Functions is our new interview series profiling parties from across the world. This week: Bristol's Club Djembe.
Founded on a mission to get Bristol moving to global club sounds, Club Djembe has become the go-to for the city’s party-loving masses to let loose, do some shots and listen to the vibiest music from around the world. Promoters Jake, Josie, Ryan and later Xav, have been throwing raucous parties since April 2017 — treating the South West masses to sets from NAINA, Kitty Amor, Jossy Mitsu, Jamz Supernova, Tash LC and KG, all with a focus on having a good time.
The name “Club Djembe” is a play on the two consistent themes of their nights: an air of 80s neon-tinged Club Tropicana steam and the rhythm and drums of the African diaspora. The ethos is to create a party that moves away from Bristol’s tradition of student-heavy house, techno and drum ‘n’ bass orientated nights, bringing some of the best in UK funky, Afro house, reggaeton and everything in between to the city.
“We want to bring good music to good people, and bring good people to our events - that's our trajectory,” explains Josie. “That's what we should always be doing. I think as a brand and a label the music that we play/support leans towards artists from the African diaspora, where these genres originated from.”
The team insist Club Djembe is a family affair with a focus on throwing parties that coincide with their own tastes, ideas and beliefs — rather than selling tickets. From their first event at their beloved Love Inn, the group have grown Djembe - now having a record label (with releases from Say 3, Noire, Ronnie Loko and Razzler Man), mix series and a regular slot on SWU.FM, on which DJ Lag, Jyoty, Sef Kombo and Supa D have joined them for shows.
Having pivoted to sit-down parties through lockdown, and now picking things back up as we get back into the club — Club Djembe shows no signs of slowing down any time soon. We caught up with the whole team to talk principles, having fun and the importance of getting lit.
What is Club Djembe's mission statement?
Jake: Our ethos is first and foremost, that people are having a good time. That's why we started doing this. When we first started there weren't that many people in Bristol showcasing a wide variety of music — it was all either techno, house or drum 'n' bass focused. We really got together because Ryan and I had come from this deconstructed club background — but we met Xav, who was doing Sprung parties, playing UK funky with this focus on having a party. We just wanted to have a party that was fun, diverse and inclusive — we didn't want it to be just a load of lads standing in a dark room — we wanted people to be up and dancing. I would say that's our ethos.
Josie: Yeah I would agree, I think it really started as a passion project and we always wanted to keep the element of fun and a sense of community — also we want to 100,000% make sure it's always a safe space. Me and Ryan always say "it has to be family vibes" when you come to our parties, Club Djembe is that vibe.
Xav: Yeah I agree. I joined Club Djembe a bit later after these guys had already been putting on parties for a couple of years, and one of the main reasons I wanted to join was because it was such a fun vibe. It represents everything that I want to be a part of and the music is sick.
Ryan: That's the main reason we first started 100% and that's always been underlying everything that we've done since then. Now I think it's progressed nicely now into not just having fun, but also we're playing a lot of music from the African diaspora and it is about giving back to the originators of those genres that have given us so much fun over the past few years.
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So was there a gap in the market for Club Djembe in Bristol do you think?
Ryan: Yeah literally, because Bristol is quite a student-orientated city... the city is known for its drum 'n' bass — but it's also got these massive student nights for disco, house and techno but not so much Afro house, UK funky — more global club music, you know? Our only outlet would be sets on local radio stations like 1020 Radio but you'd very rarely hear any of this stuff out. People really enjoyed those radio shows though, so it was about bringing these genres somewhere where people could actually listen to them on a soundsystem. Josie happened to work at Love Inn, and they gave us this amazing platform to be able to actually put the party on.
Josie: Even this weekend I had someone come up to me and go "when's your next party?" and I was like "Oh, don't worry they are coming!" and they said to me "honestly we don't hear this music enough." There is definitely people doing similar/the same thing — such as Booty Bass, who have a similar ethos to us. But these great global club music parties they are needed - people in Bristol love it, they love to party... but they want good quality booty-poppin' beats, you know? [laughs]
How did you guys come up with the name?
