Juan Forte: Steel City Live Review & Exclusive Interview
Joker, Sicaria Sound, Kaiju, Fearless Dread and Truant.
Dryad Works , Sheffield
Saturday 16th November 2019
Juan Forte have been putting on events across the country featuring heavyweight lineups for a number of years now and their debut show in Sheffield continued that trend in style. With a stacked bill featuring a stellar cast of 140 producers in Joker, Sicaria Sound, Kaiju, Fearless Dread and Truant all representing and powered by the formidable Sinai Sound System all within the perfect venue in Sheffield’s Dryad Works and you had the makings of a storming night which the reality more than lived up to. Approaching the venue which is on an industrial estate on the outskirts of Sheffield city centre, you could hear the bass get louder and louder the closer you got and as you walked up the hill on the way to the venue, with a great view of the city of Sheffield on the way, the excitement was palpable for the vibe that lay ahead.
With the Sinai Sound System in full effect, Truant kicked the night with a set that mixed the harder end of UKG with dubstep and tracks dropped like The Club by EL-B alias Ghost, Hardfood by Conquest and Manhattan Blues by Cyrus got the crowd going on the dancefloor which rapidly filled up as soon as Truant got things going. His set was the perfect blend of mellowness and more up tempo tunes as the energy got turned up higher with his selection of dubs alongside versions of Ghost Town by The Specials, On A Ragga Tip by SL2 and Lets Push Things Forward by The Streets which were all given the dub treatment with the crowd skanking along to the bass.
Fearless Dread soon took over and ably assisted by Juan Fortes Brizzy on the mic, proceeded to take the energy levels even further with a set that was enhanced by that Sinai Sound System with its power which meant you could feel the bass rattle your chest and right down through your whole body. As the tunes were shelled down, the crowd roared their approval as tracks like Skream’s Stagger (which I haven’t heard in a rave for an age so I was extremely happy about this as it still hits so hard!) and Caspa’s Remix of Breakage’s Hard were dropped and the heaving dancefloor got busy as the vibes raised as each tune was dropped.
As Brizzy blessed the mic throughout, the Fearless Dread duo carried on dropping bangers and their very well deserved set proved they are delivering nothing but fire every time they play, and props must go to them for dropping the timeless Anti War Dub for everybody in attendance to truly meditate on the Sinai powered Bass Weight.
That Bass Weight was further in attendance as Kaiju took over the decks and proceeded to continue the sonic demolition with an immense display that truly tested the formidable Soundsystem, the bass was serious for the duration of their set as they delivered new material alongside tried and tested favourites with the pairs Flowdan collaboration Hunter causing serious damage. The dark vibes were lapped up by the crowd who proved they loved the tunes as deep and dark as they could get it and Kaiju are absolute masters in delivering just that.
Sicaria Sound are two DJs who I’ve wanted to catch for a while as I’ve heard nothing but great things and they didn’t disappoint in the slightest as they gave an energetic performance that upped the tempo of the tunes slightly but still bumped just as hard. After a formidable intro, they exploded into action dropping high octane grime into the mix alongside some bass heavy monsters which caused chaos on the dancefloor as the crowd got more and more frenzied as each tune dropped. With a performance as skilful as this, the duo more than lived up to the acclaim they have garnered and I look forward to seeing them smashing it again soon.
Joker was up next and it was a pleasure as usual to watch him do what he does best. The crowd vibing to the purple masters careful selection of bangers was a joy to observe as the crowds reaction got more and more intense. There had always been an anthemic nature to Jokers music and that atmosphere was more than apparent in Sheffield tonight with the likes of 3K Lane and Purple City bringing the house down and showing exactly what a talent the Bristol man is in a live environment and a grimy selection to end his set was the icing on the cake. Joker always brings the fire and this display was certainly no exception.
As the night drew to a close, it was time for one last skank, courtesy of the Juan Forte crew themselves. Consisting of Beavs, Dott, Fonz, Jaya & Underhill alongside the returning Brizzy, they brought the night to a close with a brilliant selection of bass heavy goodness all skilfully executed including dropping Chest Boxing and Skeng, both of which will never sound anything other than jaw dropping when they are unleashed, the fact it was on the Sinai Sound System made them sound even deadlier. Despite the fact it was creeping closer to 6am, there was still a large hardcore following on the dancefloor and they lapped it up and it was a brilliant way to end a brilliant night.
