Banned From Sheffield: How Jamie Duggan fought for bassline… And won

Imagine being at a new peak of your DJ career. Mid 20s, top of the bill in all local clubs your region, regarded as one of the most prominent tastemakers in a thriving scene.

Then suddenly, due to actions wildly beyond your control, you can’t get booked at all. Promoters who’ve known you for years can’t touch you. The police will shut them down if they do.

This was the case for Jamie Duggan. Now mid 30s, top of bill in any bassline event across the world, still regarded as one of the most prominent tastemakers in a thriving scene and also behind some of the most vital, forward-thinking events such as BassFest, FearFest and the weekly Tank dances. He’s at the top of a whole new peak and, at time of writing, is currently number one in the UK Dance Albums charts with his and DJ Q’s Pure Bassline Anthems album (his fourth UK Dance Chart number one in his career so far)

But man has he had to work hard to get here.

As bassline’s bruised and bubblesome new wave continues to scorch line-ups, channels and most neighbouring genres for a third year (and show no sign of stopping), it’s worth taking note of what happened just a few years before as Duggan and a host of other DJs were cited, somewhat ridiculously, by the authorities as the cause for nightlife violence… And how Duggan rose to the authorities and showed them that it wasn’t the music that was the cause to trouble at all.

We caught up with Duggan just after his latest sold out event FearFest to take in his turbulent trip so far and understand just why he’s one of the most influential DJs in bassline and has been since day one. This one goes deep…

Props on FearFest!

Yes, it was another crazy one. It actually sold out a few weeks prior to the event so the demand was mad. FearFest was kinda the first big event we did which kick started the rest of the others so it’s a special event for that reason. It’s always been our busiest event. This year’s BassFest summer festival was a massive success also though and with having more capacity being outdoors it’s exciting to see where that will go.

Exciting seeing where bassline is going. Events have been popping all year.

It’s been another very busy one yeah. Lots of UK festivals and gigs overseas throughout the summer along with a sold out Parked Out, BassFest summer, as I mentioned, FearFest and Tank is at capacity every week. And then any studio time I can fit in between where I can!

Yeah you got a couple of bits of your own on your and Q’s Pure Bassline Anthems album…

I was trying to get in the studio as much as possible in preparation for the Pure Bassline Anthems album and we’ve managed to get a few on there, yes. A couple of which we’ve signed to Crucast, a remix I did for Bru-C’s Krudd label and an official remix for Atlantic Records with Nathan Dawes Cheatin. They’ve all been huge tracks in my sets across the summer so it’s good to get them out there!

Let’s go back to the start and your early productions for a second. Everything starts with speed garage, right?

Yeah basically it came from that 97/98 era speed garage. It stayed underground for a few years, those first four or so years and we were finding so many speed garage records that didn’t blow up. B-sides that never saw the light of the day. That kind of thing. When we ran out of them and exhausted every avenue that’s when we started to make our own stuff.

You were resident at the famous Niche club. You were pretty young there, right?

Yeah my first night there was when I was 15. Same time I got my decks. I remember an older mate started going and he knew I started mixing and he invited me. I never missed a week from that until it closed down in 2005. I was hooked on everything about it. The music. The vibe. About two years into it, around when I was about 17, I got confident and kept handing them tapes until I got my gig there.

It got a bad wrap eventually, didn’t it? It got too popular and attracted the wrong attention…

The original Niche didn’t get shut down for anything. Wrong place, wrong time. It got shut because police did a drugs raid, there were no weapons or drugs but they wanted Niche shut and they weren’t going to stop because it was in a developing area and it needed to be gone. We were fighting a losing battle. We had police on the door so many times.

You brought it back then in 2009 didn’t you?

Niche came back in 2009 yes, it was originally called Vibe for a few years first then we got the go ahead to bring Niche back. It was massively successful, absolutely packed every Friday and Saturday but then in 2010 there was a stabbing outside the venue and they made so many restrictions on it to be able to reopen that it became un-operatable. You had to be signed as a member and send details before you came, you had to have all different IDs, it killed it. It was never gonna work. That basically was the aim. But when you say about attracting trouble, back then, that’s kinda what happened when a scene got too popular. It didn’t just happen with bassline, it’s happened across the board of music genres. When something was very popular, everyone wanted a piece of it and that included the bad elements too. If somewhere was the place to be, there was always people there trying to spoil it.

So how do you avoid this with Tank and all your other events?

Musical variety has been important and we’re very strict on people behaving themselves. Any fighting, any funny business, anything illegal, straight ban. No one wants a ban because it’s a popular night. We keep it nice and fresh as well and now have a huge student audience which is something bassline back then never really had. Bassline nights 10 years ago never targeted different markets, they just promoted to anyone & everyone and literally no one got refused. We’ve learned from that and control that side of things a lot better. The crowds at Tank now are amazing, everyone is up for it, hands in the air, cheering and diving about at times. It’s the variety we give them as well; one week it’s bass, one week it’s tech House, one week it’s drum & bass.

What a turn around from where things were at in 2010…

Yes, that hit me hard. It seemed at times like I was the number one target in terms of DJs because I was playing at a lot of the events back then and my name was at the top of most flyers. So police and authorities putting 2 and 2 together presumed that if bassline was bad for their cities then so was I. So I couldn’t get a gig. Promoters weren’t allowed to book me. Guys I’d worked with for years. Police wouldn’t let them. That went on for a good couple of years. That’s basically when I started doing my own events. I wasn’t having much luck getting gigs so I did my own.

Was that in Sheffield?

We moved out of Sheffield and we had to water it down and be careful how we did it. Then into Leeds and again do the same thing. We always worked closely with police and venues to make sure everything was always done right and by the book but still no Sheffield.

