Finn: “I used to listen to happy hardcore on the bus to work"
When clubs shut down and the world shied away from dance music, Finn embraced it. The 2 B REAL boss talks about swerving ambient in lockdown and the catharsis in club music
Finn is most comfortable exploring the middle ground between euphoria and melancholy. Hailing from Derbyshire but having firmly set roots in Manchester, the producer, DJ and label boss has created a reputation for marrying emotionally-laced melodies, speed garage, ecstatic 90s house and R&B favourites.
Finn’s love of the club is deep-rooted, having had his first introduction to dance music in a very typical fashion - rinsing YouTube videos with dance tracks imagining himself on the dancefloor: “I grew up in the countryside, so music wasn’t really that immediate to me,” he says, “and dance music definitely wasn’t.”
Much of his sound is inspired by both the melting pot of dance music in Manchester and US West Coast inspiration picked up while living in San Francisco, where he was residing upon the release of debut record ‘Keep Calling’ in 2014 on Local Action Records. Further releases such as 2017’s ‘Sometimes The Going Gets A Little Tough’ and 2019’s blistering summer hit ‘Do What You Want Forever’ created a cult following from those seeking up-tempo toe-tappers filled to the brim with soul and meaning. In 2020 he launched imprint 2 B Real that has featured releases from both local and international talent such as Clemency, Anz, Gage and Martyn Bootyspoon.
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Finn has been a fixture in Manchester's underground party scene for around a decade, holding residencies at Chow Down, SOUP and his own function, A Party Called, which launched in March 2020 with Anz, Chunky, Jungle Joe and Tom Boogizm, just before the UK club scene was forced to shutdown for 18 months. Despite this challenge, Finn's musical output remained upbeat through lockdown. Facing down the temptation to shy away from dance music with no clubs open, Finn instead embraced it, treating listeners to big dance anthems and cheeky bangers on his weekly NTS show, his DO!! YOU!!! breakfast show takeovers and his RA podcast. His floor-focused selections kept admirers on their toes - excited to reminisce about those magnetic dancefloor moments.
He insists this wasn’t solely due to wanting to keep the spirit of the club alive — it's a reflection of his personal preference and listening habits: “I listen to dance music constantly - I don’t have a Monday to Friday listening list and then on the weekends switch over to 4/4,” he says. “I used to listen to happy hardcore on the bus to work.” Since restrictions lifted Finn has been back organising parties in Manchester - including the second edition of A Party Called, a headline slot with Jeremy Sylvester at SOUP and more.
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In February of this year, deep into the third national lockdown, Finn established the Mixtape Club - inspired by helping the dance music community connect with their favourite DJs and the need to reimburse artists for their work. September saw the release of lockdown-created EP ‘A Good Place’, a sombre departure from the ‘Do What You Want’ trilogy, while Finn has just announced a new collaboration with India Jordan, 'All About Love / Big B' - a love letter to Yorkshire dance music, and a promise of a Christmas party later this month.
We caught up with Finn to chat 'A Good Place', returning to the dancefloor post-lockdown and the importance of having a strong group of northern collaborators.
Your most recent EP 'A Good Place' is the first release since the 'Do What You Want' trilogy — how does it depart from those records? and is 'A Good Place' the start of a new series itself?
I think it is different because I just didn't release anything for a while - I didn't work on anything substantial. So It definitely sounds different, but it still sounds like me - it's very obviously still the same person making the music. I've tried to work less with samples on this one, and I've spent more time working with the original melody, starting with my own compositions before adding samples in. In a boring technical sense, I was trying to build up my songwriting a bit, but I think thematically it's definitely a bit of me.
Is it part of a series, or are you playing it by ear?
Maybe - I think it could? But I don't really have any designs for making another record at the moment. I've got a few things that are ready to come out, but not in terms of like, a formal series - I'm not sure I've got that same ambition in me that I had with the 'Do What You Want' trilogy. This record isn't as energetic as the last ones, I think I'd prefer for it to stand by itself.
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When did you make the record? and how does it feel to have released now clubs/venues are back open again?
Yeah I mean, the majority of the record was made in lockdown and I made it when I was feeling rubbish, I think everyone hit rock bottom at some point or another. These were all tracks I made on furlough with nothing to do, it was this fairly universal feeling of not having any horizons, that sense of not having anything to look forward to. Many of these tracks were just made to keep me occupied, but that was my headspace at the time - that's why they don't sound as "up-and-at-em" as my last records. It's still dance but this record isn't really optimistic. Now clubs have opened I have played them out a bit - but they are sitting in their own space which I'm quite happy with. I think people can take them as they hear them, they aren't club records in a functional sense necessarily.
