Hope Works’ birthday: nine years of underground music and community building in Sheffield

Written by Safi Bugel

Hope Works is set to celebrate its 9th birthday this weekend. To mark the occasion, the Kelham Island venue, which has long been considered a linchpin of underground electronic music, will welcome Palms Trax and Bradley Zero for a seven hour warehouse party. 

Saturday’s event will be a commemoration of nearly a decade of community building through music, despite 15 months of closure over the course of the Covid-19 outbreak. 

 

No Bounds by Frankie Casillo

“It was quite a stressful moment for me and everyone involved,” says founder and managing director Liam O’Shea of March 2020. Hope Works closed its doors just a week after O’Shea became a father, meaning he faced pressure to protect his family as well as the institution. 

Thanks to government funding and a successful community fundraiser, which gathered over 800 donations, Hope Works was able to stay on its feet. Meanwhile, a string of live streamed events, as well as an online version of its acclaimed in-house festival No Bounds, sought to uphold the impressive cultural legacy of both the club and the city. 

‘Keeping history alive’

Hope Works first opened its doors in 2012, against a formidable musical backdrop. From the industrial sounds pushed by groups such as Clock DVA and Cabaret Voltaire in the late 1970s and 1980s to the emergence of baseline in the early 2000s, the scope of sounds hailing from Sheffield is vast and renowned. Central to these different scenes were warehouses, with empty lots providing the settings for many events and free parties across the years.

This local history was formative for Hope Works, says O’Shea: “What I’m doing here is plugging into the spirit of the industrial heart of the city, but not just solely that.

“It’s keeping that language alive, and keeping that history alive while doing so in a way that is relevant to contemporary culture and what the underground is here and now.” 

Setting up the venue was a way for O’Shea to tie together the many, yet disparate, strands of Sheffield’s musical heritage under one roof: “One thing I felt is that we didn’t really pull things together and celebrate ourselves and our achievements quite as much as other cities,” he says.

As such, the venue hosts DJs and promoters from across the electronic music spectrum, from drum ‘n bass to house and techno. However, it is O’Shea’s devotion to harsher sounds, through bookings such as Jeff Mills, Helena Hauff and Rebekah, which makes the space unique. 

As well as booking key players in electronic music, maintaining a special atmosphere has always felt crucial in running the club. “I always wanted to do something that was positive, hence: ‘Hope Works’,” says O’Shea.  

The impact of Hope Works on both club and local culture was felt immediately, he says: “By 2012, we didn’t want plus clubs, it wasn’t about that. We’d been through that superclub era. Around this time, there was definitely a return back to a DIY approach and a wave of different sounds. So I think [Hope Works] was a staple from the start.” 

The reputation of the club is still strong, with its character earning the respect of those who have frequented the space in the years since, both on the dancefloor and behind the decks. Earlier this month, Hope Works was nominated for ‘Best Small Club’ in DJ Mag’s Best of British Awards 2021. 

Jack Smith, who has been visiting Hope Works since moving to Sheffield as a student in 2015, says: “I just love the atmosphere of it. I think it feels very free, it’s kind of like it’s own little world.”

“Also, I like how friendly and nice the people who go are,” he added. “Everyone is on the same wavelength which is really cool.”

The club’s community focus means that partygoers can see emerging Sheffield DJs share the bill with bigger acts. Resident DJ Gracie T made her Hope Works debut on New Year’s Eve 2019 alongside friend and collaborator Diessa. She had played at most other clubs in the city so landing a slot here felt like an important next step in her career. “It was just so much fun and that was probably the first huge club event that I played,” she recalls. “It was a really good opportunity.” 

While the effects of Covid still resonate, from staffing issues to lower footfall, the energy of Hope Works feels the same according to Smith, who attended the opening weekend back in June. “Everyone is so happy to be back. You can see how much it means to everyone,” he says.

As the venue approaches another milestone, O’Shea is keen for Hope Works to keep interacting with the city, through more events and more collaboration with up-and-coming artists.

He says: “We still want to be here with everyone, putting on really good shows with a high production value, great artistic content and a real community heart to it at its base.”

 

Written by Safi Bugel

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