Nightclubbing: Kabal

Shaped by Sheffield’s illegal party scene, Kabal’s clandestine nature was just one element of its influential run as one of the city’s musical melting pots

August 17, 2017

“For me, Kabal will go down in history as one those seminal nights that will stand alongside Bristol’s Wild Bunch, Sunday night Metalheadz, Plastic People, Manchester’s Nude night, Amnesia and Mancuso’s Loft in NYC,” declares Luke Cowdrey, better known as Luke Unabomber.

Between 2001 and 2016, Kabal walked the tightrope between the thrill of an illegal rave and a well-run club night by throwing parties in unlicensed venues across Sheffield. In funeral parlours, studio complexes, warehouses and railway arches, the crew of predominantly local DJs threw together a unique blend of up-for-it party music that could only have been brewed in the Steel City. Due to its clandestine nature, Kabal is less storied than other fabled Sheffield parties like Jive Turkey and Niche, but for 15 years the team brought a level of consideration and professionalism to illegal spaces across the city in pursuit of a distinctive musical goal.

Kabal’s residents spanned three generations of Sheffield DJs, from Winston Hazel to Pipes to Toddla T. Hazel’s heritage runs deep as one of the residents of Jive Turkey and one half of Forgemasters. Pipes started his DJ career a little later, solidifying his presence in Sheffield nightlife in the mid-’90s, while Toddla T emerged as a DJ in his mid-teens and quickly shot to international fame as a producer in the late ’00s, releasing on Ninja Tune and working with the likes of Roots Manuva, Tinchy Stryder and Shola Ama. Under the logistical guidance of chief organiser and promoter Raif Collis, the trio struck upon a fusion of reggae, dancehall, house, techno, soul and leftfield electronics that alluded to past phenomena in Sheffield whilst presenting a fresh musical proposition of its own.

While Sheffield’s free party scene existed as a self-contained subculture, Kabal presented the concept of illicit venues to a crowd that might not have ventured off the beaten track.

“Winston and Parrot playing at Jive Turkey was the sonic imprint for me,” says Peter Pipes. We’re sat in the 11th-floor flat of Raif Collis, who darts back and forth from the kitchen with food and drink while Pipes and Winston Hazel share recollections of partying in Sheffield. “After Jive Turkey finished, Them On The Hill and all that were doing the free parties, but I was pretty straight and I just didn’t fit.” Pipes was quietly amassing his own record collection and playing at straight-up house nights around town while swerving the hedonistic end of the party spectrum. It wasn’t until 10 Denk Records founder Ashton Thomas heard him playing on local pirate station SCR that Pipes was invited to play a small cellar party in 1995, kick-starting his presence on Sheffield’s underground party landscape.

“Hale Street was formative,” says Collis. “It was a strange little coach house building behind a row of terraces. It had one big room and our mutual friend Noel Kilbride turned it into this amazing party space. It’s where a lot of people met each other.”

“That place would go on for days,” adds Hazel. “People would go home and come back. It were a lovely environment.”

Sheffield in the ’90s had its fair share of infamous party locations, though, and the Castle Court Estate was equally pivotal in laying the foundation for Kabal. “It just seemed to be a bit of a magnet for loads of people who were into taking drugs and going to all the same nights around town,” says Hazel, who had originally grown up on the estate as a child. “There was a culture there of treating it like a hotel. Hanging around the corridors in your dressing gown, going to visit your mate four doors down or next floor up and then your drug dealer was on the third floor. It was mental.

“Me, Raif and Andrew Greenlees, who’s sadly passed away, started the Stone Jam Collective in 1993. We’d got graphic designers, we’d got a fashion designer, we’d got DJs, we’d got people who were really good at organizing things like Raif, all seeming to fit into this melting pot of a creative movement.”

