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A Magazine for Sheffield

Graeme Park "One of my New Year's resolutions was no one-hour sets"

Ahead of launching a new festival in Kelham this July, legendary DJ Graeme Park tells us how Sheffield found itself at the centre of clubbing history – and why every DJ he’s booked has two hours behind the decks.

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Graeme Park at the Warehouse Project, Manchester.

Voodoo Imaging.

Winter 2019. SteelYard Kelham. It’s raining. Graeme Park stands on top of a beer crate trying to do a DJ set. The ground begins to flood. In between mixing, Graeme jumps down and sweeps the water away with a brush. For the rest of the night, he mixes a little, sweeps a little, then mixes a bit more. Looking up from the decks, he thinks two things: ‘The crowd are loving this,’ and ‘SteelYard is a great venue’.

A few DJ sets later. It’s December 2023 and SteelYard want to put on a three-day festival. They ask Graeme to put together a line-up. The result is Blueprint Festival, taking place from Friday 28 to Sunday 30 June 2024.

“I’m very lucky. I know a lot of DJs and they all said yes. Friday is a massive nod to the Haçienda. Saturday is full of variety. Then it’s Todd Terry DJing in Sheffield on a Sunday, and Norman Jay who is a legend – it’s fantastic.”

Graeme Park

Sheffield has always been a city that Park has felt close to. Like most towns in the North, it was at the forefront of the acid house movement in the 1980s. It was from behind the decks in places like Sheffield that he saw music change forever, with the rise of dance music, the start of club culture and the birth of the superstar DJ. Here is that story.

Starting out

“I just turned up to the club and played records I liked.”

It’s 1984, and Graeme Park’s choice in music isn’t so popular. At the time he was working at independent record shop Selectadisc in Nottingham: “I used to play early hip-hop tracks, and two years later Detroit and Chicago house. And the other staff hated it, they’d just go, 'What the fuck is this?'”

Fortunately, the shop's owner thought differently. He could see Park might be onto something. One day he asks a question that changed Park’s life, and probably music, forever: “Graeme, I am opening a new club called The Garage. Would you like to DJ?”

Sheffield

“I’ve always done a lot of gigs in Sheffield. It’s a great city.”

1986. Word about Graeme’s DJ sets at The Garage had begun to spread. People are travelling over from the East Midlands and South Yorkshire to see him play. One group making the trip are the Jive Turkey crew, who run similar nights in Sheffield.

“Graeme, if you can bring a coach up to Sheffield, you can DJ with us.”

He speaks about those first nights DJing in Sheffield fondly. “They were amazing nights. It was before house music took off. It was still a lot of funk, disco, rare groove, hip-hop, and a bit of the early house stuff. And they were great days.”

The Steamer Ticket Stub

A flyer for The Steamer clubnight at The Leadmill, 1988.

The Leadmill.

Spring 1988. Every Wednesday night Graeme catches the train from Nottingham to Sheffield. At the station he commandeers a luggage trolley for his crate of vinyl. He then pushes his trolley of records up the hill to the Leadmill. Wednesday night is The Steamer club night, where Park is the resident DJ.

“The atmosphere would be electric from the start. Bars would close at 11pm, so at 10 everyone would say, ‘Right, let’s finish our drink and get to the club.’ People would come through the door and head straight to the dancefloor. Amazing times.”

But it wasn’t just in Sheffield that Park was seeing these scenes. It was Leicester on a Thursday night, Nottingham on a Saturday night. He then has clubs in Blackburn, Chelmsford and Harrogate asking if he's free on a Monday.

Importantly, he’s also DJing at the Haçienda every Friday night with Mike Pickering. It’s one of the most famous clubs of all time and remains Park’s favourite-ever place to DJ.

The Haçienda

“A club run by hedonists for hedonists.”

July 1988. It’s 7pm. The queue runs round the corner and over the canal. People have travelled from as far as the Lake District. PR agents have come up from London.

Norman Jay Todd Terry Seamus Haji

Norman Jay, Todd Terry and Seamus Haji will all be performing at Blueprint.

Blueprint Festival.

As the doors open at 9pm, Park is suspended 20 feet in the air. Looking down on 2,000 people dancing, he hears a knock on the door. He decides to check it isn’t Tony Wilson or one of New Order. Carefully, he opens the top half of the door while keeping the bottom half locked. He’s met by the intent grinning face of someone he doesn’t know: “I haven’t got time for this,” he thinks. Politely he shuts the door and returns to the decks.

He puts on a new record, looks down and thinks, “Fucking hell, here we go.” The whole club has erupted into a collective massive rush. The rush can only be stopped by the strict licensing laws and their 2am curfew.

After finishing his set Graeme is pushed into a car, records in the boot, and taken to one of the many warehouse raves that are continuing the party across the city. “It was absolutely thrilling,” he says.

Moments like this in the summer of 1988 made him realise something big was happening. What he’s witnessing is a cultural shift: people are discovering raving for the first time.