Jake: I think when we first started because we were operating out of the Love Inn, It has this cocktail vibe about it so our logo comes from this sort of 80s, neon sort of aesthetic — almost like Club Tropicana. Josie is of Ghanaian heritage and we wanted to tie those two together, the djembe drum is obviously used a lot in tribal house and funky house and so that had been knocking around a lot at the time. I think me and Ryan were eating a falafel box when we came up with it and the penny just dropped and one of us just burst out with "Club Djembe!" it was a lightbulb moment.
Josie: It's quite funny though because I think for the first couple of years, so many of my friends could not say the word and I was like "It's Djembe," and they were like "Club Jam-bah, Club Du-jar" [Laughs]. We used to get "Club Der-Jarmbey"
Xav: I know you know just pronounce it as you see it [laughs], c'mon!
Can you tell us a little bit about the first Club Djembe you guys did?
Jake: I mean, from what I can remember [laughs], it was great! we'd sold out by 11:PM. The Love Inn was full, we had all our friends playing, we had our own cocktail on the menu... we thought we were on top of the world, I guess. Every single Thursday was going to be like this, it set the bar high. It was actually hard to follow up after that really, but we properly set our intentions with that party.
Ryan: It felt like a house party, everyone that was DJing we all knew really well — so it was five-or-six of us B2B all night. You looked into the crowd and you just saw everyone you know, all of your mates.
Josie: It seems so long ago [laughs].
Josie: I definitely remember it feeling effortless, all my friends were there, I worked there so the Love Inn was like my second home anyway. There was massive energy afterwards, we were like "team assemble" [laughs].
Can you each describe Club Djembe in five-or-less words?
Ryan: Josie, you're always told to get off the tables, so mine would be: "please get off the tables"
Josie: Fun, wild, sweaty, open and welcoming.
Jake: Fun, inclusive, sweaty and loud.
Xav: Fun, funky, party and inclusive.
Can you tell us a great anecdote from Club Djembe? Something you think really sums up your party?
Ryan: What about during Lost Horizon where Josie invited everyone up on stage. That was wild.
Josie: Our first stand-up event post-lockdown in October, we had these guys playing, Ikonika, Noire, Roska, Vanessia Maria — that is a strong team right? This was the first time we'd done the party at this venue as well, and you get a bit rusty when all you've been doing is these sit-down, table-of-six shows through the pandemic. So it was that whole stress, I started getting angry at everyone for no reason, telling everyone what to do [laughs]. But the night absolutely went off, we had this complete euphoric feeling, looking into the crowd and just thinking "yes this is lit!" We even had stage dancers which were so peng. It was immaculate. I was "hosting" and when I say hosting I was actually screaming over the mic,
Xav: [laughs] Yeah we recorded all of the sets, and Jose is on quite a lot of them.
Josie: Oh no. [laughs] I listened back to it and my voice is so loud. I think mid-way through Noire's set — it was his first time playing a gig after a really long time as well, we're friends so I really felt that for him. I grabbed the mic and I'm like: "Everyone up on stage, c'mon let's go!" Like, I don't know why I thought it was a good idea... this isn't Boiler Room Josie.
Jake: Yeah so it was basically everyone on the stage like, the dancers, the crowd, all of us — the microphone was going around, we didn't know where it was [laughs].
Ryan: It was mental, it was like the red mist descended on Josie.
Josie: Literally, then the stage started shaking and I was like "oh my god." The owner comes up to us and one point and she just whispered to me "everyone off", and I was like "okay guys! Everyone off the stage we've had our time." That was pretty epic. Another story would have to be VIP Takeover, I'd just come out of isolation from my first and worst time having COVID. The day I came out we were doing a whole takeover at SWU.FM
Xav: 12 hours wasn't it?
Josie: Yeah it was for our VIP lounge thing, half pre-records, half live shows - we had Scratcha, Razzler Man, LR Groove, Dean Leon all coming down from London to do this insane B2B.
Jake: We turned the SWU.FM studio into a nightclub, so we had prosecco delivered, shirts and shorts — the guy who runs SWU.FM was like "look guys, I'm not coming in that day," and he sent someone else in. [laughs]
Josie: It was an epic day.
Ryan: It looked like strip club.
Josie: It was so lit, didn't feel like we were in a studio.
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What is the typical Club Djembe attendee is like? What would a Club Djembe 'starter pack' be?
Xav: It's so varied.
Josie: I mean, first of all, they like to get lit. They probably do shots [laughs]
Ryan: Yeah, got to be ready for that tequila!
