Friday 6 December 2013

Colony END: Max Bacharach Signs Off

On the eve of Colony's final hoedown at The Hive Project this Saturday, we speak with co-founder of the event, Max Bacharach, about how it all began, what it all meant, what it turned into, and why it's now over - with some refreshingly candid anecdotes and personal opinions along the way. Max, under his DJ alias, Tengui, has also provided a mix dedicated to the open-minded people who have in one way or another been a part of the now legendary Colony.

Whether Max and Carl Bacharach know it or not, their event, gig, rave, piss-up, or whatever Colony is to the individual, has, in hindsight, during its five years of activity, become a regarded institution within London's techno community. Not only has it been a key element in shaping the city’s ‘electronic music landscape’ of the last half-decade, but up until this Saturday, Colony has been the essential cog in what makes techno in London tick.  

There's no doubting Colony and the trailblazing line-ups they perpetually brought to the English capital month after month for five very solid years will be missed. And for an idea of the techno, drum and bass, noise - and everything in between - Colony supported, clicking 
here is a pretty good start. But not all is lost. There remains a clutch of similarly-minded, die-hard promoters, namely Scand, Plex, and Machine, who like Colony, continuously persevere to present quality electronic music in the most holistic of manners possible. While many of the line-ups Colony presented over the years matched the bills clubs like Berghain regularly deliver - this was never the modus operandi. It was much simpler than that explains Max: “We just wanted to put some raves on... and we did”. 

If we were after a pull-out quote or two in this email interview with Max, the MB of Colony's brotherly DJ supremo MB & CB, we'd have too many to choose from. That is one of the endearing characteristics of Bacharach; his heavily punctuated, parenthesis plotted, free flowing and natural prose that's not afraid to have a laugh at himself, techno, and the bollocks. Think back to the last time you read a promoter's blurb about a forthcoming gig with interest. There's every chance you didn't. So from bios and write-ups, to big name and local bookings, to the events themselves, it's evident Colony has always been fuelled by a genuine love for music and the personalities and punters involved.

So if you were a Colony regular, occasional attendee or follower from afar, enjoy what could well be one of Max Bacharach's final written transmissions for some time concerning “Surgeon-y techno, Aphex-y IDM, (and) Photek-y DnB”.

Before we get into how and why Colony came to an end, let's begin with how it started. Was it your plan from the beginning to create what Colony eventually turned into?

Pretty much, yes. If you look back at our early line-ups, nothing substantial has changed, barring the depth/scale of what we do now, and the fact we've tended to collaborate on events - with our friends at Scand, Plex and Perc Trax, primarily - since taking a short hiatus in 2010. The idea was always very simple: 100 per cent underground, cross-genre clubnights, with no concession(s) to trends or hype or other peoples' opinions or preferences. Just us, a venue and some people whose music/DJing we appreciate(d) - which has generally meant much deeper, weirder, at times ravier sorts of affairs than the plodding (tech-) house/DnB-centric London norm. I think we're still there - our upcoming send-off harps back to what we were doing in '09/'10 almost exactly - despite having branched out and 'moved with the times', to some degree, since the early days. We're just older and wiser and about three hundred times more cynical now...

So behind the scenes, was Colony primarily you and your brother Carl? Or am I missing someone?

Colony was always me and Carl, yes, with extra help from our close friend Will, who's tended to take care - very capably - of the visual side of things over the years, and take lots of amazing/hilarious/disturbing photos (some of which you can see here). It's been a genuinely grassroots affair, with negligible outside input, and we're proud of that.

How much work, and stress, goes into putting on a show at a venue like Corsica?

More than you might think. Promoting - and I hate that word: we don't 'promote', we curate and organise - is really, really tough. It swallows your life, often for very little to no reward. And if, like us, you're determined to do things the hard way, it invariably swallows your money, too. I could leave it at that - quite frankly, I probably should! - but for the record, here's the drill...

Preparations for an event begin months and months before the scheduled date - nowadays, bookings often need to be made up to a year ahead of time, and they can fall through at any stage. There's always a filthy amount of negotiating and money talk involved, mindless haggling with people who, very frequently, don't know shit about shit - least of all how to communicate punctually and legibly - and clearly don't give a shit about you or your circumstances, just cash for their artists and, by proxy, themselves. There's the logistical side of it all: contracts, riders, itineraries, flights, trains, taxis, hotels, meals, drinks, door staff, till floats, ticket lists, guest lists, kit hire, van hire, engineer hire, invoices, records, receipts, blah, blah, blah - each and every element crucial, in some way or other, to the ultimate strength/success - or otherwise - of the event; if you fuck up a train ride, say, or forget to hire a certain cable, it can mean no headlining set - bang. 

