Synthesisers line the wall, smoke hangs heavy and the only bit of air that sneaks into the room comes through the half-open window on the opposite wall. There are half-drunk cups of tea, empty bottles of beer and ashtrays stuffed with the traces of long hours spent staring at computer screens. The walls are covered in peeling posters from before the last people who rented this room were making music. The sofa I’m sat on isn’t comfortable. I’ve been sat here for a long time.

Afternoon turned into evening, then night. It’s now the early morning. A sound I’ve definitely never heard before is being wrestled from one of the sinister Russian synthesisers by three concentrating figures. Jonny Dub, Metrodome and Bricky Mortar have been playing around with the various knobs and dials for the whole time, lining my uncomfortable sleep with wonky chords in the process. They’re not quite sure what the Cyrillic labels say, but some playing around will soon answer their questions. Lads are strewn around the room deaf with concentration as they turn words over in their heads, looking for the next hook or punchline to lay into the tune that’s forming around us. It’s early morning and I’m in the Levelz studio watching the opening words of a new chapter of Manchester music being written.

It’s the perfect setting. The former studio of Mr Scruff and later Estate Recordings, which gave birth to the now thriving Room2 Records label, is situated on the first floor of one of Manchester’s few former cotton mills to have avoided the property developers. Having kept its doors open for artists and musicians, it’s a place where they can make as much mess and noise as they like with no neighbours to bother.

Levelz is an amalgamation of some of the city’s most talented young individuals working together with the aim of making music. Richard Reason, the man responsible for putting the Levelz wheels in motion, saw the potential in the scene. “The music community is tight up here. Aside from the odd social skirmish, we all by and large get on. It is a massive, highly dysfunctional family, but a family nonetheless.”

The list of members extends well into double figures and, in addition to musicians, includes photographers, promoters, clothing designers, artists, videographers and a live band. “I wanted to do something that brought the talent of Manchester to the fore, as there was a special generation of talent in our bass music enclave that was coming to fruition. We wanted to try and herd all these creative cats into a unit and to create something greater than the sum of our wholes.”

The collective has been working on their debut release for almost a year and the music is certainly unique. “Last December, 12 of us went to stay at a massive house in Anglesey, set up five mini studios across the house and cracked on and made a load of music, which makes up just over a third of the music on our forthcoming mix tape. It also really helped cement the group and was a springboard to getting in the studio for a good few months.”

They’ve also tested it extensively with their live band at Rusholme’s Antwerp Mansion. The tracks are what you’d expect when you throw all those producers and lyricists into a melting pot – a mixture of garage, drum and bass, jungle, hip hop, funk, ska, jazz and grime. “The musical diversity amongst the group is also broad,” says Reason. “From the year 3000 dancehall and 170bpm of Dub Phizix and Chimpo to the soulful, jazz stylings of Bricks. The cosmic disco and out-of-box genius of Metrodome and Werkha’s soulful electronica to Biome’s sophisticated electronic darkness.”

Their first single and video is on its way and it’s hard not to feel the excitement. The sheer size of Levelz and the people involved means this one cannot be ignored. Levelz is something modern from Manchester to be exported to the world.


Background photo by Gary Brown – GB Multimedia.
James Mernagh’s website is here.

James Mernagh