From the city that gave us The Human League, Warp and Henderson’s Relish comes No Bounds; an ambitious art, music and technological-focused festival spanning across multiple venues of Sheffield. Centred around repurposed ex-WW1 gun barrel factory Hope Works, the festival was headed up by the venue’s Creative Director Liam O’Shea and saw diverse and ambitious programming that held no hands. It was refreshing to see a festival where you could see international and regional talent side by side with Detroit heavy hitter Jeff Mills playing a stone’s throw away from local up ‘n’ comers Pretty Pretty Good.
Screeching off the M1 and into the Trafalgar warehouse saw us thrown into the throng of Therre Thaemlitz (AKA DJ Sprinkles) new audio visual queer polemic, Deproduction. Those familiar with Thaemlitz’ previous output of critical essays on their Comatose website will have been somewhat more prepared for the oncoming onslaught on the nuclear family in the form of harrowing survivor stories and a longform exposition atop a haunting backdrop of incest and gay Japanese porn respectively. Set out atop a jarring musical soundscape this was as unique a way as any to kick off a festival and set No Bounds up as a space as ready for critical discourse as it was pounding 6AM Techno.
Critical faculties engaged it was time to head over to Access Space Sheffield for the algorave. The space with it’s pedagogical atmosphere and blue felt carpet felt like a dimly lit secondary school and served the perfect canvas for Sheffield via Leeds live coding movement Algorave. Arriving just in time for Algo-veteran Joanne’s set we were treating to bouncing, bubbling beats live coded in front of our very eyes as a projected her work onto the back wall. There was something refreshingly dynamic about seeing the back end of a live set deconstructed in this way as she struggled with and against her coding software to create an energetic soundscape.
A quick detour from the festival saw us at Cut Some Capers, a new project by my friend Jack Scourfield. The back rooms of the recently closed Night Kitchen with it’s daubings of derelict vibe and graffiti conjured up Griessmuehle in a northern accent as Berlin-based Ramzi laid down a live set of 100 BPM slow jams as melodic as they were chugging. What struck me in contrast to London was the sheer amount of ex-industrial space was available to the city, cherish it and fight for it Sheffield before it becomes a big luxury flat.
Heading over to festival’s night time hub saw the Hope Works split into 3 separate venues, the Warehouse, Courtyard and the High Density Energy Chamber. Having not been to the venue for a couple of years I was disappointed to see the repurposing of the old tiny sub-30 capacity rave cave into a stock room. Perhaps wisely the spirit of this room was transferred to the Energy Chamber, a shipping container next to the courtyard where we caught Luca Lozano weaving in and out of dark breakbeat selections sending the container into full swing.
Heading over to the courtyard saw a sparse but dedicated crowd fully engrossed in the 3 deck mixing of American artist, poet and DJ Juliana Huxtable. Providing as an antidote to the standard 1s and 2s DJing of producer-cum-DJs Huxtable worked across all 3 decks throwing acapellas on top of tracks as they were in the mix wrapping at times melding hard techno and RnB vocals together in brand new soundscapes. Following this was NTS DJ Nkisi playing her trademark mix of dark, fast techno approaching gabba-like speeds. An opening track of fluttering hi-hats against low speed kicks put the listener in a 200 or 100bpm situation depending on which way the track was hitting you. Watching Nkisi it felt you were clearly hearing something new, the way she bent the floor far and away from the status quo of a bog standard dance set.
The next day a slightly later start owing to hangovers and an AirBNB shower that took 20 minutes per person to get just right, our first event of the day saw us return to Trafalgar Warehouse. It’s at this point it’s worth pointing out No Bounds that the late club-night focus of No Bounds made it genuinely hard to see everything the festival had to offer, which critical decisions whether to dedicate yourself to the day time and night time programming had to be made. A true cornucopia of options made it difficult to feel you did the line up proud, and that can only be a good thing.
Entering the Victoria Warehouse ground floor saw another trademark Steel City warehouse space, well dressed for the occaision. Light, airy and industrial it saw the perfect backdrop for Laurel Halo’s ethereal live act hot off the back of her new album, Dust. Her captivated audience swaying throughout, the experimental musician’s kaleidoscopic arrangements washed over the crowd like waves of synesthesia.
Heading back to Hope Works, the ex-gun barrel factory was going off as we headed to the to see Dan Sumner of up and coming promoter squad Pretty Pretty Good holding down the shipping container. The techno credentials of the city are undeniable with historical output from acts such as The Black Dog, LFO, Mark Fell and Plaid providing huge contributions to the UK’s dance music output. It was against this backdrop that Jeff Mills began his punishing 4AM techno set which given the ex-industrial nature of Hope Works fit the space perfectly and brought the floor into rapture with his perfectly placed dropping of ‘The Bells’.
Over in the Courtyard Batu was laying down his trademark bouncey Bristol broken beat sound providing as the perfect alternative to Mill’s minimal techno. Playing only a few meters from the Hope Works main space the lack of bleed between venues is frankly a marvel of audio engineering as each set, despite their volume, kept their distance from one another.
Closing out the festival in style was DJ Stingray with an electro rinse out set that was as seriously dark and pounding as it was tongue in cheek. Putting the phenomenal sound of Hope Works through its paces with his signature break speed mixing. When it comes to electro DJ Stingray is seriously the best in the business, and was the perfect candidate to close the forward thinking programming of No Bounds to an end.
For a debut festival No Bounds with its multiple venues and Hope Works hub provided some great spaces to build around. The festival really reflected the potential of Sheffield moving forwards. From the amazing sound at all the venues, and the convenience of having 3 stages in the Hope Works alone makes for a fertile ground for the festival to evolve. As an ex-Sheffield boy myself, my dad would have described this festival as having “the whole bag a ‘mashin’”, if he was into techno – probably between chain drinking Bovril and reminding me that Jarvis’ is Sheffield’s second most famous musical Cocker.