Then after a couple of years and numerous meetings and sit downs with Sheffield police we were given permission to do secret none promoted gigs that were strictly ticket only to customers that were 100% vouched for…. In the knowledge that if something went wrong we wouldn’t ever be able to do something in Sheffield again.

But after a few of those events and showing the police that things were different this time and we were operating a lot differently to how they saw it previously. The music had changed, the crowds were good, there was no trouble etc. They then lifted the chains a bit so to speak and let us look at doing one or two proper events towards the end of 2013.

So then finally with that breakthrough Tank came along in 2014 and we’d worked our arses off to get to that point so now we look after it like it’s our baby. We make sure we have the right acts across the board, all styles of music. We give people what they want, they’re safety and well being are paramount and make sure they always leave happy!

This must feel nice. You fought the authorities and won.

Well, we got there in the end. It was hard though mate, I’d just got married, had a baby, started a family at the time all this happened so yes, there were a lot of sleepless nights not knowing whether these nights were gonna take off, whether i’d be able to play in certain cities again and ever be allowed back in my home town again.

You weren’t alone, there was a whole load of you in this situation, right?

No, there were others. DJ Q definitely being one of them but I’m sure there was more. Niche closing was like a mothership closing and everything around it turning off. Police had shut down so many clubs and promoters we just couldn’t operate anymore. Bassline wasn’t dead. Far from it, we were packing in clubs right up to the point Niche got shut down but it all just seemed to stop at that point. It was impossible to get work. Q to be fair proper pushed through and carried on in terms of continuing to make the bassline sound even though it wasn’t being played in all the venues anymore and massive respect to him for that. I’m sure he found it just as hard. Producers had to do what they had to do and explore other sounds; house based stuff, softer bass stuff. It was mad. We had such talented people within the scene and they couldn’t do anything in the genre they wanted to do. Some acts were huge and then suddenly it was gone.

Did you ever get another job?

I can’t do anything else. Music and the music industry is what i know. It wasn’t an option! I just focused massively on promoting and hosting events literally every minute of the day and I made it work. A lot of events sell out now but it’s taken constant work from 2010 to build up to that point. I had 100 cap parties to begin with, couldn’t put my name on the flyer and not tell the venue. It was shit but you do what you need to do. And it’s been great seeing it all that hard work morph into what it is today. All the huge parties we do at Tank. BassFest, FearFest, SpringFest, Parked Out etc.

One by one I’ve had all the fresh Bassline talent come through and I’ve booked them. For example watching guys like Goof, Skepsis, Darkzy etc grow has been amazing when you remember back to them first playing at Tank and it being one of their first ever gigs. Having that new generation is exactly what a scene needs. And it’s not stopping, there’s more and more coming through all the time. We had a lot of huge producers back in the day but for those years between 2006-2010 you had certain key producers but now there seems to be someone new coming through every week! And they’re all very talented, coming through with big tracks.

They’re all really supportive of each other and jumping on collaborations and remixes for each other, it’s great to see…

I think social media has helped, it’s brought a lot of people together and given us a way to connect. We used to send tunes with messenger one on one back in the day but now on Twitter and Facebook everyone is sharing and supporting each other’s tracks. Fans and customers can reach you and connect with you so there’s a personal touch. But yeah, producers from both generations supporting each other and collaborating. It’s funny because I talk to people as a promoter and as a DJ. My job as a DJ is to find new music people want to hear and my job as a promoter is to be looking for talent and seeing who’s got heat and who people want to hear. So these things work hand in hand when both playing and promoting events.

Was there a point where you could see this happening? A moment you knew bassline had gone into a new chapter or wave?

I think the first Bassline festival in September 2014. It’s always been there but those years in between it was very underground. It was very raw and under the radar. If you tried putting the obvious names on you couldn’t do it. But that 2014 Bassline festival came out of nowhere.

The idea originally came from a couple of very good friend’s and well known promoters from the bassline era. They got DJ Q and then myself involved. I think at most everyone probably expected a couple of thousand and it just went nuts. I think around 5000/6000. We didn’t know what it would be like, but no one expected that. The big thing no one anticipated though is that looking out into the crowd you could see that a lot of them were young. 18 year olds that couldn’t have been around in the early bassline era. There were lots of older original Bassline ravers too of course but a lot of new faces who’d listened to it at school but never got a chance to hear it out. So from that first event we saw there was a crowd there and knew something was brewing. But we had no idea it would come back this big. Music goes in cycles, I’ve seen it happen time after time but I didn’t expect it to come back as big as it did. That was 2014 also and now we’re almost at the end of 2018. So it’s outlasted what a lot would’ve predicted and it’s not just outlasted it, it’s still absolutely massive four years on.

Massive and influencing a lot of D&B guys. I’ve noticed bassline on albums by Macky Gee and K Motionz. Friction’s got his Fine Art alias. It seems that bassline has been the melting pot / glue that’s joined a lot of dots between genres…

There’s a very good healthy strong relationship between the genres and artists. Everyone having a mutual respect for each other’s sound. So where we can help each other and play / promote each other’s music we do!

Amen. What’s coming up between now and Christmas for you?

Next up is BassFest NYE. Tickets have just gone on sale for that and they’re literally flying out. That’s without the line-up. Once people see that we predict a very early sell out! We have huge line-ups at Tank every Friday and Saturday plus the announcements of our Boxing Day and New Years Eve parties there still to come. December sees the release of  SpringFest 2019 and then we need to sit down and look at how we top last year’s BassFest Summer Festival coming up next summer! It never stops…..

Pure Bassline Anthems is out now

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