Yorkshire, England: Warp Celebrates 20 Years with Outdoor Movie screening
Stand outside Costa Coffee on Sheffield's Division Street and you could be on any high street in the UK.
But the homogenous branding hides a nugget of British music history. In the late eighties it was the home of Warp Records one of the UK's most important independent record labels. Signing acts including Aphex Twin, Squarepusher and Nightmares on Wax, its name became synonymous with enduring electronic music and later Warp ventured into guitar music, with acts such as Maximo Park, and filmmaking with the likes of Shane Meadows' This is England, which won the Best British Film BAFTA in 2007. It all started with a ВЈ40 allowance grant and a record shop in Sheffield. Back in 1989, that was enough to get the now internationally prestigious label Warp Records off the ground. Founders Steve Beckett and Rob Mitchell had opened their record shop a couple of years earlier and the concrete-clad store soon became a musical melting pot. Tickets for parties were sold, friends would meet and musical networks were forged. Two of Warp's visitors were particularly pivotal to the label's future success. Using modest, bedroom-based recording equipment, Kevin Harper and George Evelyn produced a single called Dextrous and took it to Warp. Despite having no experience of pressing records, Beckett and Mitchell set up a label and Evelyn and Harper later became known as Nightmares on Wax. "It was no big plan really," says Beckett, speaking from a New York hotel room. "The idea was to get a little shop on Division Street up and running, then we decided to press up our own white label that was the only plan we had at the time." Originally called Warped Records, the first track to emerge was Sheffield's Forgemasters' Track With No Name. Warped soon became Warp, as pronouncing "warped" over the telephone became problematic. The single was pressed and distributed with an Enterprise Allowance Grant and a rental car. "We were totally broke," adds Beckett. "We didn't have cars or anything, so we just hired a car and drove the white labels round the UK." But the release of Nightmares on Wax's Dextrous quickly changed their fortunes. Without any promotion, the single sold 30,000 copies. More success followed. Warp's fifth release, LFO's single release, LFO, reached number 12 in the UK charts, quickly followed by a top 20 place for fellow Warp act Tricky Disco. "I can just tell by going into my senses whether something's real or not," says Beckett. "It's unquantifiable. That's the bit of magic that defines signing a great artist." But finding, signing and releasing an artist is a slow process. "You seem to have years where you're consolidating on acts that are coming through and then one of them breaks through. This year, the big act that's broken through for us in the States is Grizzly Bear." The industrial landscape of Sheffield shaped the character of Warp. "Consciously or unconsciously, the first track we put out was Forgemasters and I still remember going past Forgemasters (steel works] and seeing the sparks from the steel works," says Beckett. "It may seem a bit romantic but it's analogous to a lot of the music that we were putting out and a lot of the bands had studios set up in these old rundown industrial buildings." "All the parties we went to were in these old warehouses so everything around us was industrial. It was inevitable, the industrial landscape seeped into the music." Beckett, originally from Pontefract, admits his love of music goes beyond Warp. "I remember my first performance at school with a guitar made out of wood and sprayed silver performing Sweet. "I obviously had some kind of aspiration for bigger things." It was while at the then Sheffield Polytechnic where Mitchell was also a student, that the pair began to think about music commercially. "In my mid-twenties we realised that actually it wasn't that easy becoming a millionaire through being a pop star. But we also had a lot of skills in terms of the organisational aspects like organising gigs and booking agents there's more to the music industry than the front line people. "People always laughed because Rob was studying farming and I was studying mining. My whole family's in mining so it was a weird switch for me to do all this 'arty farty' stuff, as they would call it." Beckett has been running Warp since Mitchell died from cancer in 2001. Just 37 years old, Beckett was left with the sole responsibility of heading the label. "It was difficult because at the time I dug in and thought 'I've got to manage this.'" The label moved its headquarters from Sheffield to London in the early nineties, due to business practicalities. However, while the music arm of the company may be in the capital, Warp Films remains in the Steel City and this weekend the 20th anniversary celebrations will be coming home to Sheffield. "We've been celebrating all over the world," says Beckett. "The latest anniversary celebrations were in New York, but Sheffield's far more upmarket." WARP20 EVENTS This weekend Warp Records pays homage to its birthplace with a weekend-long celebration of the label's 20th anniversary packed with DJ acts, films, guest appearances and the temporary re-establishment of the famous Warp Shop. Friday: Warp20 party at a secret venue in Sheffield's industrial heartland. ВЈ7 for Warp20 ticket holders. Saturday: Warp Films hosts an open air cinema event at the city's Park Hill flats, featuring new films from Warp and a short by director Shane Meadows. Films will be shown from 7pm-11pm. Tickets are free to Warp20 ticket holders. At the Bowery, Richard Hawley will DJ as part of a Warp pre-bar. Entry is free. Saturday Night: Richard Hawley will play a pre bar DJ set at The Bowery, entry is free. Then, at 11pm Squarepusher, Nightmares on Wax, Andrew Weatherall, Clark, Hudson, Mohawk, Harmonic 313 and Forgemasters will each play sets at MAGNA, Rotherham. There will be a free shuttle bus service from Park Hill flats and the Showroom Cinema. Tickets are ВЈ19. Sunday: DJ E.A.S.E from Nightmares on Wax will play a set at The Forum, Devonshire Street, from 4pm-midnight, free to Warp20 ticket holders. Warp Fringe features an exhibition of film and art posters by Warp Films and Warp X at the Bowery from September 15 to 21 and throughout the weekend Warp Shop will be open at the Forum, Devonshire Street. Visit www.warp.net.