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Interview for the L2SB website.
On fortnightly term time Fridays, tucked away in Sheffield University’s Raynor Lounge, a venue that even in its recently extended form is still what you may call cosy, is Offbeat. Ran by couple Chris Stride and Gill Graham, it’s been keeping the local indie kids dancing away for a decade now, and shows no signs of stopping.
‘[Nightlife] was very different from now,’ says Gill, of the club’s conception in 1997. ‘There wasn’t really anything particularly indie going on at that point. Fun Lovin’ Criminals seemed to be very popular at the time…”
‘Britpop was about a few years out of date,’ says Chris, ‘and Madchester was about seven years out of date, and then they’d throw in The Who and The Beatles. They had nothing else to play.’
‘There was one night in the Raynor Lounge which Pete Murray from Chuck used to run, called Teenage Kicks’ says Gill, ‘and we went to that but it turned out to be the last one he did’.
‘Yeah, that’s how we discovered the Raynor Lounge,’ says Chris, ‘and it spiralled out of control.’
And spiral out of control it did. Very soon Offbeat became a very badly-kept secret among the kids of Sheffield and beyond, with queues of indie fans snaking round Bar One, jostling with the more traditionally attired Friday night drinkers. Before the Raynor Lounge’s refurbishment a couple of years ago, it wasn’t uncommon to have to queue an hour before opening to ensure getting in, and even with the bigger capacity now, it still sells out well before midnight.
So how have they been attracting the punters for a whole decade now?
‘I hope it’s because they feel that they’ll hear something new and different which they won’t get anywhere else,’ says Chris, ‘and there’s a very friendly atmosphere. We’re not a fashion night in any way. We’ve always been out of fashion; we’re not part of fashion. Fashionable young kids don’t brag about going to Offbeat! They may come, but they don’t brag about it, it’s not the highlight of their social calendar! But we attract a much wider range of people, and ages of people, from 18 to 40-odd.
‘What we don’t have is a load of 20-year-olds with a diagonal haircut and a scarf tied in a funny manner even in summer.’
‘They’re welcome though!’ interjects Gill.
‘Well yes they are,’ says Chris. ‘But it’s not just geared for people like that, and Karen O girls, it’s a really broad crowd of people.’
The secret of the night is down to the crowd and the mix. Chris and Gill essentially play what they want, with a natural feel for what’s right for the atmosphere of the night. They wouldn’t, for example, play the Kooks or Razorlight, but Chris has recently been playing a dash of folk in the form of David Thomas Broughton. Despite this perhaps the music they’re most associated with is the more twee side of indie-pop such as Belle and Sebastian.
‘I don’t necessarily mind that,’ says Chris, ‘as it gives us an identity, and we are probably the only night where you’ll hear those particular records. But it’s only one strand of the night.’
‘It’s become a bigger strand over the last couple of years,’ admits Gill.
‘I think it has,’ says Chris, ‘but I think that’s due to the fact there’s been a lot of good indiepop records in that time.’
The pair have very wide tastes in music between them. Gill’s taste is perhaps slightly poppier, and she is vaguely obsessive about Green Day, but also cites Super Furry Animals as her second favourite band. Chris’s tastes are, by his own admission, more obscure, and is a big fan of, among others, Half Man Half Biscuit. (Chris and Gill also show themselves down with electronica in their semi-regular Synthetic nights, which are also held at the Raynor Lounge.)
They have a real respect for their audience, who, unlike many club-goers, are willing to learn new things. One especially eager Offbeater was often seen with a notebook, jotting down anything that was new to him on the night.
‘They just all really love music,’ says Chris. ‘They’re people who want to hear something different, not go ‘I don’t know this, therefore it’s shit’.
‘Chris, Gill and, seemingly, the Offbeat audience all share a dislike for ‘haircut bands’. For example don’t get Chris started on The Horrors.
‘Did you see that headline about Faris Rotter – “Is This The Coolest Student In Britain?”,’ he splutters. ‘I’m sorry but 99.9% of people are going to say, no it’s not. And I’ve been proven right, because he’s taken to wearing a cape!”
I think the problem is at the moment,’ says Gill, ‘as soon as something comes out the NME jump on it, and as soon as it’s in NME people at Offbeat don’t like it.’
It’s not pure indie-schmindie snobbery that stops records being played at Offbeat. They have even been known to play current number ones over the years (they list Chumbawumba’s ‘Tubthumping’, Cornershop’s ‘Brimful of Asha’ and, bizarrely, Offspring’s ‘Pretty Fly for a White Guy’). It’s more not playing overplayed, over-hyped stuff that people are sick of hearing elsewhere.
‘You get bands that actually sound quite promising, and they get over-hyped,’ says Chris. ‘I think the only band to survive that is the Long Blondes, and that’s partly because they’re local and everyone’s seen them before they were hyped. People liked them before the NME got hold of them.’
It’s that rare thing, two people desperately passionate about their music, playing by their own rules, but always thinking about the people who attend their club. Anyone who thinks Offbeat is all about Hefner b-sides and girls in children’s Hello Kitty shirts should go down and be pleasantly surprised.
So will the pair still be putting on Offbeat in another decade? They both laugh and shake their heads, but it really wouldn’t surprise me in the least.