Last Thursday was the hottest day of the year so far. In Manchester’s Northern quarter, along Tarriff street, working people were sitting around, ties loosened, shirts unbuttoned, taking breaks from their busy days to enjoy a rare hit of sunshine before returning to the ovens they call offices. The street was perhaps busier than normal, but not noticeably. This was the calm before the storm. Not a thunderstorm; no, the weather held up perfectly. But in the side street where clothes outlets NOTE and OI POLLOI stand opposite one another, members of Manchester’s Levelz crew were preparing for what would turn out to be one of the most successful spontaneous street parties in living memory.
When photographer Stu and I arrived at the scene it was about 2pm, and Bevan and Kiva, providers of the Levelz sound system, were unloading speakers from their van and setting up outside NOTE’s shop window. Two ten-foot blackboards were already in situ, bearing the mantras “MCR <3 NHS” and “Go In Your Purse For A Nurse.” Kiva, who would be DJing and jointly overseeing the event, explained what Levelz is, and what they planned to achieve. “It’s an urban music collective in Manchester. As a collective, it’s a very loose thing, but it’s a very strong thing” he told Sounds in between selecting tunes and handing out invites to passers by. “It’s a combination of a load of different crews. DJ Rich Reason asked me and Bevan to bring a rig down today. We’re going to try and raise some money for the victims of the tragedy.”
After we had been relaxing for about half an hour, watching Skittles, Chimpo, Fox of Mouse Outfit and other Levelz stalwarts trickle down to the side street, the Police paid a visit. The music was loud (of course) and was bound to attract attention. They spoke to several members of the Levelz crew and when they had a spare moment they explained to Sounds why they had been drawn to the side street. “It’s a £1000 fine for street drinking in this area. We want to make sure that no one here’s drinking. But the other stuff, the music, the raising money, that stuff’s brilliant.” They left to allow the event to continue. With the tragedies still raw, it was heartening to see that this is how people bounce back in Manchester. Painting the sky with musical colours uplifting and universal, bringing the people together. As the evening wore on the street filled up to capacity, thousands of people moving to the music, giving donations and spreading the message that the people of Manchester are stronger that terrorism. Footage online attests to the carnival atmosphere in the street. It was electric.
Given the political slant of this happening it seems appropriate to suggest that inner cities’ urban music scenes now have the power to influence young voters, and almost form a bridge between young voters and the government. This would explain the endlessly savvy Corbyn’s decision to have a televised meeting with JME. The election has allowed British Urban music to consolidate its place at the forefront of British culture today. And in the scene’s eyes, it makes Corbyn a badman. It’s not what you know, it’s who you know, and Corbyn is as aware of this as anyone. The blackboards bearing pro-NHS messages, the pride in the NHS, and Skittles’ constant interrupting of songs to acknowledge his “NHS crew,” brings the political to the fore, to make today seem like a special event, a happening. These people, these DJs and MCs, are figureheads for their fans, and they have real political power in their hands. The kids might not listen to the politicians but they will listen to the man selecting the bangers. If they use their influence properly perhaps they can be the secret to greater youth participation. Levelz are certainly moving in the right direction. On Thursday they raised £1600 for Manchester Children’s Hospital. Be like them. Kiva has kindly curated a playlist so you can try and replicate the atmosphere in that side street from the comfort of your own front room.
Levelz Side Street Takeover Playlist (compiled by Kiva)
Children of Zeus – Still Standing
Redeye Hifi feat. Fox and Kiva – Bad Mind Behaviour
Levelz – Drug Dealer
Harlem Spirits – Dem A Sus
The Jones Girls – Nights Over Egypt
Fela Kuti – Zombi
Stone Roses – Fools Gold
Fox and Chimpo – Harder
Melownin – We Don’t Need No
Free Wize Man – Iz Ya With Me