27th November marked the biggest date in techno for the UK in 2021, courtesy of fast-rising brand XXL. 12,000 ravers, 3 rooms, and 21 of the best DJs in the scene took over Depot Mayfield at The Warehouse Project in Manchester, which was recently voted the 9th best club in the world by DJ Mag.
XXL is the brainchild of Anton Stevens and Tom Shenton, who’s experience from running the brand Teletech and nearby club Hidden clearly shone through at WHP. While XXL have thrown parties at venues like Motion in Bristol, The Mill Digbeth in Birmingham and O2 Victoria Manchester, The Warehouse Project was their largest rave to date. It’s no mean feat selling out the Mayfield Depot, and XXL not only rose to the challenge but delivered an unrivalled experience – WHP has never sounded so good!
With extra production taking the unique spaces to another level, clear sound, and a heavyweight selection of the who’s who in techno – it’s arguable this wasn’t just a rave. This was the biggest indoor techno festival in the UK this year. While it may be easy to see many of these DJs in Europe, it’s not often that a line up this big reaches the UK, giving ravers an opportunity to see some of their bucket list DJs. Here’s what went down.
For more info on the venue itself, production & sound check out our previous review of BICEP here. The only changes since this, is that mixers are now £6.50, or £10 for a double and lockers are available on site. £5 will get you a small and £10 for a large unit, with the key to open being a refundable £10 deposit.
Additional Production & Sound
Adding a cherry on top of the cake, XXL installed a few little surprises inside each of the venue’s three rooms which went down like a treat.
To complement the already dazzling lighting rig inside The Depot, found two additional rows of LED panels above the crowd. Running parallel along the length of the dance floor, the panels displayed captivating visuals and dizzying strobes courtesy of VJ RIEN.
Acting as a centrepiece for the Concourse, saw a giant cube douse the room in colour with hypnotic projected visuals, adding a whole new dynamic to the space.
Dancers brought a unique energy to the Archive which showcased some of the more intense sounds of the night. Their presence perfectly suited the heavier track selections, creating a dystopian atmosphere inside the room.
The sound was spot on across all three rooms in the venue. No matter where you stood, the bass hit you square in the chest – perfect for the heavyweight drums we heard all night. We had previously experienced some sound issues at WHP (see here) but they had worked through any kinks to get the system functioning perfectly for XXL. Each room was EQ’d well, with no sound bleeding between stages – which meant you heard every breakdown, every synth, every moment, just as the artist wanted you to – bravo.
Fast-rising DJ/producer Imogen has made quite the name for herself in the last few years. Becoming a resident for the iconic Fabric London in 2019 and hosting her own radio show on NTS alongside an ever-growing touring schedule which has seen her perform at likes of Berghain, Printworks, muta.bor, Herrensauna and further afield.
Taking the reins during the 20:30 – 22:00 slot, IMOGEN got our feet warm with some industrial stompers as the venue began to fill. Acting as a sign of things to come for the night ahead, IMOGEN’s set featured a cocktail of tenacious techno, bruising breakbeat and knee-jerking jungle. Our standout tracks from the performance included one of her own pumping productions with Ben Pest titled “Shibooty”, “IU” by Boys Noize & Corbin and an outrageous jungle tune ID which we’ve videoed below – not for the faint-hearted.
A name who is spreading across the European techno scene like wildfire. Clara Cuvé has burst into the limelight in recent years thanks to her no holds barred approach to DJing. The Munich-born, Berlin-based selector is known for spinning a concoction of high octane beats, with a focus on groove and dynamics. Her performance at XXL was no exception.
Ranging from rocket-fulled trance to downright dirty hardcore, Clara pulled us from pillar to post with a thrilling attack on the senses. Spinning tunes such as “Omega Arch” by Koszmar, the track’s throbbing kick drums rippled along the Archive’s concrete walls. Towards the end of her set, a double helping of Vizionn with his rave-ready weapons “Face Down” and “Shady Days” left the entire room in awe.
The American-born, Berlin-based DJ/Producer is famous for his futuristic take on electro/techno and high-tempo, intense mixing style. Real name, Sherard Ingram, he was the opening DJ for the legendary Detroit electronic duo Drexciya during their tour, which is when the name DJ Stingray was born, along with wearing the mysterious balaclava. Since then, Sherard has toured the globe showcasing his signature and inimitable sound.
We were excited to see which direction Stingray’s set would go as he took over from Clara Cuvé. Not one to settle for just a single genre, Stingray alternated between body-shaking techno, and mind-altering breaks/electro – a nice change up from the 4/4 beats.
