Celebrating Leisure System‘s Pioneering Events

© Viva De La Chesnais

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Revelling in unconventional line-ups and genre-defying twists, across seven years Leisure System have become renowned for challenging the very notion of club music. Their quarterly party at Berghain and Panorama Bar boasts an atmosphere of near-legendary repute, marrying a plethora of disparate sounds and bending the rulebook when it comes to curation.

The event series-turned-label has maintained a devotion to offbeat electronic sounds since their 2008 debut with Autechre, regarded by some as a turning point for bookings at the famous club. With the likes of Disclosure set against experimental techno artist Vladislav Delay or Venetian Snares, Leisure System aim to provoke reactions from their nights, pushing the boundaries of audience expectation. As co-founder Ned Beckett puts it, ‘’We want to inject the theatrics back into a club night’.’

I meet Ned alongside co-founder Sam Barker and label manager and latest recruit Aaron Gonsher at the Leisure System office, tucked away down a residential side street in Friedrichshain. Ahead of their landmark 25th party at Berghain this July, we’re getting down to the bones of everything LS.

We trace their ethos back to Sam and Ned’s roots in promotion. After completing university, Ned began working with Warp Records in the late 90s, promoting their regular ‘Nesh’ parties in London.

From there he went on to start Overkill, a night dedicated to merging live bands and electronic music. “Overkill was an initiative to bring together the more extreme elements of live performance, whether it be live bands or electronic performers,” he explains. “Most people listen to a range of different styles of music, it just wasn’t the norm to stick it all together in one evening. It looks like a mess, but there was an overall spirit of unhinged madness running through every act playing, and people would really flip out. Overkill encouraged that, and allowed everything to be as wild as possible.”

Before meeting, both Ned and Sam shared parallels in their solo endeavours. Around the same time, Sam had kicked off his own weekly experimental live night Instrumentality, where the pair first met. “I studied in Brighton and ran the night on the seafront,” Sam explains. “Similar to Overkill, it hosted lots of different artists and wasn’t pinned to a genre, but each week was united by a theme of sorts. I think Ned was there quite a bit and we ended up being friends.” In 2004, Ned established the LittleBig booking agency, which he still runs to this day alongside Sam. According to Ned, “the agency had a small but diverse roster to start with,” yet today they look after some of dance music’s most respected figureheads, with the likes of Aphex Twin, Autechre and Clark among their roster.

Not long after joining forces, the pair’s move to Berlin followed “little research” and no preconceived notions – just a growing community of artists and friends carving a home in the city. While unaffiliated promoters debuting their night at Berghain might seem far-fetched, their fresh approach to programming grabbed the attention of the globally-respected club owners.

As Sam recalls, “Berghain’s booker Andy [Baumecker] and I had become friends through working on details of the first Autechre show in 2008. He was really keen to bring more diversity to the music programming, and still pushes this agenda. He said to Ned and me afterwards; lets do something regular. We didn’t want to use the Overkill brand for it, we knew it had to be something totally new and unique for Berlin’.”

Though this was undoubtedly a huge platform for their fledgling night, they encountered some difficulty translating their music policy to Berlin crowds. “I think we were excited by the success of these events in the UK and wanted to bring some of that to Berlin,” Sam admits, “but it wasn’t as easy as we expected. We had to adapt to Berlin audiences and the different party style. Music was generally slower, stuck to one or two genres, and parties could last forever. Quite different from the intense, short, genre crossing events we’d been doing before. It took some time to fit into the broader party scene and for people to understand what we were about, but eventually we found a sweet spot with our line-ups, and an audience that wanted something different.”

Today, Leisure System is considered a staple of the Berlin party calendar. And with the label arm home to Jimmy Edgar and Machinedrum’s esteemed collaboration JETS, Rob Clouth, Visionist, rising house producer Hubie Davison and – perhaps most notably Gerald Donald’s resurrected post-Drexciya project Dopplereffekt, its adventurous approach also applies to its success as a label. ‘’Ned and I had spoken before about setting up a label,” Sam recalls. “But realistically with the agency and parties, and me making music, there was never going to be the time to do it on our own.”

This is where Berlin’s Boiler Room bossman and CTM curator Michail Stangl came into the picture. After attending the Autechre show as a punter, Stangl was brought into the vision to provide, as Ned puts it, “the missing piece.” Along with Stangl, Peter Dahlgren was recruited to make Leisure System’s label arm a reality. Setting out to make it an extension of their nights, their back catalogue spans from the wonky beats of their first release from Pixelord to their newest techno rooted release from JoeFarr, launching the more functional, dancefloor-aware GRIDLOCK series.

Returning to, as Aaron puts it, their spiritual home, Leisure System are celebrating their 25th party at Berghain by bringing together a hefty offering of artists including Kink, Daniel Avery, Perc, Kowton and Nathan Fake. It’s a celebration of both their legacy and the primary driving force behind the entire operation: an unwavering devotion to good music.

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