It’s difficult to navigate our local nightlife without John Drysdale popping up sooner or later. Perhaps he won’t be clinging on to the barrier in the front row of a sweaty crowd, but chances are that he’ll have had some part in your hedonistic pursuits recently. When we meet him for a drink, he arrives wearing his Beacons festival t-shirt. I don’t know if this is because he is truly a relentless promoter, or because he thinks we won’t know who he is. Unlikely, given that he’s responsible for bringing Mr Scruff on to York’s campus this month, and is about to host Loefah and Zed Bias for his Night Vision parties. Alongside this, he’s one of Beacons’ directors, the man behind the city’s YO1 festival, and even a trained painter who’s just decorated Leeds’ new Belgrave Music Hall. We sit down to delve in to the surrounding nightlife, past, present and future.
Drysdale is ‘born and bred in York’. He’s watched the city fluctuate, from when Tokyo was Toff’s, when the deconsecrated church-now-bar The Parish was the ‘rocking community’ that was The Arts Centre, where ‘acts like Skream played on a random Wednesday night’, and more recently when the much-loved music venue Stereo became The Pink Pony bar. He doesn’t recount these days wistfully, though; they aren’t so much wonder years as other years. More than once, he tells us that ‘things go round in cycles. Right now we’re in an upturn’. Drysdale does not dwell in the past, whether it was a good time or otherwise. The most he can tell me about this August’s Beacons festival is that ‘the Diamond Dogs hot dogs were a highlight’.
It seems there are more exciting things to talk about, events that are happening right now, people that are doing things right now. That of course includes himself – Night Vision launches on 8th November at Tokyo and, for Drysdale, takes a hammer to the ‘glass ceiling’ of York’s parties, where ‘there’s a lot of the same, in terms of levels of artists’. Why is now the time to wield your weapons at the ceiling? At the forefront is the student population; ‘what I’ve seen in the last two or three years is a massive shift in the type of student that’s coming here. Both York and St John’s were really academic up until a few years ago and since they’ve expanded there’s been a massive influx of young, vibrant, hedonistic kids that have come to the scene. I think the universities are being seen as more like the cosmopolitan ones in Leeds or Manchester and other big northern cities where you can go to university and have a good time as well’.
Talking to Drysdale is a reminder that cities are organic, living, things. While life at university may seem like an extended but fleeting holiday in a far away place, one is actually immersed in the undulating lives of a collective, which is most importantly, malleable. ‘You need pressure and praise for the individuals in the collective to drive it forward. I’m all for working with more people, it’s how I operate, joining up with like-minded people’. It’s here that we find the ethos of his YO1 festival – ‘it’s a York festival, the people that are involved in it are from York and are its life source. It’s surrounded by all the little oddities and best things from York’. It’s a similar mentality that’s seen Night Vision bring Mr Scruff to university, forging a partnership with York’s DJ society, Breakz, to ‘bring music back on campus, otherwise I wouldn’t have been able to get in to the university. It’s a good partnership’.
With the event strangely just 100 yards from the lecture hall where Hendrix famously played several decades ago, talk turns to venues. Is it odd to have booked such a forward thinking and pioneering artist as Loefah in a club often associated with YUSU’s official bar crawls and the hosts of S Club 3’s tour stop in the city? ‘It used to be that the minority were in to really cool music, and now it’s the majority. It’s an interesting time for that’. He pauses to reconsider. ‘It’s the music and the people inside, it doesn’t matter where you are. That’s why free parties always worked – it doesn’t matter whether you’re in a field or a bar or a disused restaurant or whatever. For me, if you want to break it down into people going out and having a good time, it doesn’t matter whether they’re a student or live in York – they should be able to party together’.
Perhaps this sounded too idyllic, too idealistic. He reconsiders again, ‘We’re all sheep. We listen to what everyone else does, we dress the same to be individual… But as long as you like the music you’re promoting, it doesn’t matter how popular it is’. What advice does he have for someone who has found music they like and want to share? ‘Have a go, don’t be afraid. Nobody will do it for you, nobody will do anything for you. But if you like music, find what you like and listen to it; if you want to play it, pick up an instrument and play it; if you want other people to listen to it, promote it. It’s just a matter of doing it, not talking about it’.
I want to talk about what he’ll be doing next. ‘In terms of Night Vision, it’s going to be eclectic, I want to touch on plenty of genres’. That’s all we’ll know for now. From talking to Drysdale, it seems there used to be barriers to overcome in creating a scene in York, but they are gradually being lifted, or rather redefined. As events and ideas grow bigger, divides diminish – the ones between stage and audience, or between campus and city, resident and student, are being dissolved to create something very exciting indeed.By Alice Lawrence