Where We At? A series of honest conversations about the scene's current state of health. The highs, the lows, the inconvenient truths.
Uncle Dugs represents many roles. To Rinse FM listeners he’s a broadcaster whose voice kickstarts the weekend every Friday morning with his #RCFF shows. To the ravers he’s plays the consummate wayward uncle who gave you your first ciggie, liberally dishing out foundation bangers and getting you hooked on the history without apology.
Between these roles he’s also been a promoter for many years and has been involved in all kinds of shindigs from old school illegal warehouse bashes to massive Jungle Fever raves. More recently he and his wife Sarah have been responsible for the cult Vibena and Ribena jungle events. Dedicated to the roots of rave – especially the years 93 – 95 – their events have developed a faithful following who have become family to them over the years. Family who they sorely missed during the times we couldn’t rave.
Highly active in the industry’s fight to be acknowledged by the government as an essential UK cultural asset that needs to support, Dugs was an honest and vital voice during some of the most challenging times the dance scene has ever known.
Thankfully those challenges seem like a distant memory but with attendance numbers not quite hitting what they were, a heavy saturation of festivals each weekend, the cost of living rocketing and the landscape changing at a rapid pace, we’re nowhere near easy street. 1 More Thing called him up for his take on the current state of scene health.
“Right now I’m looking at the sky now saying thanks!” smiles Dugs who’s very much in DJ mode this summer. His promoter cap is tucked away temporarily for a few weeks but it’ll be back on in September for the next Vibena boat party. Looking even further ahead, he’s part of the team promoting the first Jungle Weekender in Amsterdam next March, alongside heavyweights Junglemania, A.W.O.L and Rompa’s Reggae Shack. Right now, though, like all of us, he’s just looking forward to the weekends.
“I’m out every week – some weekends I’ve got one gig, some weekends I’ve got six. I’m enjoying things and appreciating them. Years before I was too busy thinking, ‘What’s on next?’ or ‘How can I make this better?’ Really I should have been like, ‘Look mate, you’ve done it! You’re playing your favourite music to people and they’re dancing. You’ve done it!’ After what we’ve been through, I think it’s really important to do that.”
Reflective, appreciative but always keeping his eye on the game and frank about what’s happening… Fresh from tearing up Dubtendo for 1 More Thing at Boomtown last weekend, this is where Uncle Dugs is at in August 2022.
How are things from your perspective as a DJ and a promoter?
As a DJ it’s been great. Plenty of work about. But it does have to be said that the numbers aren’t what they used to be. Maybe people are a bit scared of covid, money is tight and not getting better. With the cost of living a lot of people have had to cut their turnover of fun by a half.
It’s been very tricky for promoters. Some have had good nights but it’s not the same model as before where you’d dream up a night, put the line up together and do you promo and ticket sales gradually come in and hopefully you break even.
Now there’s a generation of people who won’t commit to anything until the last minute. I only run small events, but I speak to a lot of promoters and the common thing you see is that you launch an event and your regulars all run in and get their early-birds, then the rest slowly come in and you get it over the line. Now it’s literally the last 24 or 48 hours where people buy things at the end.
The whole thing has changed, though. Look at daytime parties. That passed me by for a minute. Raving for me was going out in the night and hiding in the day.
It’s all flipped now. Love a day time rave.
I’ve grown to and all. It’s almost like being on holiday. Like a beach party in Ayia Napa, dancing on Nissi Beach. It was fun because it was different but now that’s what we’re doing here. It’s grass instead of sand but it’s the same vibe.
But the numbers aren’t always there. I feel that there’s a hell of a lot more promoters now than ever. Years ago DJs DJ’d, MCs MC’d, promoters promoted, the flyer guy did the flyers, the record shop sold the tickets. Then different brands have had a crack at promoting. Like labels. Then DJs. And now everyone is a brand and every brand wants to put a rave on. But not all of them will survive these coming years.