Jack: Good energy and they love doing shots, I think that nails it. Also, they have to love dancing, proper into dancing.
Josie: Yeah dancing! like Jake was saying earlier about the boys in the corner — this couldn't be further from that, it's for people who love to back it down.
What is the process for you guys putting on a party? What makes you decide to do one? Are there any go-to's?
Jake: We make a concerted effort to only work with people who align with our values. The people we book we tend to know quite well beforehand, friendship level. We don't want to book someone who will come down and not represent the brand, we also don't want to work with a venue that would do the same. It's a vetting process, but we don't have a checklist or anything. We want to make sure that everyone who we work with fits with our ethos, we're not out here making hype bookings, we don't want the line-up to be the same as every other line-up for the last few months.
Xav: We book people who we want to see too — their music, their DJing. We would never go for a hype booking for sure just to pull in a crowd or money. It's very much who want to see and who we want to push.
Ryan: Also, especially over the last year or so, it's about making sure the line-ups are 50/50 as far as female, non-binary representation goes as well. We're putting on a lot of homegrown talent at the moment too — we played at Thekla quite recently and we had Rema playing, who've we've just brought on as a resident but we made sure she had a slot that was as prominent as the headliners.
Josie: Yeah, we're completely going off our own tastes. I can go into the boys sometimes and say "hey this SoundCloud set is sick shall we book them?" It's always genuine. It's never about if they'll fill out a room. The gender split is a given, we make sure everyone is represented.
Have you guys got any advice for people wanting to start up their own night? Both in Bristol and further afield?
Jake: Being patient really helps. You'll always have one event that no one turns up to, Xav I'm sure you've had it when you were promoting your events before, it's really disheartening when you spend £2k on an event and you lose all your money.
Xav: Yeah, see it's going to happen at some point. It might not, but it could do.
Jake: Also, focus on what's going to make your party memorable. Don't just try to get the bag or operate to keep your party going.
Ryan: Yeah you have to do what you want to do, if you're just chasing the money it loses its meaning. I think it's really easy to tell that from the outside too. It's so easy to get wrapped up in making it, but you should just follow your heart.
Josie: I think one thing you should think about when you're running events, is thinking about how you want people to feel at your event, that's when the inclusion hat has to come on. We work with places that are safe, they have good policies and they take harassment seriously. Also connecting with venues, promoters and being close enough to be able to talk to them is worth its weight in gold. Mainly, build a team of people that you trust. We've really got that, we really trust each other. We all know everyone is going to pull their weight, everyone has their own unique skills, we can be straight up.
Xav: I think each person having their own strength and utilising everyone's strengths is really good.
What is it about Bristol that makes it really good home for Djembe?
Jake: Being able to walk from the club to the afters [laughs]. You go to London and you have a 40-minute commute with two modes of transport no one has time for that. I think everyone in Bristol is super up for a party, it's so busy, there's this feeling in the air that people just want to go out at the weekend. I think in other cities there are venues closing, the vibe is more segregated — whereas in Bristol there are loads of venues, lots of appetite for fun. I think creatively too you can really take a risk in Bristol.
Josie: The people are so great. The people that come to the parties, the people that work in the venues... without them, we'd not really have Club Djembe. I think London is very different because it's so populated, whereas in Bristol we see people at parties and we see them again, we're all about community and Bristol really is community.
What has been a really great set at Club Djembe party that you remember?
Xav: I think mine was at Lost Horizon again, the same night where Josie got everyone on stage, but Roska came through with all of his dubplates and he absolutely smashed it. It was the first time I'd seen him DJ in a long time, it was a stand out for me.
Jake: Mine was KG last month, we returned to Love Inn. That was incredible.
Ryan: Mine was Rema's at Thekla, it was her first time playing out and you wouldn't have known it. You'd have thought she'd been with us the whole time, DJing for over three years. I was stood by the decks gobsmacked, how was she that good at her first time playing out? I remember my first time playing out I was clanging, it was pots and pans everywhere.
Josie: I think mine is Noire at Lost Horizon. But we've been doing these parties for so long and I think back to parties we did with Fiyahdred — there's been so many.
For more info on Club Djembe follow them on Instagram.
Megan Townsend is Mixmag's Deputy Digital Editor, follow her on Twitter