A History of Leeds Trip Hop
This is the first in our series of deep dives into the Leeds electronic music scene. The idea is to shine the light on key artists and figures who shaped the movement, and unearth lost gems and stories.
First up, record shop partner, DJ, ex promoter, Tony Green, takes a journey into one of his favourite musical genres - Trip Hop/Downbeat music in Leeds.
Tony's Downbeat Dig
In 1992 I arrived in Leeds from Blackpool with boxes of hip hop records, a set of Technics turntables, a scratch mixer and a couple of jumpers.
Tuning into the radio as I hit the city, the first station that came in was pirate station Dream FM. The Moose and Chris [Madden] show were on air playing an Andy Weatherall track - it hit me hard and I had to find out more about these records. This is where I started my journey into instrumental hip hop - trip hop - downbeat.
I wondered when writing this article whether I should use a hipper term like downbeat, beat, instrumental hip hop; but really, to honour how the smoked-out hip hop instrumental sound was first coined, and how good the name fitted in the early 90s, I’ve used the original term, Trip-Hop.
All the artists mentioned in this article have been added to a Leeds Trip Hop History playlist on Spotify and Youtube. Many were not available, so I will be updating and uploading the tracks for your pleasure. Hope you enjoy!
- The Definitive Leeds Trip Hop History Playlist
- 1990s to Present-day Leeds Trip Hop Producers / Artists / Players
Leeds Trip Hop History Playlist
All the artists listed are featured. Youtube being the most comprehensive of course.
Youtube (Leeds Trip Hop History Playlist)
Spotify (Leeds Trip Hop History Playlist)
The Pioneers from the 90s
- The Lovely Genette
- The Dig Alliance
- The Rootsman
- Nightmares on Wax
- Black Star Liner
- Bedlam A Go Go
- New Flesh For Old
- Richard Formby
- The Bluefoot Project
- A Man Called Adam
- El Nino
- Random Factor
- Triumph 2000
- Sound Alibi
- Breaking the Illusion
- Tim Hutton
Who held the torch through the naughties
- Earl Tutu
- Danny Pig
- Today's Mathematics
- Mike L
- Paris XY
- Invisible Orchestra
- Andy Ictus
- Bamboo Man
- Saudade (couldn’t find anything about them online but they were great)
Present day Leeds Trip Hop Producers / Artists
- Jack Danz
- Chris Dawkins
- Edward Pedro
- Agent M
- Submotion Orchestra
- Noya Rao
- Rory Hoy
- Yellow Days
- The Local Beatnik
- Sangria Kong
- Gott Street Park
- Abstract Orchestra
- Paper Tiger
- Bear Witness
- Izzy Flynn
- Toz 180
- Leigh Kenny
- J Bravo
- Sally Adams
- Sara Garvey
- Izzy Flynn
- Olivia Bhattacharjee
- Ruby Wood
- Millie Blue
- Jack Danz
- Chris James
- Alice Smith (Alice XY)
- Tom Stewart (BTI)
- First Word
- Wax On
- White Brick
- C Side Trax
- Invisible Circle
- Funky Mule
- Its Obvious
- The Orbit (backroom)
- Back to Basics (backroom)
- Back Beat
- Indigo Lounge
- Fresh Jive
- New Bohemia
A little more in-depth on the list above.
1990s Leeds Downbeat Pioneers
These were all the artists, promoters, DJs, who were taking influences from around the city and making something new. A time where Funky Mule would start promoting events, alongside the Dig Family and Soundclash, helping make Leeds a cultural musical hotbed.
SoundClash Records (1994-1999)
Owners: Chris Madden, Moose and Dean Cavanagh
The Soundclash event was the inspiration behind the infamous Heavenly Social. A heavyweight night using Irations Soundsystem at Leeds Music Factory around 93.
Key Artists: The Rootsman (Bradford) // Black Star Liner // The Overseer // The Lovely Genette.
Soundclash finished their journey in1999 with the LP, Soundclash - Undo. It’s a favourite of the Released Records shop, still under £10 on Discogs - go cop it! I will upload some of the key tracks as there is nothing available online. We have a more in-depth review of these early days of Leeds electronic by Moose on our blog page. Dean Cavanagh went onto to be a scriptwriter in Hollywood, and Chris is a Therapist who hosts Chin Wag down at Outlaws Yatch Club (please bring that event back)
Amos Records (1995)
This is where i first discovered the musician Richard Formby as Triumph 2000.