Hopefully, this will be the first of many Juan Forte events in Sheffield at the Dryad Works and what a way to start off in this new city with a night that was amazing from start to finish with every artist on the bill giving their all and smashing each set on a night that was just vibe after vibe.
All Juan Forte photos by Henrik Fjoord
After the event, we caught up with the guys from Juan Forte to hear their thoughts on the night and how it came together, how they started, their plans for the coming year and their top tracks of 2019! Huge thanks and big ups to the whole Juan Forte crew for the interview and the night.
You have just put on your first night in almost a year at Dryad Works on Sheffield. How did the night go for you and what were the highlights?
The night was incredibly smooth. As much as we’d like to take credit for that, a lot of it comes down to the people we were working alongside. Joe and Cydney (Dryad Works) run the Komatik Audio rig and have been doing their thing for a while now, so they knew what we wanted and needed from the venue. We’ve worked with all kinds of venues over the last three years, and we’ve never come across venue owners so in sync with us as promotors. It’s the same with the Sinai guys. There was no worry about the sound or tech going wrong, and the system was ready to go nice and early. Shout out Akid for working that Sinai magic for us.
In terms of highlights, that’s a tricky one. The lineup made sure each artist brought their unique style and form of energy, so it’s not possible to pick out a highlight set. To be honest, the highlight was probably interacting with Sheffield for the first time – it’s always something special when you move to a new city. I think our scene is generally quite blessed with down to earth and friendly people, but the number of people who took the time out to have a chat with us on the night was genuinely quite humbling. There’s a solid juandem up in Sheffield now.
What was it like working with the mighty Sinai Soundsystem on the night and how did you guys hook up in the first place?
We first worked with the mighty Sinai down in Juan’s spiritual home of Loughborough about two years ago. They were the first system that we worked with from outside our immediate circle, and they just knocked the socks off Loughborough. We’re blessed to have worked with the rigs we’ve worked with over the years, but the Sinai has a special place in Juan history. It was a no brainer to work with them again. Sheffield is their home turf, and they’ve worked alongside the Dryad crew for some time now – so having them run the sound made it a lovely family affair. The weight of the system is matched by the professionalism of the team as well. It’s important to note that, as a promotor, the Sinai offers much more than a rig. There’s a peace of mind when you work with them which is invaluable on a stressful event day.
The night featured a stellar lineup with Joker, Sicaria Sound and Kaiju all representing. How do you go about assembling bills with such quality?
Programming events is an art form in itself. It takes us as much time to come up with a lineup as it does to come up with our artworks. There are two key things we try to ensure with a lineup: variety and journey. Sometimes a ‘varied’ dubstep lineup can sound a bit oxymoronic, but the beauty of the sound comes in those nuances you get between artists. When you put those nuances alongside each other, it’s possible to create a sense of journey in the dance. Visual production is usually quite sparse at our events, so the programming becomes key in ensuring that sense of progression in terms of energy on the dancefloor.
Who would feature if you could put together your dream bill of DJs and MCs?
This is a tricky one. Bearing in mind how long it takes us to put together our bills, we won’t attempt to give you a full lineup. Seeing Ben UFO roll a 140 set is always special. Finding the man of mystery Deapoh for a one-off set would also be sick. There are names from further afield we’d like to feature on our lineups going forward as well. Headland, Akcept, Epoch, Saule and LAS are just a few we’d be excited to see at one of our nights. Hopefully, we can make some of those work soon.
You put out your first 12″ release recently on the label with the Fearless Dread – N4/Double Red, what has the reaction been like so far?
We were actually really overwhelmed by the support we received on the release. With it being our first label release we had no idea what to expect and ended up selling the majority of the copies through our own store within just over 24 hours. It’s felt great to give the Fearless Dread guys a good debut because their tunes are just excellent. As a label we very much feel like we’re here to facilitate artists to get their tunes out and be heard, and we’ll always do that to the best of our ability. So to have sold that many plates in that amount of time was a good feeling. A few more copies are heading to usual retailers very soon, so if anyone missed out there’s still a chance to cop
The artwork for that is brilliant and for your event fliers as well, Who did them and will there be more from them and yourselves in the future?
