Please note: all photographs were taken before the COVID-19 pandemic.
Almost a year ago dancing in a dingy basement, it was hard to comprehend the year which lay ahead. For many of us, the COVID pandemic offered a chance to take a step back and look around. Personally, this reflection led to the realisation that I had found myself in the middle of a brand-new scene, that even VICE have something to say about.
The basement scene is a relatively small subculture with its roots stretching across the major cities of the northern strip: Manchester, Leeds, Hull and Bradford. For now, our focus is on the city of Leeds.
Like all subcultures do, the collection converged around an aesthetic. A gloomy post-punk vibe emanates from the sullen corners. Behind the darkened subdued façade are musicians, artists, poets and those who simply love to dance.
Northern England is renowned for ‘looking a bit grim’. The location, much like the rest of the scene follows the recipe for ‘a bit grim’. In the central city of Leeds, lined terrace suburbs paint a conformed backdrop to the basements and small intimate clubs. Rows and rows of tall thin houses hug the streets meticulously.
Grey days and rainy nights dominate the landscape the scene calls home: the working class and student suburbs of the urban north. Huge metro areas surrounded by hills and roadside hotels. A unique urban jungle nestled in the Pennines.
Ruins of former industrial glory serve as a stark reminder of the knock-on effects of the southern-centric politics of Westminster. Forging a new path through what some may regard as dull wasteland is a new culture. A rejuvenation of the north, not as an industrial centre, but a cultural centre.
The gloomy streets of our location have hosted a plethora of subcultures from punk to a chemically altered Madchester. Sprinkle in some garage, bassline, and drum & bass to cover all bases; The North has never been a stranger to new and exciting music subcultures. Why should now be any different?
Basements are impromptu turned into small venues; the DJ is hidden in a stuffy corner under netting taped to the low ceiling. Conceptual art fills the wall while makeshift lighting glows the funky patrons dimly.
Integral to the scene is the community zeitgeist of a DIY ethos. Self-made art proudly adorns the walls. Graffiti, pop art, oil paintings. Blacklights illuminate the walls of surrealism. Wherever you look there is always something alluring to stare at.
The defining genre of the scene is indie. Modern indie – a psychedelic shoegaze dream. Dream pop sensibilities fused with early 90s alt-rock. Reminiscent of early shoegaze bands like Ride and the artistic direction of Cocteau Twins; the shoegaze revival heralds all the feelings of the past whilst remaining delightfully modern.
Darlings of the scene “BDRMM” embody this descriptor. Forming in Hull and now finding themselves In Leeds, their debut has found its place among shoegaze royalty. Receiving an impressive five stars from NME, their critical acclaim has not taken away from their gritty DIY ethos. Performing in friends’ basements to a (pre-COVID) packed crowd of 30 or so people, BDRMM successfully capture the community’s zeitgeist.
Beautiful videos and emotive lyrics elegantly display the artistry of the band in an apt embodiment of their surroundings.
However, it’s not all rock gigs. Disco, funk and house can be found all night at the more relaxed parties whereas a rave-like atmosphere can embody others. Drum & bass, techno and dub serve the soundscape to tiny rooms of delighted ravers. Filling the small acoustics of the basements with a delightful drop, the subs have almost nowhere to escape to.
Low-key DJs live mix their magic, setting the tempo of the night. Everybody brings their own style to the task while the audience receptively dance to their DJ’s choosing. Expensive set ups are shared with respect. Occasionally offering an open deck: helping anybody that would like a go – experience is not necessary.
Music was created to be shared and there is nothing The Basement Scene revels in more than sharing theirs with the community.
Artistic thought and integrity find itself permeated through the scene’s zeitgeist. Mostly students in the creative art schools of the Leeds Universities; the art itself becomes a collaborative project, representative of the scene. A desire not to be defined, to not have to conform to a certain genre or style. The ethos of hippie times past that melds into many contemporary subcultures.
Inspirations vary from classic sci-fi to contemporary pop culture. Carefully crafted as symbolic statements on modern consumerism, it is art with a conscious purpose. Fully aware of the materialistic, social media filled society; artists make statements from an insider perspective on modern youth culture.
As members of the digital generation: social media becomes the primary way of sharing the art created. With an interested online audience, a desire to share art within the scene and the wider world drives artists to create. Being able to reach a wider audience than any previous generation proves to fuel excitement and presents itself as a muse, offering easier access to the world of art for many. Previously unheard voices and styles are exploding into the art world, championing ideals of diversity, anti-bigotry and a working-class existence.
Particularly interesting is the use of fashion as art. Elaborate self-made costumes feature in social media posts, and themed parties. Sustainable with a touch of the surreal, fabric is just another medium for artists to express themselves. Clothes are genderless; body positivity and acceptance are deeply held beliefs.
Again, the recurring theme of that DIY ethos rears its head. Creating a bold path forward as the next generation, deeply held beliefs of self-sufficiency and sustainability lend credibility to the vintage-inspired fashion.
Those dark nights with The Basement Scene remind us of the importance of the local underground. This small progressive subculture from the North is a prime example of why you should nurture your local scene.
Special thanks: Oli Burman, Will Brooke, Thomas Judd-Cooper, Tanith Mab, Sakshi Khurana