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“Offbeat is for geeks”: 26 years of Sheffield’s Favourite Indie Disco

Launched in 1997 by statistician Christopher Stride and his wife Gill, the club night "not for people who like music, but for people who love music" was rekindled during the pandemic.

It’s 10pm on a Friday night and you’ve descended the steps of the Students’ Union. You wander past the VK-peddling bartenders and pre-drinking pool players, swing a right at the bogs and head through the doors of the Raynor Lounge, which are adorned with the iconic posters for Offbeat Indie Disco. It’s ‘Animal Magic’ night, you’ve got your loudest zebra-striped top on and the dancefloor is packed with sweaty freshers dancing to The Cribs.

If this scene is familiar to you, you’d be forgiven for thinking that it was a memory from the heady days of indie sleaze, a bygone time of Topshop’s tightest jeans, charity bracelets and Pete Doherty’s misadventures. But it’s not 2007, it’s 2023, and Offbeat is still bringing left-field indie to the music geeks of Sheffield. Launched in 1997 by statistician Christopher Stride and his wife Gill, the self-proclaimed “small but beautifully formed” club night was created to fill a considerable gap.

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Offbeat at the tiny Raynor Lounge, 1998.

“I was at Warwick University in the late 80s and early 90s,” Chris tells me.

“We had the Offbeat Indie Society, which was basically a group of students who loved indie music. Every so often they would hire a venue at the university and put on a disco. I joined – when I was brave enough to speak to all the cool kids! – and eventually got into DJing.

“When I left Warwick and came to Sheffield, I was expecting there to be something like it, but there was nothing. The late 90s was not a good time… Britpop had become so bloated by the third Oasis album that there weren’t many new indie bands. People were getting excited about things like Travis! It was bleak.

“I had some experience, so I thought, OK, I’ll just do my own night. What I wanted it to be was like a community: a night not for people who like music, but for people who love music – the ones that really get it.”

Spurred on by his vision, Chris decided to take action. He hired the Raynor Lounge, a tiny, cupboard-like venue with a capacity of 100, and launched his own iteration of Offbeat, complete with monthly themes, stickers, giveaways and, of course, a playlist that was shared after every night.

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Side parts, spaghetti straps and smoking in a nightclub, 2004.

By 2000, Offbeat had passed into local legend. The event was packed month on month, gained a visit from the legendary DJ Steve Lamacq and was named BBC Radio 6’s ‘Ultimate Indie Disco’ in 2005. It had also bloomed into the weird and wonderful community that Chris had always wanted it to be. Pete Green, an Offbeat regular, experienced this on their very first visit.

“It was 1999. I was living in Birmingham at the time and my friend lived here in Sheffield,” says Pete. “My friend was about to go traveling around the world and I had no-one to stay with at the next event. I really wanted to come back. So Chris said over the mic: ‘This song’s for Pete. They need somewhere to stay next time they come to Offbeat. Can anyone help?’

“Within five minutes, all these people I didn’t know had come up to me and said, ‘Yeah, come and crash on my sofa’! It was just unlike any other event I’d been to or experienced. It was a lot of love and glitter and hugs.”

But the popularity of Offbeat would take its toll. Feeling burnt out after 13 years of juggling the event with work and family life, Chris and Gill decided to place it on hiatus in 2012 (contrary to this Guardian article, which proclaimed its demise to be a direct result of ‘megaclubs’). But after a couple of years spent pining, they decided that Offbeat would return with a vengeance during the pandemic.

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Offbeat poster, 2022-3.

To re-launch it, Chris set up an online radio station with, in true Offbeat style, a somewhat vintage chatroom function.

“Loads of people came on and reconnected. We were getting at least 200 people every time!

“Some of our regulars lived to go out, and others are quite shy. I think those events were quite important. We were a lifeline, which made me think that when the pandemic ended I was definitely going to relaunch it in real life.”

And relaunch it he did. Since 2021, Offbeat has remained a regular fixture at the Raynor Lounge.

On the hunt to find out how it has managed to keep pulling crowds for 26 years, I took a trip to the last event. When I got there, what I found was not a room full of nostalgic regulars, but a haven for music lovers of all ages. 18-year-old students, couples in their 30s, and 50-year-olds fresh from work were all mingling on the dancefloor, pulling shapes to tunes old and new.

Between tracks, I caught up with Pete and their friend Sarah Quance, a 61-year-old teaching assistant who had started coming to Offbeat in 1998. I asked what kept them coming back.

“It hasn’t changed, you know,” Pete told me.

“There is something lovely about the crowd here that I’ve not come across anywhere else. You’ve got older people who are still coming, and you’ve got freshers getting into it for the first time. Everyone bumps along together beautifully.”

“People can wear anything, be any size and any age and nobody gives them a hard time,” added Sarah.

“I’ve met some amazing people just because they’ve come up to me and said hi, my name’s so-and-so, who are you? I’ve made so many friends that way and I just love it.”

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Mrs & Mr Offbeat in the DJ booth.

For Chris, who can still be found flyering at gigs and tirelessly pasting posters around the city, running the night continues to be a life-affirming experience.

“There have been people who have come to Offbeat for years. They’ve met there and then got married and had children. Others have formed bands and then gone on to do quite well.

“Someone once wrote this bit of graffiti in the SU bathroom. It said, ‘Offbeat is for geeks’. If that’s our legacy, I’m pretty pleased with it!”

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The next Offbeat event will take place at 9pm on Friday 24 March at the Raynor Lounge, Sheffield University Students’ Union.

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