As I enter The Live Rooms in Chester I’m called over to a little room, just behind the area in which wide eyed, excited students are all receiving their stamps. It’s here that I’m introduced to Benito Apollonio, the founder of Chester’s most loved electronic music night, NGHTWRK.
Chester isn’t exactly a household name when it comes to electronic music, however, a scene does exist, and Apollonio is spearheading the promotional expedition. Amongst the usual, lethargic student night lies a concept focused on exposing great music and establishing a great party, and from what I can see the people of Chester like what they’re hearing, and they certainly know how to party.
I had a chat with Apollonio via email to discuss the inspiration that birthed the project, the scene in Chester and what the future holds for the city’s beloved event.
What was the inspiration for setting up NGHTWRK?
The inspiration was the lack of diverse clubbing / nightlife opportunities in the city. Chester culturally is, or at least was, five years behind any of our local neighbouring major cities. I’d just come back from studying in Manchester and I guess it was my dissatisfaction with what was laid it in front of me in my home town as well as a sense of opportunity, a lot of my friends were music heads, cool kids, with nowhere to go.
Who came up with the concept and when was the idea put into practice?
Nghtwrk was actually set up off the back of my original project: The Mango Club which I still run to this day with my close friend Alan. It was November 2013 and after the success of the mango club, against all odds, I decided to do a similar thing but mid week rather than at the weekend to apply to the students rather than the locals – I had no idea at the time it would ever grow to the size it has and to be honest, I was pretty doubtful it would make it past its first party never mind it’s thirtieth, which we will be celebrating next month.
I can’t take all the credit, at the time I didn’t really have much of a foothold in the student market, there was only a handful of music heads who had discovered mango and were regulars there. I was working at Office (the shoe shop) at the time and told my colleague there – Paul who was in his third year at the university, about the idea and he was straight on board, he sort of rounded up all the people you’d want involved with a project like that and got them on board, he then became and still is my business partner.
How did the first party go?
The first party was sort of half a success, half not. We got good enough numbers but a large proportion of the people attending we’d let in for free to sort of introduce them to everything, even the venue at the time had never been used for this kind of thing. You could tell most of the people hadn’t been exposed to that kind of music before – they kind of didn’t even know how to dance to it. I’m laughing as I type this; it seems such a long time ago now.
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How do you feel NGHTWRK has grown since its birth?
The obvious answer is numbers wise, I actually had to move back from London to start doing this full time which I could have never foreseen in a million years back when we started. The whole concept has altered slightly too I’d say.
When we first started I was making sure the dj’s were playing slightly watered down stuff, we were creating a scene from the very bottom so we couldn’t be blaring out Jeff Mills b-sides to begin with. Recently though, I’ve been able to book in whatever I like and it’s worked which is obviously very rewarding for me to see. The residents know the crowd so well now that they know what’ll go down and what won’t. It’s still got that fun element, the odd crowd pleaser as we have to remember our crowd are predominantly students. Mango is still running alongside Nghtwrk so you know, we can save the (for want of a better word) “underground” stuff for that.
Who are you listening to at the moment?
I have a ridiculously eclectic music taste, peculiarly so some would say but I think that’s actually really important and I’m quite proud of that. In general I’m listening to a lot of grungy shoegazey emo like Pity Sex, Turnover, Basement and Title Fight. I’m also massively on that UK pop punk revival, Trash Boat, Boston Manor etc, however, this is house we’re talking about and I’m going to go for: Chaos in the CBD (who we have booked for our end of year party next month), Mall Grab (who we have booked in for mango in December), Hidden Spheres, Jack J, Route 8, Ross From Friends. I could write a list as long as my arm.
I think Church, Lobster Theremin / Distant Hawaii, Rhythm Section, Hostom and MOI Distant are putting out the most consistent stuff at the minute label wise. I love the raw sounds, I try to stay as far away from the whole “tech” house thing sweeping the nation, I hate it and I think it’s a fad that’ll die out pretty soon. All those kids go home and listen to Beyonce, that bait head bobby vibe tech house is so easy to make, so easy to DJ and so easy to get into. It’s creating a fickle and arrogant culture; you can spot them a mile off. You’ll notice that with our bookings, particularly mango – we’ve always kept it real but also now Nghtwrk too, I’ll always look to push that rather than selling out and booking a tech house DJ I know will sell tickets.
Have you branched out to other cities as well as Chester?
We have, we headed to Liverpool and gave it a whirl there. It was a good friend of mine: Andy from Abandon Silences new venue / business venture but it didn’t quite work out as we planned but definitely something I will look at revisiting in the future. On the contrary, we successfully launched in Wrexham in December and it’ll be our fourth party there next month.
What is the scene like in Chester? NGHTWRK seems to be the only one of its kind in the city, a breath of fresh air amongst the stereotypical student pollution, what are your thoughts on that?
The scene is always growing and I like to think with the type of house we’re now promoting it’s creating a healthy scene rather than the superficial one giving a house a bad name I mentioned earlier, I think we maybe slightly dipped our toes in that at one point when we were still finding our identity / direction, but are now steering way clear.
We’re definitely providing something different compared to the other student nights, there’s only two others and they only promote pop music and are like lad culture / binge drinking vibes, you know the ones so it’s a bit of a no brainer, we’re the total opposite. It’s nice to see people coming to uni maybe not having previously been into partying like we do or experiencing an energy like that or maybe even music like that full stop – but then they’re introduced to one in their first year and then they’re hooked and they never look back. I like to think we’ve made some peoples time in Chester, both locals and students, a lot more fun than they would have been without us.
Any future events you can tell us about?
Our final party of the year is with Chaos in the CBD next month, one I’m super excited for as they’re probably up there with my favourite producers at the moment – we’ve really got them booked at a good time. After that we are going to do three resident parties throughout the summer to raise some money to fund our marketing in September when the students come back to grow the party even further.
After that we head back to collaborations / takeovers and I think the ones we have lined up could potentially out do the ones from the season just gone. We have the Mixmag boys back down for freshers amongst a few other surprises – namely the third birthday, I’d love to tell you now but it’s too good to spoil. Everybody is just going to have to wait until we announce in September.
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