Natasha Carter and Steffi Allatt have been at the helm of Manchester’s nightlife scene for the past few years. DJing back-to-back as Blasha and Allatt, they have appeared at some of the most respected events across the country, including House of God, Jaded and No Bounds Festival. Their rise has been organic; the pair have worked their way up from local residents to internationally recognised DJs, playing their first Boiler Room in 2016 and getting booked for their debut appearance at ADE this year.
As well as being at the forefront of Manchester’s scene as DJs, the pair have been steering its course as promoters with their Meat Free project, which they run with fellow players Lucy Ironmonger and Alice Woods. Drawing together some of the finest international talent from the house, techno and electro spheres, Meat Free has earned its reputation as one of the most consistent parties in the city, taking over its best venues with an inclusive attitude. It’s a party with a conscience, with a portion of proceeds donated to Safety4Sisters North West, a grassroots organisation based in local Partisan Collective that supports vulnerable migrant women.
I recently caught up with Natasha and Steffi to discuss their growing touring schedule, the rapidly changing landscape of Manchester’s nightlife, and what it takes to run a socially inclusive party.
What have you both been getting up to recently?
SA– I would say the last six months have probably been the busiest in terms of DJing so far since we’ve been playing together. This year we hosted the Manchester leg of the Resident Advisor Alternate Cuts party, and we did a recorded set which was streamed via RA, so that was quite a big thing for us. Other than that we’ve played at House of God, which is a pretty legendary party, and something we were really proud to do.
NC – We were part of the Fleshback Boiler Room documentary, there’s been quite a few interviews and we’ve been filmed quite a bit lately haven’t we?
SA– Yeah there’s been quite a lot of focus on Meat Free this year. But other than that, we were given a deadline to make a track for Ben Sim’s Tribology compilation on Machine at the end of June. We’ve sort of been a bit slow in the studio because we’ve just been spending all our spare time prepping for DJ sets, but this has actually forced us to finish some material and that’s resulted in our first track getting signed.
What were your first encounters with production?
NC – How many years ago I think it was, was it about five years ago? We went to Manchester Midi School, and since then we’ve definitely spent more time in the studio, we’ve changed from using Logic and moved to Ableton and that’s been a bit of a lifesaver, it’s a lot simpler and easier to use, isn’t it?
SA – Definitely, we got Ableton Push and it’s been a good decision to make the change. I mean, it has been a bit of a struggle to work together in the past because we work quite differently. Tash is very organised and regimented, and she’s very tidy in the way she creates the projects. I’m a bit more haphazard and will get all the creative bit done but not really like the organizing and structure of the track. But when we were given a deadline, we actually managed to finish some stuff, and that’s been a nice little catalyst to start doing more stuff together.
So will you be investing more time in production in the future?
SA – Yes, definitely.
So people will know you best as promoters and DJs, had you been involved with putting on nights before Meat Free?
SA– Yeah we were involved with a party which spawned Meat Free basically. All the girls that are involved with Meat Free were involved in this party prior to that called ‘Fundamental’. There must have been like 8 people.
NC – Yeah, eight or nine people. There were just too many people involved in it.
SA– Yeah, too many cooks in the kitchen. But to be completely honest, it was a good experience because it taught us what we did and what we didn’t want out of promoting, so I’m happy we did it.
Was there a specific idea or aim for Meat Free?
NC – I think we found a lot of parties were quite serious and we wanted to take that element away and make it a bit more fun, and that’s why we introduced all the inflatables and glitter which we don’t really do so much any more. I don’t feel like we really need to do that now. The parties were all ‘pay what you want’ too.
SA – Yeah and I always say this, but it was a coincidence that we were all girls, all the girls we knew were DJs. It wasn’t a conscious decision to make it just female or exclusive, it just kinda came about, and I really like that fact because it was a bit of a rarity at the time.
The need for more gender balance on lineups has been brought to light recently, do you think it’s also important to have more women organising club nights?
SA – Definitely, over the years we’ve had feedback from organising our parties that we put a bit more thought into things.
NC – …Attention to detail…
SA – Yeah we can’t speak for other promoters but we feel it’s the smaller things that might help set us apart. Even down to having a bottle of water ready for them when picking them up, giving them a Meat Free t-shirt, a little welcome note, just the little things. I know if that was me, I’d be really appreciative. I just think that DJs play a lot, they play in different places every week. So if we can make ourselves stand out a little bit, then that’s what we’ve tried to do.
What has been a standout event for you and why?
NC – I suppose recently, it was probably the Ancient Methods and SARIN event in January, it was a bring your own booze event. It just seemed different from any Meat Free party.
SA– We had a really mixed crowd, there were loads of different people. Ancient Methods tends to draw more of a gothy crowd and there was a bunch of people moshing in the corner next to some voguers, next to people that were doing the all famous Berlin stomp. There was even people who had actually come over from Berlin to our party. The age range was so diverse; 18-mid fifties, even the odd 70 year old. Just a lot of different people.
So this year Alice launched Under One Roof, could you tell us a bit about it and how that came about?
