Fez – a dingy, admittedly quite grim club on a Cambridge backstreet – is the last place you’d expect to see a back-to-back from DJs Eris Drew and Octo Octa, especially on a Wednesday night. But thanks to student-run underground collective The King’s Bunker, tonight it’s been transformed into a sweatbox rave cave.
“Nightlife in Cambridge has become pretty lazy in recent years,” says head of music Khem Rogaly, amid an energetic workout of euphoric house,thundering techno and ravey breaks. “What we’ve learned is that people aren’t really up for listening to the same commercial house DJs play the same clubs on annual rotation, which is what it’s felt like recently,” Khem continues, as Eris – wiping sweat from her forehead as she gets into the groove – digs through a record bag full of vinyl treasures, unearthing Happy Clappers’ uplifting ’95 anthem ‘I Believe’ and DJ Seduction’s 1992 classic ‘Hardcore Heaven’.
Since their first event back in 2013, the Bunker team’s focus has been on pushing the scene forward and being ambitious. “We want to bring artists to Cambridge who many of our crowd won’t have seen before,” add heads of Bunker, Taz Walden and Joseph Evans. “We love DJs who play across genres, or with innovative techniques, or a desire to do things a little differently.”
Having welcomed rRoxymore, Saoirse, object blue, Afrodeutsche, Peach and DEBONAIR in the last year, they also aim to champion as many female, non-binary and BME artists as possible. “We’re really conscious about wanting to bring new, interesting and exciting DJs here who smash ceilings, push boundaries in the music they play and have a real, genuine passion for the scene, like us.”
“One of the only positives about Cambridge uni students basically having no normal weekend because of our workload,” adds Khem, “is that people will come out and party on a Wednesday if the booking is good! DJs are normally really receptive to the fact that we’re a student-run, not-for-profit night, too.”
Few artists are more passionate about music than Eris and her partner Maya. “They both clearly love the scene as much now as they did when they were in the crowd on the other side of the decks,” reckon Taz and Joseph. While the back-to-back was always planned – following 27 hours of DJ sets over five dates in the US – it was kept a secret until the night. “Maya was going to be with me anyway,” says Eris, “so we figured, ‘Why not go tear it up on a Wednesday?’”
By moving the decks out of the club’s normal DJ booth and onto the low-ceilinged dancefloor, the Bunker team create an intimate atmosphere where the energy is focused on the DJ’s interaction with the expressive, individualist crowd on the dancefloor (gimp masks, sheer net tops and a lot of bare flesh on show), who throw themselves into the party: heads down, phones away, arms in the air… it’s how parties should be.
Bringing cutting-edge DJs to a city more famous for its churches and colleges than for its club scene hasn’t been without its challenges. “Taking that first step was a bit scary – we had no idea whether people would even come,” Khem says. The parties are irregular – maybe two a term plus one big end of term party (“basically just as often as we can afford”). But watching two of the world’s most exciting DJs perfectly in sync with the small but intensely committed midweek crowd, this student night passes every test.
Ben Jolley is a freelance journalist and regular contributor to Mixmag, follow him on Twitter
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