“Chrome” by Aloka took the room by surprise. With the ethereal, soft synths placed against the ground-shaking kicks (they hit like a B-2 bomber) this caused some serious dance floor damage. Another huge record was what we think is an unreleased remix sampling DJ Deeon’s “2 B Free” (vid below). Serving up a delicious dose of electro drums, the track sent the crowd into a two-stepping, head-bopping frenzy. If you know the ID – let us know!
An artist who needs little introduction. During the last few years, Amelie Lens has become one of the leading names in techno. Alongside being recognised around the world for DJing and producing, the Belgian starlet also runs her very own imprint LENSKE and throws sold out parties under the EXHALE banner.
Setting up camp in the packed out Depot, Lens took to the stage with a huge reception. The next 90 minutes consisted of pure unadulterated techno, with tracks from herself, releases on LENSKE and some of the most sought after tunes the genre has to offer. Charlie Sparks’ remix of “My Mind” by Carla Schmitt certainly got the crowd going, with a frenzy of strobes adding even more tension to the hair-raising build up. Another highlight came from Mall Grab’s thumping 2020 release “Take Down Enemies”. The track’s hardstyle kicks and catchy vocal hook reverberated around the Depot.
UK DJ and producer of the year 2018, Rebekah, blew the roof off of the Archive. After seeing her set shake the leaves off the trees at The One In The Woods earlier this year, we were eager to hear what she had in store for XXL. Rebekah’s 25 years of experience was clear to see, and hearing her regularly laying multiple tracks together smoothly was very impressive.
Immediately following a foot-stomping set from Hector Oaks, Rebekah made sure to keep the tempo and energy high. From 02:30 – 04:00 the faces of ravers in the Archive were one of either ecstasy or amazement – as Rebekah blew the minds and expectations of the room. If you’ve not seen her before, imagine 150bpm+ hardstyle techno and just when you thought it can’t get any heavier or harder, think again!
Her set list took the room by surprise all night, with lung-shattering kicks and other-worldly synths filling the room – many of which we’ve never heard before. A standout record would be the wzx-o remix of “Sourness” by Slime Coca – the gritty acid line and hard bassline kept everyone’s feet moving on the dance floor. It was cool to hear the 1991 record “Dominator” by Human Resource too – a nod to the old school techno. We weren’t sure how Rebekah would top her set in the woods, but it’s safe to say she was really was bigger, bolder, rougher and tougher! Check out the dancers in the vid below.
Russian techno queen Nina Kraviz is renowned for her groove-laden, thumping take on techno, and her closing set in the Concourse reminded us exactly why she’s one of the biggest techno DJs in the world. After a whole night of standout music, we were sad to see the last set of the evening – we could have gone on for much longer! The room was packed full of ravers for Nina despite her set time clashing with Jeff Mills in the Depot.
Originally training as a dentist before transitioning to music, Nina had the whole of Concourse’s teeth rattling during her performance. She brought a huge amount of energy behind the decks, and it was great to see her dancing in the booth while she played.
A standout moment for us was “Set The Trap” by Asquith, which turned the heads of the whole crowd as the wonky distorted bassline erupted onto the dance floor. Coupled with the huge cube visuals, this one kicked the crowd into overdrive. Another huge moment came from Tenzella – “Santiago” (video below), with an unexpected trumpet reverberating around the room. Big smiles and “What is this??” faces from the crowd, as we saw a fair few phones loading Shazam. Nina’s set was also littered with unreleased records from artists she regularly champions like Vladimir Dubyshkin and u.r.trax.
To put it simply, just wow. The team behind XXL have truly created something special and unique for purveyors of techno and niche electronic sounds in the UK. Providing an experience where ravers can see the leading international superstars in techno and underground electro/breakbeat in its purest form on the same lineup at a disused railway depot. Where else can you do that so close to home?
The brand continues to go from strength to strength on their upward trajectory, crossing off what must surely be a dream venue for any promoter and in an emphatic fashion. Carefully considered additions to production utilised the cavernous space perfectly and brought the derelict building to life, highlighting its striking features. Organisation on the day felt like a military operation; slick, smooth and efficient. What a way to cross off their debut show in The Depot, we can’t wait to see what’s up next for the UK’s most exciting techno event.
A big thank you to Anton and Tom at XXL, as well as Sophie and the rest of the WHP team for their welcoming hospitality at the show. Bring on the next one!
Words: Ben Lovejoy & Eliot Harris