For this week’s LPS blog entry, we have welcomed along drum and bass stalwarts, Engage Audio, to share their story of community and planning during current times!
Keeping active during COVID
At the start of this year, Engage Audio were ready to move to the next level as a label and promoter. We had a ton of events with hefty line-ups planned which we were extremely excited for. Just like most of the scene, the country and the world; COVID and the following lockdown completely crushed all our plans and targets, which we set at the very start of it all the way back in 2016.
Right in the middle of all of the chaos, as a label we had mixed thoughts within the team about keeping our events side active during COVID – which was being fuelled by the news/mainstream media sending mixed messages, as well as differing individual living circumstances of our team members. It took us the full lockdown duration plus another 5 weeks to come to an agreement to start doing events again; a decision we now wish we made earlier.
Outside of the above, as a record label and promoter run by drum and bass producers, it wasn’t too hard for us to keep busy as individuals during the lockdown. Every producer and their dog (ourselves and our dogs included) were locked in their houses for 24hours a day, this gave an awful lot of creation time which meant we had a constant stream of music coming through to checkout and potentially sign.
This actually served us really well as we were able to create a release schedule way into 2021, something we had only ever achieved 4 months ahead previously. We also used the time to look a little deeper into the core structure of the label, how we do things, our team members, tools we can use to help our workload and organisation, our image and branding and general aesthetic online – all things that are becoming more and more important in the digital age that we live in.
Once lockdown eased off and venues reopened the discussions about doing seated events started. We had all been going down the pub and seeing a piece of normal life return however we were cautious not to be “those guys” that were pushing events during a pandemic. We initially shied away from it and had our go at Livestreams – which on first attempt was a failure due to technical difficulties! However, the second one was successful and gave us a pleasant taste of bass (the live stream was from The Cause nightclub so we had the pleasure of using a club system again). Not long after that in the latter part of July we started seeing other seated events happening and thought the time was right and we took the plunge. We started with fortnightly events and wanted to ease into them with a lighter selection of riddum – stuff you wouldn’t necessarily listen to only in a nightclub. We were being very cautious, planning meticulously using some of the new tools we had picked up (Trello being one – free and very handy, check it out) There were lots of discussions within the team around what the public would want; What type of drum and bass? Should we keep it low key? Should we book bigger artists? And of course there was lots of uncertainty about how the event would be taken and if people would actually show up.
Prior to this we had used some of Facebook’s most popular D&B groups to try and gain an insight into what people would want. We did a poll about attending seated events in June and the majority response was “F**k No”, this didn’t really help with our decision but we got to a point where we needed to trust our gut and take the opportunity while we had it.
Since then we have been flat out with the socially distanced events at Costa Del Tottenham; one of the outside areas at The Cause. We had luckily done events previously at the venue which gave us foot in the door we needed. We started with Liquid Sessions as summer rolled on and wanted to continue booking what we’d call our “bucket list artists” – people we’ve always wanted to secure on one of our line ups. COVID seemed to be actually making this possible for us; some of the artists we have now booked to date we were unable to book previously. This was likely because of the artist’s exclusivity restrictions which we often found ourselves battling with in the pre-covid industry, or was it because we were just not a big enough promoter? – A question that’s still unanswered.
After 2 events we moved on from the lighter Liquid Sessions and renamed the event to Thursday Sessions. We could sense the people attending wanting to hear more up front, darker music and this was absolutely fine for us, so we embraced it, opening up the slots to a heavier sound which led to even more huge bookings.
Throughout this time we were speaking with agents and artists directly. Strangely our communications seemed easier than before and we were seeing faster responses and quickly accepted offers… it was now very clear how important keeping these events going during COVID was for everyone in the scene. We are trying our best to keep this alive, keep the DJs spinning tracks, and keeping the ravers sane, and we’re so proud to be at the forefront of this with weekly Thursday parties and soon to be monthly Fridays.
Although we can’t wait to be deep in the club till 6am with our raving family, shoulder to shoulder, sweat on sweat – these socially distanced events will keep us going until then. Without these events, the scene dries up again, and we cannot let that happen.
History and Ethos of Engage
Three of us started Engage as mate’s way back in 2016 whilst looking for a platform to release our own music. We’d started producing fairly decent stuff but as anyone who has made any moves in the scene will tell you, getting your first break is really tough. We entered the scene as a label completely under prepared, although we had some experience in running events we didn’t have a clue about running a label. Here’s some free tips for anyone thinking of starting up – make sure you have more than a couple releases ready to go… we made the huge mistake of only having one release ready before launching the label, and once this was out and done we were left chasing music for months. Due to this poor planning we had downtimes without releasing any music for 6 months plus and even a gap of a whole year wondering what the hell we were doing wrong.
Now we’ve learn to live by the rule of 6 P’s, which an old friend taught us – Planning and Preparation Prevents P**s Poor Performance. Take the time to get things right before you launch and then don’t let off with content. Oh and content is very important too – make sure you have plenty of it and you remain consistent with your activity, if you are not visible you will not go anywhere.
One of the ways we boosted our presence and got more content was by throwing events. But we didn’t want to be just another label throwing mediocre events with average line ups, and we didn’t want these events to feel like normal raves – we needed to stand out from the crowd, to cut through the noise.
We set out to throw a party that felt like a festival; with a monster line up, themed rooms and a real fun vibe – but in a warehouse club setting with all the sound benefits of a closed space and low ceilings. We wanted to bridge the gap between club nights, festivals and fully immersive experiences on our events. Plan in place, we made contact with The Cause and went to view the club. It ticked every box; a super cool warehouse venue, world class sound quality, access and ability to decorate the venue to fit our themed events and well located London venue. Check out the after videos of these here:
Throwing the events really gave us more presence to be able to talk to artists that we wanted to release on our label and offer them the opportunity to play on our events. The two things fell hand in hand and regular gigs at our events is always something our artists, team members and people we work closely with get as priority.
We touched on this a little earlier but when we started the events, and in particular for our first big night at The Cause, being a new, unheard of label made it really hard to book the calibre of artists we were after. When you’re a new face or name, agencies and artists are often wary of you, not wanting to associate with a potentially bad night or promoter.
The same applies for securing good music for the label, producers may not want to work with new, smaller labels as they have much higher goals or you won’t be able to offer the same reach as a label with 5 /10k more following than you. But it’s all snakes and ladders, you could secure an amazing piece of music that might lead you to a ladder to go up a few levels, get more followers, and get on more people’s radars. Then, after all of that hard work, you could not release anything for a month or two and the snake will take you all the way back down. Persistence, regular activity and exposure are key.
Over the next few months, we’re crazy busy. COVID permitting, we’ve got a load of serious line ups for our Thursday Sessions as well as 2 Friday dates which are unmissable. We are now working alongside other labels, inviting them to curate line ups in an effort to branch out and keep the life running through the entire scene. Label wise we are scheduled deep into next year with both free and full releases, so keep a lookout for those.
In the longer term, we really can’t wait to get back to full club nights but only time will tell when this will be. Once some form of normality is back in place, an obvious and exciting move for the events side of the label would be to take our brand to some bigger venues or to a festival stage, but these ideas are a while off.
Our views on the current scene
Creativity wise I think the current scene is great, there is lots of great music around and people are creatively thinking outside the box to keep things moving on the events front. Obviously there is a real lack with what we can do and these seated, socially distant events are nowhere near a real rave but it’s making good out of a bad situation and the scene needs it to pull through the hard times.
To keep up to date with Engage please follow us here: