The Barbershop started in 2013 as Just Jack’s answer to a pre-party. The idea is that DJs booked for the evening parties are invited to play a live and intimate set at Shambarber barber shop in Stokes Croft a few hours beforehand. The crowd is small, but the sound, atmosphere and quality of music are not scaled down in the slightest. As part of a series highlighting important people and parties around the city, we attended The Barbershop before Just Jack’s 8th Birthday and spoke to co-founder Robin Shaw to find out more about the project.
The premier Barbershop welcomed Delano Smith and Mark E and for a first attempt, did well to demonstrate the core values of the project. “It was in the summer, so everyone was naturally in a good mood” and Delano played an incredible, fun set, which was just what people were looking for. That frivolous atmosphere of people dancing on any (semi-) stable surface available is one way that sets it apart from the other online streaming and recorded parties and DJ sets that you may find online. Naming no names.
The size of the Barbershop is what strikes you when you enter. The space to dance in is so limited, but as soon as music is playing and the friendly crowd are present it just doesn’t matter. There’s something brilliant about being able to see these headline acts play to so few. In most cases, you’d assume the sets would be toned down or have more of a warm-up vibe; but listen to Roman Flügel’s set from the most recent event. It just seems to build and build on what was already a rabble-rousing selection from Gerd Janson the hour beforehand.
When it comes to the guestlist-only entry and opening up larger places in Bristol for subsequent Barbershops, Robin stressed this wasn’t at all about drawing the big crowds; it’s more just about a great party. They’ve been offering up more and more tickets to the public for each event, “and we find those are the people who dance the most, and are most excited to be there!” As for using bigger spaces in Bristol, this would miss the point of the whole venture. “The original idea was to have people actually getting wet shaves as the event was going on, but for obvious reasons that probably wouldn’t be that safe”.
His approach to the whole thing seems to simultaneously laid back and ambitious. Plans are to maybe extend the franchise beyond Bristol and encompass festivals and other events in Leeds and Manchester, sticking to the idea of inviting DJs who are already booked for a set that evening. It seems it’s all just a problem of logistics and communication. For all the Bristol events, the equipment is borrowed from Red Bull, but they are looking for partners in other cities.
And what of the Just Jack connection? Is it heavily affiliated with their big brother or is it intended to remain a separate entity? :Well we had a great episode before a Futureboogie night a few months back: Maxxi Soundsystem and Crazy P came down’. That event got a brilliant reception and had lots tuning in during their preparations for the main event. It’s more of a showcase of what’s possible in Bristol than a Just Jack thing I feel.
There’s something quite exciting about being so close to a DJ before they’re due to play to a much bigger audience a few hours later. Not only does it warm you up for the evening ahead, but you also feel part of the DJ’s own preparations. To call this a symbiotic relationship is perhaps overstating it, but the two sides definitely feed off each other in anticipation for the main event, in a way which Boiler Room doesn’t achieve. This is equally applicable for those watching at home. For Robin, this is another key aim. Being able to watch the episodes live in the comfort of your own home is a real bonus and they are all recorded and available to watch back later. I was told that they were ‘working on the camera quality’.
As with Just Jack, the emphasis here is on fun. Having been to a few Barbershops, nobody takes themselves too seriously and the outfits are usually on the more bizarre end of the scale. But doesn’t that sort of epitomise Bristol and the whole party scene here? Having this event in the heart of Stokes Croft, at street level, makes the whole thing so accessible and immediate. Also, being very open about the location – “it was set up with them and they’re friends of ours” - as opposed to abusing the TBA format, is a further celebration of Bristol as a city at the forefront of musical culture. There’s no waiting in queues here, no topless guys chanting at the DJ, or looking for their fifteen seconds of live stream fame. It’s just clean honest fun and long may it continue.