Seminal dubstep night FWD>> blesses Printworks with a reverential showcase of underground electronica.
Words Liam Cattermole (@liam_cattermole)
Over two decades, FWD>> has flown the flag for British bass music. A coalescence of grime, dubstep and garage, the night champions darker genres, seeking sanctuary within claustrophobic clubbing spaces, where budgets are blown on Funktion-One sound systems rather than extravagant light displays.
Seeing FWD>>, and its counter-cultural roots, brought to Printworks’ hyper-commercialised quarters may be the annoyance of many club traditionalists. But with a reverential line-up of UK pioneers, the night feels like a celebration of its legacy rather than a nostalgic nightlife commodification.
Printworks will be closing this May, after its final season of multi-genre day raves. The 6-acre, maze-like warehouse construction has been permanently threatened by regeneration programs since it opened in 2017. A cornerstone of the modern clubbing zeitgeist, its industrial aesthetic has also found a home in Hollywood, providing a set for the latest Batman film, and in the algorithms of TikTok teens, who crave the illegal rave experience their parents hark to through rose-tinted glasses.
It feels like a journalistic cliché to compare any music venue to a place of worship. But, as packs of happy ravers make their way to Printworks on Good Friday, the atmosphere is profoundly devotional. Don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing spiritual about £7 Peronis in branded paper cups but as revellers begin to break bread with the day’s stacked line-up of DJs, there’s little denying the divinity of dubstep.
Manchester-based DJ/producer Anz kickstarts the celestial experience, matching the crowd’s early energy to her all-encompassing dance music tribute. There’s a reason she’s one of Britain’s most talked about selectors and a smile barely leaves her face throughout. Soon after, grime lynchpin Plastician takes to the ones and twos accompanied by MC Crazy D. ‘Intensive Snare’, one of his many Skepta collaborations, provides a prompt highlight and it’s not the last time “go on then, go on then” rings from Printworks’ impressive soundsystem.
By this time, the atmosphere is hot and heavy with the steam rising through Printworks’ steely surroundings. Kode9 steps up to the decks accompanied by Flowdan, who governs two steppers with his general-like energy. The Hyperdub founder drops authoritative dubplates to enhance the emcees natural command, sharply mixing percussive heavy rhythms. Thanks to Fred Again.. and Skrillex, the Bow native’s voice is reaching international notoriety, but his unparalleled tones still feel most appropriate in a clammy British rave.
Ben UFO’s elusive figure but omnipresent selections follow. The DJ rattles through two decades worth of dance music by bringing his unique brand of envelope-pushing post-dubstep. His status as one of the scene’s most renowned figureheads is in full effect as ravers scramble to shazam between drops, only to be met with disappointment. “We didn’t quite catch that” their phones say, they might hear the exclusives on his RinseFM show if they’re lucky.
At the time Maximum presses play on ‘Stop Dat’ by Dizzee Rascal, Printworks feels like it might spontaneously combust. The atmosphere intensifies reactively to the venue's revered light show, which gives off a devilish strobe in response to a selection of grime classics. A particularly potent moment comes when two classic Wiley instrumentals mix seamlessly; ‘Wot Do You Call It?’ creates some hype, which crescendos uncontrollably to the Eskimo bleeps of ‘Morgue’.
The last hour devotes itself to Skream and SGT Piper’s dubstep excellence. The Croydon natives waste no time drawing for exclusives, sending the former’s remix of Redlight & Ms Dynamite’s ‘What You Talking About’ out for an instant reload. By the end of his set, the FWD>> family steps onto the stage to share the final moment with their devout audience; many of whom have been with them from the beginning. A celebration of club culture? Last Friday was more than that. It was a fitting homage to FWD>>’s past and present legacy and a telling microcosm of what holds for dubstep’s future.