Soup Kitchen & Bigger Than Barry.

25th March @ M-Code.
Reviewer - Ben Dorey.

Big things occurred in the last week of March as a collaboration between Birmingham's prolific Bigger Than Barry and Sheffield's own Soup Kitchen brought a line-up of some of the hottest names in bass music to M-Code for a huge one-off event. As with previous Soup Kitchen parties, a hugely successful campaign of subtle yet well targeted promotion ensured the event sold out well in advance, and it must be said that it seems to be the Soup Kitchen crew who were really running things here in general.

When we arrived there was a huge but expected queue to get into M-Code, so unfortunately we missed the first acts, but arriving straight into Pariah's opening track was one of the more pleasant clubbing experiences I've had in a while. Joining the dots between the cutting edge of several scenes - notably UK bass, Berlin techno and the deeper side of current Chicago/Detroit trends - Pariah mixed seamlessly with a strong ear for progression that is woefully lacking in many of his contemporaries. A general 4/4 style definitely rooted his set in house more than anything else, but pleasing elements of garage and juke crept in to give an enjoyable swagger to proceedings. The highlight of my evening.

Next up was Joy Orbison, who as the current star of the bass scene was certainly the premier pulling point for the night. Orbison's selection continued along the predominantly 4/4 trend set by Pariah, but with a tendency towards vocal house that I'm still a little uncomfortable with. Though I can appreciate that many current releases in the style are setting the bar higher than previous efforts in the genre in both musicality and production, there are only so many tepid vocal lines and samey synths I can take. As the set progressed Orbison did divert gradually away from this style, into the more broken and minimal rhythms characterised by his recent 'Sicko Cell' release. This could only be a good thing, and as the clattering polyrhythms and jumpy kicks clamored around me I almost forgot about my earlier dissatisfaction.

Taking over at 3am was Lil Silva, who provided a welcome change from the meditative sounds of the past couple of hours with a genre smashing set of party tunes, taking in everything from grime to mid-Nineties rave. Though many of the tracks weren't to my taste, the skill Silva showed in working the room couldn't help but impress, and the carefree sound of his set was the result of an undercurrent of precision at the controls. The same can be said of Jack Opus, who rounded off the night with a similar jaunt across genres - in all honesty a more pleasing one to my ears than Lil Silva's - yet again affirming his position as one of Sheffield's most versatile selectors.

Comment must be made on the extraordinary effort put into this party, and the largest part of this was the acquisition of a very impressive Martin sound system for the evening. This was the cleanest and most pleasing rig I have ever seen out in Sheffield. In combining a massive line-up with this sort of attention to detail, Soup Kitchen has yet again set itself apart from its rivals. The bar has been raised, and my money's on these guys to do it again next time around.

Jah Shaka Sound System.

16th April @ Corporation.
Reviewer - Barney Harris.

The last time Jah Shaka Sound System played in Sheffield was in the late 80s at a venue named Top Rank, which occupied the building now known as the O2 Academy. Lest we forget England was a very different place in those days; CD-ROMS had just been invented, stonewash jeans were all the rage and a call from a pay phone would cost you a mere two pence. How times change. But on the other hand, while mass demonstrations rocked some of our major cities a neo-liberal Tory government sought to cut benefits and cease wealth redistribution, dismantle and privatise national institutions and curb immigration. Oh, and there was a royal wedding. Sounding familiar yet?

So what's the point in all these pseudo-social factoids and what on earth do they have to do with Jah Shaka and roots reggae music? Well, as any reggae fan worth their salt will tell you, the kind of music Jah Shaka Sound System plays is message music. Between the thumping basslines and spaced-out synths are inherently poignant social and spiritual teachings which, as the above trip down memory lane demonstrates, are as relevant today as they were 20 years ago. Shaka's famous 1980 production 'Babylon', featuring the sweet vocals of Johnny Clarke, tore up the dance at Corporation, but at the same time reminded us to be strong and unite against Babylonian oppression - something around half a million of us managed in London in March of this year.

By not long after midnight the venue's largest capacity room was rama-jam with smiling faces of many ages, races and backgrounds, grooving steadily to Shaka's connoisseur selection of roots revival tunes. We're used to hearing reggae music champion unity, respect and equality, but it's much rarer to see these ideals acted out in front of our own eyes. As the session warmed in I certainly felt part of something epic and quite special, a rare event and not just another Saturday night out. As the night drew on, the crowd was captivated, entranced and at points alarmed by Shaka's raw manipulation of original drum and bass music. Stripping back the dub rhythms to their constituent working parts, he masterfully engineered beats to satisfy even the most devout techno heads or bass junkies.

