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Worthing is an unlikely hotbed of electronic music

Exploring beneath the surface of the sleepy English seaside town

  • Words: Al Hubbard | Photography: Kevin Lake
  • 16 July 2018

Two sinister figures creep into the psychedelically lit gloom of a cavernous, early 19th century chapel. They’re clad in black and white romper suits with hoods, and are wearing grotesque masks. For 666 seconds (just over 11 minutes), accompanied by a creaking soundtrack of computer-generated haunt music, they perform a strange ceremony. “All hail thee, radish,” blurts one over the mic, while the other chalks the phrase on the wooden floor, also scrawling crude, tribalistic sexual figures. Then they start scattering radishes everywhere, and handing them out to the crowd. It’s 8.30PM.

The duo are Noisferatu, a regular feature of Worthing’s bubbling underground. They appear tonight as the opening act at Synthesize Me, an evening whose strapline is “Bleeps, boings and beautiful noises: the entire history of electronic music”.

There’s a tired gag that’s been doing the rounds for decades: “Newhaven for the continent; Worthing for the incontinent”. Sneering at the seaside town’s reputation as a blue-rinse retirement community, it encapsulates a popular view – especially compared to the hipster city of Brighton & Hove a dozen miles east. The joke is, however, out of date. While the town retains its old-fashioned, oh-I-do-like-to-be-beside-the-seaside charm (it has one of the country’s last regularly used Wurlitzer organs!), recent years have seen dramatic changes.

Back at Synthesize Me, 18-year-old Mëi, another local act, is performing. She’s a striking, auburn-haired figure in a gauzy, flowing dress, piercing blue eyes gazing ahead as she sings over beats that are part trip-hop, part trap. On her forehead, scrawled in red, is the word ‘FAKE’, yet she’s anything but. “Take me for a ride,” she sings, like a damaged Lana del Rey, “hands around my waist, swinging from side to side, I’m in the cool kids’ club, I like to fuck shit up.”

Worthing has history, of course. With a population of 100,000, it’s the biggest coastal town in West Sussex. Back in the late 60s and early 70s it was an essential hub on the concert circuit. The greats played: Hendrix, Bowie, The Who and the rest. Much more recently, rock band Royal Blood started their career here but, for clubbers, it is the long-gone Sterns, a legendary early 90s rave den, that’s the key reference.

“People were spoiled,” explains Norman Murchie, DJ and central figure in the town’s renaissance. “When it closed, nothing else was good enough. There were a few barren years, with everyone going out of town. The back room of a café or pub wasn’t going to cut it after you’d had Sterns every week.”

“Years ago a lot of people moved away – and I think they’re stupid"

Murchie’s Inappropriate Handclap nights at Coast on the seafront began in 2013, a stew of smart disco cuts, funkin’ house and much more. They showed there was a huge local appetite. Venues such as Coast, Bar 42, St Paul’s, and The Cellar Arts Club slowly developed full calendars.

“Years ago a lot of people moved away – and I think they’re stupid,” laughs Ruby Taylor aka Yumi And The Weather, one of Worthing’s hottest acts. “I went out last night to Bar 42. It was a Salon of Infinite Possibilities night and a band called Perestroika, were on. They’re like Gorillaz on crack. The frontman just sat on the floor repeating and repeating words, letting go completely. Down to the letter, it was what a creative outlet is about. Worthing is not cool or hip, but it is amazing and fun.”

Yumi And The Weather creates imaginative alt-tronic pop. Festival appearances are forthcoming, and a self-titled album is due on Miohmi Records in August, co-produced by Rob Flynn from snappy local duo Oslo Parks (whose own output has an outrageous Empire Of The Sun catchiness). Ruby Taylor will soon be on the map well beyond the south coast. Perestroika, meanwhile, is a Krautrock-goes-bonkers live collective with a revolving line-up that contains musicians whose solo personas perfectly represent the town’s experimental scene. Frontman Daniel Parsonage has recently resuscitated his well-liked Amongst The Pigeons production persona, Monzen Nakacho (Gary Short) majors in vital John Carpenter-ish giallo synth-wave, JZTR (Jez Harding) explores the borders between hip hop and avant-gardeism, and Linden Pomeroy’s new album ‘Spirit Replica’ on Third Kind Records takes spooked, folk-ish singer-songwriting and drowns it in found sounds and musique concrete.

Back at Synthesize Me the live acts keep coming, interspersed with music from resident DJ The Reverend, ranging from Italo-disco to drum ’n’ bass. Johanna Bramli performs a set of granular soundscaping with choral vocals, followed by Plaid associate Will Dutta, down from London, doing his multimedia ‘bloom’ spectacular based around a grand piano. When he finishes, the Samurai Nights crew take over, a roof-raising showcase appearance from DJ-production pairings Tengu and Workers. They hammer out a set that fills the dancefloor with perspiring movement.

Samurai represents the lively-lively side of Worthing, UK bass and its tendrils. Starting in 2014 at Bar 42, it’s now also a label with releases from acts such as Advocate UK, Workers and Bait-Z. This summer sees them co-host larger events in the grounds of Castle Goring, one featuring an appearance by Lady C (Lady Colin Campbell, the socialite and Princess Diana biographer most recently seen on I’m A Celebrity). Others who have made the town’s nightlife blossom include Utopia party DJs Joe Miles & Tom Luka, and long-serving deck-master Susan’s Leg Policy.

Acts are successfully breaking far outside the region, such as James Barclay & Nathan Solley of drum ’n’ bass outfit Section or, more commercially, club-pop stars-of-tomorrow Kideko and Ambassadeurs, both products of local college Northbrook’s brilliantly forward-thinking music programme. However, it’s the oddball underground end that really buzzes, where nights – and sometime afternoons – are put on by the likes of DisConcert, Train of Thought and Pushing Buttons where the performances range from analogue synth dons King Dong Quixote to young electropop upstarts Kid Ivy.

“Anything goes around here as long as it’s a blast, as long as it’s interesting,” says Synthesize Me DJ-promoter Caspar Gomez. “I do a night called Freedom at the Cellar Arts Club, a venue that only holds about sixty people. I play hours of African drums, glitch-house, post-punk, all sorts; we pass out hand percussion and our jam-band joins in on guitar, sax and electric cello. It’s tribal-techno lunacy. If you’re up for that or absolutely anything else, Worthing is ripe, ready and open for business.”

Worthing Pier’s beautifully restored art deco Southern Pavilion may host genial jazz ’n’ blues evenings, where you can watch the sun set, and the high street still has its share of zimmer frames and mobility scooters puttering about, but dig deeper and Worthing is home to all manner of strange wonders.

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