SA – Yeah sure, it’s a party for the learning disabled. I don’t really think it was a point that people concerned themselves with. Alice was inspired by a video that she saw on social media, it was a nightclub in Walsall in the Midlands that had put on a party for the learning disabled. She did it at Texture in the Northern Quarter, which unfortunately shut down a few months ago. She made sure the lights and music were more suitable to those with learning disabilities; the main thing being that the venue is wheelchair accessible. Strangely, there’s a severe lack of wheelchair accessible venues in Manchester. It’s quite shocking.
NC – Yeah it’s like, there will be youth clubs for people with learning disabilities, but not a proper nightclub where people can have that experience and listen to the music we play at our nights.
SA – Yeah as opposed to people just playing chart music which I suppose is probably what goes on elsewhere. It’s amazing what Alice was able to do, and I think it’s inspired other people around the country to do the same thing. She has had no end of emails and messages saying you’ve inspired us to do this, so hopefully it’s the sign of things to come.
You touched upon Texture shutting down, and when I first came to one of your nights, the Mord party, that was at Mantra Warehouse, and that’s since closed down. Obviously this is an issue in Manchester at the moment, so what do you think are the specific problems that venues are facing?
NC – It’s generally the council..
SA – Manchester City council that is…
NC – Basically there’s plans to build flats on the land around Mantra, so that takes priority in their eyes, not the clubbing culture that we’re all trying to save.
SA – To be honest, the most interesting stuff has been happening on the outskirts for the last couple of years. You’ve got Partisan, which is just about to celebrate its one year anniversary, which is an incredible space, everything about that place is just for the good of the people. But yeah, these venues like The White Hotel and Hidden aren’t really in any immediate residential areas and I hope that continues.
But to be honest, the rate that Manchester is expanding, it’s really creeping out of the centre, like Cheetham Hill, where the White Hotel and Hidden are, it’s a mess around there, but that’s the way we like it. it’s a wasteland and it looks scruffy as hell, but as soon as it starts getting nice, and people start thinking it’s a good place to build, that’s when these places go, so the scruffier the better.
It’s like all these venues are getting pushed out of the city center, but then they’re being followed.
SA – Exactly, and then it comes to the point, if people keep moving that far out of the city centre, if it’s too far then there’s no passing trade then, so you’ve got to rely on really brilliant lineups and loyal punters.
So with that in mind, where do you think Manchester nightlife is going?
SA – I feel like Cheetham Hill has been the place for a number of years, a place where a few illegal raves have gone on, Selective Hearing used to do some parties there, they did some BYOB in old sofa warehouses. Obviously Love Dose did as well, and the guys from Hidden used to do parties in their building, and started their project in there.
NC – I don’t know, we always end up in the same places really don’t we? We’ve probably not explored all the suburbs of Manchester.
SA – And we only really know it from a house/techno/electro/electronic background, but there’s a good grime scene here, so maybe for that genre of music there might be other hotspots that we don’t know about.
So aside from playing as residents at your own events, you’ve been getting a lot of bookings from other promoters. Did you always DJ together, or did you pair up for the sake of the night?
NC – I think we started djing together before Meat Free, but not officially, but we’d always play b2b at the odd night here and there, so I think we sort of established ourselves as a duo before.
SA – When I first came to Manchester we just sort of fell into playing together, we’d played gigs on our own before. But there is something about playing together that clicked, we sort of had chemistry when we were DJing I guess. At the moment I enjoy it more, like bouncing off each other, not knowing what the other is gonna play, then trying to match it, it keeps it a bit more interesting personally. I know it’s not like that for everybody.
Sometimes if you have a few nerves, the other one can be a bit more reassuring and stuff like that. But there’s also more pressures to djing together sometimes, you don’t wanna let the other person down. If you’re having an off day and your mixing isn’t tight.
It’s interesting you say that, do you ever feel any pressure to be vocal with Meat Free now that people have almost come to see it as a social project?
SA– I don’t feel like there’s that pressure, maybe we’re not as vocal as other female outfits. I fully respect those people who speak up against injustices and we’re fully behind them, but we’re probably not as outspoken. By just being around I guess that’s sort of a statement in itself. The fact that we’re here and we’ve taken things into our own hands and have done the Meat Free project exactly how we’ve wanted to. The scene was always very male-dominated but actually now in Manchester, promoting is becoming much more balanced. You’ve got ourselves, B L O O M, Mixing Mates run by Kerry McColgan and Oriel who runs Chamber. There’s definitely some more that are escaping me at the minute. There’s a lot of women involved in Manchester.
So you touched briefly on it before, what are your plans for the future?
NC – The next Meat Free party isn’t until October 5th with DVS1, Eris Drew and CEM from Herrensauna. After that we’ve got Dasha Rush & Jamie Behan on 7th December. So some pretty big lineups for The White Hotel and hoping everything goes to plan. We’re definitely gonna carry on, we’ve got a really good crowd. Until we feel like we’re ready to end, we’re gonna keep going. It stresses us out a lot, but the end product is really satisfying.
Blasha & Allatt will be playing No Bounds Festival on October 12th.
Words: Jess Cohen.