INTERVIEW: SUPER FRIENDZ
If you’ve ever been in Leeds, you’ve probably stepped foot in establishments like Headrow House and Belgrave Music Hall and Canteen. And if you somehow happen to have even a passing interest in music, you’ve probably been to a gig or event at one of these landmarks of the city. If both of those statements ring true then there is almost no doubt you are aware of Super Friendz, the people behind almost every gig happening in the city, especially in those venues. As big fans of pretty much everything they do, DRAB was incredibly excited to have a chat with Joe Hughes, the production manager for one of the best promoters in Yorkshire.
DRAB: If I had to guess, Super Friends are the promoters in Leeds that most residents would be familiar with, no doubt due to your close ties to certain venues and the range and consistent quality of shows you guys put on. That said, it’s always nice to get to know a bit more about who you are and what you do. Do you think you could start us off with a bit of background about yourselves?
Joe: That’s very kind of you to say! There are loads of other great promoters in Leeds so we’ll definitely take the compliment there. As for a bit about us, we started off in about 2013, coinciding with the opening of Belgrave Music Hall and have since built up to be a modest team of 8 people based out of Headrow House. We get up to a whole load of things outside just promoting gigs. We run a seasonal club night called Natural Selection, we do a few different festivals each year (World Island, This Must Be The Place, Dark Arts...) and the rest of our time is split between programming a whole range of events at our venues across the city and constantly trying to create new concepts for the people of Leeds to enjoy!
Like you just mentioned, you do a whole variety of events. You guys are responsible for booking a lot of shows both from large international artists (Death Grips at the 02 Academy jumps to mind) as well as local acts for events such as the Two Dollar Bill at Headrow. Have there been any standout gigs for you guys that you’ve put on?
This is a question we get asked loads and sometimes there are so many shows happening in a quarter that it’s hard to recall everything. From my time at Super Friendz some special mentions have got to be Mr Jukes & Unknown Mortal Orchestra at World Island, Jungle & Jon Hopkins at the O2 Academy last year, Self Esteem’s headline at Belgrave, Anna Meredith at the start of 2020, the legend Pharoah Sanders and we have to give a special mention to Loyle Carner. I saw his sold-out show at Headrow in 2015 as a punter and we’ve since seen him sell out Belgrave, Stylus, Brudenell, play his first-ever festival headline and then sell out the O2 Academy in about 20 minutes! Extra extra special mention to Crash records who put on album launch shows at our venues which meant I got to see Everything Everything at Headrow and The Cribs at Belgrave (shortly before they headlined the arena)!
The sheer variety of shows you put on is always incredible to me and will never fail to impress. I imagine a lot of it will be artists and managers approaching you but are there specific types of music you guys tend to gravitate towards? How would you describe the taste over at Super Friendz HQ?
I don’t think we gravitate to any particular genres as a booking policy as such. As an office, we’ve got a very wide-ranging music taste (check out our isolation playlist on Spotify for a look at what we’re listening to right now) so this means that we just end up booking stuff we’re really into. I’m big on indie and pop music so some of that booking comes from me, whereas loads of the office are super into hip-hop, jazz, grime and soul which is probably what we’re best known for putting on. Andy, who runs Natural Selection, is our office dance music nerd so he pretty much covers the base on anything electronic himself. Again though, as a general rule, if we’re into it we’ll put it on!
I feel like I can say with confidence that everyone involved with DRAB, and Super Friendz and all our readers have a deep love and appreciation of Leeds but it’s still pretty interesting to see why people love it as much as they do. What is it about the city that appeals to you guys? Is there anything you’d want people who aren’t familiar with Leeds to know about the city?
Most of our team have been in Leeds for a pretty long time now which is testament to how great it is. Being from Leeds myself I feel like I have some sort of unconditional love for it but it definitely helps that the city is super exciting, vibrant and always changing – I’m constantly thinking back to how different the city centre and surrounding areas are from two or even three years ago! Another great thing about Leeds is that it sort of feels like a cheaper mini-London. There’s always something going on whether its Art Markets, Vintage Fairs or that Daniel Avery installation at the Corn Exchange, Cosmic Slop or Stretch Dance Supply nights, Live at Leeds and Slam Dunk, the list is endless. In terms of recommendations for someone who’s not familiar with Leeds we love Kapow and Laynes for Coffee, Bundobust for some banging Indian street food, North Bar and Northern Monk for beers, Relliance for Charcuterie, Whitelocks for the best Sunday Roast and obviously the Headrow rooftop in summer for a Frozen Marg!
In addition to all the great art, food, and other assorted bits of culture, there’s no doubt that Leeds has a really vibrant music scene and while there is certainly no lack of talent, I imagine it can be hard figuring out which local acts to put on. What is it that you guys look for when booking artists and is there any advice you have for bands and artists figuring out how to get gigs?
We’re actually really privileged in Leeds because there’s such a wealth of great local acts to choose from because of Leeds College of Music! We really just look for quality music when booking local acts, not much else should take priority. It’s a pretty overused phrase but a good song will stand out regardless of the recording. We’ve booked some amazing artists just from listening to demos or recordings on phones or just seeing them live at another event. We also work closely with the universities to offer submissions for support slots for their up and coming artists. Other than songwriting, my advice would be to focus on emailing promoters about shows that you’re suitable for. Think about the size of the show (i.e. a brand new local band or DJ isn’t necessarily going to be supporting on a University or Academy show straight away) and actually listen to the band you’re asking about, make sure your music fits with the headliner. It really never hurts to pester us promoters a little bit, we’re super busy so don’t always get the chance to reply to every single support request. If you’re keen and suitable a bit of persistence will go a long way!