It was around this time that Collis put on his first party, called Bad Housekeeping, with free entry and Hazel DJing, but in February 1994 he moved to Tokyo for two years, running an illegal party called Maximum Joy that further stoked his passion for promoting. Equally influential to Collis was a trip to New York with long time friend Luke Cowdrey in 1996, where Lower East Side house club Sapphire left a lasting impression with its dark red décor and low lighting – a visual cue that would directly transplant to the look of Kabal parties years later.

Another key stage in the formation of Kabal’s sound came from distant shores. Hazel and Collis travelled to Jamaica in late 1994 so that Hazel could connect with his roots. “In the back of my mind I thought I was going to Jamaica to discover myself,” Hazel recalls. “I was able to firstly understand where my parents were coming from in terms of their attitude to keeping us together as a family, and also put into context the reggae element of my life that I’d previously rejected.

“What made it really significant when we went out there,” he explains, “ragga had started to explode. We heard this ‘dunk dunk, dunk dunk’ everywhere, because their dances had no walls. We didn’t buy many records because we didn’t know what we were looking for, but we came back with a whole fucking new sound.”

While it took a pilgrimage to Jamaica for Hazel to truly incorporate ragga and dancehall into his own DJing repertoire, reggae and soundsystem culture were already etched into Sheffield’s musical make-up thanks to a sizable West Indian population, and the sub-heavy sounds of bleep techno certainly fed off that spirit. Hazel recalls the years that Jive Turkey was at Occasions, when the afterparty would often to roll on to one of Sheffield’s notorious blues spots in an accidental crossover between the reggae scene and the up-all-night club crowd. Still, the creative results of these culture clashes were often limited.

“A few of the venues like Donkey Man’s tried to get us involved,” Hazel explains, “but me and Parrot had a really bad experience there. An old Sheffield gangster put a shotgun up to us insisting that we played Mr. Fingers’ “Can You Feel It,” which we did of course. He walked off shooting it into the fucking ceiling.”

Of equal sonic importance in Sheffield was the city’s industrial heritage. Hazel talks sincerely about the sound of the steam hammers dropping at the steel works, which used to ricochet up the Don Valley to reach different parts of the city when the industry was at its peak. “That clang has got so much clarity on the top end,” he says, “but the subsonic resonance was relevant right across the city.”

With this backdrop of Sheffield’s various musical threads, Pipes and others started a Sunday night session in the mid-’90s called Wax Lyrical. The informal party featured a rotating cast of DJs playing a range of downtempo sounds from trip-hop and funk through to house music. Having grown bored of generic house and US garage that he was playing at other clubs, Wax Lyrical was Pipes’ chance to delve into his emerging interest in jungle and drum & bass. Naturally, Hazel was also amongst the DJs spinning regularly.

“When Winston came back from Jamaica and played at Wax Lyrical,” says Pipes, “he brought this whole new sonic dimension, playing 7"s that sounded like instrumental house versions, almost.”

“A lot of the stuff that I’d brought back from Jamaica I didn’t like the lyrics for,” Hazel explains, “so I was playing the B-sides. I’d got this culture of trip-hop and flip sides to a lot of these tracks, which had got funk beats mixed into them.”

“I think what blew a lot of people’s minds was that you were mixing seamlessly between ragga and house and techno,” Collis chimes in. “No one had ever heard that before.”

Pipes Andy Nicholson

In the years following Wax Lyrical, house and techno crept in as the dominant sounds in Sheffield nightclubs. Scuba became established as one of the leading spots for deep and tech-house, while Remedy catered to a tougher, techno-oriented sound. While Pipes indulged the house side of his record collection playing at both nights, those involved in Kabal agree the first parties at Yellowarch Studios and the Stag Works came about due to a lack of sonic variety in the clubs circa 2000. Collis teamed up with Matt Evans from Remedy to organise the initial parties in 2001, putting on between three and five rooms of different music in order to represent as many shades of Sheffield music as possible, from indie bands to techno, as well as the bass-led reggae, dancehall and broken beats that would come to define the night.

