Warm-ups are a craft that requires patience, humility and good judgement, but have largely been sidelined by pre-drinks rituals and reduced to the appendix of a club experience.
In an attempt to undo a decade-long trend towards peak time culture, Red Bull and Dimensions came up with a new concept called Get Down Early. Working on the belief that “every record is important”, it flips traditional lineups by inviting headliners to warm-up before lesser-known names take centre stage. Tied closely with Dimensions’ DJ Directory programme, it hopes to support a talented roster of emerging talent, while also celebrating the principals behind clubbing institutions like Cosmic Slop and The Loft. For the first series, Legowelt warmed up for Kiara Scuro in London, Marcellus Pittman warmed up for Sam Hall in Bristol and Martyn warmed up for Shy One in Glasgow.
Who do you see as some of the specialists at bringing the house down in the early hours of a party?
Kiara Scuro: Vladimir Ivkovic and Lena Wilikens stand out as masters of the warm up. Nothing like a bit of chug to get you in the mood for the evening ahead. Our friend Harry James who runs Snap, Crackle and Pop knows how to play a solid warm up that feels steady and never comprises the headliner. Playing b2b with him was a bit of an education in holding back.
Sam Hall: a Bristol collective who happen to be good friends of mine called Escalator To Nowhere are seriously setting the standard for how to warm up a party. They understand the concept of a warm-up and execute it perfectly every time I see them play in the early hours. From industrial, synth-pop, dub, new wave and post punk they blend the genres together effortlessly providing the perfect soundtrack to get you in the mood for when the headliner steps up. They keep the tempo and volume down right at the start so the crowd can mingle with each other and then bounce off the vibe of the room and bring it up slowly so the crowd can really get into it. It’s great to hear records played in their entirety and letting the music do all the talking rather than quick mixing which gives you no time to settle into the night.
List some tracks you’ve heard in the early hours of a party, who played them and explain why each had such a big impact.
Andy Lemay’s Picks
Antony Red Rose – ‘Tempo’
Played by: Legowelt at Get Down Early: London.
Legowelt was the first act to play for Get Down Early. I was at Corsica for when the doors opened and when his set started. I was scared for the first hour about whether the concept would work. Legowelt played a total masterclass and when he dropped ‘Tempo’, a song i absolutely love, I relaxed and the rest of the night was so special.
Bill Wolfer – ‘Wake Up’
Played by: Theo Parrish at Plastic People
I used to try make as many Theo nights at Plastics as I could and I’d make sure to get down as early as possible for the early section of his set. For me, he’s one of the masters of the warm up and scene setting. This was undoubtably one of the inspiration for the Get Down Early concept. First time I heard this was at Plastic People and I lost it to this one. Was the perfect moment to drop it, always felt listening to Theo he was playing for me. Of course he wasn’t, but because he has such a keen understanding of mood and energy and thinking five records ahead. It really felt like I was on the trip with him. There are so many tracks from those warm ups I could have chose but going with this.
Gil Scott – ‘Bicentinial Blues’
Played by: Tom Smith at Cosmic Slop
Tom is a great friend of mine and an absolutely killer DJ, one of my favourites. Not an ounce of pretence to his sets and the songs are always the centrepiece of his sets. If he wants to play an obscure french rap track then an afro jazz thing because it is right for that moment he will, not compromising for a pointless, boring three-minute transition that isn’t adding to the atmosphere of the party. I have seen him play half a track, love it so much he will just pick up the needle and start it again because he wants to. I fucking love that. He is punk as hell when DJing. Tom has a Gil Scott poem he plays over a drum machine track that he went through a stage of playing in warm-ups (or equally effectively at peak time). Tom is someone who is amazing at using the dance floor and music to spread messages, it is seriously powerful when done right. This was one of those moments.
Larry Heard – ‘Missing You’
Played by: Theo Parrish at Dimensions Festival
Another Theo one, sorry, but this was up there as one of my favourite moments from being at Dimensions. In the first year Theo Parrish was booked to play before Moodymann and he played an amazing warm-up with loads of highlights. For example, mixing Robert Glaspers ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’ into the original and causing a mosh pit was one stand out moment. When he dropped ‘Missing You’ it was perfect and I just remember looking round and loads of friends were dotted all over the place, some smiling, one even crying with happiness. It was just an amazing moment, the perfect song dropped at the perfect time. We also never dreamed Larry Heard would one day headline Dimensions as he did in 2016 and looking back it was weirdly prophetic.