It’s hard out there; promoters are trying to recoup losses from the last few years, bookings need to be honoured, there’s about 40 million festivals happening every weekend. I actually think we’re in a transitional period. We’re shaking off the shit and the rave world has always been survival of the fittest – as a promoter or an artist – and the ones who are left will be the ones who deserve the punters because they’ve either built up a community, they’ve been really creative and they’ve done something different.
Yeah, building up that loyal following…
When things are bad it doesn’t mean things are bad, it means we’ve got to think a bit more clever and be even more creative. This isn’t the first time we’ve had hard times and it’s why some promoters have been around for 30, 40 years now. Prompters have to think on their feet and find solutions like we did when we were avoiding the police and breaking into warehouses. There’s now a corporate floor above us but the core of it is that we all like to go out and play music and party and we want to get our core people, whether that’s 100 or 10,000 or 100,000 to come and listen to the music we want to play to them. Everyone is giving it a crack but I think it’s going to be a telling year or two.
Definitely. I associate you with doing different things. Like the Ribena Jungle parties and daytime-wise you’ve been doing the Vibena boat parties for a long time
With the boats, I’ve looked at them differently. Not like club events. We did do Sunday all-dayers at Brixton Jamm. That was playing to our crowd, not trying to be clever. Our crowd are a bit older, a lot have children so they can have a cheeky Sunday afternoon off. We never had a crystal ball, we just got lucky there.
Actually the Ribena ones were more like Saturday evenings. They finished early which a lot of people didn’t like but they came to love it. The first few Vibena parties went on till 1am which still gave you a good night out but gave you the option. Another reason we did that was because the 4-6am bit is never the best bit any more. The enthusiasm has gone, the energy has gone, a lot of people don’t want to be there but don’t want to be elsewhere either so they’re just lurking. If there’s going to be trouble, it will usually be then.
I liked finishing early because everyone ends on a high. Same with daytime ones. People are a bit more chilled, there’s less of a sprint to get wasted before midnight.
A bit more sensible
Yeah I’m sure people are still getting off their nut. But it’s like the day time party is a warm up for the night out. There’s a massive element of socialness in the day, more than you’d have in a dark club at night. It feels like a pub beer garden with music you love on a massive scale.
I like that description. In terms of what you do, you’ve built a really loyal community haven’t you. So I guess quite a few of the issues other promoters face, you don’t have as much?
We are very blessed to have such a great crowd and they are like family. But we’ve worked fucking hard to build them up. We nurture our crowd and the attitude we want to see. I’m done with the dickheads. Years ago when I was younger I’d have arsehole trouble makers come along and I’ve had people who I know are going to fuck my night out but I’ve still let them in.
Not particularly scary, just the type of people who are capable of trouble but you see them around and you know it’s going to be hassle stopping them getting in. No one causes trouble on the way in – it’s always on the way out. But we’ve been very strict and careful with our parties. It’s not like we’re walking around the dancefloor with a torch saying, ‘You got a bad attitude? Get out!’ But we won’t tolerate bad behaviour.
A promotion is an extension of the promoter’s personality. I would like to think me and Sarah are nice people. We put out good intentions and that’s come back to us. Over the years we’ve realised we’ve got a beautiful safe haven. Sounds a bit hippie, but we know how special it is, our punters do too and they protect it with us. Everyone knows someone who knows someone, so it is like a family. If they see someone acting the clown they’ll be like, ‘Come on mate, not in here tonight’.
The people who come to our parties care as much as me and Sarah and that’s so good, it’s more than I could wish for when I was a kid. Like back when I first went to Labyrinth, it felt like a community, every weekend I felt like I was part of something, I felt safe and welcome. That’s how I’d like to think we are for people. That’s really important for us. Keep it nice, have fun, no acting up. All of these things together – it’s created something beautiful. We know that not every promoter has been able to do that. It’s beyond words.
