The Last of the Great Indie Discos: an interview with Chris from Offbeat

Hidden away in the corner of Sheffield University’s student bar lies the Raynor Lounge, home of Offbeat, the ultimate indie disco.

Filling up.

It has now been running for 25 years, founded as a splinter event from Warwick’s own indie society [1].

While The West Midland Offbeat is run as a generational oligarchy, passed from clique to claque, Sheffield’s is a benevolent dictatorship, eternally safe in the hands of Chris Stride, aka Dr Offbeat.

That instantly recognisable Offbeat aesthetic.

Where else can you see a group of freshers moshing to Half Man Half Biscuit, enjoy pop-punk classics mixed with the latest indie tunes, and experience the sheer joy of an event that has moved from vital [2], to legendary, to institutional?

But Offbeat is no relic.

Most indie discos are now retro nights, playing ancient hits to stag do parties and nostalgia seekers. It’s testament to Chris’ graft, craft and sheer enthusiasm that he’s still making it work and keeping it current.

On a cold December night, the main bar deserted after England’s latest World Cup oopsie, Offbeat is an enclave and a holdout, a secret hidden in plain sight.

The 26th anniversary Offbeat is on Friday 3rd February 2023.

Tickets on the door.

I sent Chris a few questions about Offbeat’s enduring awesomeness. Here’s what he had to say

It was fantastic to see so many students at the night! What do you think it is about the current intake that means they “get” it?

Good question! Ever since we started back in 1997, Offbeat has always attracted a roughly equally spread age range from 18 to 50ish – the point of the night is that it’s us playing new and old leftfield indie music we love to people who love that music, and age doesn’t really come into it.

Club 18-50ish

I hope people of any age will always be attracted to that sense of community and being amongst people with similar interests and attitudes. More important than age is that we’ve always strived to be a welcoming, dickhead-free zone – I guess we were a safe-space before safe-spaces were a thing.

Also, we’ve never tried to be anything other than a niche event, in a small venue, for example by changing to a more mainstream playlist – we have no plans for world domination!

Whilst that means we will never attract huge crowds of people, it’s more likely to nurture loyalty amongst those who do attend; the sense of being part of something, a slighlty secret event, where you recognise the same people each time, is all part of it.

New tunes!

I need to comment on the moshing, as I’m not sure I’ve ever seen that [3] at an indie night before. It looks very sweet and good natured, but when did it start?? Is it a regular thing?

We’ve always played new and old punk/hardcore tracks so fair enough.

To quote Half Man Half Biscuit, ‘It fills me with joy to see moshers out jogging, it fills me with joy to see joggers out moshing’.[4]

There’s been occasional outbursts of moshing at Offbeat throughout its existence, indeed it was a cause of minor controversy back in the late 90s when At The Drive-in’s ‘One-armed Scissor’ would send the (then smaller) dancefloor into a seething frenzy and create a few complaints from unwilling participants.

With the slightly bigger dancefloor post-2005 that’s less of an issue, there’s plenty of room for all types of movement, and it’s hardly a full-on circle pit!

It’s Cliched to celebrate PhDs at Christmas

One of the many things I love about Offbeat is that you’ve never been a nostalgia night – still playing new tunes even if not many make the radio these days. Do you know of any other indie nights that still do this? Most I’ve visited of late seem to go full retro.

No, it will never be a nostalgia night! I always aim to play 50-60% releases from the last 18 months or so. A nostalgia-type club would be sooooo boring to DJ, whereas it’s great to play a new track a few times and see people gradually discover it and fill the dancefloor.

Plus a nostalgia night would be pretty boring to attend after a while, and the crowd would probably just get older and older… the night would wither and die eventually. I want to promote new bands and tracks both for their – and our – sustainability!

I don’t know of any other indie nights in Sheffield that play many recent releases – but I know of very few other indie nights full stop these days. Are there any other genuinely underground indie nights outside of London, (i.e. not mainstream indie/urban/chart crossover things like Propaganda, and even they have massively declined)?[5]

Gig crowds seem to be getting slightly older, and perhaps there are fewer young people into indie than there were, say 10-15 years ago. So I guess it’s very easy to play it safe and pitch the night to an older crowd and then just play old records.

But older people attending gigs are attending gigs by new bands… just playing older records to an older crowd would ignore the fact that they are obviously listening to new music!

Likewise streaming services, algorithms etc make it easier for younger people to discover relatively obscure bands/songs from the past, so a mix of new and old still works really well.

Are you playing out each night live on the internet too? Or was that just to help us through the pandemic?

No, that was COVID-era only. I still put the playlists up on Spotify though.

So I saw – immensely useful.

Saves people photographing the big screen or taking notes during the night (both have been witnessed!)

Fame at last

Offbeat spring 2023 dates: Friday 3rd Feb, Friday 24th Feb, Friday 24th March

[1] Warwick Offbeat has been going since the early eighties.

[2] “Hey, where did that bloke go who said I was vital?” – Half Man Half Biscuit, A Country Practice.

[3] To clarify: I’ve seen moshing before at indie nights, but these guys moshed to *everything*. Even Belle & Sebastian.

[4] “We Built This Village On A Trad. Arr. Tune”. Off their best album, Achtung Bono

[5] To my knowledge, no. I’m sure Ian Watson at How Does It Feel To Be Loved still plays new stuff, but his is an indie pop / girl groups / soul crossover night, officially a Different Category of shindig.

I wrote about the death of the indie disco for the Guardian many years ago, and got a kicking for it. Mainly from other indie disco DJs, admittedly…

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