Kiara Scuro’s picks
Adam Port – Do You Still Think Of Me? (Nadia)
Played by: Palms Trax at Dimensions Festival
Palms Trax played this as the sun was setting on the beach stage. It’s a slow burner but it set the scene perfectly, everyone was swaying in sync.
Pale Blue – Comes Home (Pional Remix) (Nadia)
Played by: Man Power at Gottwood Festival
When Man Power played this around 9pm, the stage wasn’t even half full but the track was mesmerising. I was grateful to hear that track in such a beautiful setting.
K-Hand – Candlelights (Rosie)
Played by: Shanti Celeste at the Bloc Wekeender
Amongst the haze of the weekend, I remember this track really doing the business when Shanti was warming-up for Omar-S at the last Bloc Minehead. I think it even got an applause. It was a perfectly balanced warm-up that left everyone wanting that bit more, which Omar S was ready to provide.
Tapes – Gold Love Riddim (Rosie)
Played by: Legowelt at Get Down Early: London
One of the highlights from Legowelt’s set at Get Down Early. A crazy synth dub hybrid. Proper mind bending. This one really grabbed my attention.
Sam Hall’s picks
Rahsaan Patterson – ‘It Ain’t Love’
Played by Marcellus Pittman at the Get Down Early: Bristol
Apart from being one of my favourite records of all time, Pittman eased it in after playing some beautiful soul and funk to give the crowd a bit of a kick that they were eagerly anticipating to get them moving. I’ve always wanted to hear this record played out and hearing the violin section at the start come in on the night made me feel ease as I knew I had records of a similar vibe to pull out for when I stepped up.
Kekela – ‘LMK’
Played by: Bruce at Hessle Audio
Played Bruce at a Hessle Audio night warming up for Pearson Sound. After playing a good hour of slow, broken techno and dub, to hear this Kekela track coming in really switched the vibe. The way Larry brought it in was so subtle and yet completely unexpected which really kept me on my toes and got the whole crowd moving and singing along.
Marathon Men – ‘In Paradise’
Played by: Marcellus Pittman at Dimensions Festival
Marcellus played on the main stage before Mike Huckaby and Moodymann if I remember correctly. My good friend Sam Jefferies showed me this record a few months before Dimensions that year and I instantly fell in love. The way vocals sit on the bassline and just ride along in perfect harmony really moved me and I instantly imagined hearing this played at a beach side festival. Sam and I walked up the hill to get into The Clearing and heard Pittman slowly bringing this in. We literally ran and caught the vocals coming in with the most beautiful sunset behind the stage. Looking back it was a really powerful emotional experience and something I’ll never forget.
Mouth – ‘Voyage To The Bottom Of The Sea’
Played by: Chris Farrell at Cosies
Chris owns Idle Hands and when I first started working there this record was a big seller. This particular Idle Hands party is too long ago to remember what Chris played before and after this but I just remember people hearing the vocals come in and a big load of us who’d bought the record that week rushing onto the dance floor and stepping to the heavy kick and singing along. A perfect heavy warm-up track and a big inspiration for me to pack dub and reggae records for my warm up sets going forward.
YMC – ‘Nu Mood’
Played by: Theo Parrish at Dimensions Festival
It was the first time I’d ever seen Theo play but was one of the records I bought when I first started getting into house music after hearing it in his ‘Live In Detroit 1999’ mix. A seriously deep and downtempo house cut, which I felt massively inspired by after seeing him play. I couldn’t wait to get home to give the rest of my YMC records a play.
How was your recent Get Down Early experience? What was it like for a traditional headliner to warm-up for you, what freedoms did the concept give you that you don’t often experience as a DJ and what were the big takeaways from it?
Kiara Scuro: It was so fun! The concept itself is something we’re surprised hadn’t been thought of before. The warm-up is such an important part of a night. It’s something we’re still learning to do properly; being more adaptable, making sure we’re always reading the room. It was interesting to hear what Legowelt had to build up to what we were playing, how he had interpreted it through his own tastes. You could hear the amount of thought and time that had gone into the planning. In terms of our own set, it meant we could go wherever we wanted. We had the freedom to embrace the harder side of what we play without worrying about overshadowing the headliner. Starting our set with a full room too was great. Usually we start with no-one and build that up over the course of the night, which we love, but with this set it felt like the crowd were on the ride with us from start to finish.