“I was finding out what it was like to promote on a bigger scale in Sheffield,” says Collis. “I very much wanted to represent Sheffield music, but I learned the lesson that one or two rooms was better, and easier to manage. Even when we had three to five rooms there’s always somebody who’d complain we didn’t put what they were into on, so rather than trying to represent everybody, I just decided to do the music that I liked, which basically meant whatever Winston was playing.”

One of the key appeals of those initial Kabal sessions was the illicit nature of the venues. Sheffield already had a strong heritage of illegal raves, but the more considered presentation that Collis strived for set Kabal apart from the makeshift chaos of the average free party.

“I love the free party scene,” Collis affirms, “but I wanted to do something a bit better quality. A free party is a fantastic thing, but because it’s free you can’t spend much on sound, décor, or anything like that.”

Initially, Collis would find potential party spots and try to track down the relevant landlord, getting turned down more times than he was granted access. After Kabal had been running for a few years, they built up a reputation as a more responsible party crew, and people began to come forward and offer them spaces. Collis also made connections with inner city property developers that knew of buildings earmarked for rejuvenation.

“Kabal really bucked the trend,” says Jamie Wilkins, the promoter for Scuba and close friend of the Kabal team. “What made it so successful was that they created their own venues, and that was unique in Sheffield at the time. Now everybody’s jumping on warehouse venues, but Kabal were the first to be doing it with a higher production quality. Every element of the organisation was done properly because Raif’s a good organiser.”

“The surprise element of the constantly changing venues has always added that extra special twist to the parties,” says longtime Kabal attendee Charley Barber, “as it would build up this sense of anticipation in the lead-up to the event and prevent things from ever getting stale. It’s fun dancing in amazing new spaces and bumping into long-lost and new friends in the winding passageways of these long-forgotten Sheffield warehouses and industrial spaces.”

Collis ran a tight ship in managing ticket sales and information about locations. Tickets were bought physically in shops around Sheffield, housed in a brown paper bag featuring a registration card, a set of notes and a telephone number pertaining to the location of the party. Pipes’ day job as a graphic designer bound this information pack together with an understated design that mirrored the low-key nature of Kabal’s approach to promotion.

“You’d get your silver ticket to hand in on the door,” says Collis. “They were very copyable, so at the height of Kabal when we were selling out straight away, people were copying our tickets and using ladders to climb over walls and all sorts of things.”

Like any self-respecting outfit oriented around bass-heavy music, Kabal built its own soundsystem using profits from the early parties. Rob Gordon, Hazel’s partner in Forgemasters and all-around Sheffield sound sage, was the architect of the Kabal system. “Rob was the only person who knew how it worked,” recalls Collis, “because he’d hand-picked all the units and it was a real hodgepodge of different things. Tannoy Wildcat speakers and Crown PSA-2 amps, really old kit, not powerful and loud but very warm, which only he knew how to string up.”

“It was traditionally how soundsystems were strung up,” adds Hazel. “Y’know – cables with no plugs on the end – but Robert was such a trusted ear in terms of the sound quality that we wanted to achieve and he tried his hardest to do that. Nine times out of ten, as long as it didn’t cut off, it always delivered.”

The Kabal team also paid specific attention to the door staff. “The most important door crew we had was run by a guy called Tal,” says Collis. “He wasn’t a bouncer,” says Hazel. “He was there to make everyone feel welcome and know that you’re safe inside. We have had dodgy types come down, but the moment you came to the door at Kabal, whatever intention you came with was diffused, and then you came in and assimilated into the vibe.”

Toddla T Courtesy of Peter Pipes

There was still one essential element of Kabal to come, and that was Toddla T. He and Pipes had first started DJing together at a party called Tonic, where they could play fast dancehall at a house tempo, amongst a wider range of styles. “I met Toddla when he was working in Sumo’s skate shop originally,” says Pipes. “He started coming to our parties and I think he was kind of blown away by the way that we were mixing the music up.” Although he is now known around the world, Tom Bell’s career as Toddla T began with these formative DJing experiences in Sheffield, and he fully credits the influence of Pipes and Hazel in shaping his musical direction when he first started going out to clubs in his late teens.

