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Digging Deep: Black Beacon's new mix series

In an uneasy time for the creative industries, Black Beacon Sound continue to serve a vital role in the city and beyond through their releases and their physical space at Kelham Arcade. The Dig Deep mix series sees DJs put together sets with records found in the BBS shop. Founders Benny Maths and Toby Hickman told us more.

Independent record label and shop Black Beacon Sound have launched a new mix series with a twist. Dig Deep sees DJs getting an hour to rifle through the racks in the shop, an hour to prepare a mix using those selections, then a final hour to record. Witness audiophiles Apricot Ballroom kicking off the sessions below.

Benny Maths and Toby Hickman formed the Black Beacon Sound label in 2016, followed by the opening of the shop in Kelham Arcade. It had been a toss-up between Liverpool, where Benny’s roots are, and the Steel City to kick off the label, but the two had met in Sheffield and decided to stay.

“The label was first, way before the shop. And operating from a shop was something that wasn't in the initial BBS blueprints either!” recalls Toby. “Benny and myself are essentially vinyl junkies and when the opportunity for a base in Sheffield appeared in the form of a record shop, it wasn't a difficult decision.

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“As is with the label, it's much a case of trying everything once and having some fun in the process. This mantra is built from a shared love for a wide spectrum of music. If the music slaps, then we go!”

“For the Dig Deep series, we’re inviting promoters, music fans, DJs, artists, friends and family of the label and its Sheffield and Liverpool communities to take part. No doubt these communities will grow and guests may be invited from elsewhere, but for now there is already so much quality closer to home that we believe deserve a platform to exhibit their talents in this format.”

So did you make the right decision staying in Sheffield?

There's a close community of proud DIY fanatics here, each making their mark in their own individual ways whilst nurturing an exciting and progressive music community. It's nice to share the vibes of Sheffield that we so passionately adore with so many like-minded people.

There’s a radio show too. What happened on the latest instalment?

The latest Black Beacon Sound broadcast on Melodic Distraction was very much focused on recent movements and news of racial injustice and abhorrent police brutality, a 'No Justice, No Peace' special.

BBS feels strongly about the liberties and freedoms in human welfare. There are clearly injustices being felt by so many. And since the music industry (among many others!) has and continues to be so indebted to the creative and inspiring nature of various communities, we would fall to not recognise and support equality.

The show carried a tracklist featuring material of a revolutionary nature, including much ‘club music’, such as The Last Poets, Octave One, Stormzy, JME, Nina Simone, Michael Kiwanuka, Robert Hood and DJ Bone and spoken word in protest from the likes of Angela Davis and Huey P Newton - all in a position far greater than ours to speak on the matter.

How have you seen the musical landscape change in regards to music you deal with, including live events?

We don't lend a heavy hand to live events. There are plenty of crews who undoubtedly smash it already. But we have been blessed with the chance to join some wicked line-ups and festivals on occasion (Threshold 17' & 18' in Liverpool, Sheffield's Fundraver party for Peace in the Park). We have run various label showcase spots during Tramlines in Sheffield, too.

What is apparent is the excitable nature of both cities and how tight both communities are. There's always lots to shout about in a live or club environment (Dryad Works, Yellow Arch Studios and No Bounds Festival in Sheffield, YARD, Invisible Wind Factory and Africa Oye Festival in Liverpool). And much to feel proud of.

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All this in the light of some key (live) music venues closing down in recent months - The Harley in Sheffield for one is a massive loss! Constellations has plans to close one day soon in Liverpool, and others being under constant threat, displays how much initiative is being taken to energise the landscape.

How do you envisage returning in terms of the shop, releases and live stuff?

There has been much time to reflect during lockdown, to focus on the rest of 2020 and engage plans for 2021. Much of this was already laden with new releases from Sheffield-based acts, which means our main focus will rest on the label.

Live events as a whole is a far more complex matter, and that has affected plans of a release schedule. Not knowing exactly when a release party can be held is a hurdle, something that has affected plans for our shop space, as we had dates in place to use it further than just as a record shop. But it's helped ignite some excitement and brainstorm ideas between us and the acts involved as to what approach to take in all three scenarios.

Meanwhile, it's great to see record shops opening up under the guidelines and measures. Record shops remain such an important aspect to the music community and will encourage other areas in music to push forward.

What have you learned over lockdown?

Re-adjustment has been difficult, and without foresight as to when and where things will be back to 'normal' is still a tough one to take. But remote working and the importance of interacting during lockdown has given BBS a lease of life, assessing where everything is at.

Outside of BBS work, the lockdown has reminded us to not feel like we must work, work, work all day, every day. There's time for graft but also time to lean back and support one another. It's been enlightening to find so much activity continue into lockdown and that the world doesn't always have to be doom and gloom. We've also experienced how much we miss the dancefloor. A LOT!

Learn more

Visit the Black Beacon Sound shop at Kelham Arcade, 92 Burton Road, S3 8DA.

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