And, of course, there's the wretched, endless promo: the constant hyping, shouting, posting, postering, flyering, F*cebooking, T*eeting (a bridge too far for us), emailing, e-listing, mag-listing, ad-bannering, bumping, editing, updating, uploading and seemingly interminable tweaking/correcting of one's disseminations - a veritable war of attrition which we've attempted to negotiate, as best we can, by adopting an increasingly self-parodic, Let's 'ave it y'all!-esque tone in our communications with, and spamming of, the 'outside' world since 2008. It's a grim old business, make no mistake.

So anyway, for a regular two room event at Corsica (not exactly the biggest venue in the world), I'd say the total pre-event work easily clocks in at 100 hours+, which, for us, has had to be squeezed around our pre-existing day jobs (because, y'know, we're normal people). And then there's the small matter of doing a 10-15 hour shift (incl. set up) at the event itself, finishing at 7am or so, alternately DJing (to no-one, generally), paying people, buying people drinks, crossing peoples' names off lists, stamping peoples' hands, screaming into peoples' ears, trying to make sound come out of things that don't work, trying to plug things into holes that are too big/small, trying to stay cheerful/chatty/bubbly (or however it is we promoters are supposed to be) as it becomes apparent you're going to lose £800 of your life savings, occasionally trying not to drop huge wads of cash all over the dancefloor, and so on and so on and so on...  

By the time it's all over, no matter how well things have, or haven't, gone, the prevailing feeling is a kind of mild trauma and empty sadness, because this thing that you've given everything to, thought about every second of every day for months, ploughed your withering assets into, compromised your relationship(s) over, DJed at as best you can, danced at a bit yet missed most of thanks to all the aforementioned bollocks... is gone, done, finito - in a flash. And that, friends, is that.

I haven't even talked about designing the artwork, writing the schpeel, navigating the many variables - weather, transport, rival events, volcanoes, etc - and the myriad other elements that, in the end, make/shape an 8-10 hour piss up attended by - all being well - 3/400 people. In a sense, it's just absurd. Why do it? Yet for some inexplicable reason, putting on events at Corsica has felt worthwhile and meaningful. There was a time, quite early on, when a friend suggested we aim to do Colony there and I think, back then, Carl and I just assumed it was out of reach, that we'd never pack enough of a punch to use the space.  

We were wrong, and for all the hardships endured and bullshit absorbed, it simply matters that we've done something we believe in, on our own terms, at the club we always gunned for. Fuck the money and the egos and the thirty page email wars with illiterate wankers K-holing to some shitty Sebo K track or other at some god-awful festival in a castle in Uzbekistan or wherever when they should be at home in their slippers sipping PG Tips like the rest of us - we were never about that. We just wanted to put some raves on at Corsica, and we did.

What were some of the venues other than Corsica you enjoyed working with? I read you had some nice things to say about the The Hive Project in Hackney Wick.

Yep, The Hive Project is an exciting new 'off-piste' club space in east London (it's a theatre by day, with F-1s out back) and we're delighted to be winding things up there, only a few train stops from our respective dwellings. For a while, Rhythm Factory in Whitechapel was our favoured alternative to Corsica - we put on some of our busiest, messiest parties there with Sync 24 - but, like so many other nightspots in London, is/was let down by one or two less-than-sound individuals behind the scenes who're patently more interested in short-term wallet inflation than actually running a club in a mature and considerate fashion. As for Cable, where the good people of Blueprint kindly drafted us in for a series of heaving techno parties, it's all but gone now...

Biggest flop in terms of turn out?

Probably our third event, which, if I recall correctly, mobilised about twenty-five people. In hindsight, I'm surprised anyone ever turned up to our events at The Russian (Bar)! But back then, it really hurt.

Any special moments, or particular DJ or live sets, you remember from the shows you have done?

Too many to list adequately here, that's for sure! So perhaps it's best to stick with just this year, which has, overall, been great...

- Kangding Ray at Plex/Colony/BleeD a few weeks back was exceptional. He brought some serious kit over from Berlin - the centrepiece of which the ever-resourceful Luke Handsfree of Plex hastily carpentered a makeshift and rather beautiful wooden plinth for prior to opening! - and proceeded to mesmerise a heaving room 2 crowd with it, without the slightest recourse to standard EDM tropes. It was the highlight of an all-round amazing 5th birthday.