Super Friendz, from left to right: Connor Hastie (Graphic Designer), Joss Coltart (Technical Manager), Joe Hughes (Production Manager / Booking Assistant), Ben Lewis (Head Booker), Ellen Richards (Marketing Manager), Jonny Ridout (Sound Engineer), Alice Hyam (Projects and Relationships Manager), and Andrew Devine (Marketing Assistant, Natural Selection)
Although, as you said, you’ve helped put on gigs at venues like Uni of Leeds Stylus and the O2 Academy, the venues you’re most closely tied to and are associated with are Belgrave and Headrow (two of our favourite venues in the city). What do you think makes them so special and how do you decide what gigs would suit what space?
We’re glad you like them, we’re super proud of how those venues have developed since they’ve been open! I think the roof spaces at each venue put us in a particularly unique position in the city, there’s not many other places where you can get views like that so centrally. In terms of the gig spaces, at Belgrave it’s all about the sound and the cosy vibe inside. We’ve a banging PA in there and plenty of touring bands and engineers love the system. The snug bar is also pretty great, it gives us the option of doing cosy cinema-type seated shows as well as big bouncing hip-hop gigs. At Headrow we really like the industrial vibe, it’s got a clubbier PA in there and a whole dancefloor lighting rig which really suits electronic music. As promoters we tend to instinctively know which show will fit which venue but it depends on the size of the band and also on how we want the audience to experience the show, for instance, we’ve put some smaller bands down on the floor of the Belgrave gig room because that just suited the show better. At the same time, we’ve had shows sell Headrow out super fast and have kept them in there to make it more intimate and sweaty!
In addition to putting on gigs, you also publish a monthly magazine drawing attention to the many events and businesses in Leeds which our readers can now find online. How have you found that?
The magazine initially started as a way to condense our various marketing into one publication but as we developed the first issue it became much more about producing something engaging for customers to read in our venues (and other great places around the city). This came hand in hand with wanting to showcase independent businesses, other events in the city and to find out what local artists are up to. I particularly love the Stop and Chat section where we chat to loads of our pals around the city, find out what they’re listening to, where their favourite places are and what the best thing about Leeds is!
Cover of the latest Super Friendz Mag
On a slightly heavier note, but certainly an important one, it is no secret that Covid has put much of the entertainment industry in danger. I’ve seen and admired the various things you’ve been doing in response including organising food drives around the city but how else have you been managing in these times? I imagine you’ll be busy reorganising gigs for when they can be done safely but do you have any other plans for the post-covid world?
Thanks! We just realized that we had this van sat around that we usually use for shifting equipment between venues and thought we’d put it to good use! The response has been great to the collections, it’s really warming to see so many people donating massive bags of food and we’ll definitely be looking into the next one shortly so keep an eye out for that. Otherwise, we’ve all been managing pretty well. For now, the madness of rescheduling like 100+ shows has subsided a bit so we’re trying to keep busy in different creative ways – you can check out what the whole office has been up to in the latest issue of our magazine. In terms of post-covid shows, nobody really knows what will happen. The best thing for people in the music industry and punters to do is to stay positive and hope things might return to normal in the near-ish future.
Before the world was drawn to a halt what sorts of things were you looking forward to, whether they be events you were going to put on or anything else happening in the city and beyond?
Yeah, absolutely tonnes of stuff. For us, we had Nightmares on Wax, Litany, Princess Nokia and Greentea Peng coming up the week after we went into lockdown which was gutting as we were all super excited for them. For me, though, I was really excited for Live and Leeds, Everything Everything, Slam Dunk and My Chemical Romance at Milton Keynes and Wide Awake’s debut festival in London – all of which have sadly been postponed.
Last question before we wrap up. Are there any messages or recommendations you want to leave our readers with? Anything you haven’t gotten a chance to speak on?
For live music fans, if you have tickets for shows, especially independent festivals, please (if you can) try and hold onto your ticket. It’s so important for all those incredible small-medium events to help them stay afloat and produce all your favourite shows again next year. For bands, designers and artists – buy their t-shirts, records, handmade jewellery, prints, whatever – every purchase will help these guys so much. Also, just a general message to look after one-another, support local businesses where you can. There’s a great campaign going on called Save our Venues with a few of our favourite Leeds bars taking part that’s well worth a look at. You can get wines from Wayward, beers from Raynville Super Stores and Kirkstall, Temple are open back up for Donut deliveries just to name a few ideas if you’re looking to treat yourself. There’s so much quality in Leeds at the moment, support whoever you can in any way and hopefully we’ll all get through the other side of all this!
Thanks Joe for taking the time to answer our questions and for ending on a really positive, beautiful message. I’m sure everyone reading this will have a greater understanding of how important community is in times like these. To all our readers, make sure you follow Super Friendz on all their socials and their website for regular updates on what they’re up to but also check out the Isolation Mixtape they have up on Bandcamp. In their own words:
“[the isolation mixtape is] comprised of 18 tracks from some of our favourite artists from Leeds and the surrounding area. The release is Pay As You Feel, however we’d love you to donate as much as you can when downloading. All donations will be pooled and then redistributed back amongst all the featured artists to help them in these uncertain times.”
Writing by Varun Govil