For Bobby Connolly, electronic music is all about moving forward.
“What I’d like to see happen through these conversations that we’re having”, he muses, “is people being really inspired.”
Quietly one of the London music scene’s busiest players, DJ, producer and record label owner Bobby Pleasure has been making his mark by thinking outside the box, aiming to find a place from which his actions might encourage positive discussion in dance music.
“All I have is a desire to try and make people think, to make the world a bit better with each thing we do”, Bobby explains, speaking from a friend’s flat on a rare trip to Manchester. “I really wanted to spread that message as I believe in the future this attitude will be absolutely essential.”
Previously a manager at Ralph Lawson’s 20/20Vision, Connolly has plenty of experience at the helm of an influential dance music institution, but it wasn’t until last year that he really started to find a spot from which he could begin to affect change of his own. Disenchanted with social issues both inside and outside of the music industry, he founded the Needs brand, a non-profit label and events series aiming to marry together a love of leftfield, creative music with a desire to offer balance to an increasingly money-centric scene.
“The main reason I decided to do it was because at the time I was seeing a lot of greed, and things being too money oriented, in the music industry and beyond. I wanted to show that you can do something purely for the benefit of others and not for personal gain.”
Following a mantra of “We believe in people”, Needs aims to promote harmony and togetherness, and to provide a gateway to progress across a variety of social issues. Launching in early September, the first event focussed on mental health, raising over a thousand pounds for Mind and featuring a mix of afternoon workshops on dealing with stress, meditation and home-growing food. Setting its stall out early, the preface to a more conventional party was all about encouraging discussion, something that Connolly attaches great importance to in the face of a wider political climate defined by tension in the wake of Brexit and the rise of Donald Trump.
“It was around that time of year that I was feeling really upset, a bit gutted by how things were and how people were feeling. Upset with how things are setup. I’ve wanted to start a record label for about ten years, and never quite got to the point of doing it, and then I decided maybe I should use the label as a platform to bring people together, and to think about each other”, he explains.
A first EP featuring Hubie Davison, Johannes Albert and DJ Swagger and a second event soon followed, but it was the call of an old friend that has taken Needs to a new level, bringing about a collaboration with a UN Women solidarity campaign that saw Oval Space host talks from leading industry figures, as well as DJ sets from Peggy Gou, Jackmaster and more.
“I’d done two events prior to this which were on nowhere near the same scale; this was such a step up. Before I did mental health and homelessness, and there were talks to 20 people, maybe 30 people max. This time I got some help from my really good friend Melissa Maouris, an ambassador for UN women and specifically for HeForShe. She curated the talks, and they went really well. I’m really critical of everything I do, but with these I couldn’t really fault them. They were really fantastic.”
A highly respected PR specialist with strong contacts in feminist circles, Maouris was key in what turned out to be an outstanding event promoting gender equality in the music industry. Featuring talks from Mixcloud, RA, shesaidso and AIM, the programme covered topics like parenthood in music, inspiring females and the future of women on the stage, the latter counting Munroe Bergdorf, Peggy Gou and Chloe Howl among the panelists.
“We were trying to highlight the issues, and to really try and focus on how to move forward, as opposed to lamenting the problem. Making sure that these talks are looking at the future, and solutions to the problems. Someone like Peggy Gou has got so much exposure right now, and people are listening to what she’s saying as well as what she’s doing. So it’s important that you have the backing of people with profile, because you want to be inspiring people, and if inspirational figures within the scene are involved, it’ll only amplify that.”
(The largest Needs event to date, Needs x HeForShe brought leading industry figures to the stage for dialogue around some of the industry's most pressing issues)
What impressed him most, he admits, was the level of engagement that the talks provoked, a positive outcome that he believes is reflective of a heightened sense of purpose in the discourse around dance music at the moment.
“Without getting too deep and spiritual, I think there’s a bit of a consciousness shift for my generation and below”, he professes. “Not that older generations are excluded from that, but I think there’s a realisation now that it’s our planet, and structures that they’ve left are a bit old. It’s time to look forward now.”
Why then, is dance music such a suitable platform for such social issues to be discussed?
