Photos by James Ward
Logo by Jake Harding
Pretend’s upcoming launch night caught my attention for a handful of reasons. The strength of the line up is uniformly excellent in its selection of some of the most creative and interesting acts Leeds has to offer. There's also no discernible hierarchy at play in the promotion of it, by which I mean that on the poster there isn't a larger font used for a 'headliner' and the DJs and the live performers are given equal prominence on it. I know that this may sound like an insignificant thing to single out, but it shows a respect for each of the artists involved as well as their differing modes of expression. Off the back of being intrigued by the event I took to finding out more about its promoter. Pretend are a community of creatives producing radio and video content, working to help make the UK music scene more accessible, fun and less commercially orientated. I caught up with founder James Ward ahead of the event.
Was putting on an event on the cards for Pretend from the beginning or was it an idea that developed over time? When you first set out making your debut radio show, did you have this bigger vision that you would move onto doing the video interviews, developing the website, and then putting on live events, or were you just invested in putting together the best show you could and these other ideas have cropped up along the way?
It’s funny because the first time I used the name 'Pretend' was for an event back in 2017 called PIG: Pretend It’s Glastonbury which we did as a fundraiser for WaterAid and the name just sort of stuck in my head after that and developed into the radio show and then into what the project is now. Before a Pretend radio show ever went out I’d been developing ideas for over a year so I had a few ideas on how it would develop. The videos have always been integral to Pretend because I realised that even I don’t actually listen to that much radio, I watch small clips of shows on Facebook or Instagram stories which reach far more people. I wanted to give people a way to enjoy the show without committing to listening to the full hour because nobody has time for that.
Graduating really made me reconsider and develop what I wanted Pretend to be and helped me refine what we should do. I wanted to give online content and live gigs a kind of social reality that they often lack, faceless journalists and nameless promoters putting out stuff you don’t care about because it all just looks like something to make you spend money or hold your attention long enough to see an advert. The events give the online content a tangible reality and the online content allows you to get deeper into the events and helps you remember them beyond that. It’s easiest to do that with our own stuff but I want to work with everyone in Leeds to create a live music culture where people just go to something because it seems like a nice thing to do with some mates in the same way you go to a night out at a club. I hope that by doing what we’re doing we can help achieve that.
Typically when seeing live acts, its doors at 1900 and over by 2300, your launch changes this up with music from 2100 until 0300, making it clear that this is both a gig as well as a party, with neither taking prominence over the other. How did you come to the decision to go for this mix?
I go to so many live shows with these incredible dancey bands who are put on at eight to a quarter-full room full of people who’ve just got off work and understandably want to relax a little bit before they even think about dancing. I love club nights with heavy dance music because you can just lose yourself to the experience and I love the personal connection I have with bands when I see them live and I just wanted to marry these two experiences. I remember seeing London Electricity’s Big Band at Glastonbury in 2017 at about two in the morning and losing my mind having never really understood drum and bass before. If people come to our parties and treat live music as something to be enjoyed and not just to be watched then I feel the event has succeeded. This is helped by the fact we have DJs on between all the live acts as well as closing the night out just to keep the energy flowing in a nice way. I hate going to a chilled, low-key electronic gig where the sound engineer puts on a pop-punk playlist between the artists, it ruins the energy of the night leaving the next band with a lot of work to get the crowd moving again so for me the DJs are the glue that can hold the live sets together and then develop the night from where the bands leave it when they finish playing.
Is being eclectic something that you feel is significant to Pretend's identity? Would you say you had more of a focus on certain genres and scenes? Not that you can't be both eclectic and focused.
I’ve been saying that we focus on dance music with live instrumentation… this doesn’t narrow us down to anything in particular. If you listen to our radio show on MCR Live you’ll hear me play funk into grime into jazz through indie and some heavy punk all the way back to house and techno which to be honest is a bit of a mess but it makes me happy. There’s just certain types of music that I hear and I want to groove to in some way and that’s what I want to share with people. I find the music that I like normally has some kind of live instrumentation that is clearly discernible over any production and so that’s what Pretend focuses on.
The quality of the line up is striking. How did you decide on the line up and how did you first encounter/get into the artists your putting on?
I spent about two years doing a Local Music show on Leeds Student Radio before I started Pretend so a lot of these bands are based on people I’d find digging through the Leeds music scene looking for new local tracks every week. That show helped me develop relationships with people across the scene. With Snicklefritz, I played them on the Live and Local show a few times and then saw them at Pilbeam Presents and was like, ‘yeah they’re sound’ and felt they fit nicely into the line up we had for the 20th. Long Legged Creatures I saw supporting Necktr at the Brudenell in September and thought they fit our style perfectly. With Jellyskin, I like how their sound has developed into something more electronic and have had them in for sessions on radio shows, I’ve been following them from the start. Shauna I know through Student Radio and her incredible music taste. While on LSR we’d have playlist meetings where we’d vote on playlists and I’d low-key always judge my selections on whether or not Shauna voted for them to go on… With Andrew Devine, Andrew is everywhere and I got chatting to him about his biggest influences and he was pulling out names like Erol Alkan and Andrew Weatherall and I just decided I loved him and wanted him to play.
Is it important that your own personal tastes dictate the shape of an event as opposed to selecting artists based on factors such as the size of crowd they can pull?
This will be a short answer. I don’t care about the size of a following you have but I won’t book a band who I don’t think can pull a crowd if the crowd are aware of their music. At the end of the day I think some promoters are lazy in how they promote smaller bands leaving them with smaller crowds than their music deserves. If the music is good, I want to put it on.