“It wasn’t until I started going to parties where Winnie and Pipes were playing that I understood rave culture,” Bell explains. “I didn’t really start playing and getting involved until I was about 20. Sheffield being such a tight-knit scene, if you’re into similar sounds and you’re in the same area you’re gonna get conversating on it. I learned so much playing with Pipes. When he asked me to play at Tonic, that was a big moment for me.”

The early Kabal events between 2001 and 2005 took place roughly twice a year, but many agree that Kabal took on a new life once the team threw two parties at the Ebenezer Methodist Chapel in Walkley, a suburb northwest of the city centre. It was the first times that Toddla T was offered to play opening set.

“The chapel’s not too far from where I went to school,” says Bell. “I think it converted to student halls, so there were loads of rooms and then in the middle was the old church, which was a perfect dancefloor. The soundsystem was strung up in the back, and then you’d jump over that and walk up some steps that became the DJ booth.”

“The pulpit was still in there, so Winston was in the pulpit rave sermonising on the microphone,” says Collis.

“Between 2000 and 2005 there were various things, but at the chapel there was me, Winston and Toddla,” says Pipes. “I thought, ‘This is my opportunity to not take any prisoners, to put this dancehall record on with this weird electronic thing, this techno record, these house records, these garage records that nobody got, these drum & bass records that nobody’s been playing for the last ten years, and just put it all together.’”

“I don’t know about favourites,” says Chris Welch, a Sheffield DJ who would go on to play intermittently at Kabal, “but one that sticks in my mind was at Ebenezer Chapel. A load of us came from our club night at 3 AM to find the place bouncing to Pipes playing Firefox’s ‘Warning’ and Winnie holding court from the balcony pulpit. It felt special.” 

“I remember Winnie playing loads of records that I’d never heard,” enthuses Bell. “A lot of them were test presses and early remixes him and Ross Orton had done, and me and my friends were just like, ‘What the fuck is this music? It’s totally brilliant!’”

Syclops - Mom, The Video Broke

Bell equally made an impression with his first Kabal appearance at the initial Ebenezer Chapel party. One blogger who was a regular Kabal attendee recalls with fondness when he dropped Syclops’ “Mom, The Video Broke,” a Maurice Fulton production steeped in boom-bap drums and lurid basslines. It wouldn’t take long from this point for Toddla’s reputation to ascend.

“In a village atmosphere like Sheffield word gets around when something’s good,” says Collis. “We were going strong before Toddla became well known, but then when his career started taking off, it just went astronomical.”

The combination of Pipes, Hazel and Bell as the Kabal residents solidified the party’s idiosyncratic sound, and like any party, there are certain tracks that stuck in the residents’ minds.

“For me, the anthem of Kabal is ‘Jomsong’ by Supafix, which is Ross Orton and Winston,” says Bell. “They put it out on Parrot’s label Earth and Pipes did the design. I used to play it at the peak moment in the rave and it was always the biggest song of the night. It was made and presented by the people involved in the party, and that record sums up Kabal to me. It’s really rough and ready, had a reggae bass vibe, a sort of housey vocal.”

“The MJ Cole remix of Jill Scott’s “Getting In The Way” was really big,” recalls Pipes, “because it was a huge vocal tune that all the girls liked, and all the guys liked it as well because it was an MJ Cole rhythm. It weren’t cheesy – it had a proper swing to it.”

Soulful vocals, rugged off-beat drums and generous helpings of bass were some of the common ingredients amongst all the Kabal residents, but as Bell points out, they had their own unique identities within the fabric of the night.

Jill Scott - Getting in the Way (MJ Cole Remix)

“Winnie is everyone’s favorite DJ in Sheffield,” he says. “He plays with so much style it’s unbelievable. He’s toasts really well on the mic. Pipes was the one who would dust his records before he came to the rave and made sure everything was perfectly aligned. He was finding the maddest electronic shit a bit left of the mainstream, and loads of really interesting Jamaican records that sat next to that. I guess my whole thing was a bit younger, playing some niche records and a lot more dubplates and my own productions. Between us all the root was the Jamaican thing and the Sheff electronic thing, but we all had our own version of doing it.”

