When Manchester DJs Ryan Hunn and Jonny Dub decided to start a new club night in 2008, they didn’t quite have their act together.
“Compared to how we started off, I’m surprised we’re still going to be honest,” Hunn jokingly told me in 2011 as he recounted the beginnings of what would become Hoya:Hoya. Five minutes before all the necessary information needed to be given to the venue, they still didn’t have a name. “We’re sitting in this bar trying to find something that sounded cool. I typed ‘fresh’ into a Japanese translator and it came up with ‘hoya hoya’. I looked it up a bit more and it seemed that when new stuff was in at record shops there would be a ‘hoya hoya’ section.” Hunn wasn’t far off – according to the Dictionary of Iconic Expressions in Japanese, the figurative meaning of hoya hoya is “the state of being fresh and new”.
In February this year Hoya:Hoya turned seven. In that time it has become one of England’s best monthly nights with a devoted following of local clubgoers as well as national and international DJs and producers. Following in the tradition of other iconic Manchester nights like The Electric Chair, Headfunk and Friends & Family, Hoya:Hoya is made special by its dedication to an open music policy. More than a simply summarised gimmick, it’s an ethos that runs deep in the make-up of the city.
“There’s a long history of clubs like that in Manchester, clubs we used to go to and grew up with,” Hunn explains. “It’s always been a very natural way of operating for us.” It’s also one reason why Hoya:Hoya has grown from its local Manchester roots to include one of the strongest resident line-ups in the world and a residency at one of the country’s last superclubs, London’s Fabric.
Back in 2008 it all looked like it might never last more than a few months though. Hoya:Hoya began at the Music Box, an 800 capacity club in the basement of a legendary rock venue that closed in 2010. Hunn and Dub had no releases to their names and only a small amount of local DJing experience, yet they each took over one of the venue’s two rooms and played for six hours, a move typical of the daringness that characterises their approach. “We got about four, five hundred people. It was amazing,” Hunn recalled in 2011. “The next month we booked James T. Cotton, Todd Osborne and Toddla T. The night was great but we lost a lot of money. The following month we booked Mark Mac, billed it as 4Hero and again lost a lot of money.”
“[Hoya] is a continuation of this need to progress for me.”
The pair were clearly onto something but the scope wasn’t working out. Luckily they found the same monthly slot at The Roadhouse, a smaller basement venue amid the brick buildings of the city’s Northern Quarter. After one more party at the Music Box in May, they took the summer off and relaunched in September. They once again kicked things off with a back to back all-nighter and within a few months found their feet in a new home that would come to define Hoya:Hoya as much as the music and its residents: “Six months or so after the move to The Roadhouse I had the first Illum Sphere release and things started to get good.”
With some perseverance the pieces fell into place and within its first two years Hoya:Hoya became one of the most reliable club nights in England for those seeking an alternative from the dominance of both the capital and genre-focused club nights. Early guest performers were aligned to Hunn and Dub’s tastes while also reflecting the times, and they included established and upcoming artists who would go on to bigger things such as Rustie, Kissey Asplund, Danny Breaks, Bullion, Ras G, Kode 9, Hudson Mohawke and Floating Points. All of this ultimately placed Hoya:Hoya within a global network of cities that had been connecting the dots between dance music and hip hop for a few years, from Low End Theory in Los Angeles to the Ballers Social Club in Glasgow and Deviation in London. However, for Hunn and Dub the intention was never to become another night within a scene or adhere to an easily defined sound and aesthetic.
The first big change for Hoya:Hoya came in the summer of 2010 with the announcement of a new resident roster that would prove to be one of their shrewdest moves. Joining the founders were LuckyMe’s Éclair Fifi, Irish boogie ambassador Krystal Klear, Manchester DJing legend Jon K and Nottingham’s Lone, who was in the process of reinventing himself from a hip-hop producer to a deft electronic experimentalist. The boisterous Chunky was resident MC and Emmanuel Biard, aka EMN, looked after visuals. Individually, each member was already on their own artistic trajectory and as a group they would grow over the years to become one of the most consistent collectives in the world.
