Keep It Unreal 17th Birthday with Mr Scruff and Francois K review

Gwen Angood partied until close at Old Granada Studios in Manchester to celebrate Mr Scruff's Keep It Unreal milestone.

Becca Frankland

Date published: 8th Jun 2016

It's actually quite difficult to put into words what exactly went down at the Old Granada Studios on Friday, in fact, it may be more apt to try and paint a picture – exactly as Mr Scruff and Francois K did through the medium of music on the night.  

A multi-sensory experience, their back-to-back set engaged not only your ears, but your mind, body and indeed your soul as they took you on a colourful six hour journey through an eclectic selection of tracks that were quite simply, divine.

Having attended the first ever Keep It Unreal night an unbelievable 17 years ago, it became immediately apparent that this night followed a completely one-off, original recipe. 17 years on, the same can still be said – having travelled far and wide, it's safe to say there isn't anything quite like it anywhere else in the world.

Impossible to put in a pigeon hole, it's varied and relaxed music policy attracts the same kind of people – interesting, happy, sociable folk who just want to dance and float away in their unique musical bubbles for a few hours after a long week at work.

What makes this night so unique could be felt – and heard, immediately upon entering The Studios on Friday night. Stepping into a vast, open whitewashed space, one may have expected to feel a little lost, however you found yourself gravitating towards a warm, carnival style atmosphere immediately from the off, with people grooving around in the bar area to some lovely samba sounds in the form of 'Tom Blake' by Ron Blake (Osunlade's Yoruba Samba Soul Remix).

A delicate array of lights twinkled out into the bar from behind the curtain to the main room, enticing us to investigate further as we grooved our way on to the dancefloor, twirling along until we found the perfect spot, which seemed to be right in the epicentre of the sound being emitted through a beautiful system – obviously programmed to perfection, it embraced you without being too loud or overpowering.

One thing that can be said for Mr Scruff is that he is a bit of a perfectionist, and has a real eye for detail. Being a former television studio, this room was essentially a blank canvas, however he and the team had transformed it into something unique and intimate, understated but also the most intricate at the same time. The geeks amongst us spotted the concrete slabs and breeze blocks underneath the decks and immediately appreciated the time and patience – not to mention the expertise that had gone into that stage set-up.

Add to this the smiling faces all round and the legendary pop-up tea shop, adorned with twinkly fairy lights and serving up a mean chocolate brownie, you knew you'd be staying all night and you could not feel happier about it. The Jazz hands were out and Charleston in full swing before we could even finish our brew as the crowd let out an unanimous "Wooooo" to 'Stella' (Joey Negro Jazz Ride) by Norman Connors.

It wouldn't be an exaggeration to call Francois K one of the most experienced DJs and producers on the planet – with Mr Scruff also falling into that category. Witnessing them both behind the decks can only be described as pure magic. The musical relationship between the two was immense – their creative flair and the way they carefully mixed and selected the tracks was just beautiful, both enjoying every second of the set and relaxed. It was if they had played together every weekend since the beginning of time.  

We enjoyed an adventure of disco, funk, afrobeat and reggae not to mention some cross-genre gems that pump out at all angles like an Eaton Mess – an insane mixture simple of ingredients that together tick all the right boxes including D-Train's 'You're The One For Me' standing out as a foot stomping, hand clapping belter.

The two selectors have a musical knowledge akin to an endless galaxy of sparkles and light – exactly what the glitterball emitted across the floor as they hit us with the most groovy bass and uplifting Italo vibes in the form of Tullio de Piscoppo's 'Stop Bajon'. Going straight into 'You Got The Stuff' by Bill Withers, Francois K was clearly in his element here, you could sense he was really feeling the love from the crowd and that he was going to take us somewhere special 

Just when we thought we could not feel any happier, the wonderful sunshine provider that is MC Kwasi appeared to add to the lovely mixture of dad-dancing with strangers, rum, and the adornment of even more revelers with glitter.

Highlights? Wow, tough call. Obviously, the aforementioned tracks stand out as memorable to us, but choosing an absolute highlight would be near impossible.  Mary Clark's Take Me I'm Yours sounded completely different from the other week when we heard it played by DJ Harvey in a big room at Ministry Of Sound. This time you could hear the whispery vinyl, so intimate, it was like dancing at home – we certainly did dance like we thought no one was watching.

Prince was celebrated in the rarest possible fashion, with Francois playing 'Cool by The Time' – a  funky collaboration the artist formed in the early 80s, his vocals were epic and the trademark Minneapolis style bass guitar riff had us jumping.

'Get On Up' by Roundtree set the floor on fire, with clusters of people improvising their own sensational dance routines and singing along. Rare sets like this always bring out the dancers, which is an absolute joy to watch and be a part of. I'm all for an intense, sweaty techno session (just like Francois has played in Manchester may times) however there are some instances where you just need to get your salsa hips grooving and your finest disco moves going on a night out that fixes the soul.

That's exactly how we felt as Gregory Porter's '1960 What?' Was played in it's entirety by Mr Scruff, fixed on a soulful, spiritual level. What a track.  The speech by Francois clearly demonstrated that he was as touched as we all were by what we'd experienced throughout the night – an overwhelming sense of happiness and a kind of super humanity effort. This visitor from across the Atlantic really should come over to play more often. 

It's clear to see why Keep It Unreal has been around for so long, it provides a solace on the dance floor for people who love their music, vibing all night long with each other until someone sadly tells them they have to go home – until next time...

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