- Mark Fell's Sensate Focus PA at our prior event - Colony vs The Quietus in Hackney Wick - was equally stunning, but in a totally different way: he just let rip, basically, pretty much glitching the admirably game-for-a-dance punters present into oblivion with a hail of chords and beats. It was the craziest, ballsiest live set we've ever put on, I reckon (although both TVO and Dom Factory Floor gave him a run for his money that night, too).

- This year's Summer Rave was, in general, a massive 'career' high for us. We had over 600 people through the door - nights like Colony aren't usually one-in-one-out affairs, trust me - and just the most perfect, no-nonsense vibe across both rooms. Finally managing to get Anodyne over from Donegal, Ireland after several years of tenuous booking chat felt great, and he duly smacked the place up.

- Another Irishman we'd wanted to book for ages was Lee Holman, one of our favourite techno producers, and it was a real pleasure to be able to put him on alongside the likes of James Ruskin, Phase and Morphology at Colony & Scand in May - and to see him deliver a night-making live set that, from where I was standing, nearly banged the roof off of Corsica.

- Finally, Lakker (also fekkin' Irish!) played a blinding DJ set for us at Cable in February, where we'd been running the bar room for Ruskin's Blueprint events on an on-and-off basis since March '12. Everything from Autechre to Shed to 160 BPM gabber-techno we've never heard of got dropped as we locked in, locked on and brocked out.

Going right back to the beginning (yeah, fuck it, why not?), honourable mentions must go to: Sigha bringing the goods at our second-ever event, Untold doing the same at our fourth, Miles MLZ absolutely killing The Russian a couple of months later (and going on to become one of our closest musical, and non-musical, allies), Perc dropping the grin-inducingly monumental Ghosts In The AI" by Mathew Jonson at our packed and horribly sweaty 1st birthday bash (also becoming a long-term chum/co-conspirator in the process), Ben UFO playing a stunning jungle set to about fifteen people to cap off that year's less-than-lucrative closing party...

...The Black Dog captivating a lovely Rhythm Factory crowd for us early in '10 (backed by crushing DJ sets from Pangaea and Equinox), Al Tourettes and Arne Weinberg both playing brilliant, idiosyncratic live shows to teeny-weeny Russian Bar crowds that spring/summer, PVH and Conforce ripping things up hardstyle at our 2nd birthday, Phase ripping things up even harder style at the first of a series of jammed Colony & Scands, agent2 giving a masterclass in purist(ish) electro at the subsequent, inaugural Colony Summer Rave, Miles kicking off his second DJ set for us with Photek's murderous Glamourama later that month...

...Andy Stott squelching - you guessed it - Corsica room 2 into submission early on at our 3rd birthday (the epic Plex/Colony/Machine #1), Pev rocking it straight after, Raime bringing in 2012 with a fine selection of original (read: arichinaal) jungle in the Cable bar, Dozz frying brains - nothing new there - with his closing track at Colony/Prologue in June, Rupture's Mantra & Dubz DnBing the face off August's Summer Rave, Miles once again bringing the HEAT for us at Plex/Colony/Machine Pt. 2 (never mind Senking's and Livity Sound's respective, chest-rattling live PAs)... and, well, yeah... I told you there were too many!

A favourite set of yours you've played?

Warming up Corsica room 2 before the aforementioned Kangding Ray live set was a thrill. I finished with Clipper by Autechre (an untouchable piece of music, in my book) and he just, well, mixed in and took off. Things rarely blend that smoothly!

Generally speaking, playing b2b with Carl, as MB & CB, has been great fun over the years. Essentially, it's what Colony is/was all about. Just us and some guests dropping everything from Chain Reaction-school deep techno to old-school electro to (post-) UKG to jungle to straight up hardcore (an increasing, perhaps unpopular tendency of ours over recent times) and not giving a fuck about what we're 'supposed' to be playing. In fact, it's been the Summer Rave closing sets - usually fuelled by colossal amounts of rum, coke and warm beer - that have been the most enjoyable moments for us a residents, I'd say. How can mixing Rufige Kru with Drexciya with SL2 with dodgily named garage productions from the early '00s not be fun?

There have, of course, been a fair few disastrous moments, too - but let's skip over them!

One thing I noticed about Colony is that it wasn't just an event for big names - although you did pull some very big line-ups. You guys seemed to really support local and emerging artists from the UK.

Absolutely. I mean, we're lucky: the UK has an incredible tradition of electronic and dance music(s) - mindblowing. I think we've just naturally gravitated towards what it is in/about UK soundsystem music - be it Surgeon-y techno, Aphex-y IDM, Photek-y DnB, or whatever - that makes it special, that we feel an affinity for/towards (which has nothing to do with patriotism or Tory-boy 'Real Britishness' or any kind of servile self-identification). Why go fishing in Germany or America, spending 1500 bucks and clocking up a pile of carbon emissions for an overrated techno DJ whose 'unique' sets are no doubt indistinguishable from his/her peers', when you can get someone down on a train from Sheffield for £30 return who'll play a better, broader set and won't need ferrying around in taxis every time they need a piss, for half the price?