The acid house movement

“That was a scene, that was a huge part of the country!”

People think acid house was discovered by four blokes in Ibiza. But the truth is that it came from the clubs and warehouses of places like Manchester and Sheffield, at nights like The Steamer and clubs like The Haçienda.

The reason? The Thatcher government. You had a recession, unemployment was high and northern cities were grim places. “Acid house and ecstasy was the antidote to all of that,” says Park.

“It brought people from different backgrounds together. You had barristers dancing next to window cleaners dancing next to teachers, nurses, the unemployed, football hooligans and everyone in between.”

Smokin Jo

Smokin Jo will be playing a set at Blueprint.

Blueprint Festival.

The movement was eventually stopped by the government banning repetitive beats and more than twelve people dancing in public. But they couldn’t stop the impact: dance music had grown beyond the North, and clubs were opening all over the country. Young promoters had learnt the skills that would help them grow for decades to come.

Explaining why acid house music continues to be popular, Park says that it’s a generation that never really grew up. The friends they made on the dancefloor have become friends for life. Their kids may have left home, gone to university and are discovering clubs themselves, but what do the summer of love 1988 generation want to do? Go out raving again.

Still DJing

“Hand on heart, I have never played a record I didn’t like.”

2023. Park is playing to 8,000 people at Manchester’s Warehouse Project. The event is billed as The Haçienda Returns, but he reckons about 80% of the crowd weren’t even born when the Haçienda closed in 1997. “That’s a sign of a legacy.” But instead of sticking to the classics, Park decides to play new stuff – things that came out days before. He gets the best response of the night.

Park feels lucky that he can still play the music he loves in rooms packed with people. But he doesn’t want to be tied to the past. He still gets requests – shouts of “Parky, play 'Voodoo Ray',” a track he first heard when producer A Guy Called Gerald gave it to him at the Haçienda. Now it's a house music classic. “An incredible song, but I don’t want to play it every night. When I play it has got to be the right moment. It’s got to be special.”

It’s the nights when he can blend old and new that he really loves. These sets will draw a younger crowd, as well as people from back in the day. He reckons Blueprint Festival will have that perfect mix.

He also makes sure he can play for at least two hours, ideally longer. “I was sick of doing one-hour sets. It takes half an hour to get into it. So one of my New Year's resolutions was no one-hour sets.” This rule has been applied to Blueprint, with every DJ being given two hours to play.

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Voodoo Imagery.

The future of clubbing

There is a lot in the news these days about clubs, bars, gig venues and festivals closing. It’s clear that the night-time economy is struggling. For Park, this is an issue not understood by our current government. “Pre-pandemic, the night-time economy was worth billions. Not just clubs but theatres and cinemas. Think about all the people who supply those venues, and then restaurants and bars that benefit from an event.”

Todd Terry 09 Credit rosalieduin

Legendary house DJ Todd Terry will be playing on Sunday.

@rosalieduin

“But during the pandemic, the support wasn’t there from the government. People left the industry to make a living, and never came back. There's even less opportunities now.

“Now you are seeing increased costs that make it harder to run events. For example, a festival needs to pay for toilets and marquees. Beat Hearder won best small festival, now it’s having to scale back.”

The solution for Park is a so-called ‘Taylor Swift Tax’. This is where arenas hosting big gigs like Swift have to pay a small amount to grassroots venues. “Ticket companies are happy to share booking fees. Why not add a pound that goes to grassroots clubs? Without those clubs, where are your future superstars coming from?”

At the same time Taylor takes to the stage in Dublin, Graeme will be getting behind the decks in Kelham. Like the Eras Tour, Blueprint promises to be a party – a colourful celebration of music old and new on what Graeme promises will be a “really good sound system”.

If you want to get a day or weekend ticket, you can do so now. Just don't request ‘Voodoo Ray’.

Learn more

Blueprint Festival takes place at SteelYard Kelham from 28 to 30 June.

Accessibility info

SteelYard Kelham sent us the following statement about accessibility at Blueprint Festival:

"Our ground floor events area is designed to be fully accessible, allowing easy entry and movement for individuals with mobility challenges. We have taken measures to eliminate any barriers, ensuring that everyone can navigate the space comfortably.

To cater to the needs of individuals with disabilities, we have dedicated disability toilet facilities available on the premises. These facilities are designed to provide privacy, convenience, and ease of use for those with specific accessibility requirements.

We understand the importance of accessible food and beverage outlets, and we have made sure that all of our outlets are designed with inclusivity in mind. Our staff is trained to assist individuals with disabilities, offering support and guidance in accessing and enjoying our food and beverage offerings.

During events such as the Blueprint Festival, we have stewards present at all times. These stewards are specifically trained to provide assistance and support to individuals with disabilities. Whether it's guiding them through the venue, answering questions, or addressing any concerns, our stewards are committed to ensuring a safe and inclusive environment for all."

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