Distrikt has been at the epicentre of the thriving Leeds bar and club scene for a decade now. This weekend sees its 10th year of throwing free parties to the masses of locals, students and tourists alike who flock to see the best in international talent every week. We check in with local legends and Distrikt bookers Foz and Donnie as they look back at some of their greatest memories and also give us an insight into where they see Distrikt going in the next ten years...
Distrikt has long been influential in the free party movement; you must feel very proud of what it’s brought to Leeds, and the north, in the past 10 years?
Yeah, it’s weird, we’ve actually both shared five years each really, when we look back at it. 10 years of free parties is pretty fucking outrageous really; it’s over like, 2000 Freebies we’ve put on! what’s not to be proud about that?
How difficult has it been to keep on top of that with agents knowing you don’t have endless budgets?
In a sentence not very. People think we get special treatment because we are a small independent venue; that’s just not true! The industry doesn’t really give a fuck if you’re doing free parties it sounds shitty but it’s the truth. Agents and Acts pretend to care, but they really don’t, they know if you won’t pay it someone else will, somewhere else, certainly on a weekend. I’ve built friendships and networks, sure, so I get mates rates but as for a whole package… nah! Everyone is chasing paper man, don’t be fooled by the “free” or “200 Cap” tag- line; it’s costing what it costs unless your friends with the DJ or Agent.
A difficult one but what have been your top three moments?
It’s difficult, but I guess, it’s the three times I can remember; the Octave One Birthday which was proper! The crowd were proper mad for it … and it looked like star trek enterprise the amount of kit they brought. It was stressful too, as I fully undershot the amount of kit they were gonna bring; but wow was it worth it the place went bananas. Second would have to be for an Albion Records Party; biased I know, as it’s my little baby … the label, but I’ve never witnessed a masterclass like it; when Onur Ozer took over the terrace people were losing their minds and going into different dimensions! It was one of those sets you see when you just wanna go home and throw all your records away because this guy just took top spot, a real wizard. And lastly, sounds weird, but actually leaving the place; not because it’s bad or any arguments, or anything like that … I fucking love that place, and, it will always be my watering hole, but five years is enough. And, as much as I love music, promoting is a young persons game and I’m really looking forward to the new path I’m taking now, which is actually in yoga and wellness it’s like the total fucking opposite; and half of Leeds probably think I’ve finally lost it haha…
Where do you see the bar going in the next ten?
Liquidation or rehab haha! But seriously the underground is only getting bigger and bigger which means you have to ask, is it underground? It’s probably not if we’re honest. The fee’s etc. are only going to rise until people can’t actually afford it, and then the real underground will rise again and yet again some new crazy shit will get found. It’s always the same case, it happened with D&B back in the 90’s they priced themselves out of the game, and it lost its charm; and it will happen again. I think Distrikt will never lose its charm and will most likely catch that new wave too, so it’s like part of the Leeds furniture now, I think it will only die when it’s ready to … if ever. It’s run well, and has always been on the pulse, to be honest I don’t see anything really changing; you just gotta be smart; as the stock rises the prices will too.
What credit can you give to one and the others?
Distrikt simply wouldn’t be here without Foz, he’s the real backbone behind the whole operation; the owners, obviously, played their part too but the ethos and the credibility came from Foz 100%. I think I got left with an easy task, if I’m truthful, the place was known nationally and was really on the radar but I had to level it up. I wanted to really bring the underground in, I wanted to improve the soundsystem, and I wanted the place to be talked about throughout Europe.
And also to the owners Jonny and Rosita?
Needs to be a documentary on these two; Channel 4 is moving to Leeds right? They should get in touch I want 10% rights on it mind, but if you wanna make a show on two down-to-earth lovely psychopaths running an establishment, then fill ya boots…it would be England’s answer to ‘Trailerpark Boys’. Jokes aside, I dunno how they do it, seriously, Johnny is one of the hardest working owners in the city, he’s still taking bins out at 3am most weekends. Name me another boss you see doing that in a successful business? Rosita too, I don’t know how she finds the hours she does in the day, I need her secret, as she runs Distrikt and House of Koko at the same time! It’s really quite remarkable, they both should be rightly proud.
And Matt is the perfect candidate to take the venue forward?
It’s like the Manchester United Job! it’s a hard one to take over when it’s been run well for 10+ Years. Who do you pick? I’ve compared it to United now, so I hope it goes down the shit pan just like them haha. No! Seriously, Matt has run a great student party and I think he’ll fit right in at Distrikt. He’s more organised than me that’s for sure, but let’s see what he’s like musically, be interesting to watch from afar for sure. I wish him all the best he’s a top lad.
Tell us what Distrikt means to you?
Distrikt will always be close to my heart. I was there from the very start, I might not own it, and I’ve not worked there for 5 years, but I’m always drawn there every time I go to Leeds city centre. I love to see it still doing so well, still after 10 years, it’s always busy and that makes me happy. I met my missus there on the 1st birthday; my best mates run it … it will always be my local, and, most importantly, I still get staff discount, so not much point me drinking anywhere else!