Love this! Like minds attract each other
For real. I think when you get older you whittle out the shitters and keep the good ones. And good people usually have their own good people and so on and so on. Before you know it your 10 good people becomes 20 becomes 30 becomes 100s and you’ve got this network of sound people around the country, around the world. Like attracts like. Our party is proof. They’re all mental and can party hard but they’re lovely. Some of them are 50+ but we’ve seen a whole new movement of younger ravers who have started to come because of the reptution and they want to experience something that’s faithful to the roots and foundations of this culture. It’s great seeing all these generations get together and have fun and they keep coming back because we’ve kept it true and we’ve kept it strong. Sarah greets everyone at the door and we’re about talking to people and getting involved. We’ve created our own thing. It’s beautiful.
And now you’re taking it to Amsterdam?
Yeah! The Jungle Weekender, next March. That’s a collaboration between Junglemania, A.W.O.L, Rompa’s Reggae Shack and Vibena Jungle. Again, like attracting like. All them guys are top geezers and big players in the scene. A.W.O.L has the history, Junglemania represents the now and has a big promoter power and I guess we bring the authenticity.
We’ve all got good reach, more importantly we got good morals and ethics. I’ve been pretty public saying I don’t want to do big events any more – I used to do the Jungle Fever bashes before lockdown but I didn’t enjoy the last couple we did. But this feels like a good team. We want to make it social and more of a holiday vibe. Not just going hammer and tongs in the night, but something that’s a bit more reflective of what’s happening over here in the day time parties. Boat parties and meet and greets in coffee shops. Things where we can hang out and give people those moments that’s they’ll remember and talk about forever. I honestly got good feelings about the Jungle Weekender in March 2023. It will be the start of something special. I’m well excited. I’m not stupid to think it’ll be plain sailing, it’s going to be a graft but it’ll be enjoyable graft.
Good example of how to navigate these times – working together!
Yes but working with the right people. There are some people who I don’t work with any more since these last few years. We went through a lot during those years, it was fucking hard. To think you can just jump back on the bike and pedal in the same direction at the same speed? You can’t! I’ve had my time of crying and my time of blaming the world for my problems and now it’s the time to think of new ideas and find new ways. It’s like we’ve got a very nice front garden but our back garden was a fucking mess. The whole lot had to be chopped down. So we did that and now we can go and sit in it and enjoy the fruits of our labour. Before it was all work work work, not really paying attention, now there’s a lot more care and attention to what we’re doing and how we’re doing it.
Love this. We spoke quite a few times during lockdown, kinda culminating with my interview on your #RCFF show on the freedom weekend. I followed your ups and downs and challenges a lot during those two years. I think it was especially hard for promoters.
It was hard. That cloudiness and uncertainty was painful and very hard to deal with. I had no job for two years and there was no knowing what we would come out to. We didn’t know if there would be a scene of any sorts or what value we’d be. There was no book to go by we all just felt our way in the dark. I didn’t get everything right, but looking back it was a harsh and horrible lesson but a good one. The best way to describe it is like being in Matrix and, eventually, after many tough lessons, seeing all them lines and seeing things for how they actually are. That’s how I feel. Like everything has become clear. You’ve got to work with people you love and do things you love. Life doesn’t always make that easy but if you can do as much of that as possible then you’ll be a lot happier in life.
Amen! What’s up next?
Vibena-wise we have a pre Jungle Weekender boat party on August bank holiday Saturday 27 with A.W.O.L, Junglemania and Rompa’s Reggae. Then next up we have our 92 vs 93 boat party on Sunday September 18. An hour of each year then a one for one with Mad P from Top Buzz hosting all day. I’ve got a very special surprise guest DJ coming as well for that. Beyond that we got a few concepts and ideas. The next official Ribena Jungle club night is October 8 at Basing House which we need to get sorted to be honest. But right now, my head is much more in DJ mode. This summer I’ve had 20-something festivals and other bits and pieces and I’m trying to focus on that. I’ve been trying to step up my DJing, mixing quicker and varying the selection. I’ve worked hard on that and I’d like to think that’s paying off now with the bookings. So right now there’s not lot of promotions on. But I’ll be doing more in the winter, trust me…