Triumph 2000 released a series of 7” records which still sound incredible, with layers of synths and heavy downbeat drums. Nothing on Youtube so I will upload these soon. They are really special singles.
Soundclash and Amos records worked out of Crash Records, also Steve Mulhair managing Bedlam A Go Go (LSK/Leigh Kenny). I’ve added Asylum - my favourite Bedlam A Go Go track to the playlist (which features Chris Dawkins on guitar). You can hear here how much Leigh was ahead of his time with his vocal delivery. A style made famous by The Streets years after. Its not who strikes first its who strikes the hardest as they say.
Nightmares on Wax
Geroge Evelyn’s Nightmares on Wax story is well documented. An 80s Hyde Park hip hop artist who joined with Kevin "Boy Wonder" has become an icon of the genre. Read “Join The Future” by Matt Anniss for a more in-depth journey of his early days into electronic music around Leeds. On a personal level DJ Ease is my favourite DJ of all time.
Chris Dawkins and Hamlet Luton were heavily involved in helping those first two seminal LPs Smokers Delight and Car Boot Soul. Chris Dawkins is now part of our label Released as a solo artist. I've added plenty of his recent work to the playlist. Hamlet and Chris still tour together as session musicians for all sorts of big-named stars. Chris continues to record with Nightmares on Wax.
Drummer Isaac Heywood also gets an honourable mention here as Nightmares’ session drummer in the early days (he is now the owner of Rock School Leeds - so you know that’s the real deal).
Leeds artists Sara Garvey and Rapper Toz180 (RIP) also get a Leeds mention here. Lee Arnold (Zulu Monk), who holds art classes in Leeds, did the seminal hand-drawn artwork for Carboot Soul and Smokers delight. Leigh Kenny (LSK) also featured on the track, 70s 80s (also featuring Roots Manuva and Rodney P).
Boy Wonder has made some really nice downbeat material which i've added to the playlist.
George definitely drew upon some of the finest artistic talents in Leeds to create his Nightmares on Wax vision.
Chris Dawkins (Earl Tutu)
Chris has been name-checked above with all sorts of projects, but he’s still making his best music. He is famous for his work with Maurice Fulton, Jimi Tenor, NOW & Corinne Bailey Rea. Chris is a producer, jazz guitarist, piano teacher, and mixologist. I asked Wulls what he was like to work with; he said “music is his DNA.” Plenty of music of Chris' on the playlists.
Cooker Records & The Cooker and The Yardbird Suite
If you loved the jazz, downbeat, funk scene in the 80s & 90s you will have bumped into one of the Dig Family music connoisseurs, Gip, Chico, Eric Speak and Lubi.
They were a high calibre collective consisting of Andy Wood as Sound Alibi // Eric Speak & Tom Quick as The Dig Alliance & The New Mastersounds amongst others.
Sound Alibi was a project by Andy Wood. He was part of the early electronic scene in Leeds in the 80s. His brother Bruce was Touchwood Studios (who recorded the first two Nightmares on Wax Lps Smokers Delight and Car Boot Soul). Chris Dawkins also featured in and around the Cooker label as a guest player. While Nightmares came from Hip Hop, Cooker was drawing on the Acid Jazz movement of the 90s (and Soundclash was drawing from the electronic scene). The Dig Alliance also released a few tracks on Kevin Beadles (now features on BBE) Clean Up Records.
Kitachi (Dope on Wax)
Offshoot project for Mark Iration and Dennis Rootical (aka Iration Steppas) and Jack Rubles
I’ve added a few choice Kitachi trip-hop tracks onto the playlist. Many of their tunes are solid dub (a sound they have made infamous with The Iration Steppas) and other tracks move into a more generic uptempo big beat. When you look back to their journey as Kitachi, it was a high-end offering. The label Dope on Plastic was big in the 90s, using engineers who went onto record with The Prodigy (Dave Pemberton), remixes from Adam F, The Wiseguys and Roni Size, and first appearances from Dynamite MC. If they hadn’t found their lane so well with Irations, I think Kitachi could have gone on to be one of the big powerhouse beats acts. It was short-lived!
Breaking The Illusion (Tom Stewart).
Too much here for a sentence. I’ve found a few beats for the playlists but this is a genius of hip hop production who co-founded Lo-Life records (that's another story we have on camera to upload). Tom is up there production wise with anyone you'll come across in electronic music. When BTI first launched with Oddball (Ed Meade) they were billed as the British De La Soul by Hip Hop Connection.
