Oxford may boast of many things- but its nightlife has never been one of them. But despite the paucity of reputable clubs and big names coming to perform, there have been a few people trying to change that; one of whom is Simon, the brains behind Oxford’s biggest hip hop night and antipode to Retox, ‘Deep Cover’.
Deep Cover has been paving the way for alternative music nights since launching almost two years ago, in reaction to the sufficiently stale music scene. “There was nowhere to reliably listen to Hip-Hop on a night out – save the Park End R&B floor” Simon tells me. “I was sick of it, so thought I’d have a crack at starting a night.”
Following the success of The Bug and their ‘Serious Business Show’ with Flowdan last year, Friday sees Deep Cover reeling in Grime heavyweights P Money and Big Narstie for the Oxford stop of the ‘ORIGINATORS TOUR’. “In the last year or so I’ve been privileged enough to link up with some seriously talented DJs, producers and musicians, so now we’ve been taking things a lot more seriously, for their sake and for the sake of the scene they represent” Simon tells me.
But artists like these coming to Oxford are still few and far between, and Simon tells me how the scene hasn’t changed all that much since Deep Cover’s early days. “The university nights still lean too heavily on nostalgia, gimmicks and irony for my liking. Although there have been some significant moves – Calligraphy linking up with Switch at the O2 for example, Deep Cover bridging the town-gown gap and booking big artists, and Functions on the Low making Grime nights work with the Oxford University crowd.”
But despite these developments, there’s still a much smaller following and support network for underground and progressive music in Oxford, compared to other student cities like Bristol or Leeds. “I don’t think Oxford students in particular really know what they want, which makes it very difficult for someone like me to predict how events will be received.” Simon tells me. “They’ll often attend nights because of whoever else is already going, moving in packs towards whichever event currently has the most socialites endorsing it. We try to be an exception to the rule by keeping our nights strictly content-based, but it’s not always easy.”
And the task of keeping the alternative music scene alive has been made all the more difficult with the closing of Carbon last term, giving the Shuffle nights a one-up. “Fundamentally though, I don’t feel pressure to keep anything alive” Simon says. “My cards are on the table, I’m putting in enough work. It’s the general club-going public who should feel pressure. Each and every one on a night out in Oxford has a kind of voting power, and if nights concerned with music aren’t receiving enough support, then they’ll disappear.”
But if Deep Cover’s upcoming line-up is anything to go by, we needn’t worry just yet. “Booking someone like The Bug from beginning to end involves weeks/months of emails, argument and compromise, and often come to nothing” Simon tells me. “These days it’s a little easier getting things off the ground because we’ve proven ourselves capable, got a few contacts and a bit more money to play with. Fortunately we’ve found that hard work pays off.”
I ask Simon what’s on the horizon for Deep Cover, and whether we might be seeing any collaborations with other local grime promotor Calligraphy.“The DC-Calligraphy link up will definitely happen soon; myself and one of my DJs are already playing at their upcoming event on Valentine’s day with Mumdance & Riko Dan, but the full collaboration show will take a bit longer to put together. It’ll blow doors off hinges though, for sure.”
“After P Money we’re going to step back from big bookings for a few months. Deep Cover nights will run as usual, but with the focus returning to our acts, local artists and what we represent. We’re beginning our transition from an events/promotion organization to something more like a record label, and that will require a lot of attention. We’re also looking to get some shows sorted in other cities in the Spring. And a few other collaborations I’m sure.”
A whole lot more ground to cover…
Where: The Cellar
When: This Friday
How much: £8 with flyer
Link to event: https://www.facebook.com/events/394935390660097