Sam Hall: my recent Get Down Early experience was seriously something special that I’ll remember for the rest of my life. To have one of my favourite DJs and producers and a Detroit legend in Marcellus Pittman warm-up for me was massive honour. We talked before the gig when we went out for dinner and the only times he could remember that he’d done a warm up when playing with another DJ recently was when he played with the rest of the Three Chairs (Theo Parrish, Kenny Dixon Jr. and Rick Wilhite). No pressure there I thought! As someone with his credentials I knew he had the records to set the vibe of the dance floor perfectly from the start until 1am and it was no surprise that he executed this with such ease blending R&B and hip-hop slowly into soul and funk and then into beautiful down tempo Detroit house. Stepping up to play after a warm-up that good was made really easy as the crowd were on such a high and the vibe I got was that they were really up for a crazy party. This gave me lots of freedom to play more peak time records that I don’t usually get the chance to spin, which is something I thrived off. I also felt completely relaxed about switching between house, disco and eventually some old Detroit techno which was a great experience. Usually when I’m booked to play I have to stay in the confines of the warm-up set and don’t get to play those sorts of high tempo and oddball records.
There’s a lot of emphasis on the peak-time club experience at the minute, but the Get Down Early series spread that impact throughout the course of the night. What was special about the ones you were present at?
Andy Lemay: I think the focus on the warm-up in this project is just a continuation of the work done by many people before. The Unabombers and Electric Chair alongside Kelvin Brown and Jon K’s Eyes Down back room sets were a big influence on the idea, as was Cosmic Slop, The Loft, Theo and Nonsense at Plastics and more recently Errol and Alex’s Touching Bass…the list goes on. For me it’s great to get the chance to hear the personality of DJs in the early hours and I think you maybe get a better idea of their musical tastes and linage this time of the night, rather than peak time when the emphasis is on big impact and higher energy records to keep people dancing. (This is of course a generalisation and mamy DJs use the peak time to dramatic effect by changing tempos and styles.) Hearing the records you normally listen to in your bedroom or on headphones on a proper sound system is seriously powerful and a total joy.
KS: Legowelt played some tripped out dub and memphis rap; sounds we haven’t heard in his previous mixes so that was great to experience. That’s one of the best part of being able to play a warm-up, which perhaps the average clubber might miss out on: it gives you the chance to be surprised and hear stuff you might not normally. The slower music we play on our radio shows is often some of our favourite stuff to play. There’s also this mutual feeling of respect within the crowd, for both the DJ and one another. At least at Get Down Early it felt that way. Everybody was there to listen and appreciate which was really refreshing.
SH: One thing that was special about the night was that people were there to mingle and chat with each other literally from 10pm. That’s usually when a lot of people start getting ready and having a few drinks with their friends at the pub or at home. Having that many people there from the start really set the mood and so by 11pm people were slowly starting to move onto the dance floor as they felt more relaxed and were getting eased in with some soulful records. Unfortunately people miss this experience of seeing how a whole night unfolds. When this is done well with DJs who know how to build things up slowly a really special story unfolds and makes the whole experience more wholesome and makes you come away feeling like you were part of something, rather than just two hours dancing to peak time records.
What inspired you to create the concept and do you feel it matched that initial ambition?
AL: It was two things. One is that I think the warm up is the most important and special part of the night but also the hardest. The best warm-up DJs are often now booked for 1 to 2 hour peak-time slots and I wanted to try and create a viable way to hear their more weird and wonderful early doors records while still respecting the party. The other big thing was to try to create a way of having amazing emerging talent play the peak time set to showcase their talent. It was a continuation of the DJ Directory concept I set up with Dimension Festival, and another way I wanted to try and support the new wave of amazing DJs coming through. There needs to be more opportunities to allow emerging talent showcase their skills, if things are to develop and we are not just resided to having the same headliners play parties. I mean this in terms of equality and changing the musical landscape as well as keeping things interesting musically.
There were people lots of vital people involved in pulling off Get Down Early. Tom Dodd and Jon Phoenix should take the lions share of the credit in actually making a mad little idea happen. Joe Barnett at Dimensions spent as lot of time reining me in and developing the idea too. Having the initial idea was the easy bit! That said I have spoken to all the team at length about it it honestly went above and beyond our expectations and the feedback from all the DJs and audience has been amazing. It gave me so much faith in the scene. Some really nice moments came out of it. Seeing the seasoned headliners equally as excited as the emerging talent about the idea was brilliant . Marcellus Pittman flew from Detroit specifically for the party and went record shopping at Sam Hall’s store (Idle Hands) the next day after warming up for him the night before. Legowelt had spent weeks preparing his set and researching Kiara Scuro mixes to make sure he got it spot on (he did!). Martyn sent a very nice email praising how good Shy One was and said he needed to hit her up for a load of track IDs. I think I am allowed to say this but we are looking at extending the Get Down Early concept for 2019 too so watch the space.