Detonate's James Busby on their Landmark Halloween Arena Rave

Words: Katie Lyle
Photos: Curtis Powell
Wednesday 20 October 2021
reading time: min, words

From humble beginnings as a small club night in the late nineties to getting ready to put on their biggest indoor event to date at the Motorpoint Arena this month, Detonate has gone from strength to strength, firmly establishing itself as a bedrock of the Notts live music scene. On the back of the first post-COVID festival and just ahead of their landmark Halloween Arena Rave, we speak to creator James Busby about how it all happened...


As we speak it’s the first Detonate Festival back since before COVID hit. How are you feeling about thousands of ravers descending on Colwick Park?
Excited that it’s finally happening! It feels like so long since we’ve been able to do what we’ve been doing non-stop for twenty-odd years. But also anxious because of all the extra requirements and hurdles this year. Everyone who comes to the festival has to show a negative lateral flow test and we’ve been working with Public Health England to make sure we’re doing everything we can to reduce the COVID risk. It’s been hard to plan and book suppliers for the festival until we knew it was definitely going ahead, and so navigating lorry driver shortages, beer shortages, supply chain issues, staff shortages, key people getting ill etc. has been challenging! But we’re really happy to have been given the go-ahead, and also think it’s super important, for young people especially, that festivals are back on. We’re also conscious of the importance of green spaces for the community overall though, and so throughout lockdown we’ve been working on ways we can reduce our impact. 

22 years ago Detonate was a tiny club night. How did you grow to host some of the biggest events in Nottingham? 
Not really sure! We’ve always had the attitude that we can do it ourselves, and have stayed independent, and I think that keeps us going. Because we’ve been going for so long it’s easy to zone out and focus on the real music. Trying as best we can to represent what we think is good rather than just ‘hot’ has kept us going also, and built good foundations. We’re just doing what we did in the first place. We’re fans of the music and its culture and we try to create the right environment and context for it to be experienced. 

The Halloween Arena Rave is your biggest indoor party so far. What can people expect? 
We’re super excited about it. Over the past five to ten years we’ve been seeing these huge arena events happening across Europe, where they’re able to put on big productions, so we’ve been influenced by that. Halloween is always a big night. It’s probably bigger than New Year’s Eve now, and tickets have flown out so far, so I think it’s going to be a good one. Nottingham’s always had a great reputation for the music we put on, and we think these huge arena parties will add to that.

What made you choose the Motorpoint Arena for this event, and how is it going to work as a club setting?
We’ve been looking at the Arena for years. It’s one of the only venues in the city we haven’t hosted. Previously we couldn’t make it work because of the ratio of seats to dancefloor, and the number of seats visible. Last year they installed a draping system that means the higher seated areas aren’t visible, and we worked out how we can make the venue free-flow between the dancefloor and the lower tiers of seating. Those had been the two barriers previously, so now we’re all set. We’re confident it’ll be one of our best parties to date.

Before we started Detonate, Nottingham had a thriving party scene but the music we were into was under-represented in the main clubs (shout out to Fly, Fusion, Steel, Rewind, and others doing parties back then). When we started planning our first event in 1998, we realised the reason was that Drum and Bass/Jungle wasn't really welcomed in any clubs. It was viewed as a problem by venue owners. Once we got it off the ground, and proved we could fill venues, we set about putting our music on the biggest stages we could. 

We’ve always had the attitude that we can do it ourselves, and have stayed independent, and I think that keeps us going

The line-ups for both the Detonate Festival and Halloween in the Arena are really exciting. How do you stay inspired and on top as a programmer? 
I don’t really view myself as a programmer, more a fan of the music. Like many other people, since I was young I've been sharing the music I'm into. Whether that’s recording tapes, DJing, working in Selectadisc, working for D&B Arena in the early internet days, or putting on parties. It’s all the same thing, and the music keeps me inspired. Usually it’s the smaller, more underground acts that inspire me more, but backing those from early on has meant we’ve gone on to work with them as they’ve gained popularity, and often go on to headline stages. Skream for example, who headlines our Woodland stage on Saturday, is someone we started booking in 2004 before dubstep was really called dubstep. 

You’re also sponsoring Sneinton Town Football Club’s Under Nines team along with Art of Football...
Yeah, we’re buzzing about that one. We’ve been inspired by the B-Corp approach of extending who you view as stakeholders in your business, so we started thinking about what we could get involved with, and obviously Detonate Festival is on the edge of Sneinton. Football’s like music in the way it brings people together, and after seeing the Euros do that, and inspire so many people, we were really into the opportunity when we got offered it. Art of Football, who are also in Sneinton, were really up for collaborating and designed the kits which look amazing. Since they got them, they’ve been smashing in double figures and keeping clean sheets. At the moment, we’re just sponsoring the under nines but it’s something us and Art of Football are looking to expand on. 

What are your plans for Detonate in 2022 and beyond?
Detonate Festival will be back in June 2022. We’re in the process of finalising the Detonate Portal. It’s an app which will be the main place for everything Detonate. So recordings, music, archives and so on. It’s on the app store currently but is still a work in progress. There are some live recordings from previous events on there that we’ve never shared. Check it out. 

Detonate Halloween is taking place at the Motorpoint Arena on Saturday 30 October

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