The beauty of a roots sound system crew like Jah Shaka's is their ability to control the atmosphere of a session from start to finish. They provide the speakers, the DJs, the vocalists. It's not like going to catch your favourite DJ play a set at a local bar. Roots reggae sound systems offer the full works and provide the crowd with a totally unique listening experience. The Guardian reckons Britain is more Thatcherite today than in the 1980s, so let's hope music like this will continue to be an instrument and expression of change, both musically and socially. As long as promoters like Dubcentral continue to work hard, it will undoubtedly continue to be the case here in Sheffield.

Curry in the Surrey.

9th April @ The Earl.
Reviewer - Jack Unsworth.

One of the most delicious musical events in the Sheffield calendar is this annual fundraiser for Peace in the Park. This year was no disappointment, as King Mojo brought us a three-course meal of music to accompany a curry made lovingly by Carla and the 'Peace and Love Kitchen' at The Earl of Arundel and Surrey. Between bands, DJs RP Renz (Frozac) and DJ Barney (Dubclub) supplied us with treats of global beats and dub respectively.

The first band on were the stunning Me and My Friends, a five-piece from Leeds playing an inspiring blend of laid-back jazz and folk. They sounded one moment Parisian, then Brazilian, then Gypsy, but still very much their own sound. Understated bass and percussion lines allowed for the clarinettist, cellist and guitarist/lead singer to create an overall sound that was incredibly full for only five people on acoustic instruments. The guitarist, classically trained, sounded like a modern day João Gilberto, but with a voice sweeter and so much more expressive. Meanwhile, the cellist and clarinettist played richly harmonised grooves and melodies and the overall effect was a band whose cheerful character came across in every song, and somehow this acoustic outfit had the whole place dancing. Powerful stuff indeed.

Tasked with the tough job of following them was Mental Block from Wakefield, who raised the energy levels with a blend of dub and ska, sweet vocals and brutally executed bluesy guitar solos, and general good fun. Their reggae switched from cheerful and tightly rehearsed to raucous and energetic and back again, a constantly transforming beatsy beast. The crowd loved them and we all had a good dance.

The headliners were local band Smiling Ivy, who somehow raised the stakes higher still, playing ska rock with heavy punk overtones and all the energy this deserves. The crowd transformed once more as the dancing hit a new frenzy of activity. With lyrics political and riffs bouncing, they clearly knew how to craft a great tune and make an atmosphere buzz.

And the food? Trying to describe it in writing suddenly reminded me of the adage about dancing about architecture, so along that vain of absurdism, I asked DJ RP Renz if he could describe how tasty the curry was with a single song. After a moment, he replied 'Kirwani by Jolly Mukherjee', which, having listened, I would agree with. Compliments to the chefs.

Wiley.

7th April @ Plug.
Reviewer - Simon Ward.

Before tonight I had never seen Wiley before, but I am a massive fan of his music and creativity as a recording artist. Granted, with Roll Deep in recent years he has touched upon sounds not to my liking, but his constant and seemingly never-ending stream of true-to-his-roots music released alongside more commercial efforts more than makes up for this. Tonight, however, did not do any part of his career justice.

Bad promotion and hugely overpriced tickets meant this gig had a crowd of less than 100 people. Bad sound engineering left the first act's live PA sounding like a muffled irritation to a night surrounded by neon-wearing teenagers. Fortunately - or unfortunately, depending on how you look at it - the sound had managed to morph itself into a projection in which you could actually hear the lyrics by the time Wiley took to the stage. I can completely understand Wiley's lack of interest in performing at such a show. There was little to no atmosphere, the music was nowhere near loud enough and the dancefloor was bare for aforementioned reasons. But the vast majority of people had payed £15+ to attend this show and I don't feel enough was done by the artist or the production team to justify this.

As always, Wiley was effortless with his lyrical ability, rarely missing even half a beat throughout his set. The very brief highlight was his performance of recent track 'From The Drop'. Overall, though, he failed to generate enough energy with his performance. This fact was highlighted by the efforts of the two MCs joining him on stage to perform two recent Roll Deep Tracks. In between the 20 or so 90-second renditions of his tracks, the crowd were asked "If they were having a good time", "If they were going on holiday this year" and "If they like the sunshine"...Desperate crowd warming measures in an increasingly embarrassing situation.

An artist like Wiley shouldn't be represented in such a way. It's hard to tell who or what was to blame for this forgettable occasion, but it was certainly a shame.