So on the theme of: "toeing the line between melancholy and euphoria," what is it about making music that's both happy and sad for the club that appeals to you? and why do you think it's good in dance music to have elements of both?
I think that's always been there in dance music. There's a great sadness in a lot of brilliant dance records — I think there's a perception of dance music having connotations of euphoria and celebration, but it also comes from a place of catharsis. If you listen to early Chicago records, there's a lot of pain in the room. I guess what this EP is based on is me listening to a lot of Jersey gospel house, even early Ultra Naté and Basement Boys records. US house music has always had these emotionally wrought records, connected to faith too. The Friday night was about catharsis - although going to the club is your joy, you're still reflecting on everything else. The ying and the yang you know? the weekdays and the weekend [laughs]. I think that speaks to me a lot - I like dance music that isn't too traumatic or too euphoric, but it's in this spot right in the middle.
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During lockdown your mixes/productions were something that kept people going and provided comfort — particularly your Friday NTS slot & morning show takeovers. What do you think it is about your selections that evoked that feeling within people?
I think there is something to be said about not steering into ambient during lockdown. This thinking of: "clubs are shut, so therefore there's no purpose to dance music," which I think was around especially when [the pandemic] first happened - people did lose their way a little bit. But for me, I mean, I listen to dance music constantly - I don't have a Monday to Friday listening list and then on the weekends switch over to 4/4. I used to listen to happy hardcore on the bus to work just because that's what I'm into. I don't know exactly why people enjoyed it so much, but I think sticking to that and actually playing joyful, fun music is what made it click. This is why Charlie Bones worked so well too... I was by no means "the person" who did this - Anz did it on her DO!! YOU!!! shows too, I guess everyone who did DO!!YOU!! in that time played stuff that didn't feel morose. I did try and lean into dance music a bit because I didn't want to abandon ship just because clubs weren't open at the weekend.
I think what is nice is I've seen friends [since restrictions lifted] and they've told me they've been listening to my NTS shows - like people I went to school with, that's a good feeling. I think putting dance records together can live outside of clubs, when you're missing audience feedback there is still an art to it even when you don't have that instantaneous feedback.
So it was about resisting the temptation to give up on club music?
Club music has always had a life outside of people who can go to clubs. I remember being 14 and getting into dance music and it was this big exercise in imagination - thinking what it would be like to go to a club. I looked about 11 until I was about 20 anyway - so until I turned 18 the bouncers just flat out said "no." I've spent so much time listening to dance music on YouTube at this point, it's basically my bread and butter. So just creating mixes and producing radio, it never felt completely alien to me really. It's always been quite central to what I do.
Can you tell us a little bit about how it all started, what were your first memories of dance music/raves/parties — and how have they had an influence on what you do now?
I mean, it's hard to get into at 15-16, especially if you have to travel into Sheffield to try a fake ID that never works. Stuff like hanging 'round DQ in Sheffield - I once tried to hang around so I could meet Erol Alkan and I said "can you get me in" and he was like "absolutely not," then I got the last bus home. I got way too into dance music before I could go clubbing really. I really enjoy clubs, and I do still get that feeling I did when I first walked into one - that it's slight scary/slightly exciting, that feeling of being in a queue and being a bit nervous. I think people can talk that down a bit sometimes and act a bit cool about the whole thing. But it's a huge thing for 18-year-olds, it's the promised land that's also really terrifying. Of course, I have wasted lots of time in clubs, but I think it should be seen as a really important time in your week. I think a benefit of working 9-5 and working in music on the side means you don't completely become desensitised to what clubbing is about, it's still really special and feels like your pay-off.
You launched Mixtape Club in February of this year — is it an idea you devised in lockdown? Season 1 saw mixes from Martyn Bootyspoon, Jubilee, Sicaria Sound, Facta & K-Lone + more. Any plans for a Season 2? and if so any clues about what we can expect?
Yeah, definitely. We're planning to relaunch it next year really, hopefully in January - just working out how to make it work now. It's going to be good to see it return. We're not going to do anything massive, just six new mixtapes. It'll be the same format - announce it on the day, we won't be revealing who it is until it drops. We were thinking about announcing it as a season so people know what's coming up, but then it's not as fun is it? People have been asking us about it, so there's clearly an appetite for it - so that's good.