The master of his craft, Tim Hutton, makes music with Groove Armada, Dub Pistols, Ian Brown (to name a few of the profiled artists) but also has a really tasty solo selection of downbeat records that i keep finding and playing out. He had a really nice 12" out on Ultimate Dilemma, one of my favourite beats labels from the 90s.
EL Nino - (Si Denbeigh).
Simon was the artist behind the much-loved March Violets, but he also made a load of downbeat electronic music under the name EL Nino. It was really good - we danced with the idea of putting it out on C Side Trax, but it never materialised. I have contacted Simon to see about releasing it 20 years later. The problem with contacting people so long after is they have moved on in so many ways and don't have the headspace or time to help make a madcap idea happen. Let's wait and see.
Funky Mule & Headz Club
Seminal hip hop and beats event run by Richard Watson and George Evelyn. Launched after Nightmares 1st LP dropped they showcased Kool Herc, The infamous Mo Wax Tour with James Labelle, Shadow and countless classic line-ups! They ran with the whole downbeat vibe while the city was still working out what it was. Their events definitely sprang from the hip hop side of the genre with artwork by Leigh Kenny and Monk 1, residents Antony Newby, Dan Greenpeace, George Evelyn then later Kid Kinevil. So much of the cities musical downbeat hotbed sprange from this event. So many stories from Mr Watson i think it needs another post in itself. Loosing a shit tonne of money going against the grain was the upshot but it paved the way for so many events and artists.
Around 1998, when Basics switched genres to a breakbeat night and moved to Cafe Mex (now Wire) with guests like David Holmes. Short-lived but really good fun. After around 10 Backbeat gigs, Dave Beer relaunched Back to Basics at Mint Club, which went back to house and became a legendary spot. Simon Mu deserves a shout as a backroom guy who was flying the flag for the downbeat shift.
Fresh Jive & Dfunked @ The Faversham:
This was my event (alongside Kunle Barker who is now a property developer) in the late 90s. We showcased loads of trip hop (Rae & Christian, Wai Wan, The Runaways, Bentley Rhythm Ace, Cut La Roc, Indian Ropeman). I relaunched it with BBoy 10 Tonn in 2004 and we took it back to being a Bboy jam - battles, djs, MCs etc.
It’s Obvious @ The Warehouse (late 1990s)
A really creative beats night at The Warehouse. DJ Food, Herbaliser, Depth Charge Its rarely spoken about which is strange as this night was a leader in the field. Taking the first 10 people in the queue ice skating on one occasion was a nice touch.
Indigo Lounge Thursdays @ The Faversham.
Big beat night run by Mark who founded and still runs Sela Bar. Jon Carter and Propellerheads were two of their bigger guests.
2000s - Who held the torch for Leeds alternative Downbeat scene.
First Word & New Bohemia
KidKanevil / Eliphino / Today's Mathematics / Testament / Mike L
Born out of Ali' Gilliani's time as an intern with Funky Mule, they were an absolute dream team. Their event residents @ New Bohemia all became stars in the their own right. Noah Ball has gone on to launch Dimensions, Outlook Festival and now runs Giles Peterson's Out There Festival. First Word won Giles Peterson's Label of the Year in 2019. Testament writes top-class plays for the BBC and Yorkshire Playhouse. Mike L is a fully-trained doctor and DMC Champion and Eliphino went on to notoriety as a more upbeat electronic artist. Kid Kinevil also made big waves (although we can trace his beginnings with Funky Mule). I’ve added a tonne of First Word music to the playlist.
Oak (Sara Garvey & Hamlet Luton)
A fascinating story of how crazy the music industry used to be. Sara and Hamlet were offered a nigh-on one million pound record deal to work with new label Interscope (USA), set up by Jimmy Lovine (watch The Defiant Ones on Netflix) to be working with the likes of Dr Dre. 911 happened as it was going through and all deals were scrapped. The whole story is fascinating to hear and it all happened off the back of a three-track demo under the name OAK (which remains all unreleased). Sara then jumped in as Nightmares on Wax singer, released a few records and toured as their leading lady. Sara has worked with countless musicians (Wulls/Gelka/Negghead/NOW) and now records under her own moniker, Comfy Bella.
