In 2018, all night long sets became incredibly popular. On the night of November 16–17 alone, they were played across the UK by Artwork, Avalon Emerson, Jonas Rathsman, Kölsch, Mella Dee, Or:la, Rødhåd, Skream and Young Marco. Objekt even performed two all-nighters, one by himself in Glasgow and the other in London alongside Call Super. Village Underground’s Superstition series hosted eight all night long sets in total, while cross country promoters Spotlight On hosted all night long sets in Belfast, Liverpool, Manchester and Newcastle.
The trend shows no signs of abating, as Chaos In The CBD, Dan Shake, Eclair Fifi, Horse Meat Disco, Jayda G, Leon Vynehall, Optimo, Richy Ahmed and Special Request drop all night long sets across the UK this February.
The format isn’t anything new. All night long sets were a staple of the old-skool residencies that laid the foundations for dance music, from Larry Levan at Paradise Garage to Ron Hardy’s Music Box sessions. But right now they’ve never felt more like a thing. When fabric introduced a string of ‘All Night Long’-branded sets in 2017, the press release explained, “the long sets and sound trips have defined Saturday nights at Fabric and have provided some of the most special musical experiences throughout our 18 years of history”.
And it’s great, surely? With the erosion of conventional residencies and emergence of tightly-packed, festival-style line-ups, it’s hard not to feel a little short-changed by DJs who whiz through a snippet of their collection before handing over the reins to someone else, who then resets the mood for the umpteenth time that night.
The move towards less line-up bottle-necking should also be a good thing for performers. As Midland explained four years ago, “Time and time again, I have come to the end of a two-hour set and just started to really enjoy it, and then it’s over.” While genres such as footwork and grime suit snappy transitions, house and techno can often fall a little flat when condensed into crammed one- or two-hour servings; all night long sets, instead, provide ample time for house and techno DJs to establish a mood and settle into their sets without the next DJ breathing down their neck and faffing around with the spare CDJ.
But what does the rise in all night long sets mean for new DJs and artists who appear to be being squeezed further out of the dance music landscape? In London especially, it’s a common complaint from up-and-coming DJs that it’s nigh-on impossible to get gigs as a warm up DJ unless you or your mate start a night, and the rise of all night long sets can only exacerbate this problem. All night long bookings are typically preserved for established acts who can bring punters in, something that leaves new DJs behind.
Though the return of the format is a welcome departure from crammed line-ups, multi-artist nights do allow club-goers to check out new acts they might not have heard of beforehand – albeit without the extra time afforded by an extended set to showcase their sound. At Discwoman’s takeover of the Southbank Centre last August, I heard Kamixlo, Peach, Shyboi and Umfang play live for the first time, artists who I’ve been following ever since.
It’s left to brave promoters to ensure new artists get a chance to play. As part of FABRICLIVE’s reshuffle, it was decided that the recently reopened Room 3 would be used to showcase up-and-coming collectives and labels, ranging from Addictive Behaviour to She Said So. Jack Robinson, who heads up FABRICLIVE’s booking policy alongside Jules Le Meilleur, explains: “One of the things we’re really trying to rebuild is community. We’re trying to push together communities and new acts. The Room Three guys are tasked with bringing in a hundred friends to get that opportunity. When everyone knows each other it bubbles through into the atmosphere”.
The financial risks associated with booking newer acts for all night long sets are huge. However, when Phonox opened in 2015, then co-owner Andy Peyton explained, “We decided to take a chance on a relatively unknown DJ to play every Saturday, indefinitely, with no guests announced ever”. It’s a gamble that has paid off – Jasper James and HAAi’s Saturday slots were hugely successful for club and DJ alike, establishing the Brixton-based venue as pivotal in London’s clubbing landscape, while catapulting both acts to new heights – a sign that the all-nighter format needn’t necessarily be a barrier for new DJs.
The format itself may not be as rigid as its title suggests. Manchester-based promoters Zutekh, for example, consistently book all night long sets but balance these with sets from resident DJs Damian Martez, Dave Duffy, Henny Hall, James Crossan and Richie Hall.
Today’s warm-up DJs can be tomorrow’s superstars. But only if we save them some room on the bill.
James Ball is freelance writer and regular contributor to Mixmag, follow him on Twitter
Calum Heath is a freelance illustrator, check his website
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