New music venue to put Sheffield back on the touring map for critically-acclaimed artists – ‘It will fill an important gap’

Live music venues exist in a tough climate where it is more common to hear of a place shutting rather than opening – but a Sheffield arts centre has joined forces with a city record store to buck this national trend.

By Richard Blackledge
Thursday, 12th September 2019, 1:00 pm
Updated Thursday, 12th September 2019, 5:34 pm
DINA on Cambridge Street, Sheffield, where Network has opened. Picture: Chris Etchells

Network, a 500-capacity space, has launched on the first floor of the DINA complex on Cambridge Street in partnership with Record Junkee, which operates on nearby Earl Street.

The venue offers a fully technically rigged venue for touring and in-house productions, with freshly-installed staging, lighting and a PA system.

Martin Leverton, Record Junkee's founder, said the shop had hosted well-known acts such as IDLES and Fat White Family, but its audience capacity of only 150 was limiting its prospects.

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Live music at DINA.

"It restricted our ambitions to continue attracting big names and international touring," he said.

“For a city with such a strong history of music making, it needs more spaces to continue that rich musical heritage. We feel this partnership will create greater opportunities for exciting programming and promoting.”

A report in 2017 by UK Music, which represents the live industry, found that 35 per cent of grassroots venues had closed across the country in the previous decade.

Deborah Egan, DINA's project director, said: “We’ve seen much-loved Sheffield live music locations shut over the years like The Harley and The Boardwalk, and a general downturn nationally."

Network, she said, will 'fill an important gap in Sheffield’s gigs and nightlife offering', expanding on DINA's existing performance area.

"When you're on national tour cycles you need to have something with a bigger capacity than we have downstairs," said Deborah. "We're holding on to downstairs as a grassroots, small-scale space and then making the venue upstairs generally available for things like touring and live work. It doesn't compete with the Leadmill, for example, which is significantly larger."

Critically-acclaimed acts have been bypassing Sheffield in favour of Manchester and Leeds because there 'isn't quite the right space', she added.

"It's also to do with being central, near motorway access, having parking and flat loading and all that kind of thing - and being quite visible from a safety point of view, as far as audiences are concerned," said Deborah. "The position we're in is very well connected in terms of infrastructure."

DINA opened in 2015 and now runs 700 events a year, its bosses say. Occupying buildings that were a Sunday School and a spoon factory, the venture was meant to be temporary as Cambridge Street is earmarked for a revamp as part of Sheffield's Heart of the City II development.

"It's been hugely successful," said Deborah. "We employ about 12 people now - not all of them full time, but we have created a significant economic impact as well as a lot of activity. We feel we've held it together on that street because it would have been a site of dereliction and also quite an unsafe area if we hadn't been there driving and populating it.

“We've had to deal with quite a lot in terms of street drinkers, drug users and break-ins. We're really now also overstretched in terms of what kind of other work people want to do with us and how we develop our relationship with other professional organisations in the city."

DINA has strong links with the universities of Sheffield and Huddersfield, hosts a festival host an international festival of algorithmic and mechanical arts called Algomech, and works with SONA, a Sheffield-based network for women in electronic music. In addition, the centre is about to start First Timers, a scheme for young people to try event production and music performance.

"We're really keen to carry on playing that role in the city centre and making it bigger, because I think at a time when you're increasingly surrounded by large developments, it's quite important to get some of the character of the city as well," said Deborah, who hopes DINA is here to stay.

"At the moment we're in the middle of negotiating our position and footprint on the street with the local authority. That's all under discussion. I think we're an asset worth holding on to."

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