“Electronic music, by nature, is very futuristic. It comes from people like Drexciya making music about a dystopian future, and dance music culture comes from marginalised people in society coming together and feeling accepted and feeling like we’re all one, so by nature the whole scene is coming from a place that is fertile ground for these conversations.
“I think the club is one of those places where 90% of the people in there would have the same opinion on things like equality, or the refugee crisis. If you were to go round and ask everyone the same question, you’d often find the same answers coming back a lot of the time. It’s a gathering of like minded people, and so messages spread quickly. There’s a lot of people thinking and talking about it in that world, but my worry is that it’s an echo chamber, and it’s not getting out of that bubble. [Needs] is really about making real change.”
That sort of change, you could argue, is more likely to be inspired by characters within the dance sphere, a scene that is built on a constant pursuit of discovery, evolution and transformation. Though persistent issues of gender and racial inequality are still rife across the entire industry, significant signs of progress give hope to those aiming to level the playing field.
“It’s always changing shape, through its entire lifespan [dance music] has never stayed the same; the same can’t be said of all other genres of music. Music’s a feeling really, so it’s no coincidence that people who are into electronic music should be more revolutionary in their ideas, or perhaps more forward thinking.
“Not to knock people who only listen to chart music, or whatever, but it’s the people who love to hear things that they don’t know who are more likely to be open to new ideas (in general), and the next ideology. It’s all interlinked.”
(A fascinating set of talks included the likes of Mixcloud, AIM, shesaidso and an RA Exchange podcast with B.Traits as Needs teamed up with UN Women to present HeForShe)
Supporting his Needs work with other endeavours, including a recently launched Pleasure Club night at London spot Lion & Lamb, Connolly has given his Bobby Pleasure alias a significant boost in recent months, earning himself high profile slots at festivals like Houghton as well as the inaugural inner city electronic, which takes place in Leeds this coming June. Organised by his former colleague Ralph Lawson, the multi-venue festival will adopt a similar approach, combining sets from the likes of Floating Points, Dopplereffekt, Avalon Emerson and Helena Hauff with talks and workshops aiming to open the floor to a broader crowd than ever before.
“I was really happy to see the likes of [local non-profit parties] Cosmic Slop, Brudenell Groove and Equaliser being approached, because Leeds is having a bit of an underground resurgence, and there’s a lot of young people doing a lot of really, really, really cool things”, he said, speaking fondly of a city that he lived in for three years during his bachelor's degree.
Combining high profile stars and the creative DIY groups that have become prominent in Leeds over the last few years, inner city electronic can boast talks and workshops led by community leaders and international stars alike, with KiNK being just one example.
“I think that’s a massive part of it, people seeing that an artist doesn’t need to go and do that, but they’ll still give their time for a good cause. Time is the most valuable thing we have in this life, so the fact that people will give that up for free shows that they want to give something back.
“The Craig Richards masterclass is another example: people are gonna love to hear that, and love to hear what somebody so respected has to say. You never know who that’ll bring in, because they might not have been into the cause before, but might come because they’re interested in the music. Peggy was on the She Said So panel, for example, and there would have been some people there just because they love her, they might not have known too much about the cause before. They love the artists, so they go, and then they learn as well. So it’s a two-way thing.”
(Peggy Gou spoke and played at Needs presents HeForShe, held at Oval Space in London)
Returning to the idea of inspiration, Bobby’s message is clear. Progress will come, but every effort must go into opening up new channels for younger generations to get involved.
“What I’d like to see happen through these conversations that we’re having, is people being really inspired. I want the next person who’s going to be in parliament, they’re the people we need to be reaching. It needs to be some kind of movement, without sounding too revolutionary, but that’s how I see it. I think (dance music’s) historical background makes it fertile for these kind of conversations.
“My pay comes in the form of helping those less fortunate than me, raising awareness for their cause, encouraging social unification and hopefully inspiring others to do the same. That's why I'm doing it.”
Bobby Pleasure appears at inner city electronic in Leeds on Saturday 2nd June, on a day that also features a variety of workshops, talks, live performances and DJ sets at a variety of the city’s best venues.
Photo courtesy of Bobby Pleasure
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