Beyond the sonic content of the records, the Jamaican soundsystem tradition also fed into the way the music was played, not least when moving between tempos and styles. “When we’re DJing together Winston and I will always be in close proximity,” says Pipes. “We’ll say to each other, ‘It’s getting a bit same-y, why don’t we switch it up?’ and then generally speaking I’ll ask Winston or whoever’s MCing to go on the mic and use my dub siren, and just go somewhere else. When you’ve got loads of people off their head going for it at 125 or 130 BPM and then you change it, it’s probably quite frustrating, but that’s how we’ve always done it.”

Some of the spaces Kabal appropriated allowed for a second room of music, serving to highlight the age range of the residents and attendees. Pipes describes himself as the generational bridge between Hazel and Toddla, and following the Ebenezer Chapel parties the musical dynamic in the main room edged towards a more energetic sound in line with Toddla’s youthful exuberance, with a crowd to match. However, a fundamental ingredient of Kabal was the grounding in boogie, disco and funk that Hazel and Pipes had carried with them all of their record-buying lives. There was a (largely older) contingent of the Kabal crowd who were more inclined towards such a sound. When space allowed, a second room would be given over to these kinds of styles, often featuring Luke Unabomber or Scott Moncrieff as well as Hazel and Pipes. Collis describes the main room and the second room as the “jump up” and the “get down,” respectively.

“I think the two room thing is really interesting actually,” says Pipes, “because we’d sit down to plan a party and we’d have an opportunity to do two rooms, and Raif would be like, ‘You need to be in there with Toddla,’ and I’d be like, ‘Can I just have a night where I just play some disco and funk?’” Often, Pipes and Hazel would end up playing a set in each room.

One aspect of Kabal’s music policy that the crew kept on a tight leash was guest DJs and performers. With the three residents shouldering the majority of the DJing duties, it was rare that someone from outside the circle would be invited to play.

Omar & Zed Bias - Dancing

“We didn’t have that many guests on but when we did they were usually local,” Collis says. “You wouldn’t get to play at Kabal unless you’d been down and you knew what the vibe was. It’s always really risky flying in a guest who doesn’t have a clue what you’re about at all.” Among the local DJs who did get to play was Oris Jay, one of Sheffield’s proudest exponents of garage and dubstep, while on another occasion they broke form to bring Zed Bias across the Pennines from Manchester, based solely on the significant impact his music had on the dancefloor at Kabal. Collis is quick to point out that Bias’s collaboration with Omar, “Dancing,” is a quintessential Kabal tune.

“Some people worked really well at Kabal and others were a bit too genre-specific for what was expected,” says Hazel. “We always preferred DJs who were a bit more eclectic so that they took people on a bit of a journey through styles rather than one type of music.”

“A lot of the time the people who come and play for us would be local ravers in the first place,” says Bell. “Checan was really young when he first started to come. He stood at the front, watching how we played, and then he came and played when he was a bit older and he’d learned his craft.”

While they kept a firm grip on who got to play at Kabal, Hazel admits that he felt a sea change in the sound of the party as Bell’s popularity increased.

“I only started to consciously think about what we were playing throughout the night at Kabal when Toddla came into the mix,” says Hazel. “It was going in a direction where Pipes bridged the gap between me and Toddla. Pipes came from our period together, but was also quite progressive in terms of new sounds and beats. What Pipes and Tom had to offer was more appealing to the new masses coming up, especially the new young black girl crew that was really getting into it and demanding a certain uptempo bashment experience.”

This younger crowd unsurprisingly dominated the dancefloor, and Hazel recalls seeing the older guard moving to the periphery of the party as the energy of the music intensified. One of the reasons for Hazel’s retreat from the core of the DJing duties at Kabal was a lack of material – he cites the rising cost of vinyl and a reluctance to embrace digital media as a barrier to keeping up with the pace of the new music Pipes and Bell were plying. His interest in the set-up and décor of the party started to take precedent, particularly as Kabal grew in size to fill bigger spaces.