Dec Lennon, aka Krystal Klear, moved from Dublin to Manchester in 2010, around the same time as his first releases began to hit the shelves. Hoya:Hoya provided him with an essential foundation from which to grow. “I was a pretty confident, cocky dude back then. Hanging out with people like Jon, Clair and Ryan made me realise that I didn’t actually know that much. You learn as you move forward and that’s been the biggest eye opener for me.” He compares Hoya:Hoya’s eclecticism to the Writer’s Bench in New York City where graffiti artists would meet and trade tales, sketches and styles. “It’s a continuation of this need to progress. That’s Hoya for me. It’s what I get excited about. I’ll dig for records and think ‘I can’t wait to see Jon’s reaction to this tune.’ I don’t get that anywhere else.”
“We’ve all grown so much individually these past five years. I feel like a totally different DJ.”
Coming into the Hoya:Hoya fold from the Scottish collective LuckyMe, Clair Stirling, aka Éclair Fifi, was a logical addition to the line-up having guested a few times in the night’s early days. When I ask about highlights of the past seven years, the first word she utters is freedom. “There are places that exist and that have prestige for a certain genre. But for me Hoya:Hoya means inconsistency in the best possible way. You’ll be surprised and happy, and have the freedom to play whatever you want. The crowd is one of the most responsive in the country, they will dance to anything.” The camaraderie between residents is a natural fit for Stirling, who came from a collective similar to Hoya:Hoya. “I’m used to growing up with a group of friends where your main inspirations are each other. We’ve all grown so much individually these past five years. I feel like a totally different DJ. I think we’ve all changed but kept our ethos in a way.”
Hometown hero Jon Kraus, aka Jon K, was an obvious addition to the lin- up considering his deep roots in Manchester. “One of the things I personally buzz off is the high turnover of people in the city,” he explains, referring to the constantly moving student population. “You’ll get people coming down who you’ve never seen before but straight away they’re on board with it – old music, new music and the tempos changing. That’s a big part of it for me.” While Kraus is well known for his ability to weave together mesmerising sets, he’s also an educator. As Lennon points out, he is the kind of DJ who will pull out a track no one knows at exactly the right time. “We’re all people who take the DJing thing seriously. You’re never in a situation where the person before has left you with a shit sandwich. The hosting also plays a big part and you can always just flow with the vibe or reset it. It never feels like people who play are pretentious about ‘this is what I do.’”
The next big change for the night began in January 2011. Keen to refresh their approach in light of an increasingly crowded UK club scene, the crew made another canny move: a Secret Series where guests would no longer be announced. It paid off, and for the next year or so Hoya:Hoya made clever use of their contact book to surprise the crowd. “I remember seeing a girl at the front break down and cry when Four Tet came out,” Lennon recalls. “It caught the whole audience off guard because we’d managed to keep it so under wraps. We could see this idea was going to work.”
Even though the Secret Series ended, it proved a turning point in how Hoya:Hoya would come to think of their guests. “We got a lot of people quite early on in their careers,” Hunn explains. “A lot of the time it’d be impossible to get those people back, as others in Manchester can and will pay more for them. We always wanted to get to a point where we didn’t need guests, going back to the first nights that Jonny and I played on our own. The night has gone from being mainly guest based to pretty much not at all. There are guests sometimes, some announced, some not, but the night isn’t dependent on them. We just come together once a month to play tunes, essentially.”
The secret to a good club night is a good venue and after a false start Hoya:Hoya found their spiritual home at The Roadhouse. From my own experiences of attending Hoya:Hoya in its early years, it’s quickly evident that The Roadhouse is as much a part of the line-up as the residents. “I think it’s a massively underrated club and doesn’t get the credit it deserves. When treated right the system is great, the layout is perfect and it’s adaptable to what you want to do,” Hunn says. “The staff and owners have been so good to us over the years, I reckon we may not have lasted this long if it wasn’t for them.”
