Durham’s Techno Renaissance


Durham’s musical heritage is steeped in history. Largely characterised by choral pedigree and unforgiving nightclubs offering not entirely unwelcome clichés. However, the music scene extends further than the Cathedral and Jimmy Allen’s.

The underground renaissance is a nationwide phenomenon that promotes many electronic genres. Yet, techno’s promotion in the UK offers promise for the future of Durham’s scene.

Durham’s student artists wield more influence, are we witnessing a mentality shift towards electronic music and, therefore, this university’s music scene? Or, is Durham ultimately incapable of nurturing techno and the student DJs attached?

While Durham is dominated by venues devoted to ‘Top 40’ anthems, it also harbours innovative students driven by nothing more than their love for experimenting with music. For instance, Louis Heidensohn (Co-leader of Continental with Madu Gadzama and Emily Kelly) suggests that the idea to promote and perform came from a pre-drinks. Heidensohn’s motivation embodies the purity of Continental’s aim, which is to save friends from bad music one song at a time. No more, no less. Continental wants to provide a platform for electronic music, particularly techno, to all.

Yet, Durham’s nightlife is an obstacle to this.

There are few clubs licenced to host events as seen in surrounding cities like Leeds and Newcastle because of various factors, including the infamous 2am cut-off. However, Continental’s work emphasises that those enthused by underrepresented genres can widen its listenership.

Clearly, Durham’s nightclubs need to diversify their offering to accommodate student artists to further endorse electronic music. Nonetheless, this diversification has risks attached. Nightlife is as sustainable as the financial profit it accrued from it. Thus, challenges arise from the short-term nature of student artists; they are not at the university forever.

Both Aidan Conlon and Alfie Woodrow (the DJ pairing PEAAR) underline the inherent risk of entrusting student DJs to generate enough revenue.

For example, Woodrow argues that exclusively student-based nights are a ‘step in the right direction’ but can be ‘tough for student promoters’ because of increasing expenses to secure big names, such as Folamour’s recent set on 22nd November. Often, the expenses involved deter student promoters, and therefore DJs, from creating further events. Yet, we as a student community, can changethis by supporting and endorsing the organisers, artists, and the music.

Conveniently, supporting these events is helped by techno’s versatility. Techno is a loaded term. It is usually in reference to heavy rigid sounds with four beats per bar, however, it is not constrained to a singular style. For instance, the use of synthesisers varies and creates texture to each song by layering different sounds.

Crucially, techno is often used by DJs in conjunction with other genres, such as house, acid house, and sometimes garage depending on the beats per minute (bpm). However, is techno’s versatility valueless when improving its exposure unless its listenership increases and experiences it?

            I argue it is, to some extent. Often, music preferences are formed on experiences. Many are sentimental, but most preferences derive from the music’s hedonistic value. Yet, unlike mainstream genres, techno’s representation hinges on the music and its treatment. As with painting, the paints demand the artist’s appreciation and manipulation to form a work of art. In this way, selectors use techno to form an experience for the listener. Understanding this remedies the apparent inaccessibility of the genre, because it shows that techno is more than a simple playlist, but an art form.

Both Conlon and Woodrow underline this suggesting that ‘you’re there for the three hours at an event because the selector is taking you further than simply dropping banger after banger; he’s taking you on a journey.’

Crucially, both members of PEAAR cite this as their motivation to DJ. Their aim is to immerse listeners in the music. Yet, it seems a disconnect arises between those that want to watch a DJ and others that want to experience the music.

Woodrow suggests that ‘wherever you are in the room everyone is angled towards the DJ. That’s where the disconnect lies because you get people who are into it for the music rather than being fixated on the DJ.’

Left to right: Madu Gadzama, Louis Heidensohn and Gus Cooney; Image courtesy of Louis Heidensohn

Importantly, PEAAR’s motivation encapsulates the mentality we should adopt towards techno and student DJs. The aim of the events is to give techno music more exposure and assist listeners’ enjoyment. In this way, providing techno with a greater platform in Durham will encourage listeners to be open-minded and perhaps experiment with music too.

Elsewhere, Heidensohn reinforces the importance of open-mindedness saying that he ‘never had a plan’ to DJ and started because of thoughts shared with Gadzama on the music itself. This embodies the open-mindedness that we must adopt towards techno; although, can it help techno’s exposure and growth in Durham?

Ultimately, Durham is capable of increasing techno’s exposure and nurturing student talent. However, it requires the us, as a student body, to support student DJs. For instance, both PEAAR and Heidensohnagree that Durham’s music scene can diversify and encourage all listeners to give techno a chance. Durham’s student body of 18,707 (2018/19) includes people from all walks of life. Giving student DJ events a chance helps immensely to reinforce the tolerance of the university community and provide techno, and other electronic genres, with a stronger platform.

Supporting the craft of Durham DJs will increase the popularity of student events celebrating electronic music, particularly techno, and thus encourage the Durham scene to be more open-minded. This does not mean we must enjoy the music on offer; but instead, we should endorse those trying to help us experience it.

Conlon summarises saying that ‘it’s hard to dislike something you’ve never heard. It isn’t a competition. It’s just about supporting your mates and the genre.’

In other words, why not give these events a go?

Changing musical culture to accommodate techno and other electronic genres is impossible without reformulating our attitude towards student DJs. In essence, our open-mindedness and support of student DJs will help form a sustainable platform for techno in Durham.

Continental are pioneering these events with one on the 24th January 2020 at World Headquarters showcasing Durham DJs including Heidensohn, Gadzama, and Kelly alongside PEAAR with the underground giant Hidden Sphere’s headlining.

Image: Dj by Victor Camilo via Creative Commons

8 thoughts on “Durham’s Techno Renaissance

  • Lol you write an article about techno in Durham but can’t even mention the only dedicated techno night in Durham. Come on Louis and Madu what you chatting 😉

    Good luck in January! Xxx

  • this article is a meme

  • In my opinion techno has all but gone from the scene, the jungle is massive however 🤪

  • I didn’t know techno was spelt ‘GaRiG’ am I right ladies??!

  • Salt from the competition… all meme(me) with u shlads

  • Salt from the competition… for some it’s all about meme(me)


Leave a Reply to Harry Whittaker Cancel reply

Your email address will not be published.


This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.