“To me, the look and the feel and the sound became more important,” he explains, “and DJing was almost a bit of an anticlimax, mainly because I hadn’t got my finger on the music that was coming out. I didn’t know what I wanted to be playing.”

“I think when the parties got a lot bigger and Toddla was getting really popular around 2010 onwards, it got quite difficult because the music got really, really giddy,” says Pipes. “It was like wild horses when Winston dropped back a little bit ’cause I was trying to keep up with Toddla a lot of the time, which wasn’t easy. I think a lot of our older crowd who really were more into soulful house, broken beat, disco, just hated the heavier, bassy, Diplo-esque kind of music. They let us know they didn’t like it as well.

“I don’t think Toddla would mind us saying it,” he adds. “He bucked against the older crowd that were saying, ‘We don’t really like this. There’s too many young ’uns in here.’ He went the opposite way and went, ‘Well, this is my crowd and I’m gonna play to them.’ The younger crowd wanted sonic warfare all the time. It came back around full circle as these things do. As he was getting busier with gigs Toddla started playing less and less, and then it was back to me and Winston to take things a bit more heads down again.”

Collis argues that while a section of the older Kabal crowd were alienated by the heavier direction of the main room sound, there was still a healthy spread of ages responding to the different phases of Kabal.

The Night Kitchen Elliot Holbrow

“It was more of a frenzy when Toddla was on, but there were still a lot of youngsters going for it when it was just these two guys as well,” he says, gesturing at Pipes and Hazel. “I think we did well bringing the generations together, even though I’ve been told off by parents because they’ve seen their son or daughter at the dance when both had said they were going somewhere else.”

While Sheffield’s free party scene largely existed as a self-contained subculture of its own, Kabal presented the concept of illicit venues to a broader crowd that might not have otherwise ventured off the beaten track. From smaller spaces such as the basement of Afro-Cuban restaurant Ethio Cubana to huge warehouse spaces underneath the Wicker Arches viaduct, the continued switch-up in locations kept Kabal parties fresh and unpredictable. One of the most infamous spaces they commandeered was a former funeral parlour located underneath the offices of mainstream Sheffield clubbing giant Gatecrasher. Jamie Wilkins was working for Gatecrasher at the time, but sensing his time with the company was coming to an end, he helped Kabal gain access to the space for two consecutive parties.

“It was an amazing party,” Collis enthuses. “Jamie got walloped for it by Gatecrasher management, but he was quite disgruntled with them by that point. It was quite a fun way to thumb our noses at them as well.”

“Scuba and those kind of club nights were all a reaction to Gatecrasher in a way,” says Wilkins. “This party was a reaction to me working at Gatecrasher, ’cause I hated it.”

When the police turned up at the door for the second funeral parlour event, Wilkins launched into a pre-planned explanation about a launch party for some practice rooms before realising that one of the officers had designed flyers for his Scuba events before becoming a policeman. Fortunately, another more pressing call came in and the party continued unhindered for the rest of the night.

Kabal’s professional execution and care for their patrons made the experience more palatable than the sometimes edgy atmospheres that can be found outside the mainstream tracts of nightlife, but this didn’t make them immune from police attention. Hazel considers that many times, as long as they weren’t given a cause for concern, local law enforcement turned a blind eye to an event that was “keeping people off the street,” but it was perhaps inevitable that officials would eventually catch on to the regularity of Kabal’s operations. Collis suggests that disgruntled clubs in town were putting pressure on the council and the police to stifle the illegal party scene due to lost revenue.

“There were at least a half a dozen crews doing the same thing,” he says, “but they weren’t taking the same precautions of secrecy as we were, and certain parties were attracting bad crowds. The police got called to a couple of those parties, and from that point on they were out to clamp down.”