Kraus has a special relationship with the venue, as it’s been the home of three residencies over the past 15 years. “The nights that defined my progression have been at The Roadhouse. It’s just special. It’s what a good club should be: decent door policy, easygoing staff and a dark room with a good system. If you do something regularly there you become part of the family.” When I ask Chunky if there’d be any sense in Hoya:Hoya cashing in on its popularity to permanently move to a bigger city like London he replies, in his typically understated way, that if you “take the roots out the ground, you stop growing.”
“Hoya amped up my listening powers and that alone has enhanced my creative processes.”
While the night was already held in high esteem by fans and artists alike, wider recognition came in 2011 with a couple of Boiler Room broadcasts. First was a live feed from their third birthday at The Roadhouse, followed a few months later by a London session at Corsica Studios. In turn this led to an invitation from Fabric for the gang to take over the club’s room three in the autumn alongside Night Slugs in room two. For the next year the crew continued to visit the smaller room intermittently before Fabric finally gave them the keys to room two for a quarterly residency in 2013. The move was noticeable in light of the longstanding rivalry between the north and the south – just as they’d done with the music, Hoya:Hoya had broken through any political divides.
All the residents I spoke to point to EMN’s importance in the new Fabric residency. After making a name for himself in Manchester, the French visual wizard has gone on to work with Evian Christ, Koreless and most famously Daedelus, helping the Los Angeles dandy bring his vision of a musical machine to life through the Archimedes rig. At Fabric he shapes the cavernous space of room two into a truly unique environment.
“Emmanuel has way more scope for larger visual works, and we use the booth to the side of the room to split the focal points,” Hunn tells me. “It’s helped us give people in London a little taste of what Hoya can be like.” Recalling their latest show in January, Kraus underlines EMN’s contributions: “There were people who got their heads popped that night. They were dancing and completely mesmerised by the visuals. It’s a powerful experience and it’s special to see people’s reaction to Emmanuel’s work.”
When Hunn and Dub set up Hoya:Hoya’s resident line-up five years ago, they couldn’t have known it would prove such a prescient move. In tandem with the night, the residents have all grown and become fully-fledged artists in their own rights. Despite his hometown reputation, Kraus had rarely achieved recognition outside Manchester. That changed after he joined the gang. “I’ve been playing records for a while but the last couple of years have been amazing in terms of traveling. When Hoya peaked we were all already doing other things and I think they complemented each other.”
As the resident MC, Chunky was always the voice of Hoya:Hoya and he’s parlayed that into an increasingly diverse musical career: “Hoya amped up my listening powers and that alone has enhanced my creative processes.” As things progressed Fox, another local MC, joined Chunky to share hosting duties. Part of the city’s old guard, Fox brought his experience and energy to Hoya and in turn found himself learning new tricks. “It was hard at first because the music is so eclectic. It’s helped me with the less is more approach and in turn that’s bled over into my hosting elsewhere. It’s also not unusual for me to ask a DJ what that tune was and the notes on my phone will testify to the education I get at Hoya.”
For Stirling the growth of Hoya:Hoya has ultimately fed her own confidence to go out there and be a working DJ who can hit the road and get on with it. “Before Hoya and LuckyMe I did do stuff on my own, but for me it’s not them holding you up, it’s them inspiring and influencing you to keep working.” Lennon is equally thankful for the education he’s received. “It’s a massive foundation for where I’ve gone. It taught me about DJing. Learning about records expands your perception for making music, it’s a revolving circle that if you do right will benefit you.”
The last word goes to Hunn, who’s quick to point out that despite their collective and personal growth, “it doesn’t really matter who has the bigger profile, because we all still take turns to open up the club.”