Various venues, Sheffield
Sheffield festival No Bounds explores along the cutting-edge of electronic music and art. Spread across 11 venues hosting a mix of gigs, workshops, talks, installations and raving, its sixth edition retained a razor-sharp focus on the local as well as the visionary.
No Bounds thinks big. This year, questions about identity, data and technology were woven into its compact programme. One installation at the Moore Street Electrical Substation, Noemie Soula’s Mythical Living Data, examined the future of DNA as data storage, and featured flayed layers of skin that mutated from pollutants in our environment. Another performance, Patterns in Between Intelligences, imagined a ritualistic future of AI through live coding, dance and rattling electronic soundscapes.
But, at its heart, it’s a sincerely, ridiculously fun weekend that celebrates Sheffield’s cultural past and present. The festival orbits around its nighttime nucleus Hope Works, a no-frills warehouse club on the outskirts of the city that does the heavy lifting for most of No Bounds’ dance music programming. During the day, it links with DIY venues, community hubs and historical buildings to host discussions, art and music. Spaces like Sheffield Cathedral were new partners for the festival, and the Substation had only ever been opened to the public once before. It’s a testament to the collaborative approach of No Bounds’ curators that we could peek inside this working brutalist behemoth – owned and operated by the National Grid – and come face-to-face with Soula’s dystopian installation.
The soundtrack to the weekend continued this local momentum. Hope Works residents such as 96 Back, Rian Treanor, Diessa and Gracie T were joined by local crews Off Me Nut Records and Tekkers to carry the torch for the city’s forward-thinking club music. Alongside them, vital contemporary sounds from further afield – notably sets from mainstays like LTJ Bukem, and back-to-back masterclasses from the likes of Sherelle and Kode9, Batu and Skee Mask and Craig Richards and Calibre.
Below, we’ve rounded up five of the weekend’s standout performances in an attempt to capture some of that innovative and idealistic No Bounds spirit.
The early hours of Friday’s first Hope Works rave, just before the rain descended, were in the hands of TSVI. The Nervous Horizon label head packed his 45-minute set with bouncy, percussive rollers, dropping tracks like Hodge’s Sub 100 and the hefty, chugging bass of Pariah’s Caterpillar. Rounding things off with ceiling-slapping speed garage in the form of Ruff Krew’s T.H.C (The Hardest Crew) seemed to hit the spot for a crowd eager to kickstart their night on a ravey note.
On day two, while Craig Richards and Calibre coolly worked through a three-hour back-to-back in the main Warehouse, Ifeoluwa set the next room alight with a freewheeling, peak-time, slammers-only set. Drummy, sub-heavy cuts and thumping techno morphed into The Prodigy’s Firestarter, Cascada’s Everytime We Touch and Soulja Boy’s Crank That – remarkably not the last we’d hear of that track on the night. A former Hope Works resident, their deft connecting of musical dots moved with the same momentum as the wider No Bound programming. Earlier that day, you could’ve also caught Ifeoluwa sharing their skills in a beginners’ DJ session with INTERVENTION, their club night and touring workshop that provides artists from marginalised backgrounds with a welcoming and safe space to get behind the decks.
Off Me Nut Records were in the driving seat for the Kuiper Belt stage on the Saturday night. Down a small slope in a starry-roofed tent, peripheral to the Hope Works complex, it was an appropriate descent into the perfect chaos you’d expect from this Sheffield rave institution. Ahead of a final slot from hardcore hero Scott Brown, sets from founders Phatworld and Samurai Breaks bumped up the BPMs for the bass faces. But it was Spinee who really got things going. Opening with HAZEY’s Packs and Potions before swiftly changing gear into pounding techno, hardstyle and hurtling breaks, she later scattered in wide-eyed remixes of Renegade Master and Sega Bodega’s mashup of The Cure’s A Forest and DJ Assult’s Ass N Titties.
The thrilling darkness of Wanton Witch’s live set at the Warehouse came to a close at 5:30am on Sunday morning. Legs were weary but with the Hope Works crowds still hanging on strong, closing duties were assigned to Nyege Nyege affiliate De Schuurman. Rarely does the Dutch DJ and producer play this side of the North Sea, so this was one to gather up all remaining scraps of stamina for. He delivered with an hour and a half of fast, frenetic rhythms and glowing synthlines that mutated at speed. A steelpan-driven remix of Sound of da Police was suddenly a syncopated version of – again, by some miracle – Crank That. It was a masterclass in the very special kind of propulsive energy and hybrid sounds De Schuurman has earned a reputation for.
Sunday evening took us back to Sheffield Cathedral, where the weekend initially kicked off. Friday’s mind-melting party featuring Blackhaine and Blawan had put the booming soundsystem installed in its central nave to the test. It felt like the bass, reverberating through the towering stone pillars and out to the surroundings, could’ve brought the city’s oldest building crumbling down. But the closing sequence centred around the blissful tranquillity of Mark Fell’s Zero as a Limit, an evening of acoustic music performed by chamber group Explore Ensemble. London-based artist and DJ Beatrice Dillon presented one of three commissioned pieces premiered that evening to a still, silent crowd. Keys, strings and woodwinds flowed around the space, punctuated by gentle taps on the body of the violin and viola, and the mechanical hiss of breath blown into the tone holes of the clarinet and flute. The playful sonic precision of Dillon’s electronic compositions found new life in the Ensemble’s emotional performance.