Distrikt has been influential in the free party movement, you must feel proud of what its brought to Leeds and the north in the past 10 years?
When we first started there was only one bar in the whole country really doing free parties with big DJs, seems crazy thinking about it really when so many do it these days. T-Bar in London was definitely an inspiration. Distrikt was busy from Day One; we had all the best local DJs playing every weekend then, after having Maurice Fulton play at the 1st birthday, we thought we’d step it up a notch with Derrick Carter, Tristan Da Cuhna & Frenchy on Easter Sunday. Following them we had Greg Wilson and Mono_cult, had Wbeeza on our courtyard and after that I just started getting carried away with the bookings. Green Velvet, Derrick May, Kevin Saunderson, Seth Troxler, Moodymann, Steve Lawler, Hot Since 82, Darius Syrossian, Mr. C, Tim Sweeney, Crazy P, Mark Farina, Lil Louis, Craig Charles, DJ Falcon, Little Dragon, Tim Sheridan, DJ Sprinkles, and so many more, they all came to play and I am extremely proud of my time at Distrikt and what we did there.
How difficult has it been to keep on top of that, with agents, knowing you don’t have endless budgets?
I was lucky, as I did the bookings at Distrikt before the DJ fee’s went absolutely out of control. I did 5-6 years at Distrikt and it was just a case of constantly pestering till I got the really big ones; usually when they were in the country and couldn’t get another gig. It’s a whole different world this house music scene in 2019!
Sometimes, I think, I might have shot myself in the foot, with putting all these big nights on for free especially as I’ve got to sell tickets now I work at Mint; and the DJ fee’s have tripled, quadrupled and more, and it’s not easy sometimes. Things have really changed, so, Donnie has done really well to get so many good artists on.
A difficult one but what have been your top 3 moments?
Not a difficult one for me, Moodymann. It was on Mad Friday; Leeds city centre was absolutely crazy. I’d been trying to get him for a long time; he’s not easy to get you know, especially in such an intimate venue, and, there was a queue all the way to McDonalds for about 5 hours. He asked for 2 bottles of Courvoisier brandy, and a 100 plastic glasses, then spent the first half hour of his set giving out shots to the crowd whilst wearing a parka jacket with a massive hood over his face throughout. It was dripping with sweat in there. What a night!
DJ Derek – Derek played for me about 5 or 6 times; its sad the way he passed away. I feel I’d made quite good pals with him, we’d have funny chats on the phone, the only way you could book him would be by calling his house, he wouldn’t take more than £300 cash, a hotel (nothing fancy) and 4 cans of London’s Pride. Of course we’d give him more and put him somewhere nice. He would sort out his own train journey there and ended up coming a different way every time; he was very proud of the fact he’d travelled almost every single train journey in the UK, and, been to every single Wetherspoons! He played off two minidisc players which I loved. Every night at Distrikt with Derek was special, if you went to one you’d remember, for sure!
Pete Rock – I did an old school, dusty, vintage 90’s hip hop night called Slowdown Sounds with Tony Green and James Barnsley; we had people like DJ Cash Money, Mr. Thing, The Herbaliser, DJ Format, Edan, DJ Nu-Mark but getting Pete Rock – an absolute true hip hop pioneer, who had so many incredible tracks … was the jackpot for us and he played an absolute blinder.
Where do you see the bar going in the next ten?
I’ve absolutely no idea! It’s still going very strong. It will always be the first point of call for clubbers into underground music going out in Leeds. There is no doubt about that.
What credit can you give to one and other?
I found it quite hard to let go of the job to be honest, so it was nice to leave the place in the good hands of one of my good friends. I do care about what happens to the place and Donnie’s done an absolutely amazing job. I think I’d gone and booked everyone I could and the place needed refreshing; so I like the way he took it more underground, a more minimal house sound. I think my era, were starting to not come out as much: new bars playing our sort of sound were opening up in Leeds too and my age group had more choices. He’s younger than me and he knows his music, he’s done his own thing and its worked really well so, hats off to him.
And also to Jonny and Rosita?
Fucking hell, where do I start with these two. I think the other owner, Lizard, deserves a mention for putting up with them for so long! He deserted the country for Goa to run a bar…he’d had enough of them! Jokes aside, these two fight like brother and sister because they care about Distrikt more than anyone, and that’s why they’re the backbone of the place and of the continuing success. Johnny does not need to be down there every weekend grafting his arse off after 10 years, but he does, and probably always will do; and Rosita is massively passionate about the place. It just seems to work, God knows why, or how. They really care about the business, they get annoyed if things aren’t right, they just want it to be the best it can possibly be. More dramas than Emmerdale.
And tell us why Matt is the perfect candidate to take the venue forward?
He’s already doing a great job with his nights around Leeds. I’ve not seen any young promoters come through with as much work ethic or music taste. Good luck mate!