Written for Loose Lips.
Semi-Peppered is an established Bristol-based art collective who have been putting on parties, releasing mixes and ruling underground radio waves for a while now. Founded by long-time pals Joe, Evan and Will, the project has grown from being a student radio show and independent music project, to a revered presence on any night owl’s event itinerary.
But after a stint of disco nights, the party is changing: with evolved music interests, SP’s nights have matured into transgressive showcases, the latest of which saw the collective take over The Island with renowned selector Elena Colombi and upcoming talent Kiara Scuro. With this change has come departure. Although home to a range of talent; including a filmmaking student, a trainee doctor, graphic artists and musicians, SP has recently lost one of its founders – Will – as he pursues his scarily upcoming solo project – Yuki Ame.
Loose Lips had an amicable phone natter with one of SP’s founders, Evan, and newer resident, James, about pretentiousness at events, Ifeoluwa’s access to music project – Intervention – and their secret tactics to control ticket sales.
You’ve emphasised the family-orientated feel to SP, but is it true that one of your founders, Will, has recently left the collective?
Evan: He’s left, but I think it’s a temporary hiatus. With Will, he’s always getting himself into stressful situations over music and often he has to take a step back from things in his life, and with Yuki Ame being the forefront of what he’s doing, he’s had to take a step back from Semi Peppered for a while. I think that’s one of the things that’s made us realise that we are a collective more than anything else. And without Will, it does feel a little bit empty. I guess what I’m trying to say is I miss him. [both laugh]
There’s a lot of male-dominated labels and collectives in Bristol. What, in your opinion, sets you apart?
Evan: We’re very aware that we’re white straight males running nights in Bristol. But our idea has never been to make us the centre of what we’re doing. That’s not what Semi Peppered is all about: it’s about the people who come and get involved.
James: We do try to make steps: our last three headliners have been female. But we’d hate to be on our high-horse about it: ‘Oh look at us – we’re booking girls.’ We think it’s more important to the focus on female-run collectives around Bristol.
Evan: And Yewande – running Intervention. (Founded by Ifeowula (Yewande), Intervention is a Bristol-based project running free DJ workshops for women in the city; providing a safe space, a platform and equipment to those wanting to develop their skills.)
Yes! Let’s talk about Intervention. I spoke to Yewande not so long ago, and she’s mentioned the backlash she’s faced with the project; it’s been labelled as unnecessary. What’s your opinion on it?
Evan: It’s one of those things where I think it’s an incredible project. Yewande is very headstrong, and I think that probably leads to the reasons why there are backlashes. But, I think that’s completely necessary for what she’s trying to do. She’s creating an environment for people that the industry doesn’t necessarily seem like it wants to accept. So, she needs to come in and rustle a lot of feathers really and bring things forward whether people like it or not. I think its brilliant. She’s not sitting down when people are saying certain things that make her feel uncomfortable or upset and giving people a voice, such as the girls who are coming through Intervention. Also, the culture of music she’s pushing: it’s not like she’s just another house/techno artist. She stands herself wide and gets involved in a lot of stuff.
Can we expect to see Ifeoluwa on a line-up soon?
James: Possibly, it’s one of those. We’ve got a lot of people we’ve promised sets too, basically. Probably one day, to be fair. We’ve got a big backlog of things at the moment, and there’s only so much time. It’s hard to say what the next party will be.
At the end of March, you hosted your biggest night to date with an all-female line-up. Why do you think it turned out to be such a success?
Evan: SP has always been about the people that are involved with it. There were people who have been at every night for the past two and a half years. They’re the people that are always so fun to party with.
James: The first time I came down to an SP night two odd years ago, it was just unpretentious fun.
If your parties are unpretentious, then what are the markers of pretentiousness at events generally?
Evan: I’ve been reading about clubbing in 1980s New York and how different it sounds to nowadays. The main thing, back then, was that it was never really about the person playing. It used to be all about going down and having a boogie. In today’s world, you don’t see everyone interacting with each other. They’re all trying to ID the next tune or trying to get one over on whoever’s near them: ‘oh I saw this DJ at the weekend, and they played…’. It’s one thing being able to hear a huge track out, but with certain tracks that get played, they’re only going to be special at that moment and I think that’s what going clubbing is all about – when you share that moment with everyone in the room.
Before your most recent event, I noticed you uploaded a post to Facebook detailing SP’s policy on the party being a safe place for all dancers. Does this form an important part of your ethos?
Evan: You want to make sure that when you’ve got a huge space and an environment that could be susceptible to people acting inappropriately, people who may feel uncomfortable have confidence in the fact they have a voice. Our crowds are not like that at all, but it’s not like we can act as if it’s not an issue.
James: It’s reminding everyone that you’ve got to look after your fellow dancers. As promoters, the precautions you can take are fairly limited, but it’s just a reminder to people to keep their ears up.
That’s good to hear. I’m small, so my experiences of The Island can sometimes result in it being a dark and suffocating space.
Evan: This is another thing we did for the Island: we sold as few tickets as we could. We didn’t sell out – are we allowed to say this?
James: The Island is one of my favourite venues in Bristol, but it does just get a bit sweaty and uncomfortable. We just made sure we were beneath capacity. I’ve obviously got a horse in this race, but it did make the environment much more enjoyable. Everyone had space to dance and express themselves how they wanted.
Your online artwork is really interesting. Is it part of creating some online persona for the project, or is it down to genuine and personal taste?
James: It’s all through Evan’s brother, Dylan. We give him a bit of free reign. He’s a sick artist. In terms of an online persona, we don’t want to be seen as chin-strokers. I think there are a lot of techno nights with white text on black trying to look cool. If we were doing that we wouldn’t be true to ourselves in the slightest.
Evan: I think one of the most important things to the art that comes through is that my brother does all that with personal references and his own photography. This year we decided we needed to change up our image a little bit – we realised that we’re a bit older now and we need to take ourselves a little more seriously, even though we aren’t really a serious bunch of people.
Why do you need to take yourselves more seriously?
Evan: We wanted to break away from being that Thursday night, small, student disco night. I think a lot of people perceived us like that. It’s unfair of us to write any of that stuff off, but that just isn’t who we are. We have a very sort of eclectic spread of music tastes and, we just don’t want people turning up to the nights and go: ‘oh… they’re not playing disco, they’re playing post-punk…’
Pepmix is a staple part of your project. What’s been your favourite feature?
Evan: Filippo Zenna’s is probably my favourite because of the way he and I started talking – I admired him as a DJ. I followed him on Soundcloud, and he sent me a message back a few hours later, and it was just all caps: ‘THE POWER.’ [laughter]
We got talking and, I told him that I really enjoy the mixes he puts out: these introspective journeys through his emotions at the time. He speaks poetry over them too: they’re more like a piece of art really than just a straight-up dance mix. The conversations I’ve had with him have certainly defined the way I look at music now as well. I owe a lot to him for that.