Our artist, Chas, is a family connection to one of the crew. He’s a professional cartoonist who use to draw for some household publications back in the day. Chances are if you were into comic books you’ve seen his work before. He very much is the aesthetic behind Juan so he’ll pretty much be doing all of our artwork going forward, in fact he is working on the sleeve design for 002 at the moment, we’ve seen a WIP and he’s smashing it as always.
What’s next for Juan Forté for the remainder of the year and into the new year?
So the remainder of this year will mainly consist of things happening in the background in preparation to hit 2020 running. In the first few months of 2020 there will hopefully be a return to Dryad Works, the release of JUAN002 and some fresh garments as well as more blog articles, premieres, mixes and other media that give us a chance to shine the light of various areas of the scene.
How did Juan Forté start on the first place and what were your plans from the beginning?
Juan started because where we were based (Loughborough) didn’t cater to our musical needs. So you can either moan about it or try and start your own thing. There was never really an aim at the beginning; we ran a party in a 50 capacity pub with some mates so we could hear the tunes we wanted and then we just kept that ball rolling.
What have been some of the highlights from running Juan Forte?
A lot of our fondest highlights are from the first few events when we were using unusual venues, and everything was very DIY. We ran parties in a pub, a Lebanese/Turkish restaurant and a Burrito shop’s basement and the energy at those was just unreal. They occupy a special place in our hearts. Don’t get us wrong, we always want to keep the brand developing, but there was a rawness at the beginning, which is difficult to emulate for us now. It’s one of those weird things though. Even though those early days are a “highlight”, everything we’ve done since then has been a highlight in its way. There have been so many instances where we’ve looked at each other and said “Fuck, can you believe we’ve done this?” it’s probably best to categorise the whole Juan Forté experience as one long highlight reel.
What’s the best night you’ve ever been to and what made it so special?
We always stand by the 3 S’s; Space, Sound, Selectors. I’d say Vivek’s System nights are probably the best example of this and the main inspiration behind what we do. Those early System’s at the Dome were untouchable.
Who are some up and coming acts that you are feeling at the moment and you could recommend for us to check out?
So many people are on our radar at the moment. So many that we have a blog feature called ‘Who’s Doing Bits’ where we talk about who we’re rating at the moment. In the most recent one, we covered R@, Crowley, Soundbwoykillah, KRSLD, Jackson & Saanen.
What are each of the individual members of Juan Fortes top tracks of the year and why?
I think we’re agreed that these kind of questions are very difficult. This year especially has seen a lot of new emerging labels and artists, so a lot of great music. But here goes…
Beavs: Glume and Phossa – Puppetz/Taiko remix
Wonderfully weird and weighty. The Taiko flip injects that extra level of trippiness. Either side has the crowd skanking and scratching their face off at the same time.
Brizzy: Ago – Good Luck! / I.Got
Favourite tunes of the year are always hard to pick, especially when the scene is flourishing atm. One who stands out for me almost every year tho is Ago, with his clever utilisation of samples and an innovative spin on Kendrick’s ‘DNA’, Ago never fails to keep a bubble in your step
Dott: Porter Brook – Exit 14th Street
Monstrous sub from the jump and 130 breaksy goodness straight outta Sheffield via Porter Brook on the first release of the recently established Groundwork label
Fonz: Denham Audio & Borai – Make Me
Spent a good few months listening to a 2min clip and scrolling past various YouTube comments saying that this would be coming out on vinyl and it finally did!
One of them end of the tune nights that you throw on and run into the crowd to experience.
Blessed that it runs at 140 at well. Big ups to Borai and Denham Audio
Jaya: Foamplate – 2020
Solid tune from the plantpower head honcho, combines swung 2 step drums and that signature foamplate bassy goodness – its hard to pick a favourite of the year but this one defintiely comes close
Underhill: Saule – Zeroes
Was banging this on Saule’s Soundcloud for some time before it got released on J:Kenzo’s Artikal imprint. I’d really struggle to match the style of this tune to any other, the rolling subs and skippy percussions just make me nod my head at 280bpm.
For all things Juan Forte check out their website here
Also we have to mention that due to the recent flooding in Sheffield, Sinai have had a lot of their equipment damaged and it is only right that we should share this page to help them get back on their feet. Do what you can here:
Sinai Sound System photo by Gavin Brown
I’m a music journalist based in the U.K. with a love for bass music in many forms from drum & bass and dubstep to hip hop and grime. Always looking to check out new music as well as digging back for the classics and attending as many events as possible.