost immediately after the book came out. Printworks shut, Gut Level in Sheffield moved somewhere new, and other spaces like Drumsheds opened up.
In a novel, once the ink has dried, that’s the story right there on the page – and it’s unlikely to change. With something like this, the narrative is so fluid, it was dancing right up to the point of publication and has continued to do so. So a newsletter seemed like a good way to keep up the momentum, speak to people who I hadn’t had a chance to with Out of Space, push the book further and carry on putting stories together…
At the end of 2023, as someone who has put the hours in on dancefloors across the UK, what does community mean to you?
I guess this word ‘community’ has become muddied in some respects – co-opted by brands and bigger clubs with significant backing and resources who are all about profit rather than people, it’s a word bandied around to mean all sorts of things that don’t necessarily align with what you might consider a community to be.
I interviewed Man Power in 2023 around this and he described how real notions of community have been “supplanted by a kind of simulated version of it through social media and corporate brand policies that draped themselves in the themes of community but repurposed them to create customers and subscribers instead of genuine community members”.
In terms of clubs then, I think you can see communities being musically fed and watered effectively in the work being done by DJs like Man Power and his parties in Newcastle. The focus is on serving amazing music in interesting, intimate spaces to a local crowd that has organically evolved and got really stuck into what he’s doing. Groups like Sister Midnight, the Friends of the Joiners Arms and Gut Level are also doing amazing things to bring their grassroots scenes together to create and grow something new.
I wrote a piece for Disco Pogo in 2023 on community spaces and ‘DIY’, ‘grassroots’, ‘underground’ were all words thrown into the mix. As with Out of Space, there were definitely particular DJs or artists I trust/have trusted who helped power that piece, make those terms take on meaning and led me to newer clubs, parties and spaces. DJs and parties like Luke Una, Ruf Dug, Abigail Ward, Man Power again, Simone Butler, DJ Replacement Bus Service, DJ Paulette, Meat Free, Adonis, Grace Sands, Surgeon and many, many more.
What can people expect to find in your newsletter?
Initially, my ideas were a bit vague but I’ve now found a focus and am looking to do a unique monthly feature with a DJ, club or community group – then I’ll start adding some more content/Q&As from the book too that didn’t make the final version too.
I hope to develop it over 2024, maybe adding a paid tier. Substack featured it in their discovery section on their site during December 2023 so I’ve had this huge spike in subscriber numbers over Christmas. Ultimately, putting it together has been an amazing way to retain some editorial control that I’ve never had as a freelancer.
I’m trying to invest as much energy into a Substack piece as I would something for a site or magazine to really add value to any subscribers I’ve acquired so hopefully some exciting ‘deep dives’. I’ve been putting together a list of artists/clubs/spaces for 2024 and have some ace folk in my sights to speak to…
Why a second edition of Out Of Space now and what can readers expect?
A second, updated edition seemed like a great idea in terms of progressing stories around rave and club culture in the UK, particularly as the first version was written during Covid – so when lots of clubs were closed/shutting. Now two years later, the landscape is still tough. Perhaps even tougher. The economic repercussions of the pandemic are still being felt, everything feels increasingly volatile and clubs are still struggling for air in our towns and cities
I’ve put together a new chapter on Birmingham which has many brilliant, but often under-represented clubbing stories, DJs and promoters. I’ve had a few wicked nights in Brum and as someone who is really interested in ‘hidden histories’ in cultural narratives, focusing on it seemed like a great idea.
Following the sad departure of Melodic Distraction, do you have any other radio bits lined up?
Huge shouts to Melodic for being so accommodating to me and acting as a hub for so much amazing music in the North West. It goes without saying that Liverpool is definitely worse off without them. I’ve nothing lined up yet but am going to try and get something going once the re-edit of the book is completed…
Since 2021/2022 some music writers have suggested newsletters are the latest guerilla way to get directly through to your core readership. As someone who was blogging in the days of the fledgling internet, are you having any flashbacks yet?
I’ve been writing about music with varying degrees of success for different platforms, sites and magazines for about 20 years which makes me feel fucking ancient (I’m 42, sports fans!). Amid lots of features and reviews for other sites, the editorial control of doing a blog/Substack/newsletter is and continues to be really appealing.
I’ve always been at the mercy of editors and their budgets in the lower leagues of music journalism where I’m at. At the start I set up my One in the Ear blog – which never really had a regular readership – it was more about me scratching an itch or itching a scratch. At the time, there was Feel My Bicep, folk like Skull Juice and Blogger’s Delight who I aspired to.
We’re some years down the line now since then so it’s really interesting to see things going full circle in terms of the editorial weight of these blogs and newsletters returning. Since getting Out of Space out there and sticking my head above the parapet a little more, I guess I currently have some sort of niche audience now so am blogging/newslettering with a bit more conviction that people are going to read what I’m putting together. Of course, predicting where it heads next is tricky to discern…
Since you launched Out of Space have you found any more esoteric venues anywhere surprising in the UK?
There’s so much energy and excitement if you look hard enough. Cobalt Studios’ Kate Hodgkinson is an inspiration – as are Sister Midnight, the Friends of the Joiners, Belfast is a wicked place at the moment – Banana Block, Sound Advice, plus the myriad audiophile spaces appearing across the UK.
There’s also lots of shit happening too – and the perennial question about the death of clubbing is an ongoing one. We’re all having to learn to live in what feels like a permanent state of crisis and disruption and navigating it for businesses – when money continues to be tight – doesn’t look like it’s getting any easier.
Further afield, I’ve become really intrigued by the role of nightclubs in other parts of the world and cultures – for example, B 0 18 in Beirut in Lebanon – then going into the past, Yellow Submarine in Munich. Although there are still plenty of hidden UK histories still to be told and celebrated, there are also some very unique party spots elsewhere too.
Any other newsletters you’re enjoying being subscribed to?
There are some obvious ones – Shawn Reynaldo’s First Floor, Joe Muggs – then other exciting ones including Brian Souza’s State of Flo that has just started but is ace! I also love Eris Drew’s Journal of the Motherbeat too.