Your label 2 B Real has seen releases from Clemency, LOFT, Gage & Martyn Bootyspoon — when running the label, how do you think the music you choose to release differs from your own productions? are you trying to find music that has a wide range of influences, or material that more closely fits into your own ethos?
I don't think about it too much - I don't want to release music that sounds like me necessarily. A lot of these people are pals in Manchester or I've got to know them through friends of friends, no one is a stranger to me and I know what everyone's process is essentially. I actually hadn't heard much from Clemency until she sent me her record, but I got a sense that she was doing something interesting immediately. Everything I do on 2 B Real feels quite holistic to me, it's not like a 'singles' dance label - we're not just throwing out 12"s in that format. I'm trying to work with artists where there's a hook or an emotional core to it, or there's something happening slightly greater than four MP3s on Beatport. That's the ethos behind it, I think, but then I try not to think about it too much - if it's something I like, I'll try and release it. When you get a sense of who is going to be fun to work with that's a big part of it too - it's not selfish like [laughs] - but I've enjoyed all those records. I think when you try to curate a sound or try to focus on something I don't think I'd really enjoy that too much...
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You are based in Manchester currently — how has the city changed since lockdowns ended and clubs have opened back up again?
I don't think we've had this tremendous, joyous return to clubs. I think it's going to take people some time to find their feet - also the scenes have changed, everyone's playing different stuff and people are booking different stuff. It feels to me like the city is still working it out, but that's good - no one's rushing. I've been out to a few really good club nights and everyone's had a nice time, but it's not really been this like "doors open! boom!" sort of thing you know, "it feels like we never left." It honestly feels very much like we've been away for a year, to be honest. But, there are loads of good things happening in Manchester and there are great people here, so I think it's just about letting people get a little bit more confident and find their rhythm again. That being said - everything is exciting when you've been locked up for so long, a night at the pub can be as exhilarating as a night at the rave. If you've been starved of social interaction for as long as we all have, clubbing actually isn't naturally what you want to go and do - you'd probably rather go and have a chat somewhere. I think generally clubbing and raving needs to find its feet again and see how it fits back into people's lives. I used to be out every weekend [pre-pandemic] and I'm not really back there yet - I don't know whether that's because I've aged five years in two, but you know. [laughs]
Your party 'A Party Called', are you excited to get back to it?
A Party Called was our brainchild before lockdown happened and the last one, it was the last Friday or Saturday before everything closed down. It was me, Anz, Tom Boogzim, Chunky and Jungle Joe and we were just thinking we wanted to put a night together where we could play whatever wanted, and build a canon around a night where it's not “I've been booked I've got an hour” but rather “we've got seven hours and we need to programme this and we can do something cohesive or like, we can play different sets but it's our night. It's super important to us, we've all run nights and thrown nights previously - that's how we all got involved in dance music is being involved in the running of nights.
The one before lockdown was one of the best parties I've ever put on - life-changing. This might be an over-the-top thing to say about a night but it felt like a coalescence of all our styles, it felt like a very Manchester thing and like we were onto something and like we have a platform on which to actually develop and grow. It took us ages to throw another - just getting diaries lined up, all of that. But the return party in September, 'A Party Called Two' was super, super successful. Felt like we really settled into The White Hotel and our audience has come with us, which is a super nice feeling. Plenty more coming early next year, touch wood!
Do you think it's important to have a solid crew of northern DJs/producers who are working on building the Manchester scene? rather than looking towards cities like London?
Yeah I mean, I think that's where A Party Called grew from too. There's a lot of energy that goes into looking at what's going on in London sometimes... but Manchester has a great tradition of local club nights with DJs who are heroes of their own weekends. It's people building a following right here without playing a national press game, I think that is important. I think that's the foundation of a good scene - you shouldn't be looking to build any more than a great Friday or Saturday night. Swing Ting, for example, are the prime examples of that - they've shown the city you can build something really important and really meaningful without thinking of London or headlining a festival, it's a separate endeavour almost. It's not about seeing this work as a "stepping stone," people are investing in our own weekends. That's how everyone got into dance music surely, you wanna put stuff on for your pals or your circle - that energy is important to me I think. Keeping things quite micro, think about who your music is for.
Can you tell us what's coming next for you - anything we should be excited about/keep an eye out for?
Me and India [Jordan] have another single out on December 10 called 'All About Love / Big B' - and we're going to throw one last party this year, a Christmas affair. But other than that and Mixtape Club, everything is pretty open right now. At the moment I'm pretty content to keep running some club nights and get my head down a bit.
Megan Townsend is Mixmag's Deputy Digital Editor, follow her on Twitter