Kabal had already successfully thrown unlicensed parties at the Crystal Ship studio complex, but when a friend of theirs applied to the council for a license for an event it awoke the authorities to its use as a venue. When Kabal returned to throw another unlicensed party in April 2011, they were shut down by the police.

“Once they realized that we were alright people they were slightly apologetic,” says Collis, “because they knew we’d done stuff properly apart from got a TENS [temporary events notice]. The night we got closed down they were actually after another more roughneck crew that had given themselves a bit of a rep, and they thought that we were them.”

The interference from the police ushered in a new era for Kabal which reflected the rise in TENS-licensed, semi-legal parties across the UK. While the admin increased and they had to have their spaces checked for fire safety ahead of time, this slightly more legitimised version of the party continued in much the same fashion. “Going through the TENS process did take a bit of the gloss off,” Collis concedes, “but we quickly found out that we could basically do what we had always done. No one was gonna say you couldn’t smoke a joint in the yard or anything like that and the music was solid as ever, the venues were always new and interesting.”

While the parties were still selling out and continuing to carve a unique path through unusual spaces around Sheffield, by 2015 Collis and others were starting to grow weary of the logistical feats required to keep Kabal going.

“I suppose 20 years of promoting wore me down over time,” says Collis, “and other factors were losing key personnel like Okie and Tal, as well as the increasing difficulty in finding good new venues on a regular basis. I wanted to go out on a high rather than running it into the ground. I wanted Kabal to always be special in everyone’s memories.”

It could only be in Sheffield. There’s nowhere else that could melt that pot like Kabal did.

Toddla T

After making the decision to call time on the party, Kabal did a countdown to their 50th and final session in March 2016. After two parties at The Night Kitchen, the final Kabal shored up at A1 Art Space. Much of the old crowd turned out to see off one of Sheffield’s most unique events. Roisin Murphy, lead singer of Moloko and old friend of Collis and Hazel from the early days of Hale Street and other free parties, even hopped on the mic for a drunken PA.

Although the original format for Kabal has come to an end, the spirit of the party lives on in a variety of ways. Most explicitly, they throw a daytime open-air party during the Tramlines festival that takes place across Sheffield every summer. “It’s just like carnival,” explains Collis. “People can bring their families down and kids jump around, and then at exactly 7 PM all the kids seem to disappear and everyone just piles on the dancefloor and then we’ve got five hours ’til midnight. It’s a reflection of us getting older, but it does keep the pot bubbling as well.”

Meanwhile, Collis indulges his love of organising events in low-key spaces with ClandesDine, a supper club that operates with a similar underground attitude to Kabal. He also doesn’t swear off throwing another fully-fledged party in the future, given the right space and the energy to put into it.

“I think we could pick it up and start again,” muses Pipes. “What I personally am not interested in is it becoming a revival where you get together and play all the old records. I never wanted to be a DJ that just plays old records all the time. One of the main things about Kabal was its secretive, unexpected nature. I think to recapture that properly just requires a bit of work.”

“All Kabal has ever done is keyed into something that’s always existed in Sheffield,” says Collis. “This DIY party ethos. The clubs are terrible, but the parties are great, and that’s been our culture since the ’80s. We didn’t create it – we just knew the vibe and were able to provide it on a regular basis for people. It was a social service more than a club night.”

Beyond the appeal of the spaces and the way they were dressed, what made Kabal stand out compared to other parties of a similar nature was the music. Through a myriad of strands of influence, from Winston Hazel’s deep roots in Sheffield music culture through his Jamaican odyssey, Pipes’ instinct for left-of-centre selections and the hyper-energised rush of Bell’s rise to prominence, the unique blend that poured out of the system could not have been brewed anywhere else.

“It was genuine UK rave culture like I’ve never seen before,” enthuses Bell. “It could only be in Sheffield. There’s nowhere else that could melt that pot like Kabal did. It formed me to who I am now and I’m grateful and blessed to have been part of that era.”

Header image © Courtesy of Peter Pipes

On a different note