Wax On Records
Nightmares on Wax’ fairly short-lived but excellent label, notibly housing Negghead, Chris Dawkins & Dan Goldman
Negghead (aka Daniel Ward)
People in the Leeds night scene may remember Daniel Ward djing in the mid 2000s . I’ve added loads of his Negghead work to the playlist. He was a cool guy to have in the city, I remember him giving me a tonne of music to play out, he wasn't precious about keeping it all to himself. George Evelyn rightly took him under his wing at Wax On!
I would like to know what he’s been creating in the last 10 years as Negghead seemed to stop around 2011.
JD73 (Dan Goldman)
Master keyboard player - he’s sessioned with the best and his solo work as JD73 can be impressive. When I first met him he was playing keys for Morcheeba, a really high-end player.
Big beat, electro and trip hop Leeds producer with Bboy sensibilities, signed to Freddie Fresh’s Howlin label and DJ Junks’ Second to None. His twin brother, Steve, is a deep hip hop and breaks collector, which definitely helped with the samples. They both know their beats. We used to DJ side by side at Fresh Jive in 2004-2008, having a great time playing music for the breakers. He had a heavy sound!
7-piece Wah Wah 45s signing. I've added to the playlist, I dont know much more about them other than they have a great sound.
Old friend Rory is relentlessly releasing big beat and downbeat music. I love his vibe, everyone does! Check his book out.
Short-lived project that grew into a band tipped for big things. Alice has a distinctive voice and James Orvis is a class producer. More synth pop than trip hop, but i’ve included it for the atmosphere and a nod to their achievements as a duo. James now has a successful label (Balter Records) and I've not seen Alice for years but she was great!
Next level producer who was spotted and moved under Matthew Herbert's wing. So he's sorted now, well done that man. Totally deserved.
Andrew Potterton (Dopekick) // Slip // Millie Blue
Andrew ran the label with Ed Heaton (Coal Room Studio Leeds), now lectures at Leeds Music College and is signed to Ninja Tune Production Music. Slip is now Royce Wood Junior (WOW!!!) and Millie recorded a bunch of songs with Basement Jaxx mid 2000s. This was a really creative bunch with their midweek events Freskatech @ Milo.
C Side Trax
I’ve got to mention this label I ran with Moose. Our biggest success was Ricky V Valentine “Ghetto Classics” which Fatboy Slim sampled (we never got a penny for this transaction, just for the record) and Johnny Alpha “Modern Women's Short Stories” which was signed to Mark Farina’s Mushroom Jazz series. We also signed a track to a Fabric compilation and DJ Yoda’s Unthugged Compilation.
Leeds present day downbeat?
Technically from Bradford, but he's only eight miles down the road from Leeds and he’s too good not to mention! Hip hop producer releasing instrumental LPs and records with the likes of Lunar C. He did his first gig at Sedgwick Avenue in Leeds. His instrumental work is sublime.
Our very own Released artist, Hip hop in electronic, works the beats really well. He's dope! Catch him at our monthly slot at Outlaws Yacht Club and he's just played a two hour set show of all his own material at Headrow House, will share soon!
7-piece Leeds bred dubstep, spacey, really high-end team behind it. If you're this far down reading this article, you already know em
A Leeds hip hop psychedelic band - added loads to the playlist - HOW HAVE I MISSED THIS BAND. My head's up my arse!
The Local Beatnik
Two tracks on Released’s last double LP “Winging IT.” Really skilled beats psyche music maker. A killer live show too. A master of the hooks and beats. You'll find Marko running our record shop, and Djin across Leeds. You can catch him playing 7s at the monthly Released parties at Outlaws Yacht Club, he has some serious records!
Outstanding hip hop producer and MC (from Defenders of Style), his music is known for being dark and atmospheric. Incidently I reckon DS are the longest running hip hop band in the UK.
Tom Henry (Noya Rao, Yellow Days, Gott Street Park)
Too much good music surrounding this guy, next level!
6 Music has gone crazy for them, Tom Henry is proving to be THE go to guy in Leeds to create a leftfield funk fuelled soulful beats sound in the city.
White Brick producer, label manager - loads of beat tape instrumentals added. Known for his Hip Hop work but his instrumental work is outstanding.
Boom-bap everyday stories lyrical master, his productions tend to run in a jazz boom-bap style. He’s one of DJ Format’s favourites. He's always one to watch as his quality control on the visual aspect of his work through to the music is really well thought through.
Super skilled - doing everything right and he's kickstarted the Invisible Circle label back up. Future legend!