Chibuku 15th Birthday – Sean Stephenson on the Camp & Furnace celebrations and Liverpool’s club scene

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A lot can happen in 15 years, Getintothis’ Martin Hewitt talks Chibuku, birthdays and Liverpools burgeoning club scene with director Sean Stephenson.

It takes more than hard work, dedication and commitment to the cause in order for an event to outlast the generation it was born into. This is particularly true when it comes to dance and electronic music culture.

You could argue few scenes can compare when it comes to the fickle nature of its followers. From superclub trance mega-sessions in the late 1990s, to minimal technos rise to prominence in the noughties, to deep house and raw tech in the current decade. Sounds rise and fall as new ears become accustomed to the one omnipresent force tying all the canons together- a weighty kick drum.

With that in mind its impossible to deny Chibuku Shake Shake is not only a Liverpool institution, but a national treasure of the nocturnal variety.

Listing all the headliners who have graced the night during that time would be impossible. After all, even referencing the line up for this weekends 15th Birthday celebrations at Camp & Furnace on Saturday March 14 takes long enough; with Annie Mac, Ben UFO, Andy C, Benji B, Craze, David Rodigan, DJ EZ, Four Tet, George FitzGerald, Jackmaster, Joy Orbison and Oneman all getting involved.

Excited, to say the least, at whats in store once the first track begins to play, we caught up with Sean Stephenson, one of Chibukus directors who rose to his current role after years spent as a member of the promo staff team, and then Promotions Manager, to ask him how things have changed over the lifespan of this behemoth of beats.

Getintothis: Hi Sean – congratulations on turning 15, how has the job of promoting club events changed in that time?

Well, back when I started as a full time staff member there was just myself, Rich McGinnis, Lewis Boardman and Yousef. In terms of advertising, it was all about handing out flyers, putting up posters- which we still do today, but in terms of Facebook and Twitter… I dont even think Twitter or Instagram even existed back then. These days its all very social media led.

Getintothis: Who is in control of the bookings then?

Booking wise its mainly me and Rich. We have discussions with other people, our friends, people in the office; we talk about new acts all the time- have you heard the latest album by so-and-so, stuff like that. So it really happens quite naturally.

Getintothis:  Are there any names that havent played Chibuku you would like to get involved?

Its difficult to answer, with Chibuku going for so long theres only a handful of acts that havent played. Ive always wanted to get one of the big live dance acts to play. Having the Chemical Brothers do an unannounced DJ set in the Arts Club would be phenomenal, wouldnt it? Or Underworld, or Prodigy. These things probably wont happen, Im not alluding to anything here! But you never say never. For me getting one of those British acts to do something tiny would be amazing, and amazing for the city.

Getintothis:  Speaking of intimacy, the scene is bigger than it ever has been now. Are you surprised at where its got to, with huge events taking place everywhere?

Well, I think if you want to go to an event that has massive lasers, big projections, and stuff like that there will always be a certain type of event that youll be drawn to. Its not for me necessarily, but Im not criticising it either.

I dont think I saw it going the way it has done, though. I dont think anyone did really. Thats not a bad thing, people are into different things. We try to bridge the gap between something more commercial and underground, and most try to go one way or another. So far, and especially in the last year, I think weve been successful at that.

Getintothis: So where from here then?

This summer well be hosting a stage at Parklife in Manchester, I think thats our second or third year there. Overall though, I think well do what we do best – programming interesting, exciting line ups that swing between deep underground and accessibility. A huge part of our development of late has come from investment from Mama, which has helped turn the old BarFly into what it is today- the Arts Club– and we intend to continue to do what we do best.

Getintothis: Liverpool seems to be enjoying a particularly strong time in its clubbing history right now. Is that how it feels from a promotions perspective?

Yeah, I think if youre a student, or youre into different types of electronic music theres so much going on that caters for whatever style you might be into.

Getintothis: Finally, in light of the recent uncertainty venues in the city have faced, how supportive do you see Liverpool Council in terms of events policy?

We have long enjoyed a great relationship with the council. We worked on the City of Culture opening ceremony at the Echo Arena back in 2008, as well as being involved with Clive Dickens, then of Juice FM, and Phil Nixon at Think PR, helping get MTV to come to the city with the EMAswe hosted quite a few of the after parties.

“Those initial ideas were welcomed by the city council and they picked them up and ran with them. We were quoted by the Minister for Culture at the time in the House of Commons about the benefits that COC would bring to Liverpool and I loosely remember the statement being about building capacity in the city for future events, building personnel and giving the city confidence. 2008 did just that.

“If the end result is having people like Claire McColgan and Yaw Owusu in positions of power in this city then we are right behind them. LIMF isn’t where MIF is yet, but it has every chance. What they have done in a few short years has taken Liverpool out of the dark ages.

Chibuku celebrates 15 years on March 14 2015 at Camp and Furnace.

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