And why run a night if you're not interested in supporting emerging artists from near(ish)by? Fuck the whole big name fixation. It disgusts me. We're seeing the same dynamic played out in supposedly 'underground' dance music as in A-list celebrity culture: the same obsession with image, profile and stature, the same uncritical adoration of mediocrity (how many sets on The Boiler Room are *actually* really good?), the same fetishising of The Master(s), the same warped economics... I'm firmly behind the idea - however naive or, to date, unactualized - that 'rave' and 'raving' is, fundamentally, about a level playing field. And so it just comes naturally to try, wherever possible, to balance the 'top' with the 'bottom'...

OK, so why did Colony come to an end?

As we said at some length in a recent mailer to our crew: for both good and bad reasons. You've probably already gathered what some of the negatives are (!) - primarily, the distorted economics (nationally, in terms of diminishing state/municipal support for/of alternative arts and culture; locally, in terms of the impossible margins inflicted on promoters by venues, bar managers, etc; and 'internally', in terms of the increasingly harsh, agent-mediated 'winner-takes-all' dynamics of the bookings circuit) are making it impossible for us to operate in a way which doesn't overly rely on repeat bookings and tried-and-tested 'safe' methods, or just fold into becoming a sub-standard, fortnightly chinwag in some random bar or other with plenty of walk-up but no vision or direction.

And I, for one, am deeply uncomfortable about the increasing penetration of brands and branding into what, for me, is a firmly counter-cultural, anti-establishmentarian sphere - one which should resist, not embrace, the corporate business/finance ontology of said establishment (something we've always tried, in our own little way/s, to do). Is it okay that, nowadays, 'raves' are hosted by multi-million pound peddlers of shitty energy drinks and held, in turn (and primarily for streaming 'participants'), in energy giant-sponsored tourist attractions? What does that say? And should we be happy with it? What does it say when one of the great alternative electronica staples - a label whose back-catalogue we're constantly mining - cosies up, for an event, with an institution that receives large sums of money from, and proudly display the logo of, BP? Should we be happy we that? I guess, personally, I'm not. And I'm not sure if the terrain we're entering is one in which Colony has a proper place.

As for the positives, there are loads. But I'll spare you another essay and simply say: it's done. We did it. It was what it was and what it was was by and large, what we wanted it to be. We've made some great friends and built a small but genuine family of nice, normal, occasionally slightly misbehaved people who've followed us and, we hope, 'got' us. And we've booked most of the people we wanted to, at the best venues we could get our mits on. That, surely, is a job well done?

The final Colony is this Saturday. Once it's all done, packed down - all over - and you're at home, resting. What's your cuppa? PG Tips like the rest of us?

But of course.

And finally, tell us about the mix you have provided as Tengui.

Originally, I had grand plans to put together a four deck, forty track Traktor mix for this piece, a la the Plex/Colony/BleeD set I mentioned earlier, but in the end it's just two decks and ten records I'm really fond of, played from start to finish. One's by Pev, who's headlining our closing party tomorrow, and nine are from people I wish we'd booked over the years (although in some cases, we were a little too late!). It's dedicated to the open-minded people who made Colony more - a lot more - than just another night. We'll miss you.


If you are in London this weekend details and tickets for Colony END, featuring Peverelist, Equinox, Sync 24 (live), S_P_A_C_E_S (live), Tengui & CB can be found here. There will also be an all-night record fare held in honour of Dave Twomey, a favourite among the techno community who sadly passed away this year.

Pictures courtesy of Will Darkin


01. Peverelist - Meets Tshetsha Boys [Honest Jon's, 2011]
02. Monolake - Ping [Imbalance, 2001]
03. CTI & Monte Cazazza - Future Shock [Play It Again Sam, 1988]
04. Shackleton - Death Is Not Final (T++ Rmx) [Skull Disco, 2008]
05. Photek - Knitevision [Science, 1998]
06. The KVB - Dayzed (Regis Rmx) [Cititrax, 2013]
07. Front 242 - Sample D [Wax Trax, 1983]
08. QNS - QNS 3 [Hidden Hawaii, 2010]
09. Beaumont Hannant - Ormeau [GPR, 1994]
10. Alaska & Paradox - Shinjuku [Paradox Music, 2003]

END TEN mix by Tengui Duration: 1:02:46


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