Eastern Bloc Presents SoulStructure & Friends

Where do I start with this rare blog post? Firstly, I’m thrilled to have been invited to DJ this Saturday for SoulStructure & Friends at Manchester’s Eastern Bloc. I’m usually DJing in and around Manchester most Friday & Saturday nights, playing from various musical briefs or ‘recipes’ via my Serato crates – too many genres to list here and now. I rarely blog about these affairs (although I do intend to more in 2019). But, this gig is different… I’ll be playing 100% Drum & Bass… On 100% vinyl! More about all that in a bit, because the main event, the main attraction, THE MAIN MAN… is a certain MC Conrad.

As their esteemed special guest, Conrad will be joining our hosts SoulStructure on the mic and on the decks (as Con*natural). MC Conrad needs no introduction, but for those that have stumbled upon this page, or those who’ve only ever listened to jump up, or whatever, as a vocalist and producer, MC Conrad has made some serious sounds. He’s laid down beats, vocals, or both with the likes of LTJ Bukem, Total Science, Adam F, Intense, Seba, Makoto, Furney and Manchester’s own DRS. For over 20 years, as the Jungle movement spread to all corners of the world, so did Conrad, chalking up hundreds of thousands of Con-Air miles, while touring the globe extensively with Bukem.

Whether working at Good Looking Records, or there as a fan, I’ve been lucky to see Bukem & Conrad share a stage on many occasions. Sadly, this peerless partnership is happening no more. (Unfortunately, there’s probably more chance of Oasis getting back together!). But, the good news is that Conrad is truly back on his game in 2019. With a new agent, he’s been playing Fabric with Pig & Dan (of Intense), recently alerting the funky planet again at Poland’s SnowFest, and collaborating once more with Makoto. It’s a real buzz to see Conrad doing all these things now and I’m really looking forward to catching up with him next week at Eastern Bloc.

Over the last few years, another big buzz for me has been the emergence of SoulStructure – locally, through their SoulStructure & Friends events in Manchester, and also reaching further afield through their amazing music making.

Bolton-born brothers, John & Dom SoulStructure (AKA JC and Dom Release), had a fantastic 2018 with the release of their debut album ‘Time & The Truth’ on Jazzsticks Recordings.

For my final Northern Groove Show of 2018 I recorded a ‘best albums of the year special’, where their Time & The Truth LP featured heavily.

SoulStructure’s sound successfully and unashamedly reflects the roots of ‘liquid funk’… Good Looking, Creative Source and Moving Shadow vibes. Subtle oldskool samples, classic jazz, soul and rare groove flavours combine with the up-to-speed tempo and production of today’s rolling beats and basslines. Their collaborations and remix work with DJ Blade, Jrumhand, Madcap, Paul SG, Tim Cant, Scott Allen, Decon, Tidal, Malaky and Molly Duncan (Intense) has been well received. SoulStructure’s influences can also be heard in their live DJ sets; check out SoulStructure & MC Conrad – Live at The Queens Head, Redditch in 2015:-

I dropped in on the last SoulStructure & Friends, back in November, when their special guest was Jazzsticks’ honcho – Mr Paul SG. It was a quality night! I felt right at home with ales, beats and chats. Check out Reform Radio’s live recording of the last SS&F happening here.

Paul SG, Dom & John SoulStructure. Photo by me.

Personally, I’ve always thought that Manchester has lacked a ‘liquid’ D&B night as such. There was Soul:ution, which I adored, attending regularly between 2000 & 2005. Then in 2007 it was a privilege and experience for me to be involved with Band on the Wall, helping to re-establish Soul:ution after a lengthy venue refurbishment. However, with Soul:ution, as much as I loved a Marcus Intalex set, I often found that the music veered down a tougher, techier path. When Calibre wasn’t on the bill, I usually felt musically unfulfilled and frustrated at the lack of liquid. Fabio once said that D&B is the punk music of our generation. Many ravers use a good D&B night to let off steam at the end of the week, I totally get that – it’s clubbing the world over. But personally, I need less anarchy, more jazz and soulful atmospherics to carry me away. But times have changed! There’s no ‘smoking’ in clubs now, I’m older, I rarely dance, so it’s music for my mind and soul these days, not so much ‘body’. Still, theres nothing like feeling the kicks and basslines in your abdominal region!

With Eastern Bloc being primarily a record shop and venue dedicated to the vinyl format, it seems appropriate that I play vinyl on the night at SoulStructure & Friends, especially when most of the bars where I DJ now don’t even have vinyl turntables! However, I have to admit that I no longer buy new D&B releases on vinyl, instead I choose the digital format. I find digital media more creative for mixing purposes, e.g. looping & queuing, specifically with broadcasting my Northern Groove shows; it’s also far more reliable for relaying artist, track title and release info verbally on the mic. For my weekly show which broadcasts via BassDrive, the policy is to keep things fresh and current. I’ve now found myself on many labels’ promo lists. The sheer volume of new music being released by many labels and prolific producers, both new and established, is quite staggering! For me, this volume dictates that I should focus, in the main, on new material.

Back in the day, I bought new D&B vinyl releases from Eastern Bloc, Spin Inn and Piccadilly Records, while The Vinyl Exchange and Dr Herman’s provided good hunting grounds for older, second hand tunes. Today I still buy D&B vinyl releases from ’95 to ’05; many great labels cut tonnes of good tracks, so I still have several holes in my collection that need filling, and Discogs is where I find many holy grails now.

SoulStructure & Friends provides a fine excuse for me to dig out and play some of my most treasured D&B records from that golden era of Drum & Bass. The fact I’ve been invited to DJ there is just splendid serendipity. It’s also a good excuse to celebrate 10 years of Jazzsticks Recordings, Paul SG’s consistently good imprint that released SoulStructure’s brilliant album.

The third installment of SoulStructure & Friends is upon us! If you like solid grooves, tight beats with warm basslines, supplied by friendly DJs who are passionate about timeless D&B, delivered on a good soundsystem, in a dedicated vinyl establishment, with a decent selection of beverages…. then this intimate night could be just right for you.

Set Times on the Night:

  • 7 > 8 – Warm Up Set
  • 8 > 9 – Chris Roots
  • 9 > 10 – Con*natural
  • 10 > 11 – Dan Soulsmith
  • 11 > Late – SoulStructure

It’s also great to hear that some of my BassDrive show listeners are making the journey to join us! I’m really looking forward to meeting online friends in the flesh for the first time. So for the out of towners, regarding the venue, here’s our mate Jim Bane to tell you about Eastern Bloc…

There’s more about Eastern Bloc here.

Finally, if you are visiting Manchester for the weekend, then I do need to mention the Marcus Intalex Music Foundation ‘WK:END’ festival, taking place from Friday 22nd to Sunday 24th. There’s lots of inspiring things going on throughout. Full info here .

Words by Dan Smith, February 2019.

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